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Dr. Frank Giuliano: A multi-faceted faculty member

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(Photo provided by Dr. Frank Giuliano)

 

“Who is that man dashing up and down the hallway?” I asked my new colleague.

“Oh, that’s Dr. Frank Giuliano. He is always running around the department in a big hurry. He is always busy doing something or going somewhere,” she said.

It was my first day at Westfield State University. Everyone was helping me learn my way around, all the while stopping by to introduce themselves.

Frank waves to me on the way by as he welcomes me aboard. The longer I work here, the more I notice that he always seems to be sprinting up and down Wilson Hall’s third floor hallway. On his way to class, he smiles at students, calls to colleagues, checks his phone, and hurries to his classroom to greet his waiting students. I wondered why he was in such a rush and what makes him so busy. When I got the chance to write about Dr. Giuliano for a class project, I decided to find out what makes this man run.

I met with Dr. Giuliano in his faculty office in Wilson Hall in mid-November. It is an interior office with no windows, but it has a fresh coat of beige paint. This may sound like a drab space, but his office is filled with boxes full of lab equipment used in his science education classes. He has everything from brightly colored children’s toys to books full of fun science experiments. He even has boxes of spaghetti. They are all available to help him teach his students how to teach science to their future students.

Dr. Giuliano has a busy teaching schedule, and is involved in many educational and student activities after hours. Recently, he made a presentation at a meeting of the campus chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education, on teaching methods for future elementary school teachers.

Frank explains that his interest in scientific study has early roots. It all started in the fourth grade with his science teacher Mrs. Brewster.

“She made science interesting. She would have the class do many interactive, hands-on projects and activities,” he said.

He smiled at his memory of her and said she was really inspiring and made science fun. One of the lessons Frank wishes to impart to his students comes directly from his experiences with Mrs. Brewster

“For teachers who feel they may not be making a difference, especially in the earlier grades, they should think again,” Frank said.

Those classes lit the fuse of scientific interest in a young Frank Giuliano. He wants young teachers to know that they need to persevere because you never know what lesson may inspire a young student.

“I thought, if I could teach science the way she did, science would be fun,” he said.

Frank’s love of science continued to grow from fourth grade. He also feels fortunate to have had a high school chemistry and physics teacher who inspired him and continued to encourage his love of science. This teacher encouraged Frank to go to college and expand his knowledge and love of science.

Frank’s educational background includes a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry from the Rochester Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Science Education from Syracuse University. In graduate school, he began as a chemistry major and completed his Masters of Science at Syracuse. As a teaching assistant during his masters program, Frank realized how much he enjoyed helping people learn science, as opposed to actually doing experiments.

“I found myself being more interested in doing my teaching assistant responsibilities and helping people learn, rather than being behind a lab bench,” he said.

He became intrigued as to how his students were thinking about science, problem solving, and trying to make sense of scientific concepts. At that point, he switched into the Science Education doctoral program at Syracuse.

“I have never regretted my change of educational focus,” Frank said.

He truly enjoys watching his students grow and become teachers. He says that will never change, no matter how busy he is, how much paperwork the administration asks him to do, or how many new K-12 educational models he has to adapt to.

Frank tells me that he has taught at Westfield State for 19 years.

“Oh, they go by so fast,” he laughs.

When choosing a workplace, Frank knew he wanted to remain close to his family. Frank grew up in upstate New York, so Westfield State and Western Massachusetts felt like the right fit. He tells me he held off giving his answer to another institution because he knew Westfield was where he wanted to teach.

Frank loves teaching and working at here at Westfield. He enjoys connecting with his students.

“Even if I am having a bad day, interacting with students often, even if it’s just for an hour makes the day better. That feeling is how I know I chose the right career and the right place to work,” he said.

Frank genuinely likes and respects all of his colleagues, and feels like there is a real family-like atmosphere in his department. Frank is a captivating speaker, and often entertains his colleagues in the staff lunchroom with student stories and comical anecdotes.

Dr. Carla Desilets sums up Frank rather succinctly: “Frank cracks me up!”

Frank says that he feels fortunate because he knows that it is not like that in all departments on campus. His experiences on campus have shown him that the people at Westfield State—both staff and faculty—are working hard to in the Journal of Chemical
Education. Dr. Theis acknowledged Frank in his paper.

“Frank is my go-to guy for educational research,” said Theis.

Dr. Rick Rees echoed that sentiment.

“Whenever I have a new idea about classroom teaching, I will ask Frank his opinion,” said Rees. Frank is also an active member of the National Science Teachers Association and the National Association for Research in Science Teaching. He frequently presents papers and attends conferences for both of these organizations.

In November of 2015, he and colleague Tarin Weiss made a presentation at the Massachusetts Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Summit in Worcester, Massachusetts entitled “Science Teaching Efficacy in Elementary Pre-Service Teachers.” The title may sound a bit overwhelming, but his eyes light up when he speaks of it.

While Frank did teach at the middle school and high school levels for a short period of time after graduate school, he decided to move on to teaching at the college level.

“Teaching at the college level allows me to do something that K-12 does not. It allows me to interact with preservice, future teachers,” he explains.

For Frank, teaching future teachers is one of the most important reasons he is working at Westfield State. He feels that all of the time and effort he gives his students is an investment in their futures andwill continue to advance science education in general. He says all of this hard work and its outcomes for himself, his students, and science are definitely worth all of the running he does.

Frank did not want to teach at an elite institution. His Ph.D. from Syracuse would have allowed him to teach at an upper-tier college, or even an Ivy League college; however, Frank chose Westfield State. Frank knew that Westfield and its students were a reflection of who he was as a person.

“I was the first in my family to go to college,” he said.

Many students who attend Westfield State are first-generation college students.

“I had a wonderful childhood, but my parents were factory workers. My family was not rich, and no one had gone to college,” he said.

This part of Frank Giuliano’s history is pivotal to him as a person and as a teacher. As the son of Italian immigrants, he came from what he would describe as a poor background. Despite this, Frank overcame his personal and financial hardships to achieve success and personal fulfillment. He had no idea about scholarships, what going to college really meant, what it could do for him, how much it would cost, or how he would pay for it. He ended up paying for his education himself with the help of student loans and working off-campus jobs.

Frank wants Westfield students to know that he “gets it” when they say they are attending school full-time and working two jobs. He understands what they are going through and can relate to their struggles. He shares his journey with his students because he wants them to know what the outcome can be with education, determination, and perseverance.

“I think I defied a lot of odds, not only to go to college, but to get an advanced degree and to be a college professor from where I came from. I hope I can help my students do the same thing,” he said.

I have heard so many good things about Frank that when I speak with his colleagues, I have to ask if Frank has any faults. The overwhelming answer was yes. His colleagues all think that Frank is extremely helpful, perhaps to his detriment.

While Dr. Aaron Reyes says that Frank is “always willing to help,” Dr. Pat Romano commented that he “does not know how or when to say no.” He is always available to assist with a project, presentation, or committee meeting, but that does not leave much time for his own projects and work. Perhaps that is why he always seems to be running up and down Wilson’s hallways.

Franks efforts to work toward change for students and young people extend off campus as well. Last year, Frank was appointed to the Massachusetts Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth Commission. This committee meets in Boston once a month. This commute adds to his time crunch, but he knows this is important work and he wants to make whatever contribution he can.

As a gay man, Frank feels that it is important to work towards changes in state and local laws that negatively affect LGBTQIA+ youth, both in Massachusetts and beyond.

Frank also feels that it is important for him to be an “out,” open, and visible gay man on campus.

“One of the most satisfying parts of my nineteen years here is being comfortable . . . being an ‘out’ faculty member,” he said.

He knows there are many students on campus that may be struggling with their sexual orientation or identity. He wants to provide a safe, judgment-free space for them.

“If I can help even one student to overcome any anxiety or fear that they have, I feel like I’ve done a service . . . just by being who I am,” Frank said.

Frank also fears that technology, while a great tool, “is making changes in our students that are not helpful to them.” As a social constructivist teacher, he sees his students steadily losing the social part of learning due to the consistent use of technology, especially in the classroom. He states that in the past several years he has noticed student’s communication and interactive social skills diminishing.

“I am seeing [this loss] in my students and it kind of saddens me,” he said.

He fears that students may be becoming dependent on technology, instead of developing the ability to think things through on a more conceptual level.

“Knowledge is not transferable from person to person or from teacher to student, knowledge has to be constructed in the mind of the learner . . . then ideas are shared with others . . . to make the understanding more meaningful,” Frank said.

Frank is also very concerned about the trend toward online learning in the sciences, and he is adamant on this point.

“I know I am going to sound like an old fuddie duddie, but in science it is so much about the doing; that’s how we learn. It is more about science process, not just science content,” he said.

Online labs will not allow you to use all of your senses, such as seeing a chemical reaction in a beaker, learning the process of pouring chemicals into a flask or test tube, smelling when your chemical mixture is not right, or spilling your mixture and learning how to clean it up safely. He knows that this type of learning experience will demand more of his and his students’ time, but he is absolutely unwavering in his opinion on this issue. Science learning must be hands-on; a student cannot learn these skills behind a computer screen because the human interaction is lost to a virtual reality.

When I attended one of Frank’s Physical Science labs, I found out that he is true to his word about science learning being hands-on and all about student communication and collaboration. His colleague Dr. Reyes told me that Frank “really cares for his students to learn the material” presented in class.

“Frank is actively engaged in student learning. He keeps students focused and moving in class to hold their interest,” said another colleague, Dr. Romano.

“Frank does such cool activities with his students,” said department lab technician Rebecca Beardsley.

I got to see all of this for myself. Frank took his class outside for a game of Oh Dear, Oh Deer. This game was an attempt to show how the deer population grew or diminished based on the availability of food, shelter, and water from one year to the next. It looked like a game of Red Rover as the “deer” on one side had to run over to the line of resources across from them and find what they needed. If the correct resource was not available, the “deer” died and became a resource. Frank kept record of deer population versus resource availability for a ten-year period.

The students were all chatting and laughing, and getting a great visual of what happens when there is an abundance of resources versus a scarcity of them. When we went back to the classroom, Frank asked students to graph the outcomes so they could see if the statistical data on their graph matched what they had just done outside. All of the students seemed to be engaged, enjoying themselves, and learning a lot from this lesson. Frank seemed to be having fun, too.

When I spoke to Frank later in the day, I asked what his students thought of today’s lesson. He was a bit discouraged.

“Many of them did not understand the lesson,” he told me.

He is genuinely concerned about his students. Frank hopes his fun and interactive activities are keeping his students focused and learning, but he is not always sure he is connecting with them. He is troubled by his students’ learning and skill acquisition prior to their arrival at Westfield. Frank feels students have become less enthusiastic, and less able to problem-solve and think critically.

He would like to pass on his enthusiasm for science and science teaching to the next generation of teachers. Sometimes, however, Frank questions whether he is doing enough to reach, teach, and help them become better students and learners, as well as helping them attain their dreams and goals.

When I next see Frank, he is in the chemistry break room, regaling his colleagues with amusing tales of airline mishaps and airport difficulties from his most recent trip. When the conversation turns to students, while the stories may sound amusing on the surface, I can hear the usual undertone of worry and concern from all of the faculty present. Everyone is a bit apprehensive about what will become of their students when they head out to confront the “real world” after college.

Despite disappointments, setbacks, and student struggles, Frank remains upbeat and undaunted. He is determined to keep teaching and working to help his students thrive, flourish, and become teachers.

“I will be at WSU until retirement,” he laughs.

Frank undoubtedly running down the third floor hallway in Wilson Hall, trying to get to class on time.

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