Online faculty member gives students the benefit of her life’s work
Theresa Paserb was part of a generation that steered young women into three typical career options. “Females went to college to be a teacher, nurse or secretary,” she says. “Or, she amends, “they got married and had a baby. My parents just never envisioned me joining the Navy and pursuing my higher academic degrees.”
Soon after earning her Associate’s degree she joined the military and served a 20-years career, first as a Hospital Corpsman and later in health care administration. She continued her education aspirations, earning both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees before she retired from the Navy in 2001.
Theresa married Richard a few years before retirement and by the time she left the military they had daughter, Carley, to consider in any new career moves.
“I wanted to continue to work supporting the health care environment, so I became a part-time physician recruiter for a local health care system,” says Theresa. But she needed more. “I wanted something that allowed me to take my professional and academic background and couple it with my love for health care administration and share them with others.”
She knew exactly where to look. “I got on the internet and searched different colleges, nationally. That was how I found SJVC (San Joaquin Valley College). I remember the day I submitted my cover letter and resume in the mail. Online learning was really just starting to grow then in 2006.”
Theresa put all her hopes and beliefs on the line with that application. “I believe we are on this earth to give of ourselves and benefit each other.” She was ready to put her philosophy into her career ambitions.
It blended nicely. She launched a career as Online Faculty that fit her abilities, career goals and family needs.
Distance learning provides many advantages for both students and faculty members.
“Online studies offer the flexibility,” says Theresa. “The course is open 24/7, so it fits the busy lives of students. It’s a different path to engage them and to make a connection with them in the classroom, since you don’t really ‘see’ them. But you’re getting to know students through their emails, phone conversations and through their work.”
Theresa pays close attention to how well her course information is being absorbed by her students. “If a student has a challenge with the course material, I respond to them in the manner that will help them most. If I can understand where their challenge exists, I will know where and how to lead and guide them.”
She has pulled a few students back from misdirection. “When I notice a student has started to disappear and their participation lags, I first reach out via email or phone to see if they’re OK, if they have any questions about the material,” says Theresa. “Sometimes they’re struggling with time management, because life happens. I try to help them put their situation into perspective. I remind them that there is still value in going forward, that there is still learning that can be achieved.”
People helping people. “Faculty are people too,” says Theresa. “We try to instill in the students that even though you can’t see us, there’s a real human being there for them, who really cares for them, and who is coaching them on.”
Theresa wants her students to do well academically, but she also places high value on those ‘soft skills’ that they might develop. “Their grades are important, but so are abilities such as dependability, motivation, responsibility and communication.”
As students from across the nation ‘sit’ in Theresa’s virtual classroom a field of trust and accomplishment comes into being. Seeds are planted, watered, and weeded that will bear fruits of success for a lifetime.
Every once in awhile Theresa gets a farm report. “Towards the end of a class, sometimes a student will send me an email thanking me, and those words can be just so powerful. ‘Thank you’. “Those two simple words are so special. It’s a fast-paced environment when students finish a class and start another one on Monday. That they would take the time to send me a message is so meaningful.”
Theresa gets much of her own support from home. “My husband allows me the flexibility to work,” she says. “He cooks dinner, while I work.” His specialty is salmon. “Once in awhile he gets a cookbook open and follows a recipe, she laughs.”
Carley, now 21, makes her own contributions to the family dynamic of support and harmony. “My daughter, being a millennial and in college, gives me a perspective as to how college students think.”
Her greatest resource, however, might be her own experience with academic struggles in high school, long before she figured out how to do it differently. Theresa might have expected more of herself than the expectations others may have had for her. “I was not supposed to be the shooting star in the family, because I was never a straight A student,” she concludes.
“I can feel students’ struggle and can identify with them because I had to teach myself the best way to learn. I needed to put more time in with my studies, allow more time for reading and learn how to focus on certain areas differently than others. More time, more repetition, more reinforcement of the material.”
Years later one of her mentors in the Navy gave her another way to express this same conclusion. “He said to me, ‘Just do a little bit more than what is expected, and you will go far.’” It is an echo of the truth she carries to this day that informs her professional and personal growth and behaviors.
Theresa’s 90-year old father, John, was one of her earliest influences toward a career in education. “He was a music teacher,” she says.
“He taught music theory in addition to being a band director for a public school system. He knows I teach but hasn’t really grasped what online teaching is. He understands I teach ‘through a computer’ and finds it fascinating that I reach out to students using a computer. And, I guess he’s astonished by my academic, professional, and personal growth. It’s not what my parents envisioned for me,” from those days of limited career choices for women.
Theresa is content with her focus on helping others realize their own career dreams. “It’s where I want to be.” Her legacy will be shared with all those who sit in her ‘class’, accept her guidance and support and thrive on her encouragement.
Sometimes a shooting star makes a bright arc overhead to quietly appreciative fanfare.
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