Jane Curtman-Schroeder, Retired English Teacher

Hometown: Union, MO

Graduation year: 1987

Sorority: Kappa Kappa Gamma

Major: English

What other degrees have you earned?

I earned an MAT in Curriculum and Instruction from Memphis State University in 1990

Now that you are retired, how do you spend your time?

I volunteer in several organizations and substitute at area schools. I serve three cats, which is more entertainment than work.

What are your future goals?

My future goals are to travel more, spend more time with family and friends and to continue to work part time.

In terms of your professional life, what would you say is your overarching purpose today?

I am currently retired, so my focus has shifted from the classroom to the community. I believe that we must strive to be lifelong learners. Education is available all around us, not just within four walls. I encourage learning in every part of my volunteer and work life. I have spoken to groups of various sizes about a variety of topics about which I am passionate.

Did your liberal arts education allow you to uncover particular passions that you’ve carried into your career?

The liberal arts education offered at Westminster during the 1980s enabled me to explore a wide variety of subjects. True, Westminster required this exploration, but looking back on these years, I realize that a liberal arts education was the catapult I needed to earn a master’s degree and teach high school and college students. I was curious about new passions. I learned about antiques and now run a side business with my mom. Because Westminster inspires us to give back to our communities, I have served on boards and committees, learned about medical issues, volunteered in my community and now speak to groups about a variety of topics

Were any relationships you formed at Westminster particularly influential in helping you find clarity of purpose?

My sorority encouraged all of us to choose a philanthropy and volunteer our time. I participated in Meals on Wheels, Adopt-a-Grandparent and Clean Sweep (we did outdoor work for elderly). I learned the importance of giving my time and energy to help my community thrive and improve. Kappa Kappa Gamma also fostered an environment for developing leadership skills that I used in education, fundraising and other groups I work with in the community. A sisterhood where we are all sisters for life, no matter what troubles we go through, or cause, has taught me about true loyalty.

From the faculty, I learned to read critically and logically, to embrace my conservative values and the importance of a strong work ethic. If I wanted to achieve success, I had to work for it and earn it; there are no real handouts in life.  Handouts hold people back and prevent them from pursuing happiness. On the first day of class, Dr. Wilkerson looked around the room and said, “An A is the sign of perfection, and only Jesus is perfect. Therefore, I only see one or two Bs and many Cs in this class.”  Several students dropped out that day, but I stayed. The B I earned that semester was one of my great achievements; I did not give up, I persevered, and my passion for learning was formed.

What does being a “leader” mean to you?

A leader is someone who willingly helps at all levels, is a critical thinker, possesses some creativity or vision and is not satisfied with “good enough.” A leader does not give handouts, entitlements, but rather gives a hand up in order to help others also overcome obstacles and challenges. No one is perfect; we all have done, and will continue to do, things we regret. Leaders accept their failings, learn from them and move forward, focusing on the future, rather than the past.  Communicating with others around us in a way that clearly conveys our vision is essential to quality leadership.

Westminster offered opportunities to try new activities and take on new roles. Our professors were inspirational role models because they taught us to listen to others, engage in discussions, pursue our interests and never give up on others or ourselves. We learned that leaders work hard, give back, have a positive attitude and are responsible. We also learned that to be a leader, we needed to learn humility and know our limitations.

These characteristics helped me to inspire thousands of teenagers both in and out of the classroom to give their best and not settle for average results. Encouraging them to learn from their mistakes and poor choices was not always easy, but I remembered how my professors held me accountable, while guiding me to find my purpose and stay focused.   My goals, as their teacher, were to help learn from their regrets, make a plan to improve, and then move forward toward that vision.  I celebrated in their achievements and felt the pain of their failings.  Because Westminster leaders encouraged us to volunteer, I have always sought local charities where I can use my knowledge and passions to help others.

What does success mean to you?

Success means striving to be a better woman today than I was yesterday, accepting failures as lessons in perseverance, forgiving others for their mistakes or wrongdoings, knowing what I believe, and standing firm about my choices, while still being tolerant.  Realistically, success typically follows failure.  It takes courage to fail and not expect a medal just for showing up; this is part of being successful.  Not giving up, because of courage and determination, is a characteristic of success.  Thomas Paine said, “What we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly”.  He was correct!

What is it about Westminster that makes it the kind of community that empowers students to discover their purpose and find success? 

Westminster is a utopian campus where students are free to grow intellectually, while gaining responsibility.  We felt invincible, capable of achieving any goal.  That empowerment gave us the courage and determination to take on new challenges after we walked through the columns and into reality, the real world.

Do you recommend Westminster to prospective college students?

I absolutely recommend Westminster. There is no “right” college or major, but Westminster is the “right” fit for students who want to be challenged by rigorous curriculum in a variety of subject areas.  Students at Westminster are not numbers. The professors knew us, ate with us, invited us into their homes and inspired us to be voracious learners. We made lifelong friends in our Greek organizations and other clubs on campus. We challenged each other in sports, academics and charity fundraisers. We worked hard and played hard — not a bad way to spend four years.

Westminster offered opportunities to learn a variety of subjects as a means to building a strong foundation for lifelong learning. There were also programs for learning about leadership and giving back to the community.  A liberal arts education provides the foundation that enables students to pursue solid careers while exploring passions, giving back to local communities and pursuing interests in all areas. My major was English, but I enjoy running an antique/resale shop; traveling and learning about cultures around the world; volunteering at the area hospital, charity groups, and church; and, of course, I love teaching and working with teenagers. All of this has been possible because of four years spent on the campus of Westminster College.

Favorite Westminster faculty member?

This is a difficult question. Several professors influenced my vision and passions, but these two stand out for me.

Dr. Leon Wilkerson challenged all of us to be better today than we were yesterday.  His intense passion for poets and southern writers inspired me to take several of his classes. The curriculum was rigorous and not for the faint of heart, which was the reason his classes attracted me. His ability to weave literature together in a way to compel us all to be thoughtful readers and writers fascinated me; we could feel the pains, joys, and triumphs of each, and every, character. I chose to research Emily Dickinson and her poetry for my senior thesis because Dr. Wilkerson inspired my passions for poetry through our long talks about her writings, family and religious life.

Professor Wayne Zade was, and still is, someone who influenced me to explore and take chances in literary writing. I chose him to mentor me as I researched, wrote and defended my senior thesis on the life and writings of Emily Dickinson. His calm demeanor helped me remember to breathe during those stressful times that are a part of writing any senior thesis. Some professors did not have time to visit with students on a regular basis, but stopping by Professor Zade’s office for a short chat was a normal part of my weekly routine and I always left feeling energized. His classes were challenging and helped us realize the importance of revision. It was perfectly okay to revise, revise again and realize that perfection was rarely attained but worth the effort.

Favorite spot on campus?

Reeves library. I did study and work on assignments, but it was the best place to meet up with friends during the week and on Sunday afternoons.

Last book you read?

Fly Girls and A Dog’s Purpose

Favorite movie or TV show?

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is my favorite movie. My favorite TV show is Frasier.

Favorite app?

I love the Target app! However, I am a weather geek, so the weather app is also one of my favorites.

Favorite way to spend a Sunday?

I enjoy going to church in the morning, and then if I get to spend time with family and friends, it’s a great day. If the weather cooperates, I also enjoy walking, golfing, biking and going to auctions.

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is a Media and Content Strategist at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. A 1992 graduate of the College, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communication in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.