Marilyn Valentino has walked the edge of a volcano.
She has gone to New Guinea and met with cannibals.
She once worked as a chamber maid at a London Bed and Breakfast.
For adventure, she even planned a lonesome midnight walk through the mean streets of Cusco, Peru. “I just find,” said Valentino, “that your senses are keen when you are in an unfamiliar environment and you’ve got to use all of your resources to get by. I think that is a great high for me.”
Valentino likes to live an unpredictable life. “My Chinese sign means change,” she pointed out. “I like a lot of change.”
Valentino is a professor of English at Lorain County Community College and a 2008 NISOD National Faculty Award Winner. This is her 25th year teaching on our campus. Nearly three decades in the same job is hardly the sign of a wanderer.
What has kept her here?
Valentino constantly researches and learns innovative ways of teaching. “When you do that,” she pointed out, “you can see what is working and what is not working in class so you don’t teach the same book or the same course every year. I find that when I switch to something new it invigorates me.” She also sees herself as a professional in the community. “I make it a point,” she said, “to be out with PolyOne or Invacare talking about what makes a better presenter or writer. I really practice what I do outside and not just in an isolated academic environment.”
Valentino has traveled to nearly every continent. “I consider myself to be a sociolinguist,” she continued. “I like to study how people use language to get along in all kinds of situations. I also think it is a big world out there and we should see as much of it as we can.”
She is Assistant Chair of the National Conference on College Composition and Communication. “I work with people from Clemson to Harvard and I think that helps me bring energy back to campus.”
She directed the Toni Morrison Society Biennial International Conference held on the LCCC campus in the Fall of 2000. In the winter of 2007, Valentino organized a visit from Luong Ung, author of the International Best Seller First They Killed My Father, memoirs of being in a concentration camp in Cambodia. “That way,” she said, “the students have the opportunity to actually meet authors that they study.”
Morrison, a Lorain native and Nobel Prize winner in literature, visited LCCC for the conference. “That was the great thing,” said Valentino, “having a Nobel laureate on campus. I think it set the standards high.”
Valentino is Italian. Big surprise. She grew up in Youngstown. When she graduated from high school, she had a chance to study in the honors program at Kent State but her father wouldn’t let his Italian daughter leave the family. “He said, you stay home. This is good enough for you,” remembers Valentino. “So, that’s basically what I did.” Valentino attended Youngstown State instead. She eventually became the first in her family to leave home. “I announced on a Wednesday,” she remembered, “that I was leaving for San Francisco and left on that Friday. They expect the unexpected from me,” she finished with a laugh.
Valentino’s charge to have change and challenge in her life has brought, literally, a world of experience to her students. “I try,” she said, “to get them sparked. I bring my travels and moments into my classroom and because I have lived the culture, I understand what literature means in the culture. It is not something I just learned here in my office.”
It may be something she learned while stumbling down the side of a volcano.