The Proof is in the People
Despite Chatham’s reputation for perpetual change, we’ve had at least one impressive constant: our faculty. No matter the era of our history, our faculty members have played a vital role in instilling our students with more than just academic knowledge. Chatham faculty have a reputation for going above and beyond—building lasting relationships with their students, filled with advice, mentorship, and trust.
For this Chatham And, we thought it best to hear the stories of our faculty from students, alumni, and faculty themselves. Throughout this piece, you’ll hear real anecdotes of—and from—beloved Chatham faculty.
Who was your favorite professor?
“There were many professors who I remember and had a lot of respect for. One was Dr. Harry Goldby, who inspired me to love French. Dr. Joost Kiewit DeJonge taught Astronomy and even though I was sometimes lost in the complicated physics, he always impressed me with his knowledge and passion. He lectured non-stop and never referred to any notes; he just paced up and down in front of the auditorium as he talked.
But the one who impressed me the most was Dr. Wing-tsit Chan, who I had for Asian Philosophy. To me he was the epitome of a scholar. He could talk forever and always be interesting. He had such a love of learning, and was so gentle and soft-spoken. I went to talk to Dr. Chan once in his office; he set aside what he was doing and gave me all his attention.”
—Lisa Garber ‘70
“Dr. Doug Chaffey, Professor of Political Science, challenged me to be the best I could be while at Chatham. He encouraged me to push myself to the next level and always reminded me that this was necessary if I wanted to be accepted and excel in law school. Professor Chaffey taught me that hard work pays off. He was one of the first people in my life to equip me with the knowledge and skills, both academic and social, I needed to be a successful attorney.”
—Deirdre L. Webster Cobb, Esq. ‘84
“In four years with many outstanding faculty members, Dr. James Diggory stands out in my mind. As one of his psychology department assistants for three years, I learned lessons far beyond those of the academic discipline. The criterion to be a special assistant to Dr. Diggory was first whether the student could carry ‘troubleshooter,’ his large tool box.
Those of us who passed the test had the rare privilege of learning how to repair and sometimes build equipment for the psych labs. We learned to solder wires and to diagnose and fix malfunctions with Skinner boxes. We even built a ‘digibit computer.’ Most importantly, what we learned was that there was nothing we couldn’t do. It was the late 60s, a time when not everyone saw women in this way. While I went on to earn a doctorate in psychology, the lessons I learned with Jim Diggory and ‘troubleshooter’ have continued to be some of the most useful.”
—Katrine Geha Kirn, Ph.D. ‘70
“Back in about 1973, I was finding my way through Chatham’s liberal arts curriculum by compiling one of the most unusual transcripts for a French major ever seen on campus. I found myself in Dr. John Cummins’s English class on, ‘Classicism, Romanticism, and Realism.’ At any rate, I still have the booklet of art prints from that class. I handed in my writing assignment and awaited the verdict. It had been typed, back in the old days, on my electric typewriter. Dr. Cummins wrote, ‘I’ll bet you always have hair in your brush, too,’ on the top. So my keys were a little dirty! To this day, almost 25 years later, I look at a clear typeface and my hairbrush and think of Dr. Cummins.”
—Debbie Kugler Alpern ‘75
“Dr. Frank Lackner, my favorite professor in the early 1970s, was fun and interesting. He was the only professor that the residents of Woodland Zoo (Woodland 4) invited for a hallway chat. He was the only adult at Chatham that I sought out for personal advice. I nervously went to see him to talk about a painful family situation. He eased my suffering and gave me good advice that I now find myself passing on to my own psychotherapy clients. He opened his lovely Shady Avenue home to Chatham students for holiday parties. Later, I went to fundraisers there for human rights causes such as the Equal Rights amendment.”
—Nancy Chubb, Ph.D. ‘73
“Among many outstanding Chatham professors, my favorite was Dr. Louis P. Coyner. When I became a music major in my sophomore year, Dr. Coyner decided unilaterally to learn Braille music in order to transcribe my assignments. During our thrice-weekly tutoring sessions, Dr. Coyner combined a demand for excellence with a straight-forward, illuminating teaching method. Although he gave no quarter for sloppiness, his patience and generosity were unstinting.
Since our progress was rapid, we took time to read articles on various topics and to indulge in wide-ranging conversation. Dr. Coyner displayed not only knowledge and insight, but also wonderful warmth and humor surprising in someone apparently reserved and shy. At my graduation, he persuaded Russel Wichmann to play one of my small compositions as a prelude, then came backstage to hear my startled exclamation.”
—Ilene Sirocca ‘70
“Dr. Barbara Palmer was my favorite professor. When I signed up for a course in Shakespeare, I had no idea how enjoyable it would be. Dr. Palmer brought Shakespeare to life with her Elizabethan anecdotes and superb story-telling skills which gave students an understanding of the times in which he wrote. It was because of her that I declared English as my major. On top of that, she treated us as adults which was a new experience for many of us fresh out of high school. Dr. Palmer was one of those rare, true teachers who instilled in her students a desire to learn—her knowledge and genuine delight in her subject motivated us. I’ve never forgotten her.”
—Leslie Bates Johnson ‘79
“My vote for favorite professor is for Jere Wenneker who I encountered, not in my major field, but through the Arts Course. For me, he lit a flame of fascination with the theatre and its history which, purely as an avocation, has provided years of pleasure in study, writing, speaking, and traveling—not to mention the making of many, many friends the world over.”
—Gayle Thomas Harris ‘60
“When I was a student at Chatham in the late 50s, Frances Eldredge was chair of the English department. Unlike professors who taught by lecturing or closely following a textbook, Miss Eldredge’s assignments sent us digging in the library and prompted us to meet outside of class to plan presentations. Our professors rarely mentioned their own studies, but later I realized she’d been at the University of Chicago during the exciting time when John Donne and other seventeenth century poets were being ‘rediscovered’ there.
She proclaimed one day in class that three outstanding scholars in seventeenth century studies were women: Rosamond Tuve, Helen Waddell, and Marjorie Nicholson. That women’s achievements in academia were remarkable had not yet occurred to me. Under her guidance, I eventually wrote my tutorial on the poetry of Donne and George Herbert, both still among my favorite poets. At 122 pages, it remained the longest paper I’d ever written until I completed a Ph.D. dissertation 36 years later in 1996.
For about ten years after graduation, I exchanged Christmas cards with Eldredge. I always labored through several drafts of my note, hoping it would appear elegant and spontaneous in its final form on the card. She signed her wonderful notes, “Fondly, Frances.” Her attitudes and ideas have strengthened me throughout the years.”
—Elizabeth Goodridge Westgard, Ph.D. ‘60
“Dr. Rachel Chung serves as a pillar in my education to this day. From the start of her tenure, Dr. Chung pushed me to take analytical courses, to learn new systems and programs, and to network with the local business community. Her mentorship directly impacted the foundation I was able to build for my own career, and I am so grateful to her. Recently, I was able to sit down with her for lunch where she graciously shared a wealth of advice on how to approach my upcoming MBA work and internships. Her focus on continuous education showed through in our discussion and made me feel energized to continue growing with direction. I feel this quality makes a true mentor, and I feel so lucky to have Dr. Chung as mine.”
—Sam Elbaz ‘15
Did You Know?
Rachel Carson’s first and perhaps most prominent scientific mentor was Mary Scott Skinker, a professor of biology at Chatham from 1923 to 1928. When Skinker left Chatham for Johns Hopkins University, Carson followed shortly thereafter to study comparative zoology. Skinker continued to mentor Carson throughout the remainder of her life, coaching her for the civil service examinations in parasitology, wildlife biology, and aquatic biology. Carson ultimately scored higher than any previous female applicant. Thanks to Skinker’s recommendation, Carson received employment at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, where she wrote radio scripts on life under the sea. This was the beginning of her governmental science career.
What has being a Chatham Professor meant to you?
“In 1994, I came to Chatham for a one-year visiting position. I never planned to stay at Chatham. I had written one chapter of my dissertation, and I planned to return to Rutgers to complete my degree. However, I fell in love— with Chatham—I loved the community, the campus, and the culture—but it was Chatham’s focus on students, and the students themselves that captured me.
Chatham students were and are smart, vocal, and invested in their educations. I found that teaching in a women’s classroom was freeing, and my teaching benefited from that freedom. Chatham students taught me to wear my feminism on my sleeve. At the same time, I knew that without students, we had nothing. Chatham is flourishing, and, even if I did not anticipate it, I enjoy having male hockey players in my classrooms.”
—Dr. Lynne Bruckner, professor emerita of English
“I love my students at Chatham. Many of them work hard, and are genuinely curious about the world. I love to bring candy to class and build candy databases and run candy statistics with students. I love exploring new tools with students and seeing them get internships where they get paid to play with even fancier tools. I love seeing our students win awards, present research at national conferences, and use what we learn in class to make the world better, even in the slightest sense.
The most rewarding part of being a professor at Chatham is seeing our students graduate and blossom in their worldly adventures. I have visited Marie Soukup in Taichung, Taiwan, caught up with Samantha Elbaz in San Diego, and hung out with Caitlin Anderson on the rooftop of Uber’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco! I am very proud of our world-ready graduates and I hope I’ve instilled a sense of community so that they will always come back to help mentor future generations of Chatham students.”
—Dr. Rachel Chung, associate professor of business and coordinator of data analytics and management information systems
“My first year as an assistant professor of Social Work at Chatham has been an exhilarating experience. Chatham’s mission of preparing its students to build purposeful lives by offering a wide variety of diverse and robust liberal arts courses, and the passion and interest to make this world a better place by preparing its students to live sustainably, resonates deeply with me. Daily, as a professor here, I have the distinct and unique opportunity to challenge the minds of students that are dynamically-creative and brilliant thinkers. This is Chatham. This is why I am glad to call this place my intellectual home. And this is what we do here—artistically build the doers and thinkers of tomorrow.”
—Marcus Poindexter, MSW, LSW, assistant professor of social work
“For me, January 1 is not the new year. I consider August to be the new year because I attend the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual convention and then start the new academic year. August always feels like the natural time of reflection and anticipation of new beginnings. The APA convention is particularly meaningful because I regularly take Chatham students with me to co-present on research projects that we have been working on for a while. The APA presentation with students is always a culmination of lots of hard work. I have gone to over 15 APA conventions, so I know what to expect and have a pretty good routine. I love taking Chatham students to experience the vastness of the psychology field and to present research to a professional audience. At last year’s APA convention in San Francisco, one of my colleagues turned to me and said,'= ‘Alright. Is it picture time? It wouldn’t be an APA convention without a picture with you and your students.’ Now, when I go to APA, my greatest joy is seeing former Chatham students who have become professionals presenting their own research.”
—Dr. Anthony Isacco
“I’m one of the select group that had the double honor of being both a Chatham graduate and a Chatham professor. I will always be grateful to my mom who suggested that I look at Chatham. As soon as I stepped on campus, I knew Chatham was the right place for me. The main reason was the professors, especially in the sciences. Their dedication to teaching and support of their students was inspirational. The best way to learn science is to do science. The small classes and labs meant we got to really understand and learn techniques and the use of instruments. The tutorial (Dr. Chmura was my tutor) was the best experience of my time at Chatham. I worked with cockroaches. I won’t go into detail.
After completing my Ph. D. (the thesis was just a tutorial on steroids), I became an Assistant Professor at Chatham, one of the proudest days of my life. Some of my former teachers, Dr. Chmura and Dr. Hess, were now my colleagues and they were my role models. Their advice and support, along with that of Dr. Compher, were invaluable. With rare exceptions, I really liked my students, but I had a special fondness for first-year students and those who had to struggle to succeed. I always tried to include activities, even in non-major or non-lab classes. Being a tutor was the best part of my job. Again, I particularly loved working with students who struggled or had learning disabilities. Sometimes I think I was happier than they were when they finally completed their tutorials.
Looking back, I realize how blessed I am to have spent so much of my life at Chatham.”
—Dr. Mary Kostalos, Professor Emerita
Archival images from the collections of the Chatham University Archives & Special Collections.