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
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.
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
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.
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 wasnt 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 wasnt,
necessarily, thinking practically. Back then, there wasnt a need to be
bilingual. I loved the language and culture, and had a firm idea I wanted to
Any of your professors have a lasting
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
wasnt happy with the environment. Lets 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,
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.
Ive 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
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 youve 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 its 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 wouldnt
Why should a student choose Spanish?
Students study Spanish for a number of reasons.
Its 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
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 doesnt 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 its not all about
me. If students graduate with that in mind, then I feel we have