American Studies administrator discusses department’s evolution

November 6, 2009

Angelina Simeone, known as Angie, has been at Brandeis since 1972, but she’s not a student, and she’s not a professor. As academic administrator for the Department of American Studies, Simeone ensures classes are in order, that the budget is balanced, and serves as the first line of support for students and professors alike. Before starting in American Studies in 1987, Simeone spent time in the Department of Biology, career guidance, now the Hiatt career center, and the bookstore. Since joining American studies, Simeone has seen a lot around her change. The Hoot sat down with Simeone to talk about the evolution of her department over the past 22 years.

The Brandeis Hoot: What was the American studies department like 22 years ago?

Angie Simeone: We [had] just got[ten] a computer. Basically, the woman I replaced didn’t like the idea of computers and we were just getting them at that point. I had worked in the Department of Biology [before American studies] and I had to sign up to use the computer because there wasn’t enough for everyone!

BH: So there were no computer clusters like we have now?

AS: No, and even with e-mail, I would go to the library to communicate with a [biology] professor who was on sabbatical in China. So I would have to go, write him whatever I needed to tell him and go back the next day to get an answer.

BH: So the department has come a long way since then.

AS: Right, and doing that kind of thing would always waste a lot of time, so there’s more time to get your work done [now] because technology has helped, it’s helped a lot. At that time we didn’t have a fax machine, we didn’t have a good computer and I had to Xerox in the basement. I would just get up the stairs and someone else would need more Xeroxing and I would [have] to run back down the stairs!

BH: So how has your job as a whole changed or stayed the same?

AS: Well basically, [my job] is to support the faculty, help with the students, see the students—that’s another thing that has changed; we didn’t even have an answering machine on the phone so I would get phone calls from the students and sometimes they would drop by because there was no e-mail, or they would drop by to see a professor or ask me questions. Now it’s all by e-mail, so I don’t put a face to the student [anymore].

BH: Do you miss having that personal connection with students?

AS: I really miss that. I love the one to one or face-to-face.

BH: Looking back, are there certain students that are particularly memorable to you even now?

AS: There were a lot of students that I really got very fond of as we got to know each other. Throughout the year they would drop by and say hi, and it was great and it was a nice feeling. But also, it was bittersweet when they went to graduate because I [didn’t] know when I [would] see these people again.

BH: Do you keep in touch with students who have graduated?

AS: I have on and off…there’s always a few that have a lot of personality and they make themselves known.

BH: How many students do you think you have seen come and go over the years?

AS: There have to be hundreds. After 22 years, there really have to be hundreds, because at one point we were graduating a good 70 [majors each year].

BH: How many students graduate now in your department?

AS: It’s cut back quite a bit. It changes as the interests of students change.

BH: Changing focus a little bit, your office has a lot of home touches. When did all that start?

AS: After the students left and things happened in their lives they would write to us; in those days you got a letter. Then they would send photographs of their children which I started putting up and posting them on [a bulletin board]. Well it’s actually a supply cabinet, but now we have a bulletin board and when students travel to different areas they send us postcards. I also keep the postcards of the faculty; they always send us a postcard telling us about their travels. And then of course I have to put my grandchildren’s photos up.

BH: The pictures are part of a very comfortable environment in this department. Where do you think that comes from?

AS: The [faculty] mailboxes are in [the office] and a couple of professors might wander in at the same time and they start up a conversation which I love to listen to because it’s on an academic level. It’s current events, very interesting; I just keep quiet and listen. I think that’s what makes it more down to earth [and] interesting.

I’ve brought my grandchildren on occasion [and they] love coming here because everyone is so very nice to them. [Also], the faculty always works together and they work for the [good] of the students; that’s how I perceive it. They’re good citizens of Brandeis, they’re on committees and they are always out there doing their part, and I admire that.

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