‘Once a tutor, always a tutor’: a director’s love for helping others

By Lauren Van Dyk

Amy Atkinson grew to love her position to help others the more she saw their academics thrive. Knowing that she could help her peers and fellow employees was one factor that gave her confidence in her decision to leave her previous job.

Within the cranberry walls of an office that shouted Rider school spirit sat a woman holding her forever half-full cup of Lavazza coffee. Her bookshelf was extremely unique, filled with fun knick-knacks and books ranging from tutoring practice guides to poems and classic novels.

At her large desk sat Atkinson, writing her “immediate to-do list” on the tiny whiteboard that sat atop her desk — a gift from her colleague Shane Conto, director of the Academic Success Center.

“I take being a leader extremely seriously, holding myself to very high standards,” said Atkinson.

With her constant perseverance and determination in keeping her tutors engaged and entertained, she set aside a little desk in the corner of her office with two chairs for guests to sit, giving her office an “open-door” feeling to it. Atkinson kept a poster hanging in her office of an inspirational quote from Maya Angelou that read, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you say, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Atkinson took a deep breath and released a small sigh, and replied, “Maya Angelou’s quote is the epitome of me. Each unique individual that walks through the door has a ‘reflective Amy’ that can help guide them. I like to make sure that the rest of my life I will be the ‘reflective Amy.’”

Before she worked in higher education, Atkinson went through an array of career paths.

Atkinson grew up in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, attending Fordham University after high school. She commented, “English degrees all the way.”

After studying English while obtaining her undergraduate degree, Atkinson believed she would become a teacher. “I originally thought that I would teach in higher education. I wanted to teach English courses and English lit[erature] theory with an emphasis on poetry,” she said.

Without knowing it, Atkinson fell into the world of veterinary services and realized her abundant love for animals. Not only was she a veterinary technician in Cape May, New Jersey, she also practiced these talents in Maine and Virginia.

“I always wanted to be a veterinarian, but I didn’t have it in me to ‘hurt’ the animal, so the vet tech was the next best thing,” Atkinson said. “When I saw the opportunity to do hands-on learning first, I took it.”

Despite her love for animals, Atkinson still had a difficult time deciding whether to stay in this position or not. Not only did she know that her love for tutoring and education was never going to go away, she also knew that her time working for a veterinary office would likely be limited.

“I hated the part where we had to be expected to be involved in putting animals down who were sick. The animals being sick was one thing, but if they were young and beyond repair, we had to hold veins off to administer the euthanasia serum which became too difficult after a while,” Atkinson said. “I felt like I abandoned the animals when I left being a vet tech, but I felt like, for my emotional well-being, I had to leave.”

Later in life, someone had come up to Atkinson and told her to be a teacher because of how good she was with others. They said that she was both patient and understanding, always listening to all the details of different situations. She recalls asking this person, “Why does that mean that I should go into this position?” They then replied, “The way you tutor is the way some others need to tutor.”

This encounter eventually led Atkinson to her very first job at Rider: a tutoring position in a classroom. Atkinson later realized that “the teaching part and desire to help others made [her] want to go into this position.”

Conto first met Atkinson when he was a student worker at the Academic Success Center and she became a professional tutor. Since then, Conto has noticed that Atkinson “has created a Writing Studio that is rooted in community but also growth and the craft of writing. The Writing Lab was by far our least effective program and Amy has morphed it into something respected and rooted in quality.”

“Amy is an inspiration,” said Conto. “Her story and how she made it to her present place … is a story that I think would benefit every student to hear. It has certainly inspired me.”

Atkinson always knew she wanted to teach but never knew how much of an impact she would have when she stepped into her position at Rider. “If I can help one person, I can get the chance to help another,” said Atkinson. “It is really important to me to make sure that I stay humble in everything that I do because, without that, we lose a lot of opportunities to grow as human beings. We need to learn as humans that we are all works in progress.” Atkinson knows that “tutoring is [and always will be] a part of [her] heart.”

Rider’s Coordinator of Composition Tutoring Iwona Ionescu commented on the many positive impacts that Atkinson has left on the university.

“Amy brought up the issue that tutoring often has a stigma attached to it. She is working hard to change that. She wants students to recognize that tutoring is for students of different skills. Everyone will benefit from talking about their writing with someone else,” Ionescu said.

As for Atkinson, she has kept a glass jar with sparkly lights in her office all these years to remind her of a “jar of fireflies.” Her office has remained welcoming with the addition of a blackboard on the wall, displaying various family and group photos. “This board is there as a reminder to me that if I am having a hard day, those are the people and things that love me,” said Atkinson.

With her consistent love for education and tutoring, Atkinson grew to adore her life even more. At the end of the day, Atkinson agrees on one sentiment: “Once a tutor, always a tutor.”

Shaun Chornobroff and Bridget Gum-Egan are employees of The Rider News and the Academic Success Center. Neither had any part in the writing or edidting of this article.

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