“Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” —HARRIET TUBMAN
Sometimes, we make choices that lead us to the best possible circumstance among the best possible people we could hope for in our lives. When that happens, we thank our lucky stars, and we align ourselves with those people, we learn from them, we hold them in our hearts and we emulate them. We call them mentors; we call them friends.
“They are the kind of people you want to keep in your life,” says Thomas Dana ’84 M ’87, Ph.D., of the motivating professors he and his wife, Nancy Fichtman Dana ’86 M ’88, Ph.D., had at Oswego. “You want to honor them by giving to your own students and colleagues the same effective support they gave to you.”
The Danas say they were part of a constellation of Oswego students who were nurtured in the 1980s by “wonderful faculty members.” Former dean Thomas Gooding, Ph.D., and his wife, Shirley, and the late Nathan Swift, Ph.D., and his wife, Patricia, were among them. And, in counting the mentors who became lifelong friends and inspirations, the Danas especially treasure their association with Dr. Barbara Palmer Shineman ’65 M ’71, and her late husband Richard S. Shineman, Ph.D., a faculty couple whose lives revolved around the college, its programs and its students. Now, as leaders in higher education themselves, Nancy and Tom say they try to incorporate the Shinemans’ practices into their own teaching and administration.
Tom, a meteorology and astronomy major at Oswego, is now a professor and associate dean of academic affairs at the University of Florida College of Education. He recalls Richard Shineman as a professor who connected with each student on an individual level and understood what each student needed.
“Deep down, although he was a marvelous scientist, Dick Shineman was an educator,” Tom says. “He was passionate about having all students acquire science literacy. He found ways to make chemistry accessible to all.”
Tom refused a scholarship to a prestigious private college in favor of choosing Oswego because he had worked in his high school planetarium and was impressed to find a college that had one as well. Nancy followed in the footsteps of her brother, Bruce Fichtman ’80, who had come to Oswego to study industrial arts.
“I was the little sister, coming along for family visits and seeing the campus as a place where I could feel comfortable,” Nancy says. “I always knew I wanted to teach.”
Maybe it was cosmic forces that brought Nancy and Tom together as co-resident assistants on the first floor of Oneida Hall. Maybe it was simply the end result of a series of wise choices.
“We realized we worked together really well,” Nancy says.
“And the residents seemed to enjoy seeing our relationship develop,” Tom adds. The working relationship turned personal, and it led to marriage, career and family.
The Danas are established now in Gainsville, successful in their professions in higher education at the University of Florida and enjoying life with their son, Greg, a sophomore at UF, and daughter, Kirsten, a high school senior.
They resist occasional urges to move north again, but they say they are constantly aware of the excellent foundation they received at Oswego, and they often recall their student days, when professors provided the resources and advantages they needed to excel.
“We valued that sense of collegiality and the fact that we were inspired to seek our best selves,” Nancy says. “Barbara Shineman was a huge influence in my life. She constantly encouraged me. To hear, from an educator you admire on every level, the words, ‘You can do this,’ meant everything.”
Nancy became a colleague of her mentor when she joined Barbara Shineman in directing the Sheldon Institute, an Oswego summer program of enrichment, designed originally for gifted and talented pupils.
As a professor in UF’s School of Teaching and Learning, with credits for extensive research and publication in areas of new and continuing teacher development, Nancy carries on the best practices and techniques she acquired from Barbara.
“I constantly want to create the same qualities of mentorship and the same environment of positive reinforcement that Dr. Shineman gave to me,” she says.
As for Barbara Shineman, she says the connections she and Richard made with “brilliant young people like Nancy and Tom” enriched their lives.
“The college was the nucleus around which we planned our days. We were both passionate about higher education, specifically about Oswego where we felt blessed to be teaching and learning,”
“Dick and I both took such delight in seeing students blossom and fulfill all their potential. And, of course, Dick — given his philanthropic principles — demonstrated his allegiance by making generous gifts for scholarships and programs and by establishing the foundation that bears his name.”
A teacher at the Oswego Campus School and later a member of the faculty in the School of Education until her 1989 retirement, Barbara has had a lasting influence that reaches far beyond the immediate interaction in the classroom. To Nancy, she was not only a professor, but also a light, a source of illumination.
“Barbara guided me and nurtured me — in the classroom, as my student teaching supervisor and again, later, when she was director of the Sheldon Institute,” Nancy says. “It was a tremendous opportunity to work with her in those situations, to learn from her and to receive her wise counsel.”
The Danas credit the Shinemans with persuading them to pursue doctoral degrees. “It was quite a leap,” Nancy says. “We were quite comfortable. We owned a home and were becoming settled in Central New York. But, with the affirmation we received from Dick and Barbara — and largely, it was Barbara’s influence — we sold everything and went back to being students.”
Tom had a connection to Florida State through the work he had done on the NSF grant with professors Swift and Gooding, so they applied and were accepted there. The Danas say they have been fortunate, after completing their degrees, to receive academic appointments at universities where they can both pursue their individual passions for education. First at Pennsylvania State University, now at UF, they have helped create and sustain an academic environment like that they saw modeled at Oswego, where they say they were part of “a learning community.”
Coming together for the Oct. 4, 2013, dedication of the Richard S. Shineman Center for Science, Engineering and Innovation was, for Tom and Nancy Dana and Barbara Shineman, like gathering as a family once more.
“They have become as close as any beloved relatives,” Barbara says. “Dick and I watched their careers develop, and before he died, we all enjoyed vacations and visits together. He would have been delighted that they were here for the dedication.”
Barbara says the Danas are among those alumni who are the pride of Oswego. “They are graduates who embody all the best qualities we hope to engender in our students so that when they go on to their careers, they take with them the values we hold so dear.”
Spending time on campus after several years prompted Tom and Nancy to reminisce about their student days. As they reflected upon their life journey and thought about the people who helped launch their careers, Nancy and Tom said they continued to be filled with gratitude.
“It all started here,” Tom said, as he and Nancy held hands walking toward the new building that bears the name of one of their cherished Oswego mentors. He and Nancy smiled at one another, hurried to go inside for the landmark celebration. “It all started right here.”
—Linda Loomis ’90 M ’97
You might also like
More from Alumni Profiles
Scholarship Solidifies Late Scientist's Laker Legacy The friendship between Colleen A. McHorney ’78 and Brett Connolly ’76 began in 1975 as students at SUNY Oswego. “Several …