ELAC professor retires after 35 years of teaching

By Stephanie Garibay

Former English as a Second Language professor Susanne L. Spangler has devoted 35 years to teaching ESL at East Los Angeles College, but she is now saying goodbye to ELAC as she has retired.

Spangler started teaching at ELAC in 1980 and was the first full time ESL professor to be hired.

Before teaching at ELAC, Spangler was also the first ESL professor LA Trade Tech. She was also hired as a substitute for West Los Angeles College and taught English, ESL and German.

Since Spangler was only teaching part time at LA Trade Tech, when she heard ELAC had an open position available, she decided to apply.

“I interviewed and the interview went well and they were looking for someone who had a strong background in ESL since the program was still new at that time,” Spangler said.

As an ESL professor Spangler taught students from all  over the world.

“When I first started teaching, 80 percent of the students were Spanish speakers and around 20 percent were Chinese. Now it’s the opposite and 80 percent are Chinese speakers and 20 percent are Spanish,” Spangler said.

Teaching students from various parts of the world has taught Spangler about different cultures.

“That was part of the reason why I didn’t want to leave. There was always something new to learn and that’s why I loved it here at ELAC,” Spangler said.

Apart from teaching ESL, Spangler was also hired as the Honors Program director in 2001.

The Honors Program is a program set to provide an easier pathway for students who want to transfer from a community college to a university.

“UCLA created this program 30 years ago in 1985. So we have special arrangements and honor agreements with UCLA and UC Irvine,” Spangler said.

Spangler was the sole director of the program and found it to be more and more difficult to take control of the program as it grew bigger. The program increased from 250 students when Spangler first became director to 350-400 students now.

“My responsibility was to schedule honor classes that students would take that would have critical thinking and critical writing that would prepare the students with the skills they would need when they would transfer out,” Spangler said.

Since the Honors Program did not have an official office, it was difficult for students who had questions about the program.

Spangler had been working with architects for the past 10 years to come up with a plan on how to design a new Honors Program office that will be located inside one of ELAC’s new buildings.

“I will definitely be back to look at the new buildings. I’m especially excited to see the new Honors Office. The Honors Program has never had an office, the director of the program has always had to use their desk from whichever department they were from, which made it very difficult,” Spangler said.

The building will also feature a student lounge where Honor  Students can gather or representatives from universities can give presentations. It is set to open in spring of 2016.

“When it opens up, the Honors Office will really be what I put together. People are saying ‘Why are you leaving now?’ but I think it’s actually a good time right now and probably best for the new director to come in and take over,” Spangler said.

Nadine Bermudez, a Chicano-studies professor at ELAC, is set to take over Spangler’s spot as the Honors Program director.

Spangler has been coming back to ELAC on and off since her spring semester retirement to mentor Bermudez.

Wooi Ong, an Asian-American studies professor at ELAC, will be helping Bermudez as the program coordinator. This will be the first time the program has a coordinator.

“That was great fun. I really enjoyed working with the Honors Program. I was working with a strong transfer audience and I know Nadine and Wooi are going to do great,” Spangler said.

Spangler also helped create a statewide honors research conference at UC Irvine which allowed honor students from all over California who have written a research paper to go to UC Irvine and present their work.

“It’s a very prestigious program. ELAC held a similar event this past Saturday which was actually modeled after the program,” Spangler said.

Spangler was also in the process of trying to make women’s studies a major at ELAC.

“I had one student who transferred out as a women’s studies major and I said ‘How is that possible, when we don’t have that major here?’ and the student said ‘Yeah why don’t we?’ And I said ‘You’re right why don’t we?’ So I started talking to faculty and they liked the idea,” Spangler said.

Women’s studies is still in the process of becoming a major and is only waiting for state approval.

“Last year we thought we were going to get approved, but then there was a glitch in the system and we had to wait a whole year. So we’re hoping this year we get approval,” Spangler said.

If approved, ELAC will be the first campus in the Los Angeles Community College District to offer a women’s studies major.

Spangler has found her retirement to be a bittersweet moment and even her colleagues were surprised to find out.

“When you have worked in one place 35 years you establish relationships with everybody.Not just with students, but with faculty members, everyone,” Spangler said.

Spangler and   her husband, who is a banker, decided to retire the same year and have plans to travel and volunteer for foster youth programs.

“I have a big interest in genealogy and opera. My husband and I want to do some traveling and I’ve gone to a couple of genealogy conferences. There’s so much I want to do now that I finally have time for it,” Spangler said.

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