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GPI: Therese Ajtum-Roberts, Coordinator of the Chris Walsh Center for Educators and Families

A photo of Coordinator Therese Ajtum-Roberts.
Leighah Beausoleil / THE GATEPOST

By Haley Hadge

What is your role at FSU and what does your job entail?

I’m the coordinator for the Chris Walsh Center. My job is to help Dr. [James Cressey, chair of the Education department,] run the center. It was designed to serve the needs of students in the MetroWest area who are having unmet needs. So, we’re servicing families, and also professional development educators around issues of disability, inclusion, [and] race. ... We have an upcoming event on autism towards the end of the semester that Dr Cressy’s class is doing. But they did a variety of different programming last year. My job is to oversee the graduate students, and the graduate students oversee the student interns.

What is your professional and educational background?

Well, the previous three years before I came here, I, like many parents, stepped out of the workforce for a year because of COVID. I was the director of the Teaching, Learning and Technology Center at Becker College in Worcester, Mass. I’d also been teaching at Northeastern as a part time instructor since 2009. I’ve taught mostly graduate courses online since then. I did some teaching at Becker. ... Before then, I did my graduate work at UMass so I worked there for a while. I did all three degrees at UMass Amherst. ... I focused on teacher education in school programs. ... My dissertation focused on teachers’ use of technology in the classroom and also teachers’ understanding of their global awareness. I found a teacher’s lived experience really influences how they teach in the classroom, and also how they develop their sense of the world around them and the way in which they present that influences the next generation of students to go out into the world. So, I also fell in love with just teaching and learning and the research. ... I went to UMass to become a history teacher, but I learned teaching is so much more than just walking into the classroom. ... I went to become a history teacher because I wanted to change education from the inside. I wanted to teach other students who learn like me in a way which was more positive than I had when I was going through school. I grew up with a learning disability, and at the time, not a lot of people were as familiar with learning disabilities as they are today.

What do you like most about your work?

I like how welcoming the FSU community has been. And I like how both the graduate students and undergraduate students I have been working with are so far on top of things and really excited about the work they’re doing. I am most excited with the possibility the Center has to improve the life of adult learners in our community, and to support both families and teachers in writing. Family and teachers always need support. It’s hard being a parent or a caregiver. It’s hard being an educator.

What’s something that students might be surprised to know about you?

I didn’t talk at all until I was four and a half, and I was considered nonverbal. ... When I was in eighth grade, I was still writing at a third-grade level. And I think when I meet other kids who struggle with their disabilities or their attention, they’re always shocked that I went on and got my doctorate – that I have a doctorate – and that you can go to college and you can be successful and get their master’s and doctorate. You don’t have to let your learning disability or your attention disorder hold you back. I didn’t get diagnosed with my ADHD until later in life, and often, women go underdiagnosed with ADHD because the symptoms show differently. And you don’t need to have those things hold you back. You have to figure out how you can work to get people to understand the way you learn and the way you work. But also, you need to find communities [that] are accepting of you, and if you stick with it, you can do what you set your mind to. It might not look exactly like you planned because I originally planned on being a history teacher. But you find your road, and with every door that closes, other pathways open. So sometimes getting there isn’t a direct route. So, don’t ever rule anything out – you just have to keep going at it.

What is your number one piece of advice that you have for your students?

That learning is a process and not a product, and that you really have to appreciate the learning process. I tell my students that I really look at the process that they’re learning, and I’m not so worried about perfection. It’s the improvements we make as we’re learning something – those are the lasting things that stay in our brain. We might not remember a certain assignment, but if we learn it the right way, we will remember the experience.


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