Span Plan Adult Student Services
40th Anniversary Celebration - Remarks from Betty Nelson
Thank you so much – it is a special honor to be here today to recognize remarkable people who had enormous impact on individuals, families, our community, and were national leaders in the adult education arena before it was trendy.
Wisely, Sandy and I were put on a short time leash today – when talking about the SPAN PLAN Program, we can carry on at length. Since “one picture is worth a thousand words”, I pulled from my file a picture that was in the Journal & Courier’s “Welcome to Purdue” issues in September 1968. This was THE point at which Helen Schleman had retired as DOW and became the first director of the SPAN PLAN Program. Beverley Stone was the new dean.
(Distribute the picture of the 1968 ODOW staff in the HOVD Office.)
Helen is seated and in white. Celie Zissis, the second director, is seated on the far left, and Peg Sullivan, the third director, is standing on the right.
This picture is an interesting period piece – no one is in slacks (they weren’t allowed), there are a couple of wigs, and the those who filled the DOW and DOS position from 1948 through 1995 (47 years) are pictured here. Unheard of in today’s culture.) This was an idyllic time in some ways – just before the period of campus protests against the Viet Nam War and student unrest on this campus.
THE DIRECTORS – SCHLEMAN, ZISSIS, SULLIVAN
So, who were these pioneers who led the SPAN PLAN Program for many years?
Helen B. Schleman was called by a reporter for the Purdue Exponent “one tough lady.” When she spoke, people listened – and furthermore, she had something to say!
With degrees from Northwestern, Wellesley, and Purdue, Helen taught physical education, co-authored a book on etiquette, authored a book on golf, was director of the women’s residence halls, became executive officer and later director of the SPARS (the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve) in World War II, and returned to Purdue to become dean of women – a position she held until 1968.
Helen had major impact nationally through her service on commissions or task forces for three U.S. presidents. Her passions were reflected well on committees related to:
- the status of women,
- employment of the handicapped,
- civil rights legislation, and
- women in higher education.
Helen was tireless in her efforts to gain equity for women – the opportunities we have, the choices available to us, our pay and promotions – were influenced by Helen’s work. She was tough on systems and people who created barriers or supported impediment to equality. She never ceased to believe that the Equal Rights Amendment would pass!
Helen was the epitome of integrity, justice, and respect for each individual. At some heavenly voting center, Helen cast a ballot in the 2008 election!
It was at the time of her retirement as DOW in 1968 that Helen formalized the SPAN PLAN concept to address the needs she perceived of student wives in Married Student Housing and non-traditional-age women. Helen served as director of SP for two years before turning over the responsibility to Cecelia Zissis.
If Helen was characterized as “one tough lady,” Celie could have been known as “perpetual motion” – she was always in the middle of some busy project. She was amazingly and constructively active – she was creative, colorful, and highly motivated – and one of the poorest drivers in town.
Celie had an undergraduate degree from Purdue, was hired first by WBAA as part of its production staff. She joined the Office of the Dean of Women in 1950 and held almost every advising assignment in the office. So, she was well seasoned when asked to assume the SPAN PLAN director position in 1970. The marketing and production skills Celie developed with WBAA were invaluable in promoting the SPAN PLAN to student wives and to non-traditional-age women and men in the community – she had press releases, announcements on the radio, interviews on television, a seminar that ran on the public service television channel, she attracted international attention with United Press articles and had contacts from Canada, Australia, and the then Soviet Union. Universities across the country learned of the Purdue SPAN PLAN Program and requested information.
“Educational Planning for Women” was one of the early courses Celie created and taught. How well I remember Celie saying in a staff meeting that she thought there were enough women in the area to fill the class twice but probably not more than that. How wrong she was! The course was full every semester – graduates of the course along with all the publicity Celie generated, guaranteed that there was a steady flow of students who wanted a safe place to look at how to survive at Purdue, what happens in the Admissions process, what interest testing could tell them about career choices, what jobs are “out there” for women, and whether traditional age students and instructors would take them seriously.
(And Celie played the role of a Greek Santa Clause at a Christmas party held at Helen’s house one year -- she was the best Santa ever! She even carried the container of burning incense to ward off evil spirits – it may have been during that party that some folks (later discovered to be students) cut down the lighted evergreen in Helen’s front yard and took the tree, the lights, AND the extension cord! The incense did not keep away all the black spirits!!)
(An aside just for fun – Celie had another “claim to fame.” Celie had brother George who was a PU graduate in physics. For years, one of the speech checks in the PU clinic was to say quickly “Physicist Zissis sister Cecelia.”)
Helen Schleman groomed Celie Zissis for the SP director’s position, and Celie groomed Peg Sullivan for that role – the transitions were seamless.
Peg came to our staff as a new professional and grew up with us – she knew first-hand some of the challenges and sorrows women may face. She spoke with conviction when she encouraged non-traditional students to prepare themselves through education and degrees to be financially independent and competitive in the marketplace.
Peg held onto the best of the programs started by Helen and Celie and added her own “one brick higher” touches. Monthly programs in the evening on special topics – test anxiety, time management, self esteem, handling guilt feelings – and a new credit course called “An Orientation Seminar for Older Students.” Like Celie, Peg was always available to make a presentation to any group in town – PEO, church groups, Homemakers, Tri Kappa – she was out there. And the payoff was additional gift funds from individuals and groups – folks who understood their dollars would make a difference in the lives of individuals and families.
A significant indication of the development of the SPAN PLAN Program during Peg’s tenure was the creation of the Adult Students’ Association of Purdue (ASAP) and having Purdue approved for a chapter of Alpha Sigma Lambda, the adult student honorary.
Peg’s life was recognized by the creation of the Peg Sullivan Achievement Award, a scholarship given to full-time students who were previously recipients of SPAN PLAN Grants.
A COUPLE OF TYPICAL STUDENTS IN SPAN PLAN PROGRAM
Was there a payoff for Helen and Celie and Peg? Did it matter that they worked very hard to make the SPAN PLAN Program relevant?
The answer is a firm, unequivocal “YES.” There are testimonials galore – I contacted two women who received SPAN PLAN Grants years ago and who have perspective on the value of the support they received.
- Chris married her sweetheart immediately after high school – she and her husband farmed and it became increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
- With three children under the age of 5, Chris generated added income with a daycare business in her home.
- Chris decided she needed to do something different with her life and for her family.
- She heard about the SPAN PLAN Program and the scholarships and applied for one – and that changed the course of history.
- She enrolled in the Educational Planning for Women course, took the interest inventory and learned that working with children was a good match for her, heard a presentation from a staff member in Admissions, listened to a panel of successful older students, talked with women in different professions.
- Enrolled in evening courses until their youngest child was in first grade, then she could become a full time student with time blocks and be home when she was needed.
- She sat in the front row and never missed a class!
- Had a SP scholarship every semester she was in school and graduated with highest distinction.
- Graduated in December, became a substitute teacher for one semester, and was offered a full-time teaching position for the next school year AND every year since.
- Subsequently earned a Master’s Degree from Indiana Wesleyan.
- She has been a presenter on linguistics at a professional conference.
- In 2006, Chris was named the corporation’s Teacher of the Year.
Chris began her SPAN PLAN courses when she was 28 and is now in her early 50s.
Looking back, was this hard? YES, the whole family had to support her goals.
Did the SPAN PLAN Program touch all her family? Absolutely, it changed everyone – three children are grown and all have college degrees, strong work ethic, and all have a keen appreciation for the family. Sound investment!
And then there is Jan who was working in a clerical position on campus in the late 1960s – just didn’t think college was what she wanted when she graduated from high school.
- She applied for and received a grant for one class; she enrolled in Education Planning for Women and made important connections.
- One grant, one course; one grant, one course.
- She eventually became a full time student – at that time she had two small children and worked part-time as a life guard at the Y – life was demanding
- Jan completed her Bachelor’s Degree in 1985 and her Master’s Degree a year and a half later – by 1997 Jan had a Ph.D.
- She is now an English teacher in the WLSC and, since 2000, combines that with teaching at Purdue.
- Jan said she still remembers ages ago walking into HOVD looking for ADMS and wondering what she was doing there – would younger students in classes laugh at her?
These two women are both exceptional and representative of the hundreds and hundreds of men and women who have begun in the SPAN PLAN Program and “soared on eagle’s wings” when given the opportunity for an education.
As a society, we marvel at the impact of the G.I. Bill on veterans, their families, their communities. SPAN PLAN is very much the same – it lifts one person’s boat, then that family, subsequent generations, and their communities.
The SPAN PLAN Program started by “one tough lady” 40 years ago continues to shine as Helen hoped it would – one student at a time – the program is one of the Purdue jewels.
Betty M. Nelson
Dean of Students Emerita