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Judy Powell, Academic Administrative Assistant in Spanish

Cien años de continuidad: An interview with Elizabeth O'Connell-Inman '79, Lecturer and Director, Directed Independent Spanish Curriculum

     Spanish Professor Elizabeth O'Connell-Inman's roots run deep at Holy Cross. She arrived at the College during the early years of coeducation from 1975-79, and counts four additional family members as Crusaders, cumulatively spanning more than a century of history on the hill.
     Grandfather John F. O'Connell, '13, entered Holy Cross as a day student in 1909. Her father, James W. O'Connell, '50, a World War II veteran, attended under the GI Bill of Rights. Brother Jack O'Connell, '81, continued the tradition, meeting his future wife, Nancy Murphy, '81. Finally, her daughter and namesake, Elizabeth, will share the family legacy when she graduates in 2015.
     The lecturer and director of the Directed Independent Spanish Curriculum recently reflected on her experiences as a Holy Cross student, alumna, teacher and parent from her busy fourth-floor office in Stein.

     Los lazos que unen a la Profesora Elizabeth O'Connell-Inman con Holy Cross son largos y profundos. Fue estudiante aquí entre 1975-79, época en que Holy Cross abre las puertas a candidatas mujeres. Sin embargo, los O'Connells ya eran conocidos en nuestra institución. Cuatro miembros de su familia ya habían sido Crusaders y forman parte de una larga tradición familiar que se extiende por más de un siglo en nuestra colina.
     Su abuelo John F. O'Connell, '13, estudia en Holy Cross en 1909. Su padre, James W. O'Connell, '50, veterano de la segunda guerra mundial, estudia en Holy Cross con una beca del GI Bill of Rights. Su hermano Jack, '81 también es graduado de Holy Cross, donde conoce a su esposa Nancy Murphy, de la misma promoción. Hoy día su hija, Elizabeth, estudia tambien en Holy Cross como parte de la clase del 2015.
     Hoy día la Profesora O'Connell-Inman enseña y también ejerce como Directora del programa independiente de estudios informáticos (DISC) en nuestro departamento de español. En esta ocasión Beth comparte con nosotros sus experiencias estudiantiles en Holy Cross, y también su vida actual de antigua alumna quien funciona como profesora de Español y madre de Elizabeth y sus dos hermanas menores.

Prof. Beth O'Connell-Inman, '79 y su hija Liz, '15
© John Buckingham, A/V

Why Holy Cross?

It was my first choice. Holy Cross had just gone coed and my dad could not have been more excited. He picked up the application and brought it home to me! I wanted a rigorous academic environment and the “family tradition” element appealed to me. At the time, however, it was still very gender segregated and there were some issues on campus.

Like what?

I remember as a freshman walking into Kimball and seeing male students holding up numbers, rating women students on a one to ten scale. I came from an all female high school with strong women, like the women I was meeting at Holy Cross. This sexist behavior was simply astounding to me! And many people, including faculty, assumed we were just there to get married. I wasn’t looking for a man; I was looking for an education.

When did you choose Spanish as a major?

I came in as a Spanish major. In high school, I took a class trip to Spain and fell in love with the country. I thought it would be “neat” to speak another language. I wasn’t, necessarily, thinking practically. Back then, there wasn’t a need to be bilingual. I loved the language and culture, and had a firm idea I wanted to teach.

Any of your professors have a lasting impact?

Yes, Connie Monstross. She was a wonderful Spanish teacher, inspiring. She was my advisor. I watched her become engaged, married and have babies while continuing to teach. She brought those babies into the office. It was the first time I looked around and thought, I could do this. I could be a professional woman and have a family and make it work. Unfortunately, she left Holy Cross in the early 1980s. But I am delighted to say that we are still dear friends.

What was your first professional position after Holy Cross?

I taught high school for a year at Worcester South High from 1980-81. I had gone to Brown University after Holy Cross, but wasn’t happy with the environment. Let’s just say the older male professors were not very welcoming. After teaching high school for a year, Brown asked me to come back. They had hired two young women and offered me a teaching fellowship. I did go back and met all the requirements for a doctorate but did not finish my dissertation. More importantly, I also met my husband, David.

What came next?

I taught full time at Clark University, beginning in 1986 for several years. I came back to Holy Cross in 1993 when friend and colleague Professor John Cull, who was then the Spanish Coordinator, called to see if I would be willing to work for a one year renewable position. I’ve been at Holy Cross ever since.

The 1990s were busy for you, working and having three children. Did you find the balance difficult?

Yes. I had Liz in 1993, a week before spring break. I took only three weeks off. Caroline came a few weeks early during Thanksgiving break of 1995. I remember coming back to Holy Cross to administer final exams with my sister, who held baby Caroline outside the room. I would excuse myself and feed her when she was hungry. I was so sleep deprived! My colleague and dear friend, Professor Freear-Papio (now Director of the Foreign Language Assistants Program and Lecturer), had her second baby around the same time. We were sharing an office then. Ask her some time about the two exhausted, nursing mothers carrying a 4-4 course load. We held each other up some days! By the time my third daughter, Lauren, arrived in 1998, the campus had become somewhat more child-friendly. I remember French Professor Charlie Baker calling physical plant to secure the windows on the corridors of Stein fourth floor after seeing my kids running up and down the halls.

When did you become director of the Self Paced Spanish Program (now Directed Independent Spanish Curriculum or DISC), and how has that evolved?

The original Self Paced Language Program ran from 1995-1997 and was oriented around “reciprocal teaching” and “social fairs.” The program lacked rigor and structure. And the very “self-paced” nature was flawed. By the end of the semester, no one had finished their chapters! In 1998, Mary Morrisard-Larkin (currently Director of Educational Technology) was brought on board as the new Director and Professor Freear-Papio and I were enlisted to build a new curriculum that was well grounded in language pedagogy and that made more efficient, effective use of technology. We gave it structure, accountability and brought in teachers with traditional classroom background. I became Director of the program in 2000. I value the independent element that allows students to direct their own learning. But its strength is that it is a hybrid program. While we rely on technology, the students continue to have almost daily interaction with instructors, foreign language assistants and me.

How many Spanish courses were taught independently then compared to now, and what type of student is attracted to the program?

We began with two intermediate courses and about 40 students. We now have seven levels of instruction and 95 students per semester. The program is not for everyone, but the students who excel are independent learners, who love the flexibility of not being confined to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. People mistakenly see DISC as “on-line learning” when, in fact, I see my DISC students more one-on-one than I see my traditional students. It is the most rewarding aspect of my job. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noted among students through the years? Their schedules are packed! They are involved in many more co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. They are doing an extraordinary amount of service work. And it’s not enough to simply wait tables during the summer. They must find a meaningful research project and an internship, and have a study away experience. The pressures are enormous and stress is a real concern. I hear all the time, “If I could just do my course work, this wouldn’t be hard.”

Why should a student choose Spanish?

Students study Spanish for a number of reasons. It’s practical. They recognize the reality of the world and that we are no longer monolingual. Many of our students are double majors and realize that Spanish makes them so much more marketable. They also, like me, fell in love with the language and culture, and enjoy it.

How would you describe the Spanish Department ethos?

We are all trying to prepare our students to live in a global society. We are showing students that we are part of a larger whole. There is a recognition that it doesn’t begin and end in the U.S. And, of course, we share our love of Spanish language and literature.

Any room for improvement?

For me, Holy Cross is home and family and like home and family, the relationship can be complicated. That said, we are best when we try to realize the philosophy of men and women for others; when we help coax our students toward the recognition that it’s not all about “me.” If students graduate with that in mind, then I feel we have succeeded.

vol. 10 (2013)
vol. 10 (2013)
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