The Right Place at the Right Time
Kathleen Whitman Plucker
Writer, Bloomington, Indiana
(M.Ed. ’96 AV Curriculum & Instruction)
Sometimes in life, if we are lucky, an experience will provide us with far more than we ever anticipated. My fifteen months at the Curry School were like that – absolutely serendipitous.
When I returned to U.Va. in the fall of 1996 to pursue a masters of education degree, I certainly had an agenda. My plan was to obtain a degree in instructional technology and then take a job with a software developer. At the time, I was terribly disappointed in the children’s software that was being sold to parents and schools, and I was convinced that I could do a better job with the right skills.
I chose the Curry School for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I had attended U.Va. as an undergrad and felt I had unfinished business there. When I graduated in 1992, I knew that I had not capitalized on my days at the university. During my four years, I had struggled initially to find my true friends, as well as my passion, largely because I was pursuing my parents’ interests instead of my own. I had spent so much time studying that I missed a lot of the big picture. Somehow, I had failed to appreciate just how beautiful and vibrant both the university and Charlottesville are. Buildings at U.Va. had come to symbolize stress, drudgery, and unhappiness, not creativity, order, and art.
When I returned in August 1996, I demanded of myself that things be different, and I had great hope that they would be better. For one, I was studying what I wanted to, which was a giant step in a more positive direction.
My program was small. I believe there were ten of us: Denise, Kim, Mike, Patrick, Brenda, Pat, Susan, Lara, Betsy, and me. We bonded right away, in part because we were immediately assigned several group projects. I think we connected as well as we did, though, because we had fantastic synergy. For all of us, Curry seemed to be the right place at the right time.
I loved working side by side with these people, even if it meant spending sunny Saturday afternoons in the lab or late nights at the computer. Mike and Brenda were always so eager to see everyone’s work, and Patrick was ready to help any one of us when things weren’t working out as we had hoped. Few things are as inspiring as being surrounded by people who truly care about what you are creating and give you genuine, constructive criticism when you miss the mark. Kim, Betsy, and Denise were excellent at this. And when the mood needed to be lightened, we could count on faculty member John Bunch or fellow student Pat. John and his wife Elaine would treat us to Thursday night spaghetti dinners at their home. Pat knew just when to crack a joke, or to tell us a great story, like how she had shared a cup of coffee just that morning with Sam Shepherd.
As the weeks passed, my enthusiasm for my program certainly did not diminish. At the time, the Web was relatively new on the scene, but it was clearly about to explode. Glen Bull, who taught several of my courses, was pioneering an online network for Charlottesville. To gain support for this project (dubbed Monticello Avenue), he assigned each person in my program to an organization. In turn, we were to show these organizations why the project mattered and then collect content that could be linked to the site.
Rather fortunately, Glen asked me to serve as liaison to Monticello. For several months, I visited Monticello each Friday morning and taught staff members more about the Internet. Luckily, when they were ready to develop a website, they asked me to co-develop it with their staff.
Working at Monticello was an amazing experience. Dan Jordan, who was then the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, exemplified class, good character, and strong leadership. He treated everyone who worked for him with great respect and appreciation. I shall never forget driving up Monticello Mountain to get to work, or attending meetings that overlooked Mr. Jefferson’s gardens. I did most of my development work at Kenwood, which is located just down the road from Monticello and had served as FDR’s “Camp David.” My days at Monticello are so memorable because they were so magical.
Another highlight of my program was working with fellow student Betsy Hrabe to create a self-contained teaching unit for the Virginia Discovery Museum, the children’s museum based on the Downtown Mall. Designed to teach elementary students about the steps involved in an archaeological dig, this kit was based on discoveries made at Venable Lane. Construction workers there had recently happened upon the gravesites of Catherine Foster and her family members. Ms. Foster was a free African-American homeowner who is thought to have been a laundress or seamstress for the university during the 1800s. I found her story fascinating and was proud to honor her past with the project. The kit was quite popular with our test audiences at area schools.
A program I loved, people I enjoyed, faculty members who looked out for me, a dream job, meaningful projects: Could it get any better? Well, yes, it could.
Just after my second semester ended, I headed to Ruffner’s second-floor computer lab to update my resumé. I was surprised to find someone else there, a young guy from another program. I had seen him working in this lab all year, and had even had a bizarre premonition in the spring that I would actually marry him. But we had only met once in passing (which explains why marrying him seemed so utterly ridiculous).
As we both worked, he turned and asked me if I had had a good weekend. Oddly enough, I had just returned home from one of the best weekends of my life. I had visited a friend in New York, and we had ended up at the season-finale cast party for Saturday Night Live. Jonathan was as eager to hear my story as I was to tell it, so we ended up talking for two hours. Later that week, we went on our first date, to the newly opened Applebee’s restaurant. A few days after that, we had a picnic on the Lawn. And that’s how our summer romance began, replete with midnight runs through campus, photo expeditions at Monticello, many trips to Bodo’s, and dinners prepared together with food from the farmer’s market.
Fast forward 16 years. Today, Jonathan and I are happily married with two children and two dogs. For 14 years, we have called Indiana home. Here, we have built a solid life together, one that we are proud to call our own. Both of us are so grateful for what Curry has brought to our lives, personally and professionally. For me, the experience simply could not have been any better.