Anne Devlin says of Maria College: "One of the cool things here is that almost everybody teaches. Our president (Dr. Thomas J. Gamble) teaches one to two courses every semester."
Anne Devlin says of Maria College: "One of the cool things here is that almost everybody teaches. Our president (Dr. Thomas J. Gamble) teaches one to two courses every semester."

The Evangelist continues its interview series with Anne Devlin, who has served as assistant professor and deputy chair of Arts and Science at Maria College in Albany for over 30 years. Born and raised in the Capital District, Devlin is one of Albany’s biggest cheerleaders. A natural teacher, Devlin uses that same “cheerleading” mentality to encourage and support her students at Maria College and there’s nobody better for the job. Whether it’s putting GIFs in her PowerPoint to make students’ smile or asking them in the hallway how their exam went, there’s no doubt Devlin has shaped students’ college experiences for the better. Emily Benson of The Evangelist sat down with Devlin to talk about her faith, her time as a teacher during COVID-19 and her love for a college she never wants to leave.

TE: Are you from the area?

AD: I’ve never lived anywhere else! It’s interesting the path that your life takes. I went to Vincentian (Institute) grade school which doesn’t even exist anymore. It was across from The College of St. Rose and it was (run by) the Sisters of Mercy, and now I’m here at Maria College which is with the Sisters of Mercy! This will be where I retire from and that’s where I started from.

TE: Tell me about your upbringing. 

AD: I grew up right on Washington Avenue. My dad was a podiatrist and we had this little house and we lived there forever. We were in Blessed Sacrament parish but they didn’t have a kindergarten. I have two sisters and a brother, so dad sent us to Vincentian and we just stayed there through eighth grade. Then I went to the Academy of Holy Names down the street — my mom was a graduate there —  and then I went to the University at Albany. As you can see I didn’t go very far!  And right out of UAlbany I started teaching at Holy Names. At 21 years old, I started teaching there and I was there for six years. I loved it, but through a path I found myself here, and I’ve been here for (32) years now.

TE: You must have loved the college to stay for so long.

I love Maria. It has a great connection to the Academy of the Holy Names. The sisters have a similar mission and they’re smaller institutions that really look at the person. Mary Anne Vigliante, who is now Head of School at Academy of Holy Names, was my teacher and then became my mentor. I knew from high school I wanted to be an English teacher. I’m certified for grades 7-12 so I did that while I was at Holy Names. Actually the mother of two of my Holy Names students guided me here to Maria. I came as a one-year replacement for an English professor who went to get her doctorate and she never came back. I didn’t have Maria as a destination but I do believe in divine providence and things happen for a reason.

TE: Did you get your undergrad and masters from the University at Albany?

AD: Yes, my undergraduate degree was in English, and I got a teaching certification, and then my graduate degree is in English with a focus on teaching. And I didn’t start my masters until I started teaching (at Maria). It’s encouraged; a degree beyond the bachelor’s. Maria College was able to help pay for tuition and books to finish one course at a time. So I have my masters from UAlbany. I don’t stray far! When I was going for undergrad, I applied to SUNY Albany, Siena College and Skidmore College. All S’s!

TE: Do you come from a religious family?

AD: My dad was as Roman Catholic as they come and a wonderful man. My mom was also Catholic. Getting a Catholic education was very important to them and all four of us kids went to Catholic school up to the college level and then my brother went to UAlbany. My sisters didn’t go to college. They took different paths in that direction but Catholic education was extremely important to my family; church every Sunday, extremely important, and in retrospect I appreciate that.

TE: Do you think your faith has shaped you?

AD: It definitely shaped me. My faith never changed, though the Catholic Church has changed a bit and the way in which I think of myself as a Catholic and a Christian has moved with the times. But I think growing up in a faith-filled family and the education definitely shaped the person that I am, the way I interact with people, the causes and things I focus on. One of the things I love about Maria, stated in our mission, is respect for the dignity of every person, and that’s definitely grounded in the Gospels and grounded in Jesus’ approach for every person, and Maria lives that out. We have students from so many different backgrounds, different age groups, and more and more recently a lot of different countries. We have students from Puerto Rico, we have students from Africa, we’re getting more and more students from Burma, Thailand and that area.

TE: That’s interesting. I always wondered how students found their way here from countries across the globe. We’re not a big area like New York City or Chicago.

AD: It’s funny you say that because I wondered that too. How do you find little Albany — they say “Smalbany” — and I love Albany, I’m one of its biggest cheerleaders, but how do you find that from halfway around the world? We have several students because of Burmese conflicts. They come from refugee camps and there have been benefactors here who have helped them to find the area and helped them to find Maria. But in our mission, we are a college of opportunity and our biggest population is non-traditional. We have peer tutors, regular tutors, spiritual counselors, psychological counselors, opportunity programs like the federal HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) program, it’s a bustling wonderful place. And truthfully, one of the reasons I’ve stayed so long is the students. They can be trying, but they are wonderful people and for many of them either a higher education was never on the radar, or when it came on the radar and the opportunity was there, they worked hard. 

TE: Even as Deputy Chair of Arts and Science you still get to teach at Maria, correct?

AD: One of the cool things here is that almost everybody teaches. Our president (Dr. Thomas J. Gamble) teaches one to two courses every semester. Almost every chair teaches every semester. I teach 9-12 credits. It’s busy. My husband and I eat at 9 o’clock at night! It’s busy and sometimes it gets really, really busy, but the nice thing about college teaching is the 15-week semesters, then you get to rest. I teach in the summer but it always slows down. And I like that constant change and rejuvenation. You do a course and then the spring comes and you might do one or two new courses so you never get into a rut. 

TE: What have you learned from your time here?

I love teaching. I don’t care if it’s online or face-to-face, I love teaching. When you see somebody making progress or when you see somebody coming back and saying that I really loved that course I took so I shared it with somebody. I love teaching, I love this environment. This is the place I need to be. I like to stay put. My big move was when I got married I moved to Delmar. I’ve been to places but I like to put down roots and I found a comfortable home. This is a good place. 

TE: How has work been during the pandemic?

It’s been going all right, all things considered. I give Maria College credit; back in March we purchased an addition to a Blackboard online program that allows you to teach online in a real-time setting. So you have interaction immediately with your students and that made a difference. And this program we use, when we have virtual class, does allow you to record the class. And our administration said, “Please record your classes because we have a lot of students who are LPN’s, who work in nursing homes, who are home health-care workers and their schedules got turned upside down.” (The college) wanted to be sure students could watch the classes when they had the opportunity so they wouldn’t fall behind. 

TE: I still can’t believe what has happened this past year; it’s unbelievable. 

AD: It truly is! And it’s not just (the pandemic) it’s everything that happened in the spring with George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. I told some coworkers that I think God is slapping us silly so we’ll shape up. I said if Jesus came back a humble, simple man in sandals, nobody would pay attention. So he’s giving us bigger things to make us think a little bit. 

TE: Has working here impacted faith?

AD: Definitely. The environment here, grounded in the charism of the Sisters of Mercy, it empowers the entire environment here. I think the people that work here and stay here have that same charism, that heart. It’s reflected in our mission. That spirit is something we walk into everyday and it’s just become a part of me. The decisions we make here are filled with that spirit.

TE: Do you have a life philosophy?

AD: A quote that I love ties into Dr. Sr. Chris Connelly, she’s our spiritual counselor, and every now and then she does a busy person’s retreat for faculty and staff. It’s a week long and she encourages you to give 30 minutes a day to God. I was thinking of this quote, “Be still and know that I am God.” Just taking that minute. I try to encourage that in myself: take a minute. In the midst of all the stuff we do — and it’s all good stuff — but be still and know that I am God. You’re not going to hear the voice if you don’t stop for a minute. That and I think I tend to be a very happy, optimistic person and I smile a lot and I think a smile can go a long way. I’ll be walking down the hall here and you smile at a student and you get a smile back. There are frowning times but these kids don’t need that. But that quote and a smile can go a long way.