Are you familiar with the feeling you get when you meet up with someone for lunch the first time, place orders separately, and end up ordering the same thing? It's a good feeling, isn't it? As it turned out, I got to share a good bagel and an even better chat with today's Life in the Spotlight nominee. Mary Jane Eisenhauer is a confident and bubbly mom, wife, and Associate Professor of Education at Purdue North Central, where she is also the Program Coordinator for Early Childhood Education. Her path to Westville and PNC's ECE program is not what I would describe as typical, but has made quite the impassioned and intelligent educator out of Eisenhauer!
After receiving both her B.A. in speech and language pathology and her M.A. in education and social policy from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Eisenhauer became a kindergarten teacher in Chicago. Soon, she found an interesting job teaching kindergarten and college students at the Demonstration School at National College of Education in Evanston, where her interest in educating grew more each day and she got to experience the full power of early childhood education – while teaching lessons to the children, she'd turn to the college students to explain why she was doing what she'd just done. For someone so inquisitive, it's little wonder that this practice of on-the-job explanation led her down the path to her doctorate.
"You're immersed in this environment, in this culture that was all about learning; everyone in the entire institution was learning," said Eisenhauer.
With her doctorate in hand, Eisenhauer and her husband embarked on the journey of parenthood. Leaving Illinois and moving to Northwestern Indiana, Eisenhauer describes her time as a stay-at-home mom and wife as her own miniature ECE Lab. She attributes this time to when she began to fully understand how child development actually works. This time at home, coupled with her education experience, led to her time at PNC, where she was able to begin teaching one class at a time, beginning in 2000. In 2006, the community asked that PNC develop an ECE program to enhance the education of young citizens. This was Eisenhauer's time to shine!
"All of my worlds came together in one spot," she reflected.
Becoming a full-time faculty member, Eisenhauer coordinated with Purdue's West Lafayette department of education to develop PNC's ECE curriculum. When it was all in motion, she was able to finally start teaching the courses she'd helped create! For Eisenhauer, ECE is abot a lot more than what you or I might see on the surface – cute toys, pretty pictures, maracas, and story time, so PNC's program is a bit different. Not only does it focus more on the why than the how, but it possesses a strong emphasis on the community that asked for its creation.
"We try to give our students a variety of experiences at every point along the way. Pretty much every semester after their first one, they have some kind of experience out in the field: sometimes it's not full community service, but it's like a student teaching experience, which I think, in a way, it's still serving the community," Eisenhauer said of ECE's importance and PNC's commitment to its community.
In addition to teaching, developing, and coordinating, Eisenhauer fields requests from the community. For example, last year, she was instrumental in the new Library Sprouts reading program for children ages birth through age 3 in Westville. A woman in the community dreamed it up, sough assistance, and Eisenhauer turned it into class project for an early literacy course she teaches each fall. Connecting practice to theory is one of the chief tenants of Eisenhauer's practical philosophy. The opportunities for her in Westville have very much been driven by and for the community.
"Young children who are in high quality environments are more likely to graduate from high school, they're more likely to stay out of prison, they're more likely to need fewer interventions – all of those things that pay off in the end. It just takes a long time to see those returns. And so I think the community I work in is committed to that investment, I think they have the patience to wait to see how that plays out, to sustain that commitment over time. I think that's what I'm most excited about," Eisenhauer said with a satisfied smile.
Although PNC does not offer continuing education for early childhood educators, the campus hosts an event to fulfill the need for those who want to take advantage of the opportunity. This year's 8th Annual Early Childhood Education Conference will be held at PNC Saturday, April 26th. Each year, the community is invited to come to Family Fun Time, this year from 3:30-4:30 pm, featuring the Sizzling Fajitas, a musical group that will entertain the whole family! To learn more, visit the PNC Early Childhood Education Facebook page at (https://www.facebook.com/PNCEarlyChildhood).
"Wonderful, fun, hilarious, but with such an important underlying theoretical framework to it: the beat, the rhythm, singing, and moving is all really important to children's development. We invite families to come for this rollicking good time on our campus and that's the end of the conference and it feels much more celebratory. We end with children, which is really what it's all about," said Eisenhauer of the upcoming Family Fun Time.
Overall, Mary Jane Eisenhauer's life matters to our community because she's instrumental in so much – from driving her kids to craft stores, lacrosse games, and recitals to picking out the toys for the newest library reading circle for young ones! What a wonderful woman with a wonderful impact on our community!