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Spring 2004

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Moving on

Most every year some of Skidmore’s finest pack up their offices, take a perhaps-final glance at their familiar Skidmore surroundings, and step into retirement. By the end of this spring semester, three more academicians—Jacqueline Azzarto, Jon Ramsey, and Anne Wagner—will have left the college.

Azzarto, an associate professor of social work, retired in December and lives in New York City. She joined the faculty in 1989, having taught at the Rutgers Graduate School of Social Work and served as behavioral sciences director at Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J. In 1998 she became director of Skidmore’s social work program.

An advocate of integrating a community service component into the curriculum, Azzarto taught a course called Volunteerism, as well as Death and Dying, and Human Behavior and the Social Environment. She especially enjoyed her 300-level Social Policy and Social Justice class with government and law-and-society students as well as social-work majors. “We had great debates—conservatives versus liberals—on topics such as poverty and reforming Social Security,” she remembers. In addition to her teaching duties, she was a faculty advisor for Benef-Action.

In recent years Azzarto received community service awards for her work for the Saratoga Economic Opportunity Council and the Saratoga County Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center. Her other work in the community included AIDS counseling and welfare advocacy. She also lectured widely on the relationship between family medical practice and family therapy.

In 1992 Skidmore’s senior class invited Azzarto to give the Commencement address, an experience she found “thrilling.” She has described her students as “idealistic, enthusiastic, and earnest.” Many of them “wanted to change the world,” she adds, “and it was a real joy to try to direct that energy. I sent most of them into the community to work, and they always made me proud.”

Back in her hometown of NYC, Azzarto has been teaching in the graduate program at Wurtzweiller School of Social Work. For fun she often attends shows and plays (she lives across from an off-Broadway theater and spends “lots of time on the half-price line,” she divulges). And she’s happy to be near her three children in New Jersey, where she frequently babysits a grandson.

Currently dean of studies and associate dean of student affairs, Jon Ramsey came to Skidmore from UC-Santa Barbara in 1977 to join the English department. Four years later, when the brand-new associate dean position opened in student affairs, Ramsey jumped at the opportunity.

For another decade he continued teaching composition and literature courses part-time, but eventually had to give it up. “As an administrator, you form a different relationship to people,” he explains, which doesn’t necessarily translate to the classroom experience. “You become preoccupied with interesting things, but not the scholarly discipline that may have been your groundwork.”

Much of Ramsey’s work involved academic advising, adjudicating issues with the honor code, and creating new academic programs—including the Skidmore in London program for freshmen and the Honors Forum. Both have given him significant interaction with students—“an incredible joy” that he misses from his teaching days.

He also has a reputation for being something of a guidelines guru, addressing everything from independent study, internships, and short-term programs abroad to academic standards, the curriculum committee, and the committee on education policy. His goal is simple: come up with guidelines that simultaneously “make something possible and prevent you from screwing up—they’re sort of mini-constitutions.”

When it comes to academic standards and expectations, Ramsey says he cares “extremely.” And “it’s good for students, too. Most of them want to be regarded as having a lot of potential. There are a lot of smart students here.” Even those who flunk out (Ramsey has had the unenviable task of making the phone call to let parents know) are generally “every bit as smart as those who are on the dean’s list,” he says. “There’s just a host of other reasons why they didn’t get it together.”

What he’ll miss least about working at Skidmore, Ramsey says, are the occasional “litigious interactions,” usually with disgruntled parents. “I’ve gotten a lot better at it,” he says, but the process—which has sometimes involved the Justice Department—“takes its toll.” Still, even when he’s in the hot seat, Ramsey is confident that Skidmore approaches issues “fairly and honestly, and holds the line. I think that’s one of the remarkable commitments of this place,” he says.

Around the start of summer, Ramsey and his wife will head to “glorious, extraordinarily beautiful” Santa Barbara, where they have a condo. He will likely delve into some consulting work around education-related issues—preferably “anything that involves writing,” including grant proposals and yes, more guidelines.

Wagner, a senior teaching associate in chemistry, came to Skidmore in 1979. She has taught labs in everything from Fundamentals of Chemistry to Advanced Analytical Chemistry, and the physics class Light and Color. Her favorite classroom experience, she says, was teaching Fundamentals—both lecture and lab—in Skidmore’s summer program. She’s also supervised student assistants each semester, prepared hazardous wastes from labs for disposal, and processed the department’s large equipment and supplies order each summer.

Wagner says she’ll miss the daily interaction with her colleagues and students. “But I will not miss trying to find a parking spot in the Dana lot,” she adds, with nary a hint of sarcasm.

It’s pride that’s apparent when Wagner mentions her students’ “intellectual growth and increased confidence as they progress” through their four years at Skidmore. “When they stand up and professionally present their research projects to peers and faculty, with poise and conviction, I know our department is serving our students well,” she says.A special reward, she adds, comes in “learning that students who have asked me to recommend them for internships, jobs, and scholarships were offered them.”
Wagner’s pride extends to the former students in her own family, all of whom are Skidmore grads. With a mom’s satisfaction she recalls a significant highlight in the college life of each: “Janet ’91 was selected to be co-head admissions tour guide, James ’95 had a project selected for the Senior Art Show, and Joseph ’98 gave his senior jazz saxophone recital.”

In retirement, Wagner—who lives in Saratoga Springs—says she is “looking forward to having more time to garden, travel, and golf with my husband, do country tin painting and stenciling, and visit my children and grandchildren” (three so far). —MTS


 

 


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