Dr. Paris Svoronos: Oustanding Community College Professor of the Year
Students taking Dr. Paris Svoronos' organic chemistry class at Queensborough Community College (QCC) walk away having memorized at the very least the following equation: discipline + focus + hard work=success. The equation constitutes the formula for success for Svoronos who firmly believes that if given the opportunity and if adequately challenged all students rise to the occasion. The effectiveness of his philosophy has not only earned him the respect of his peers and his students, but also contributed to his being named Outstanding Community College Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Svoronos is one of four college professors nationwide recently selected for this award and the only community college professor.
Yet, the award constitutes only one of the "firsts" that have been granted to QCC in recent years as a result of the leadership and work of Dr. Svoronos, who chairs the Chemistry Department. Four years ago, one of his chemistry students participated in Undergraduate Research Symposium of the American Chemical Society, New York Section. This was the first time in 47 years that a community college student participated in the Symposium. Over the next few years the number of QCC participants steadily increased. This year QCC has been selected to host the Symposium, another first, and approximately 20 of its own students will participate. "I'm blessed because I have other faculty members that share my vision," says Svoronos, who is always quick and eager to pass the credit on to someone else, especially to his students.
According to Svoronos, his students are "really hungry" to learn and although he gained some personal satisfaction from the award, he was happiest for the students. As Svoronos explains, it's the "good attitude" of the students that has kept him at QCC since 1981 even though he has had opportunities to move on to baccalaureate institutions. But, Svoronos opted to remain at QCC where, as he says, he enjoys the interaction with the students and likes "to create something."
"The community college is what America is all about," says Svoronos and adds that it gives to every individual the opportunity to achieve the American dream.
A strong proponent of "the old blackboard approach," Svoronos claims "kids need guidance." As he says, "My job is not just to recite things. Students don't learn just by lecture." Rather, he challenges them and demands that they take responsibility for their actions, their life and their future. "I think you make your own luck," he says and notes that it's not enough to throw the ball in the student's courtyard. Rather, as he says, "you need to make the kid shoot the ball."
How does he make students shoot the ball? The process, although simple, may not always be pleasant. Students in his class receive no breaks and are expected to come prepared to work. He considers his classroom a "forum." And, although students can have their lunch or dinner, they are expected to participate and demonstrate an eagerness to learn. This includes remaining alert, for as the professor says, "nobody sleeps in my class." And, if a student does not come to class, he or she can anticipate a late phone call at home.
The approach has led to occasional frustration and tears, but Svoronos considers neither reaction a setback. Rather, as he says, "I cry for them when they do well...I'm happy to see them succeed." And, students seem to appreciate the dedication of their professor, for they forge long-term relationships with Svoronos. One prime example, among the many, includes the participation of Svoronos' own children as flower girl and ring boy in a former student's wedding.
The walls of his office at QCC are filled with memorabilia and photos of these former students. And, the professor can easily point to any of them and give a visitor a detailed update of each student's life.
Yet, it must be noted that Svoronos is not interested in shaping only future chemists. On the contrary, "I just want people who will not be lost in the trivial stuff you seen on TV...I want them to become mature college graduates...this is my job as an instructor and a teacher," he says.
Originally from Greece, Svoronos earned his doctorate in organic chemistry at Georgetown University in 1979. He returns to Georgetown every summer to teach the pre-med organic Chemistry courses, which, as he emphasizes, does not differ from that taught at QCC. It was at Georgetown that he met two people that he credits for his professional path and his teaching approach.
One, Dr. Luis Baker "trusted him" and gave him the confidence to go out and teach. The second, Dr. Charles Hammer, inspired him because "he wanted people to make a decision" and taught him that "excitement is when a student does well." Svoronos relishes in this excitement every semester as he teaches two chemistry courses in addition to chairing the Chemistry Department and advising approximately 85 students. He is a full time academic in every sense of the word: he advises the Chemistry Club and the Phi Delta Kappa Society, in addition to his other duties. He is not interested in retirement and of his profession says, "We have the nicest job...maybe only doctors can have the excitement of this job."#
Marylena Mantas is a former Assistant Editor at Education Update.