Susan Hayes and the Spirit of Partnership

3 Feb


            Dr. Carl Keyes vividly remembers that semester in 2014 when he served as the interim director of the Community Service-Learning Program at Assumption College.

            It was his first time in an administrative role of any kind at Assumption, and he was undertaking it as he was also going up for tenure as a history professor. Plus, the person he was subbing for (me) would be hitting the road for three-and-a-half months.

            But he had an ace in the hole: CSL Partnership Coordinator Susan Hayes.

            Seven years later, at a January 21st farewell reception on Zoom, Dr. Keyes expressed his appreciation to Susan. “I want to thank you for being my guide in many ways during a time that was scary, because I didn’t want to mess it up – and you made sure I didn’t mess it up,” Dr. Keyes told Susan.  

            “There was no way it was going to get messed up with you on the scene.”

Susan (left) with Assumption CSL alum Julia Kilgore

       I know how Carl feels. When I succeeded Susan Perschbacher, the co-founder and first director of the CSL Program, I was immediately confronted with the seemingly dozens of things that staff does for faculty, who wind up getting a disproportionate amount of the glory. While many of those duties were clerical – important in their own right – Susan’s job went far beyond that. For 12 years, she was the one building and maintaining partnerships with the more than 80 non-profits with which Assumption CSL profs have worked at one time or another. She was the one who built and maintained the relationships with dozens of volunteer coordinators out in the Worcester community, the one who helped train our students on how to behave at volunteer sites, and the one who sought feedback from students and agencies on how those partnerships were going. Professors creating a new CSL course usually met with me and Susan; while my role was to help shape the academic vision of the course, Susan was the one to offer the expertise on specific partnerships, thus providing the reassurance that we were going to find a way to make the course work for them. Increasingly over the years, I could have left the meeting altogether – if only they weren’t being held in my office.  

      So pervasive was her role, my biggest anxiety as a CSL director was what the program – and I – would do without her. Fortunately, her role is being filled by one of CSL’s friends on this campus, Vinnie Sullivan-Jacques, who has deep experience with partnerships. Still, those who gathered on Zoom January 21st all had their own distinct view of the many-angled thing that is the community partnership position she helped mold.

      Dr. Susan Perschbacher, the CSL director when Susan was hired, remembered how many questions both of them had in those early days. “Susan, you just hung in there. You really created the job. I think now about how crucial you’ve been to the establishment of the whole community service-learning program. I think the role that Susan plays was developed by Susan. And without Susan, there would be no service-learning program, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. We owe you an incredible debt of appreciation and appreciation.”

      Donna Connolly, an Assumption alumnus, runs the Collegiate Success Institute, in which local colleges and companies pair off with particular high schools. Assumption students pair with employees of Hanover Insurance to teach after-school classes on the worlds of college and the workplace beyond. Susan oversaw every aspect. 

     “Susan, it was always important to you that wanted to get students in a comfortable space and made sure access to computers,” said Connolly. “You wanted to make sure those students were fed well when they came on campus.” 

     Several professors recalled how Susan helped them turn their pedagogical vision into a reality; sometimes she even accompanied the professor on a visit to the agency. One such prof, Dr. David Crowley, said that his biology class’s partnership with Community Harvest provided “one of my most memorable teaching experiences [and] really helped our science faculty become excited about going out into the community.”

     Even though Susan didn’t get to teach a course at Assumption, she did teach students a thing or two, both in volunteer training appearances and in supervising work-studies in the CSL office. Tom Angell worked for Susan for three years. Tom, now in his first year as a history teacher in Shrewsbury, found himself jotting down key words from other people’s remarks before it was his turn. One of those words was “mentor,” and another was “office space.” 

     “That office was definitely more than just an office. We had a lot of amazing talks about llife and the world. It wasn’t just going to work, it was, ‘Oh, I’ve got to see Susan!’ My friends were like, ‘Who is this Susan? Who is this person you’re always going off to see?’ Many of my friends didn’t have the same experience in their work studies.”  

     One measure of this connection, even now, was that Tom lingered after the reception was over so he could have yet another treasured with Susan.

     Of course, the departure of Susan Hayes doesn’t mean she’s done with community service or with making a positive impact on people’s lives. She will continue at Ascentria Care Alliance, where, in addition to administrative duties, she’s served as a caseworker. Among her many service commitments is her work with the Interfaith Hospitality Network, where she serves on the advisory board alongside another member of the  Assumption community.

     “In our last board meeting earlier this week,” Dr. Jim Lang said, “she announced that her congregation is making one of the biggest donations we have ever received from a congregation. I’m sure that was due in large part to the energy and commitment Susan brought to keeping her congregation involved.” 

     As for the star of the gathering, Susan Hayes marveled at the refreshing change that came with a job that combined higher education and serving others. 

     “The faculty have been so inspiring and I loved just being around the higher ed environment,” Susan said. “I’ve loved the conversations that either I’ve had or overheard, the energy I get being in higher education, and the excitement of the partnerships that come together. I’ve been happy to share that with you, and it’s because of your work that I was able form those partnerships out in the community.” 

     Even though Susan had been involved in community service before, the educational context provided a new dimension. 

     “Before, it was just service,” she said. “I wish everyone could take a service-learning course because it changes you – especially when you add that learning component.”

 

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