Perham ends prolific JSC career

Mariah Howland

Perham shortly before retirement

Professor Andrea Perham has played essential roles in both the Writing and Literature Department and the larger JSC community for 35 years. At the end of this semester, she will begin the next chapter of her life after retiring from JSC.

Andrea started at JSC in 1977, in academic support services dealing with academic advising, new student registration and supervising the resource learning center. Perham was also a developmental skills specialist which meant she was in charge of the Writing Proficiency Exam and expository writing curriculum. In 1983, she became dean of student affairs and kept that position for three years. Perham then moved on, joining the faculty of the Writing and Literature Department. By this time she had gotten her PhD. from McGill University in Canada and then served as associate academic dean for two years, on leave from the writing and literature faculty. In 1995 Perham was named chair of the department and still is to this day. Perham was also awarded the Distinguished Faculty Award in 2010 and has been a key facilitator and coach for international students learning English.

“I am going to miss her because she always strikes me as one of the most youthful people around,” said Dan Regan, dean of academic affairs. “Intellectually and academically, she strikes me as one of the most youthful and vital people on our campus. I love when a new idea comes up and you just see her eyes twinkle, and her smile shine, as she tries to respond to and think about it. What impresses me most is that for her the vastness of her experience has bred not rigidity, but openness to ideas and perspectives.”

As for what she will miss most Perham says, “The excitement of the classroom, seeing students gain traction in their learning, making discoveries, improving their writing and interpretative skills in literature and beginning to take charge of their own learning. I really see such a bright future for so many of these people.”

Colleagues within the Writing and Literature department will also feel Perham’s absence. “It’s hard to imagine this department without Andrea, who has been my mentor, supporter and friend for the 20 years I’ve been here,” said Tyrone Shaw, associate professor of writing and literature. “Most of what I know about good teaching I owe to her, and she’s been a living demonstration of best practices for as long as I’ve had the sense to observe how she does it. For Andy, the enemy of all pretension and puffery, teaching has been equal parts art and higher calling, and in both she models the best of what we can achieve.”

Perham has greatly and positively affected the department. In her time here she has managed to help create the Writing Proficiency Exam and has helped in a national project which examined the role of expository writing in academic courses. “I would say that she has really provided a rudder and direction for our department,” said Daniel Towner, professor of writing and literature. “She is very clear about the needs of our department. She has been very good at keeping the focus on doing what we do in an effective way. I think an important part of that focus is always keeping the interests of the students first, that is always at the forefront of our thoughts, ‘How can we best serve our students?’ She is an outstanding classroom instructor and she sets the bar pretty high for the rest of us. She is well organized and clear and energetic.”

Sharon Twigg, who like Towner is a faculty member in the writing and literature department, will also miss Perham. “I think her biggest accomplishment is being a really dedicated teacher,” Said Twigg. “She is always trying to figure out how to make her classes better, how to better help students understand literature and writing process, so she is always trying to improve, which is really impressive and I think rare.”

And students will agree with Twigg and also feel a loss when Perham leaves the department. “Dr. P.! I love her,” said Sam Christoni, a former student of Perham. “She always put up with the people in our class really well, no matter the quality of work they handed her.”

Perham has a young and lively energy about her that comes through in every aspect of her teaching and instructing. “She is extremely interested in listening to what people have to say and works hard to advance those interests, advance that discussion, and is always pushing you towards a deeper level of critical thinking,” said Jacob White, professor of writing and literature. “That to me, that just sparkling, scintillating, intellectual liveliness is something that I certainly am lucky to have been around.”

As Perham moves on to the next stage of her life, the first thing she will do is clean out her cluttered office. But after that, “We are going to downsize our big old rambling farm house which has not only my stuff and my husband’s, but the stuff that four children have left there as they have grown up and gone onto their own lives. That will be the work part of my new adventure, but then I am looking forward to a lot of time to be outside and take walks, play golf, in the wintertime cross country ski, read literature for fun, garden and a little bit of travel. I want to go see Gettysburg and travel down to the antebellum South and see Civil War sights and I want to go back to my old high school in New Jersey. I also hope to have the health to continue to enjoy my life. It’s a little bit of a transition -I have been working since 1967- so it will take some adjustment.” Perham also has yet to meet her sixth grandchild, Henry, and looks forward to doing so in the near future.

“If part of living well is knowing when to leave the party, I guess she’s made a good call: leaving us at the top of her game but leaving us the poorer for her departure,” said Shaw. “We’re losing one of our greats. I sure will miss her.”