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Spotlight On ... Susanne Weil ’80

Susanne Weil ’80, an English professor at Centralia College in Washington state, received the Evergreen State College 2016 Teacher Excellence Award, recognizing educators who have had a significant impact on students’ lives.

What does this honor mean to you?

While it’s always an honor to be recognized by peers, it means even more to be singled out by former students as a teacher who made a difference in their lives—after all, teaching is about them, not us! In this particular case, a First Nations student who was the first in her family to attend college took one of my composition classes, in which she showed enormous talent in research and argument. I wrote in support of her transfer to the Evergreen State College, where she is studying environmental science. I think her own determination has shaped her success, but I’m pleased that my support felt this important to her.

How has Swarthmore shaped your career—and your life?

When I think back on my time at Swarthmore, what comes to mind are great teachers like Barry Schwartz and Charles Balestri, as well as friends who sharpened my mind and supported me emotionally through hard times—and, finally, the pervasive atmosphere of concern for social justice. The latter led me to volunteer with the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation after graduation, and eventually to my becoming a convinced Friend.

What advice would you give current Swarthmoreans hoping to follow in your path?

Teaching at a rural two-year college might not be what would leap to mind as a career choice, but I can attest that if you want to make a difference in people’s lives, community college teaching truly does that. It’s very hard work, but I have never regretted giving up tenure at my previous (private) college to come to rural Washington and work at Centralia College …

Anything else you’d like to say?

… and if you make a radical life change like that, you never know what surprises will show up on your path! My husband and I are now beekeepers, and I serve as secretary of our county and statewide beekeeping associations. That took me to the mountains of western Kenya on my last sabbatical to teach beekeeping to subsistence farmers.  I did not see that coming.