From Harvard to QVCC to UConn – Jace Paul’s Story

Jace Paul Blog

Throughout my time as a college student, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people that have changed the way I think and shaped my worldview today, but perhaps none more so than Jace. I met Jace when we both took A&P II and Chem II at QVCC in the fall semester in 2015. We frequently joked about our age difference, since I was the youngest student in the class at 18, and he was one of the older – in his early 40s. However, my friendship with Jace, while we only took two classes together, was one that I am forever grateful that QVCC gave me. It’s not often that I find students who are older than their 20s in my classes at UConn, but in classes that are prerequisites for nursing school, finding students in the second season of their college education is very common at QVCC, and Jace was no exception.

When I sat down to talk to Jace this summer, he was halfway through the accelerated nursing program at UConn, and he just graduated this past week (which is why I felt that this blog post was the best to write today). When you meet Jace, you can clearly see a person who is made to be a nurse. He is kind and compassionate, with a fire inside of him for patient care. He is intelligent and knowledge driven, and this is only more evident when you learn about his previous education path. Jace did the traditional public school track from preschool to 12th grade, and graduated high school in 1994. He immediately came to UConn and studied psychology for 4 years, before going into research with the UConn psychology department. He reached a crossroads in his career when he realized he wasn’t comfortable using animals for research. Instead of continuing into a PhD program in psychology, Jace decided to go to Andover Newton, a theological school, and then continued to Harvard. Jace has clearly had a very diverse educational past, from UConn, to Harvard, to QVCC, and then back to UConn again, so I asked him what happened to go from studying theology to nursing. After he finished at Harvard in 2010, Jace decided that he didn’t want to be professionally involved with a church and had a crisis of faith. “Seminary makes more atheists than it does religious folks. Maybe not more, but it certainly makes a lot of atheists, especially if you do it at Harvard, where the idea is on critically looking at religion rather than just accepting dogma. So I found myself less interested in the practice of religion and more interested in it as a phenomenon.” Since he decided not to make working with the church his profession, he then had to make a decision – to continue working in religion as an academic subject, or continue in another direction. While Jace would have been okay being a “poor academic” or “starving artist” at other points in his life, he was about to be a father, so now he had to think about his long term financial stability. One of his friends came to visit him for a weekend, and while visiting, she asked if he had ever thought about nursing. She told him that “you have a science background, you clearly love science, and your history with religion and the church seems to indicate that you really like helping people.” It seemed like the perfect marriage of two things that were really important to Jace, and while he wasn’t up to spending another 4 years in college at that point in his life, he found the 1 year accelerated nursing program at UConn and thought it would be perfect. However, he had to finish up a few prerequisites first, and this is how he ended up at QVCC.

QVCC was the perfect place for Jace to take the rest of the classes he needed for the nursing program – anatomy and chemistry, genetics and microbiology. He chose QVCC for several reasons, but one of the largest driving forces was affordability. He looked at taking the same classes at UConn but the price was almost double. The schedule was also perfect for him as a father – he was able to take classes that ran from 6:30-9:30 pm and was able to keep his job. Jace also knew that taking classes at QV meant smaller class sizes, so he would be able to interact with the teachers and other students in a much more intimate setting.

After we talked about his educational history, I had to ask Jace if he found the classes at QVCC any easier than the classes he had taken at other schools, since he had such a broad base of comparison. Jace told me that QV prepared him incredibly well for the nursing program. “I draw on my chemistry, my anatomy, my genetics, my micro all the time in my nursing classes and I think they’ve served me very well. I think it’s a gross oversimplification to say that community college is simple and Ivy league or state college classes are comparatively more difficult. So much depends on the individual professors, the courses, and the students. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that community colleges are easier. I think it’s also really important to remember that there’s a lot more involved with who goes to an Ivy league versus who goes to a community college. I have seen people in Ivy league class that I’ve thought – how do I put this delicately…. I’ve seen all ranges of capability at both Ivy leagues and in community college. I think that a lot of it comes down to just what sort of advantages you were born with. Someone who is not very intellectually capable but comes from a higher economic class and with the right connection can go right into Harvard. On the other hand, someone who is brilliant, and I’ve seen people like this in a community college setting – brilliant, absolutely limitless aptitude, but didn’t have the money at the time.. They had to go to work at 12 years old because their family was in a difficult situation… Again I think it’s an oversimplification to say that one type of school is easier or brings people of a lesser aptitude and that another one brings in only the best.”

Jace is one of the kindest, most caring people I have ever met. He is the kind of person who will instantly become your friend in a class setting, helping study and answer questions. On many occasions, he helped me with my personal life, and in retrospect, I really should have taken his wonderful life advice much sooner than I did. If I were in a situation where I was having a routine blood draw, getting checked in for surgery or was in a terrifying trauma situation, there is no one I would rather have at my side than Jace. I cannot imagine someone who could be a better nurse, because he is already one of the most compassionate, thoughtful, and intelligent people I have ever met, and I am honored to have been able to talk to him about his past.

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8-10 Pages Per Week – Beth Alves’s Story

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Beth Alves – first on right 

Welcome back to the Flipside! So far I’ve highlighted many students from different backgrounds – homeschooled, public school, community college, co-op, private school. You name it, I’ve interviewed a student who has experienced it. But now I think it’s time to take a quick hiatus from the students, and dive into something a little different – professors. You see, at QVCC, I think there is one thing that really makes or breaks the school. It’s not the square footage, or how new the computer labs are. It’s not their kickass mascot (their mascot is a frog. A frog), or even their students. Sure, their student population does matter, but I don’t think it matters as much as the professors. In my experience, teachers can literally make or break a classroom experience. Their attitudes – the way they interact with their students and fellow professors – set the tone for the whole school. So that’s why I’ve interviewed several QVCC professors for this blog project. First, I’m going to start by telling Beth Alves’s story.

 

Beth Alves is the professor from whom I’ve taken the most classes at QVCC. Between the movies class, English 102, Humanities, and Women in Literature, her teaching style fit with my learning style so well that I kept coming back for more. All but one of the classes I took with Beth were online, and I’ve never had such a positive online class experience. Beth knew how important it was to make an online class still feel like a learning experience, and while her assignments were challenging and her expectations for us were high, she held herself to the same standards. Every week, she sent an individual email to each student, talking about what they did well and what they could improve on. Beth’s classes also increased my critical thinking skills.  She never wanted the simple explanation when I was analyzing an Edgar Allen Poe poem, but always asked deeper questions. These questions made us think critically about the literature we were reading, and often, about yourself. So how did Beth become a professor at QVCC? To answer that question, let’s start at the beginning.

 

Beth attended a public school for K-12, and had a great experience. She had dedicated teachers, great classes, and a variety of electives she could take in high school. She found herself gravitating towards English and history, and when she began college at Seton Hall University, she thought she wanted to be a high school teacher. As her college career continued, she found that the education classes bored her to tears, but the English classes were stimulating and engaging. She took many communications classes as electives, and soon dropped the education part of her major. “I really had absolutely no idea what I was gonna do,” but she decided she would start with an English degree. She ended up as a senior, double majoring in English and communications, and like most college students, was struggling to get by. She thought about grad school, but since she could barely pay for her undergraduate degree, she thought she wouldn’t be able to afford it. That’s when one of her friends told her about becoming a TA – the school would pay her a salary as a TA, while also paying for her college tuition. Now Beth had a Master’s degree in English but still didn’t know what she wanted to do.

 

When she finally emerged from being a college student herself, Beth became a substitute teacher at an elementary/junior high school for a semester before she landed a job as a local news reporter. “This was back in the time when you really needed to like, have a degree to be a reporter. Now a days, it’s a little bit different.” She started with obituaries and police log information, and soon she was a journalist. The drawback to this job, though, was that they didn’t pay much money, so a week before the semester started in August, Beth found an ad for a Manchester Community College adjunct professor. She became a part time professor at MCC for 12 years before she applied to three community colleges for a full time position. That’s when Beth started working at QVCC, and now she’s been there for 13 years. At QVCC Beth teaches English classes – developmental English, English 101, Literature, Women in Literature, Children’s Literature, and Contemporary American Literature, but that didn’t stop her from branching out. She was on the debate team in college and had a bachelor’s degree in Communications, so even though she didn’t have a Master’s in communications, she was able to start teaching speech classes, public speaking, communication, and business writing. From there, she took advantage of the small school setting and asked for more classes to teach, including the online Humanities class I took with her, as well as the movies class.

 

To Beth, there are many perks to teaching at a community college as opposed to a 4 year university. The class sizes are small, and “I’m able to really interact with students – I get to know them. From a professional standpoint, I like that they’re [administration] encouraging creativity on my end. If I want to create an online class – absolutely. I can’t do anything that I want, there has to be justification behind it… I like the fact that I’m pushed to be a better teacher and I like the fact that I can interact one-on-one with students.” Beth is glad that she decided to work at a community college, and doesn’t have any regrets that she chose not to get her PhD to continue on to teaching at a university. Additionally, Beth doesn’t feel pressure to publish at QVCC. “One thing that they [universities] encourage is publishing – doing a book, doing a paper.. There’s a heavy emphasis placed on that side of the academic house. If you are here [QVCC], we are not required to publish. We can if we want to, but it’s not a requirement. We have to teach 4 courses and have additional responsibilities like advising or tutoring, but I would not be happy, personally, just spending a lot of my free time writing a book. I’ much happier spending my free time trying to figure out how to make my classes better.”
One of my favorite things about Beth is that she is always honest. That’s one of the reasons why I chose Beth to be my mentor for the graduation speech process. I can always count on her to tell me what she thinks about the work that I’ve done. She is this straight forward about her life as well. “There are many things that I do not do well in my life. I really am not a good cleaner, I hate to clean. I’m mediocre at cooking and baking, but I think I do a good job teaching and I work really hard. And I’m not saying that from a boasting standpoint, because I work at it. I ask for feedback – what works well and what doesn’t work well, so they let me do the humanities class because again, I was a good worker and I got good evaluations.” While Beth might not think that being a good teacher comes naturally to her, I have to say that I’ve never had a teacher who has been more dedicated to putting in the time to make herself and her classes better for her students. The classes that I took with Beth have honestly shaped who  I am as a student more than almost any set of experiences in my college career. After writing 8-10 pages for each of her online classes per week (and one semester I took two online classes with Beth at once!) most papers pale in comparison. I can throw quotes into any piece of writing, and my citation skills are second nature. I can’t thank Beth enough for helping me grow into the student that I am today, and for helping me grow as a person by leading me through the graduation speaker audition process. The act of speaking in front of hundreds of people at my first graduation was humbling and helped me grow into a person who still gets nervous about public speaking, but who now has a perfect example of reasons why she should not be nervous. So thank you Beth.