Alumni bring their talents back to Palm Beach State

By Amy Haigh

Freelance Writer

For several faculty and staff at the Lake Worth campus, Palm Beach State College is not only their employer, it is also their alma mater.

When Associate Professor Marcie Pachter graduated in 1995, she had a feeling she might return to the school some day. In fact, she says her former Phi Theta Kappa advisor, Associate Professor Allen Hamlin, predicted it. Pachter recalls him telling her “I think you’re coming back.”

At the time, she did not know in what capacity she might return. But her positive experiences as a student and as an active participant in campus organizations had laid the groundwork for her eventual homecoming.

“I think I always knew I would have to give something back,” she says. “I don’t think I understood then how that would happen.”

Pachter went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in English from Florida Atlantic University and a master’s degree in communications from Indiana State University. She worked briefly in publishing and as an adjunct professor at other colleges, including the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Pachter returned to teach communications at the Lake Worth campus in 2002, exactly 10 years after her first year as a student.

Pachter’s former mentor, Hamlin, is himself an alumnus of Palm Beach State. He graduated in 1969, when it was a junior college, and returned to teach in 1977.  Although he worked elsewhere for four years after he received his master’s degree from FAU, he took a position as a math professor at the junior college as soon as an opening became available.

Hamlin says that even as a student, he always knew he wanted to teach here: “I thought about teaching at other levels, but when I got to the community college, I really felt that that was where I best fit.”

But Dr. Anita Kirchen, who is an adjunct professor in art history, had no idea she would one day teach at the college. Kirchen’s first day of class on the Lake Worth campus was also her 48th birthday. She came to the college with the goal of preparing for a bachelor’s degree. “I had so much fun doing that, I decided to get a master’s,” she says. “And I had so much fun doing that, I wanted a Ph.D.”

Similarly, JoAnne Blair, an English language and grammar tutor in the Lake Worth campus English Writing Lab, did not know she would eventually work at her alma mater. Blair, who started pursuing her associate degree at the age of 37, aspired to become a marine biologist. But before proceeding to get her bachelor’s degree in biology at FAU, Blair took additional classes at Palm Beach State. In need of a part-time job, she began working in the Writing Lab in 2006, and has remained there both during and after her student years at FAU.

So what qualities about the institution lured these alumni back as employees? Like Pachter, Blair enjoys being able to “give back” some of what she learned at the college. The diversity of the student body is also high on her list of attractions. “You get to meet a lot of different people from all over the world,” Blair says. “It’s really quite exciting.”

Pachter agrees. In her previous instructor positions, she typically taught students who were recent high school graduates. At Palm Beach State, she enjoys finding different ways to relate to students who have a variety of backgrounds. In one class, her students might range from a young adult straight out of high school, to a 40-year-old dad, to a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. “That’s what makes it such a wonderful job,” she says.

Kirchen, Pachter and Blair all feel that the state’s two-year college offers students a distinct advantage over some other colleges: namely, the relatively small class sizes. Consequently, students receive more individual attention at a price that universities cannot match. “It’s a bargain,” says Kirchen. “And I think you get a better education.”

In fact, Pachter has a message for anyone who feels negatively about attending a state college: By doing well at Palm Beach State, a student can pave the way to a deeply discounted college education.

A combination of scholarships allowed Pachter to attend Palm Beach State College with minimal expense. Her strong academic performance while getting her associate degree led to further funding for her bachelor’s degree.

And based on her accomplishments while obtaining her bachelor’s, she got her master’s degree paid for as well. “I walked out of college, and I didn’t owe anybody anything,” she says. “That’s because I started here.”