Ask Betty Thomas what she will miss most after teaching at Sullivan University for 17 years, and she will reply, “Interactions with students and my peers.” Betty taught in the Information Technology program, specifically Microsoft Office Applications, including Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, and Outlook.
Her retirement in March 2011 prompted Virginia Godwin, the Associate Dean of Information and Computer Technology, to say that Betty “can’t be replaced from a student standpoint. She is flexible and patient; both come naturally for her.”
Students agree. Says Edward Pfieffer, a former student, “For anyone who has never used MS Office, or had to use MS Office at work, either sporadically or intensely, her CSC104 was a great class. She did a wonderful job of covering all of Microsoft Office's four major applications...and what was really nice she even covered some of their seldom used but interesting features, like for example, PowerPoint's animation effects.”
Terri Powell had not attended school in almost 20 years when she enrolled in Betty’s CSC118 class. “I was somewhat nervous. Betty was always available by computer or telephone and, although it was an online class, she made it seem like I was actually sitting in her class on campus. She gave me encouragement to move forward. She will be missed at Sullivan.”
In Betty’s CSC214 class, she required students to present their work to their colleagues. Her purpose was to promote teamwork. “My students have to be able to work with others, even if they don’t like the people they work with.”
Most importantly, Betty considered herself to be a part of the team, too. In one instance, she offered to help a student who was having difficulty in her class - - by driving to his home in Tennessee! Betty always took seriously the Chancellor’s challenge to help all students as much as possible to succeed in Sullivan University’s classes.
While an adjunct at Sullivan University, Betty was also employed with the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) for 38 years. During that time, she applied for promotions, was passed over for some, regrouped with new skills, and was then promoted. Her career began as a typist and offset press operator and continued to progress to programmer and analyst positions. “I’ve always been good with machines,” she says.
Betty taught at several local institutions, along with the JCPS Adult Education program. Jim Klein, now Sullivan University’s Enrollment Services Director, hired Betty in January 1994. At that time, she was working full-time and going to school herself on a full-time basis. “I understood what our students were dealing with and could relate to them,” she says. She retired from JCPS in August 2005 as a Manager of User Support, but continued teaching at Sullivan University and offering training programs through JCPS.
Betty says her motivation to be a good instructor was born from having had a few good teachers herself. “I wanted to try and be a good instructor for other students…I really tried to assist them in any way I could to make sure they learned what they needed to know.”
While full-time retirement might seem daunting for such a busy person, Betty has many plans for the future. Betty generously donates her time and talent to her church as a bookkeeper/secretary and to nursing homes with patient visits. She maintains an active role as the bookkeeper in her family’s business, Fern Creek Shoe Repair. Her inspiration for longevity in the work world undoubtedly comes from her 87 year old mother, Ilene Thomas, who continues to work in the repair shop, too.
Trying to make a difference in the lives of students is what Sullivan University instructors attempt every day. Many of them, like Betty Thomas, find their attempts successful and rewarding experiences. “I’ve enjoyed and loved the work I’ve done…trying to make a difference in the lives of our students.”