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‘I Try to Allow Grace With My Students and My Co-workers’

By Nancy Rosebush Schertzing | Photography by Tom Gennara | December 2021

‘I Try to Allow Grace With My Students and My Co-workers’

Mary’s Work With Siena Heights Online Program Empowers Adult Students

A popular hymn of the 1960s, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” inspired many Catholics to live our faith more deeply. It plays often in the mind of Mary Roberts, assistant director of Siena Heights’ Online Program for Graduate and Professional Enrollment. In her role, she has helped hundreds of working adults build on their professional certificates to earn bachelor of applied science degrees.

We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord.

“Most of our students are 30- to 50-year-olds working in careers such as police officers, medical assistants, massage therapists. They already earned a certificate or associate’s degree and want to take the next step in their career. Usually that involves a bachelor’s degree.

“Adults come to Siena Heights because we accept their credits and recognize their life experience. We start there and help them design a path forward with liberal arts, business and behavioral sciences courses to extend their learning and complete their bachelor’s degree.

“Because most of our students are working full time, attending a traditional university program isn’t an option for them. Online learning allows them to keep working and maintain their home life wherever they are in the world. I currently have students from Germany, Hawaii and Trinidad and Tobago.”

And we pray that our unity will one day be restored.

“Whether it’s because of the examples of our Dominican Sisters or life experience, I try to allow grace with my students and my co-workers. I have no idea what others are going through, so I allow them to make mistakes and sometimes be upset or angry. I don’t write them off for it but try instead to shake it off and start fresh the next day.

“Maybe I developed this coming from a family of 10 kids. I’ve always been more inclined to try to figure things out and move forward. I’m like my mom in that I try to make things easier for people.

“Our students’ unique experiences are like puzzles we help them put together to advance to the next level of their careers. Wherever they come from in life or their academic journeys, we work to make all our students feel accepted and succeed.” Mary laughs, “You have no idea how fascinating and tiring that can be.”

We will work with each other. We will work side by side.

“I have one student who just graduated after years of enrolling in classes, then withdrawing or failing them. At one point, he was suspended. But he desperately wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree, so about every six months he would touch base saying he wanted to finish and asking me what he could do to be reinstated. Finally, in January of 2020, he was readmitted. Then COVID hit. He lived in New York City at the heart of the pandemic. To remain safe and healthy, he lost his job, his income and contact with the outside world for several months. But despite all those challenges, he successfully completed his classes and graduated at the end of the year.

“When the time is right for our students – whenever that is – we are there for them. He strikes my heart because he illustrates that so well. I feel blessed that I’ve been able to assist so many students in achieving their goal. Even though I rarely get to physically meet my students, we develop a special bond around our shared goal of their graduation.”

And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.

“Our faculty are rigorously trained to teach effectively online. That’s one major reason Siena Heights online bachelor’s program has ranked among the best in the country by U.S. News and World Report for eight straight years. Siena Heights also earned the top ranking among online programs in the state of Michigan for the last five years.

“Siena Heights has a deep commitment to welcoming all. The Four Pillars of the Adrian Dominicans – Community, Ministry (Service), Study and Prayer – are present across our beautiful campus and online.”

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.

“Adrian Dominicans create a fabulous atmosphere by how they treat people. But as the sisters are aging, fewer are in the classrooms than before. To protect that heritage, the university created a group called Torch Bearers to teach students, faculty, and staff what it means to be Dominican.

“As a Torch Bearer, I’ve helped freshmen in the first week of classes explore and talk about what it’s like to attend a Dominican school. I encourage meetings to begin with prayer and have led or assisted with these prayers. Mostly, I try to live my life by the Dominican example.”

Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.