Saturday Success Story Ten: CHARM MORETO-DAMON

There is a perfect word to describe this week’s featured story: beautiful!

Character, integrity, passion and beauty make up the entirety of our Saturday Success Story of the week. Her name says it, too! Her parents must have known what kind of a person their daughter might end up becoming when they chose that name for her! She is not only attractive in her physical appearance but also inside herself. She always exudes happiness, contentment and a sense of calmness. You see these characteristics in her eyes and in the way she acts on almost a daily basis. She is also very down-to-earth and is very easy to talk to. No wonder, life has showered her with many blessings including a beautiful family!

MS. CHARM MORETO DAMON has the picture perfect life that most people are dreaming to have – a growing family, a good education, a wonderful career and a supportive husband. All of these factors contribute to having a meaningful and beautiful life, similar to what she has!

But not all days are roses. Some days could be better than others. Some days could just be as they are, irrevocable.

I know there was one day in my life when Charm’s profile picture was all it took for me to realize that I needed to do something with my future. Her picture was very compelling. You know that certain feeling of someone’s pushing you to get up and go? That was the kind of impact that I got from seeing Charm’s picture on the now-defunct social networking site, Friendster.

In that picture, Charm was on stage receiving her Master’s degree diploma from one of the University Officials. What captivated me was her body language and her distinguished smile, that almost made me feel that I was the receiver of such accomplishment. It also gave me the feeling of a sense of pride and achievement, that only the chosen few can convey to their audience.  The entire mix of the elements in that photo just captivated me and made me start something: my graduate degree.

Charm Moreto-Damon has that kind of influence – and I am not just talking about on photographs but in real life. Being a college instructor in one of the nation’s largest state universities where some of the brightest and most respected public figures have graduated requires more than a keen mind and a kindred spirit. It requires extraordinary people to do and get the job done right!

You will understand more of such effect once you read what Ms. Charm Moreto Damon shared to me.

Here is her story:

AMS: You were my inspiration when I took my graduate studies Charm! How are you?

CMD: I’m honored to know that I was or was one of your inspirations when you took your graduate studies, Alpha.  It is always nice to see somebody you know go through the process and realize that you yourself could do the same and succeed in what many individuals may fear – graduate school and all that comes with it.

I am doing well, by the way. As you know, I had just given birth to a baby girl named Claire in August. I also have a 2-year-old son who entertains me and my husband as we transition to a “2-kid-home.” So far, the experience has been enjoyable and fulfilling even if I have indefinitely put aside work and dissertation for my family.

AMS: You mentioned that you are currently enjoying your maternity leave from Miami University, how does it feel to be a stay-at-home Mom for now, until you go back to work? What are the similarities of motherhood and being a College Instructor?

CMD: I am very blessed to have a husband who supports my being a stay-at-home mom, so I am able to truly enjoy caring for my two children and not feel guilty about not working.  Having taught in some capacity since I was in middle school in Thailand until I gave birth to my son in 2009, I still miss teaching and conducting research once in a while, but I have made a commitment to devote my time to my family until I finally go back to work (which would probably be when they are already both in school).  Each day I spend with my children is a luxury not very many women today have, and I make sure to cherish each diaper change, feeding, play time and everything in between.

As I compare motherhood and being a college instructor, I know first and foremost that both roles innately involve nurturing of those who look up to us – our children and our students.  Also, both require a sense of and ability to lead by example, and to encourage children and students to explore and discover their individual potentials to succeed in whatever goals they set.  Lastly, being a mother and an instructor both involve responsibility to ensure that we provide children and students the resources that equip them to become proactive/responsible members of the society.

AMS: You were with the Ohio State University prior to Miami University, correct? Could you tell us how did you end up as one of the faculty members of the Ohio State University? What was your background? What made you want to be with this university?

CMD: Yes, I taught at The Ohio State University for five years as an English as a Second Language (ESL) composition instructor while doing my master and doctoral studies in Foreign and Second Language Education also at OSU (I chose this institution because in 2002 and years prior, it ranked one of the top universities in Education).  I took a graduate course on ESL composition the last quarter of my first year in graduate school not knowing that my professor was the director of the ESL Program at OSU.  She must have seen teaching potential in me that she invited me to apply for a position in the program.  Being passionate about the field and realizing my ability to contribute to the program equipped with a B.A. in English Education from the University of the Philippines Diliman, I applied for the job and was hired. Simultaneously, I also held another position at OSU as a writing consultant and an ESL resource staff for the Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing for four years. Being an instructor and a writing consultant at OSU allowed me to practice what I was learning in graduate school in an authentic and meaningful manner, and have always felt privileged to have such academic and professional opportunities.

As I mentioned earlier, I have been teaching in some capacity since I was a middle school student in Thailand; I tutored international students from my school, and taught English to Thai professionals. I also worked as a teacher’s aid every summer at the international school I attended until I graduated college.  After graduating from U.P., I also taught at a British international school in Bangkok, Thailand for one year.  In retrospect, the culturally and academically diverse experiences I had as a student in Thailand were the catalyst to my interest in teaching English to foreign individuals. Paired with my academic and professional training in U.P. as a student and a teacher intern at the U.P. Integrated School, respectively, my interest in teaching became a passion for advanced studies in the field through graduate school. As I said above, I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity at OSU to study and practice in the ESL field simultaneously as each complemented my learning of the other.

Due to my husband’s job relocation, however, I decided to leave OSU located in Columbus, OH and moved to Cincinnati.  I looked for ESL teaching positions in the area, and fortunately found one at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  I applied for the position and was hired; although I was initially hired to teach undergraduate ESL courses, I also became actively involved in and headed the restructuring of the ESL Program housed in the English Department at Miami. Apparently, my academic and professional experiences in college and graduate school prepared me to successfully take on such a challenging yet fulfilling task.

AMS: You are a candidate for a Ph D through Ohio State, right? How was the process? Would you share to us some of the obstacles you’ve had and how you made it?

CMD: Yes, I am currently a PhD candidate at Ohio State.  The process of candidacy begins with taking and passing all required courses, then preparing for, taking, and passing the candidacy exams as prerequisites to commencing the dissertation process. As such, I have finished all my courses and passed my written and oral candidacy exams in 2008, and I am now in the dissertation proposal stage so I have been able to work independently with my academic adviser and committee members.  Naturally, there are many obstacles in any endeavor, and I experienced many while in graduate school, especially while I was preparing for my candidacy exam and until now that I am working on my proposal.  The moment I began graduate school, I was already faced with a different academic culture, and had to reorient myself with its demands and expectations in order to succeed. Although not essentially an “obstacle,” taking courses while working two jobs as an instructor and a writing consultant at OSU required that I established a strict schedule and discipline to perform well in all three roles. The biggest obstacle or challenge I experienced in graduate school, however, was establishing the value of my dissertation topic to my adviser.  My topic has evolved over the past couple of years as I continue to negotiate it with my adviser, and yet until today he and I are still revising it as I work on my proposal.  The encouraging aspect of this endless negotiation, I’d like to think, is that I am able to focus my topic and work on it more meaningfully when my proposal is approved (but I have temporarily stopped working on it to focus on family).

Overcoming the obstacles that I encountered in graduate school was not an easy task, but such inevitable obstacles have taught me to be more resilient and strategic when faced with challenging tasks.

AMS: What do you think are the three most important things/skills that a person who is aspiring to take further graduate studies need to have?

CMD: Aside from hard work and discipline, the three most important aspects an aspiring graduate student should possess are the ability to set clear academic and professional goals, to intelligently anticipate, prepare for and approach challenges (very similar to playing chess), and to have a strong passion for your work and what you believe in. I learned in graduate school that having clear academic and professional goals in the beginning of the program helps a graduate student to focus his interests, work with relevant professors with similar interests, and network with colleagues and other professionals with the same research interests.  Being able to anticipate, prepare for and approach challenges makes the demands of graduate school easier to overcome and less taxing not just to succeed in this endeavor, but also to have time and energy for other responsibilities; many of us do not realize that graduate students also have other social and personal roles to play. Lastly, being passionate about your work and what you believe in plays a big role in succeeding in graduate school, as this passion displays your commitment to your chosen field of study, your own research, and the contribution your work would have in the field and the society.

AMS: As a Filipino teaching at an American University, what do you think are the qualities that you have as a Filipino that makes you a great College Instructor among your students? What do your students say about you as their teacher? Would you describe us your greatest achievement while at the university?

CMD: As a Filipino teaching at an American university, I think that being a foreign-born ESL instructor like my students has helped me with building rapport. Additionally, my students are able to associate with me more than just an instructor but also as a “foreigner” in the U.S., as I am able to empathize with them as they experience culture shock, assimilation, acculturation, to name a few. One of my greatest achievements while at the university is seeing the improvements in my students’ writing on each assignment, and the proud faces at the end of the quarter/semester when they realize that they are one step closer to accomplishing their individual goals as students in an American institution. What I am most proud of as a Filipino instructor in the U.S. is being a role model and an example of a success story for my international students – that if they themselves work hard enough, they too could be where I am or beyond.

AMS: If you were to give advice to aspiring graduates who would like to enter the higher education field and become an Instructor and eventually a tenured Professor what would be your advice?

CMD: I would encourage them to take every academic and professional opportunity to help them prepare in becoming a professional in higher education.  Collaborating with colleagues and professors, attending conferences and recognizing their strengths and weaknesses also help in establishing their contribution before they even become tenured professors in their chosen fields.

AMS: When you go back to work, what would be your next goal – for your professional development? For your family?

CMD: Before I left Miami University, my supervisor and head of the English Department informally offered me a tenure track position in the ESL Program when I finish my PhD so I’d like to be able to finish my degree before going back to work. Once I’m back to teaching, my next goal would be to collaborate with my colleagues and other professionals in the field in continuing to restructure the ESL Program at Miami (that is if my family is still in town). And regardless of wherever I may be when I decide to go back to teaching, I’d like to continue my advocacy for empowering international students through effective ESL instructor pedagogy.

My next goal for my family is to continue learning to be a nurturing and loving mother before or even after I’ve gone back to work.  As much as I value my professional role and goals, however, my role and goals as a mother and wife still come first.

AMS: Did your drive for success and life change after having two babies?

CMD: To some degree, yes, as not working right now makes me want to be more professionally successful when I go back to work. As I left Miami University only after one year of working there, I feel that I still have much more to contribute.  Similarly, my drive for personal and family success is also strong as I am raising my two children, making me greatly responsible both for their well-being and learning. I’m thankful that I am a teacher, and that I could use my training in teaching them fundamental academic skills before they begin preschool.

AMS: Finally, what is your definition of success.

CMD: To me, success is recognizing that my hard work contributes to a relevant cause, and that I, as an educator, continue to seek opportunities to impart knowledge to those who seek it.  Lastly, success is realizing that we should never cease to learn.

Daily with you,

Alpha :-)

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