Advice from Department Chairs Reminiscing on High School

An Interview with six Marist Department Chairs

By Kathryn Taylor, Faith Editor

Every academic department at Marist has a head who leads the department and is another level of making sure everything is running as it should. Many times throughout the year, the dynamic between teachers and students makes it easy to forget that they, too, were once in the students’ shoes. Remembering this, I asked a few department heads to answer a few questions that offer advice to the current students, and here is what they had to say. 

When asked what advice the teachers would go back and tell their younger selves, MCLD Department Chair Colleen Penn says, “it’s not about where you go. It’s about what you do.” English Department Chair Gina Parnaby agrees with her saying that even though she chose a school that didn’t have many of her friends attending with her nor the most prestigious school that accepted her, she “chose one that fit [her].” Both Penn and Parnaby agree that students should follow their own passion to the school that fits what they are looking for, not necessarily where most of their friends are going. 

While there are so many ways that keep the students and teachers remain linked, generational gaps exist that cause confusion with trends going on. When asked about these trends, Penn replied that she needs someone to “explain [TikTok] to [her]” because she finds the app and trend baffling. Theology Department Chair Kathryn Hamrlik agrees with Penn, but also “can see why it’s fun.” Parnaby, also thinking about the social trends, expressed her confusion with the resurfacing of scrunchies because she “got rid of hers from the ‘90s!” While some teachers find social trends baffling, others find education tendencies confusing. As Social Studies Department Chair Matt Romano puts it, “While the idealist in [him] wants to believe that students choose [AP courses] due to intellectual curiosity, [he] fears that many decisions are driven solely by the application process.” He encourages students, especially those looking ahead to college, to “seek a school community that will challenge you while also…allowing for growth.” 

As a student looking ahead to my future, the future seems so uncertain at times, and I wondered if there were specific moments when the department chairs knew that teaching was their calling. Their responses could not have been better worded, so I decided to use their stories word-for-word to explain their experiences.


“How did you know that you were meant to be a teacher?”

“I was studying for my PhD and I liked my time teaching lab more than I did doing my research. Everyone else would complain about the teaching duties we had to do to earn our stipends but it was my favorite part of the week. I love chemistry but I found the lab lonely and was deeply unhappy. I know there’s a God because he presented the option to work at Marist out of nowhere and I’ve never looked back. I love this job.” – Mrs. Stewart, Science Department Chair 

“I always had a notion in the back of my mind that I was meant to be a teacher. My mom was a 1st grade teacher for over 30 years. As a kid, I’d spend late summers helping her set up her room for the year. Sometimes, as I grew older, I’d even grade papers for her during the year. At some point after finishing college, it dawned on me that being in a school was a happy place for me, so I gave in to what I knew to be my true vocation in life. The first time I stood in front of a class, I knew that I was in the right place.” – Mr. Romano, Social Studies Department Chair

“I’m not so sure. I mean, I enjoy it immensely. I can’t think of any other profession I’d rather do. And I guess my only hope is that my students learn a thing or two while in class with me. And maybe that they enjoy learning the material almost as much as I enjoy teaching it.” – Dr. Hamrlik, Theology Department Chair


“I’m still figuring that out.” – Dr. Bieze, Fine Arts Department Chair



“There are two kinds of people who become teachers: those who had a great experience in school and want to replicate that for a new generation of students, and those who didn’t have such a great experience in school and want to make it better for the next generation of students. I got into education because I’ve been arguing that there are better ways of doing it since I was in the first grade.” – Ms. Parnaby, English Department Chair

“In the summers when I was little, my sisters and I used to play school. I was the teacher, and they were my students. That pretty much sealed the deal.” – Madame Penn, Modern and Classical Languages Department Chair


The teachers I interviewed show a balance of those who know exactly who they are but also those figuring out God’s plan for them. They do tremendous work that can never be appreciated enough. Thank you to all of the department chairs who took the time to sit with me and answer these questions and for keeping Marist running smoothly!