By Shedeiky Hamilton
She sits at her usual table in the Learning Center, sandwiching an interview between tutoring sessions. Instead of teaching, for a few moments, she is the one being interviewed, the center of attention.
Jo Ann Skousen, a popular writing center tutor, and a professor of English literature and writing, begins to reminisce about the challenges she has faced since a decision she made over 30 years ago.
She vividly remembers her time in Northern California, and the life-changing decision she made when she met Mark Skousen, a graduate student at her university.
As a teenager, Ann Skousen’s dream was to earn a degree in journalism, and become the Style Page editor of the Washington Post. She was the editor of her high school newspaper, and the year book. She was her class valedictorian, and she had earned a full-scholarship to college. But, her life changed drastically when in her first year of college when she decided to get married, and drop out of school.
“I was 18, a freshman in college, and he was completing his master’s degree and leaving for a career in Washington, D.C. I chose to go with the man rather than the age, and virtually skipped a decade, moving into his world and leaving mine behind,” she remembered.
“During my marriage, I had five children. I grew up pretty fast because I had to raise my children in my 20s and 30s, but it was fun,” she said. “I was a stay at home mom, ensuring that all my children were raised by me. I took piano lessons, dance lessons, martial arts, skiing, and figure skating along with them.”
Skousen does not regret the decision to postpone her career. Her personal motto: “No success can compensate for failure in the home.”
From 1976 to 1985, Skousen and her husband worked together in the book industry. They co-authored several financial books as well as writing financial newsletters. His, entitled Mark Skousen’s Forecasts and Strategies is now in its 30th year of publication . Skousen’s, called Jo Ann Skousen’s Money Letter for Women, was merged with his in the late ’80s when Skousen returned to college.
Skousen decided to go back to college after years of stopping and starting while raising her children.
“It was the whole reason it took me so long to finish school. I stayed home and took care of my children. My business was at home in the basement and I didn’t start teaching full-time until my last child graduated from high school,” she remembered. “As a result, I have a great relationship with my children.”
“I had a recurring dream of being at the end of the semester and suddenly realizing that I haven’t attended a single class,” she remembered. “It was literally a nightmare. Once I graduated, I never had that dream again.”
The step she made in choosing to attend Rollins College changed her life forever.
“Rollins College didn’t have a Journalism major, and the closest major was English. My husband was a professor there, and it was convenient for me. I was truly inspired by my professors, especially Dr. Maurice O’Sullivan,” she explained. “I was so impressed by the way he ensured that every student was engaged in the discussion. He was very encouraging and at the same time rigorous, which motivated me to become the kind of teacher he is.”
When she graduated from college, Skousen was in her thirties. She had a husband, a book business, and five children. She also had a 4.0 GPA and gave the valedictory address. Graduation meant so much to her, especially after taking 17 years to get there.
Presently, Skousen is an adjunct at Mercy. She is a well-rounded professor because of her involvement in so many activities over the years, including assisting students in the learning center in a variety of subjects such as music, comparative religion, economics, history, and English.
“I can relate well to our students at Mercy because I was an unconventional student like so many of them. Most of our students are returning to school after a break. They have to work and take care of families while coming to school and maintaining good grades. I had to go through that myself, so I know what it’s like.”
English Language study is a requirement for all students at Mercy regardless of their majors, and many students who take English as a Second Language may have some difficulty. However, Skousen expects the same rigorous standards from all her students.
“I teach to the highest level and expect all my students to rise to that level. We have plenty of programs at Mercy to help all of the weaker students outside of the classroom, so there is no reason for me to reduce or change my standards.”
Skousen tries to communicate with her students on a personal and pop culture level as well as on academic issues. This approach seems to be a success since the students at Mercy are the same ages as her children. Skousen also loves the fact that Mercy has four English classes and four semesters for students to perfect their writing skills.
“I really like teaching and I don’t think that I would change my profession at all. My favorite classes are the ones that I teach at Sing Sing prison. Education makes such a difference in these men’s lives, and I feel invigorated by their intense engagement in discussions,” she claimed.
Yet if she had to shift careers, she sees herself battling the rigors of travel through foreign lands.
“Maybe I would like to be a tour guide for people traveling to Europe, but that’s a kind of teaching too,” she joked.
Skousen’s family has now expanded to include three grandsons. Between semesters, she spends much of her time with them, doing many of the same things she did when her own children were growing up.
“I can hardly wait to take the 4-year-old for his first skiing lessons next year,” she said.
Despite enjoying her career and being a role model for students, Skousen would like to publish more under her own name. She currently serves as the entertainment editor of Liberty magazine, writing movie, book, and theater reviews every month. But, she would like to write something more lasting.
“When you’re a teacher, you teach doctors, lawyers, nurses, or psychologists, just to name a few, and they move on. Only they can tell what you have really done for them. I wish that I could leave a legacy to be remembered by. That is the only thing that is missing,” she claimed
The life Skousen didn’t plan for eventually became a life that has inspired many. She claims that the question of whether or not she should have stayed in college, rather than getting married, is a complex one.
“Of course there are times when I wonder what it would have been like to take the other path, but as Robert Frost points out in his poem, The Road Not Taken, ‘I doubt if I should ever come back and see what lies in the other direction.’ As for me, I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”