Beth Fitzgerald ’78 knows how profoundly students can mature from the day they first step into a classroom to the day they step up to receive their diploma. In fact, Fitzgerald, a senior activities planner in Champlain’s Student Activities department, remembers when some Champlain students were just babies—literally—her own children among them. At the 2009 commencement ceremony, she congratulated son Colin on receiving his B.S. degree in Broadcasting and daughter Emily on earning her MBA.
Fitzgerald’s involvement with the College has been a family affair from Day One. After receiving her associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Champlain, she opened a daycare facility in Burlington and later worked as a kindergarten teacher. Soon, however, she returned to Champlain to supervise Early Childhood Education students in preschool field placements. In 1991, she began working in the College’s campus-based child development center (a “lab school,” by Fitzgerald’s description), a center where Champlain students could gain valuable experience working with children. “I have friends to this day that I had as students in the daycare, doing their student teaching there,” she says, adding that she also remembers colleagues’ children who were receiving care there—and who now walk the campus as students.
Fitzgerald co-ran the center, which became a kindergarten, with Caroline Chaput into the ’90s before the College dissolved it in concord with shifts in the curriculum. In 1998, Fitzgerald was hired for a new part-time position as student activities coordinator. At that time, she recalls, student activities amounted to roughly two annual events, the Snow Ball and the Spring Meltdown. “It was kind of a wide-open opportunity for me to do whatever I wanted to do,” she says. “It was kind of scary at first, but then it became second nature to me.” Operating out of a partition-style office space in the center of the student lounge, she grew the Student Activities program into dozens of clubs and yearly activities. The Student Activities staff has grown from one to five members.
Satisfied with her success—and, yes, ready for a break from the long hours involved in growing Student Activities—Fitzgerald is rededicating her energies to providing education and opportunities for children and young adults. While chaperoning a Champlain College service-learning trip to an orphanage in Tanzania in May 2009, she was inspired to develop a nonprofit organization to cultivate sustainable livelihoods in the developing world (see “Class Act,”). She will leave Champlain in December of this year to pursue this goal.
The adventure on Fitzgerald’s horizon promises to be rewarding, but she knows that looking back on her Champlain years will remind her of what makes life and work meaningful: “The highlight of being at Champlain has been, hands-down, the relationships I’ve built with students who will be my lifelong friends,” she says, “and the satisfaction of having been a part of their growth as individuals—socially, academically, in leadership development, whatever it was. That’s the part I’m going to miss.” —EE