By Keely Camden
My freshman year of college, I heard through the student grapevine that she was the advisor you wanted to have; I knocked on the door of her office, introduced myself, and asked her to help me with my schedule. She did, and then she told me about a summer teaching job she thought I should try. I did, and I loved it.
My sophomore year of college, she became my official advisor; she loved teaching 8 a.m. classes, and, despite the early hour, she made the world of special education come alive. Her passion was evident in every story, every lecture, every lesson, and every activity. I was actually pretty quiet in class (difficult to imagine for those who know me now), and I hung on her every word. For one of our classes, she and her husband cooked us an amazing homemade meal in their home.
My junior year of college, she talked to me all about the wonders of the country of New Zealand. She helped me understand comparative educational models, and she told me to apply for an international travel scholarship. Thanks to her, I did. I traveled to New Zealand to study their model of special education service delivery; while there, I met with a researcher whose book she had given me to study.
My senior year of college, she cried watching me student teach.
She tried everything in her power to persuade me to attend Kansas University for graduate school. I wouldn’t acquiesce to the wheat fields, so we compromised with Old Domino University in Virginia. When I came home on break from graduate school, I called her. We met for lunch to discuss specialized reading programs, diagnostic tests, and, most importantly, life.
Every year since, she has been my friend. Last week she texted, “I didn’t hear back from you, please let me know you are okay. “ When I haven’t been okay, she’s been there to tell me that she loves me anyway. And when I am okay, she is excited and proud of me.
There are some people, who, when they come into our lives, leave indelible marks, a lasting legacy. She is one of those rare people, not only to me, but also to hundreds of students with whom she has had contact over the past forty-three years.
Kathleen Wack, Instructor of Physical Education at West Liberty University, was a student in Chris’ freshmen seminar class at Bethany. “Chris Sampson was more than just a teacher (but she was a good one!). She was a life-changer. She got to know all of her students as people with dreams and aspirations, and she would help us to better define those dreams and make them a reality. She treated us as adults–as peers with whom she loved to engage in deep conversation. She sought to open up our eyes to see the big picture; to see injustices, to change them, to move beyond the walls of the classroom or the bubble of Bethany. In trying to make a difference in the lives of others, she challenged us to do the same.”
To watch her now is even magic. She occupies a large picturesque office on the Main floor of Cramblet Hall in the McCann Learning Center at Bethany College. Her title, Dr. Christina Sampson, Director, McCann Learning Center, implies a level of formality and academic pretense that doesn’t exist once inside her office. She keeps low lights illuminated to avoid the harsh glare of the fluorescent bulbs. She sits at a long beautifully weathered wooden table across from her individual student appointments. Head bent with her student, she scribbles across the paper to demonstrate a learning strategy, mark a section of a paper, or regain the student’s attention. More than individualized academic instruction, there is great compassion and personal interest. “Did you talk to your professor about the midterm? Did you make it to class on time? I know you can do this. I’m so excited and proud of you. You know you are special to me, now show the world how special you are!”
“These are my kids,” she tells me, “and I love them.” And by each of them, she is loved in return. She is part coach, part minister, part social worker, part Mom, and all educator. She’s trained all of her life for these roles.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Chris, as she is affectionately known, moved to the Ohio Valley for school, and never left. Graduating in 1971 from what was then West Liberty State College, she taught and served for nine years in Ohio County Schools as a special educator at Wheeling Park High School, Bridgestreet Middle School, and Elm Grove Elementary. Her Master’s and Doctorate programs were completed at West Virginia University. She developed and led the special education teacher preparation program at Wheeling Jesuit University for several years, and she currently serves as an Assistant Professor and Director of the Learning Center at Bethany College. At Bethany, she has been awarded the President’s Award for Excellence in Performance, and the Faithful Angel Award given by the Social Work Department. Under the direction, the McCann Learning Center received commendation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Yet, there is no doubt that what makes her most proud is the success of her students and the happiness of her family. When you ask her about what makes life great, she will tell you that she loves working with and tutoring the football team on Monday nights. She’ll tell you about the amazing meal her best friend and loving husband of 40 years (Bill) made for her that day. She’ll beam when talking about her son Matthew, his wife, and the fact that she’ll be a grandmother in April. Then, she’ll ask you how things are going with you, and she will mean it; and when you answer, she’ll give you her undivided attention and love.
Educators don’t seek wealth, accolades or fame. They quietly go-about their day-to-day lives as unassuming heroes to the students whose lives are touched and changed because someone was willing to believe in them, to push them, to support them, to love them.
I am lucky to know one and have one in my life.