Donna Kalinowsky on Berkshire Community College

I am excited about spending part of my sabbatical this fall at Berkshire Community College. I’d say that community colleges are where education meets the future. It looks like next year for the first time a majority of US college students will be at community colleges. So far everyone I’ve met loves the college and its President. Here’s an account, “The Good Things,” by one of the math adjuncts and one of my best new friends, Donna Kalinowsky, of some of the reasons she loves the place:

Last spring I taught Differential Equations. It is almost unheard of that an adjunct would be offered this course at a  community college. It took a lot of courage for Nancy [math chair] to suggest it and for Fran and Charlie [VP and Dean] to approve it. It was a sort of attaboy that I really took to heart and of which I am very appreciative. If more adjunct could be offered these sorts of opportunities it would really be a morale booster.

This summer BCC paid for me to go to Texas for training. They invested a significant amount of money in an adjunct. They really “put their money where their mouth was” and I will not forget it.  It is this sort of investment in adjunct faculty that breeds loyalty and a positive sort of indebtedness that results in adjuncts wanting to give freely of their time to the college.

When I missed work for two weeks due to a detached retina, other instructors covered my classes and I still received full pay. It is quite remarkable that a department would do this for a part time instructor. That kind of treatment cannot be repaid with money. It is a debt of gratitude that is repaid with loyalty and reciprocity – when a fellow adjunct was out for a week due to a ruptured appendix, I was the first to volunteer to cover his four night classes for free.  That is the way it should be. There is a sort of bond that transcends money when you treat people well. I have never forgotten that or any other act of generosity that has been extended to me by my fellow instructors, my department chairs and people in administration. It is one of the reasons I am still at BCC after more than 20 years. It is also one of the reasons I care so passionately about what happens in my department.

Oh yes I have forgotten to mention one of the biggest things I have to be grateful for. Back in 1990 I was newly divorced, with a newborn, no job, newly returned from 7 years in Indiana, with very minimal teaching experience. BCC took a chance on me and gave me a job teaching math. They kept rehiring me every semester even though I don’t think I was very good for the first few years – I had a lot to learn about teaching and even more to learn about people. But BCC gave me the time and space to grow and improve. They also took me back when I tried teaching in the public school and found out it really wasn’t for me. All this is another debt that I am repaying every time I volunteer to do things at BCC.

If you spend enough time around BCC you will notice a curious phenomenon.  Students don’t want to leave to  transfer to another college. I don’t know whether it’s the faculty, the cozy chairs and people in student services or even administration, but for many students  BCC is homey, comfortable like an old shoe. I know this seems to contradict what I wrote before, but that is the paradox. Two seemingly opposite things can both be true. I have heard more than one transfer student come back and say that it is BCC that they liked best, where they felt most cared for. It is that personal touch, the one-on-one caring which is among the greatest strengths of BCC. I can vouch for the sincerity of these statements, because I was one of those students back in the 1980’s.

Also, paradoxically, there have been times when my concerns were taken very seriously. I once expressed fear that a particular student was dangerous. Right away they attempted to get the student into counselling and made sure campus security was around when I was teaching this student.  Also, when I have flagged a student as possibly having a learning disability and needing accommodations, the student is seen and assessed right away. That kind of support from the administration is priceless.

I guess I am being long winded here, but my point is that when you treat people right there is a sort of synergy or alignment of purpose toward a common goal that no amount of money can buy. And I suppose, no amount of money can remedy its absence.

So, no grand solutions this time, just small observations. The other side of the coin.

Donna Kalinowsky


  1. Frank Morgan » Blog Archive » Berkshire Community College:

    […] It was an honor and a joy to be part of it. See guest blog posts by my generous colleagues Donna Kalinowsky, math chair Nancy Zuber, and Fayette […]

  2. spoofysponge:

    I would rather have some business education and training. But no college I know can ever provide that to me. So I am really at a loss and can’t find anything. Can you help, maybe? I feel really desperate. Whatever I find in traditinoal educational system, really doesn’t work for me.

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