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Mary Pritchard: ‘We discover and transmit knowledge and develop the next generation’

April 25, 2013
Mary E. Pritchard

Mary E. Pritchard

Mary Pritchard, associate dean of the NIU College of Health and Human Sciences, is retiring this spring after 35 years at the university. Pritchard offered these remarks Tuesday, April 23, at the annual Faculty and SPS Service Recognition Luncheon.

As I prepare for my retirement in May, I am cleaning out my office. This involves reducing the volume of college files to be passed on to my successor as well as reducing the volume of paper and books to be transported to my already full house. I have been opening files that I haven’t looked at in a while and reflecting back on my 35 years at NIU.

I was first hired at NIU in the mid-1970s, with a newly minted master’s degree, as a temporary instructor in the Department of Home Economics. Later, I earned my Ph.D. by commuting to Purdue (leaving a second-grader, a preschooler and very supportive husband at home). There were no online or distance education classes then.

When I finished my Ph.D., I was fortunate to be hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Human and Family Resources (new name). That unit is now the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences. You can all probably recall the many other changes in the names of majors, departments and colleges across the university.

As a new assistant professor, I had teaching experience but remember the challenge of translating complex doctoral coursework to a level appropriate for undergraduate students. My goal was to help students enjoy learning and become independent learners and critical thinkers.

Over the years, there have been many changes in the way that we facilitate student learning. Now, there is a strong emphasis on student engagement and involvement and less on the talking head at the front of the room. Teaching methods and support systems have moved from blackboard to white board and back to something called “Blackboard” with a capital B – the teaching platform that provides online support for classes. We have switched from overhead projectors using transparencies to computer projectors and smart boards.

On the research side, I began using the SPSS statistical package when data and programs were entered using punched cards. The cards were fed into a card reader and analysis run on NIU’s mainframe computer – which occupied several rooms. The process was slow and I remember the frustration of waiting for the printed output only to find an error. This meant that I had to re-punch some cards, resubmit the job, and wait in hopes that I had caught all of the errors. Analysis later moved to dumb terminals with the jobs still run on the mainframe. Now, we use PC versions of statistical packages that complete the analysis in a matter of a few seconds on computers in our offices. We can print the output on local printers or store it electronically and convert the results to tables for research reports.

Photo of a typewriterElectronic storage is another change. As I review things that need to be discarded, I am recycling a lot of paper files which have been replaced by electronic files that are easily stored on servers or in the cloud.

Technology has changed the way that we do our work. We have traded typewriters for computers with internet access, and now Wi-Fi. In fact, just last week one of our undergraduate student workers was perplexed when asked to complete a project using a typewriter. How many of you still use a typewriter? Remember those noisy dot matrix printers with pages to separate and feeder guides to remove? The high speed printers with duplex and stapling capacity are a lot more efficient.

I remember when the entire faculty in my department shared two phone lines. We were very happy when the NIU telephone system was upgraded to private telephone lines and phones on our desks. I also remember ditto and mimeograph machines that have been replaced by copy machines that duplex, collate, and staple.

Technology has also changed the speed with which we are able to communicate. My files contain a lot of letters and memos that were dictated to a secretary and then typed, possibly using carbon paper to make a copy. We now have almost instant email, tweets, Facebook and all the various social media.

From our vantage point here in the Sky Room, we have a bird’s eye view of NIU’s physical campus. When I began at NIU, the MLK Commons was a parking lot, providing easy access to the HSC bookstore. Swen Parson was the library and then when Founders was finished, I remember the striped carpet, which has since been replaced.

Altgeld HallThe renovation of Altgeld Hall transformed an aging building to an historic masterpiece that is the pride of NIU and the community. Huskie Stadium had just one side on the west, which contained the student section and general seating. We are very fortunate to have many new buildings – the Convocation Center, Engineering Building, Barsema Hall, Barsema Alumni and Visitor Center, New Residence Hall, Yordon Center, LaTourette Hall, and others.

With all these changes, some aspects of our work remain very similar.

As a university, we discover and transmit knowledge and develop the next generation of citizens. Each year, eager students enter our university community, many of them the first in their families to attend college. These students represent diverse groups and help us learn together. I am particularly aware of our outstanding students during these weeks at the end of the year when we celebrate excellence. It was inspiring to hear about student achievements at the Honors Day ceremonies last Sunday.

Another thing that has not changed is the incredibly talented faculty members who truly care about their students and want to make a difference in our world. We are also fortunate to have excellent staff members who support the students and faculty in making NIU a great place to develop lifelong learners. Many of our faculty and staff members are being recognized today and during these weeks of excellence.

I have enjoyed my years at NIU and hope to continue my lifelong learning in a new environment.

“May you see sunshine where others see shadows and opportunities where others see obstacles.”