Anderson departs, leaves legacy behind
Beautification — EOPS counselor Dionne Perez works on an attendant’s eyebrows at Spa Day on Friday. The event provided many free beauty and pampering services, along with food and music. Crystaljoy Bis / The Advocate
After years of hard work and contribution to Contra Costa College, which have led to the success of the speech department, Dr. Connie Anderson will be stepping down to retire from her position in June.
Dr. Anderson lives by the philosophy that through communication and the power of spoken word, people have the ability to change the world.
Her efforts to collaborate and network have created genuine relationships with everyone, speech department Chairwomen Sherry Diestler said, adding that Anderson is the reason the drama and media arts departments have become an integral part in the Student Speaker Showcase every semester. For years she kept an eye out for available rooms to find space for a speech lab.
Today the speech lab, located in the Applied Arts Building, is used as a space for the speech students to research, plan events and tutor those who are in need of help for public speaking.
Diestler recalls previous college president, now the district chancellor, Helen Benjamin, saying, "(Anderson) is going to hit the ground running."
Even through health challenges, Anderson put the students first by contributing long hours and helping train a speech and debate team that has been awarded state and national awards.
"In group dynamics we have discovered that most groups have a task leader, the one who gets things done, and a 'social-emotional leader' who is sensitive to the needs and feelings of group members," Diestler said. "Connie has the rare ability to have both of these leadership skills."
In the many times Diestler has evaluated Anderson's classes, she has observed the keen interest her students have taken in speech communication due to her innovative approach of teaching.
After the release of the film "The Great Debaters," Anderson sought out Eleanor Boswell-Raine. Boswell-Raine created a documentary of her father who was part of the real Great Debaters from Wiley College. Through the connection Anderson has made, Boswell-Raine has now become a mentor for the speech and debate team and volunteers as a judge in intramural tournaments.
"I love teaching the 120 class (Public Speaking) because everyone is so afraid," Anderson said. "They're just like a clean slate and by the end of the semester you just see these people blossom."
Speaking in public has been recognized as one of the most common fears in society. But Anderson believes that individuals have the ability to manage that fear and transform it into positive energy.
"It's what I am in the business for - to see people transform their lives through the power of public speaking," she said.
Student Elena Battas, who has worked with Anderson, said, "You can ask her or anyone in the class and they'll tell you that I was very shy and I evolved to what you saw last night," commenting on her oral interpretation using some sexual language during the Student Speaker Showcase at the Knox Center on Thursday.
"I really don't think I would be who I am now without her," Battas said. "She has greatly (improved) my speaking skills and also my confidence as a performer."
In the midst of her recovery from recent surgery, Anderson wanted to make sure letters of acknowledgement were sent to applicants for her speech faculty position who would not be granted an interview. She offered to write the letters herself, making sure applicants were treated with courtesy and dignity, Diestler said.
During her retirement, Anderson hopes to travel and visit every state in the country and volunteer in a career center. Inspired by an idea shared by Dr. Benjamin, she has kept a gratitude journal for three years and hopes to continue writing in her journal.
The department wants to maintain and build the strong foundation Anderson has helped create with other departments and Middle College High School.
"We will miss her greatly and look forward to her return as an emeritus professor and valued colleague and mentor," Diestler said.
"She put us on the map in intercollegiate forensics, and we want to stay on that map and help our students be successful as they move on to four-year colleges."
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