February 17, 2012
There are good teachers. There are great teachers.
in a while, there are teachers like Marilyn Verna ’66Ed, ’96Ed.D.
who are in a class all their own.
Verna spent her entire professional life in the classroom, and
whether she was teaching Mathematics to fifth graders or
Educational Research at the college level, she made sure that there
was always something unique about the way she interacted with her
“No matter where I was teaching, I always tried my best to be
more than simply someone who provided information,” she said.
“That’s necessary, of course, but for me it wasn’t sufficient. One
of my goals was to make every student feel special, to believe in
themselves and come away from my class really feeling that
they could accomplish great things if they set their mind to it. I
did that whether I was teaching gifted students or those in Special
Education, and in my heart I know that it made a difference.”
Looking back over a lifetime on the teacher’s side of the desk,
Verna credits her years as an undergraduate on the Schermerhorn
Street campus of St. John’s University as the time when she quickly
realized that the best teachers were the ones who connected with
their students on a human level. She recalled that from her first
days at the University, there was a genuine sense of warmth that
made her feel that she had become a part of a very loving
“St. John’s prepared me very well for my career,” she noted,
“and it wasn’t just about what went on in the lectures. There was a
real camaraderie among everyone there, a real closeness that was
something I’ve never found anywhere else. It’s so different at St.
John’s from the way it was at any other school I’ve ever attended.
It was like that when I was an undergraduate, and it was still like
that when I went back many years later for my doctorate. Going back
to St. John’s was like coming home, and it was like I had never
left. We were a family again.”
As with any good family, staying in touch is important, and so
it comes as no surprise that this loyal alumna stays in contact
with many of the friends that were so important to her as an
undergraduate. She is particularly close to a woman whom she met
when they were filling out their programs prior to attending their
first class as St. John’s students. Although separated by both time
and distance, Verna is happy that they have stayed in touch and
remain friends to this day.
She is also proud that she has remained connected to many of her
former students, particularly those who sat in her classes so many
“To this day, I still meet with some of the students who were in
one of my fifth grade classes from the early 1970s,” she said, “and
it makes me so happy to see them and learn about what’s going on in
their lives. I’ve always told my students that they were the best,
and that they needed to believe in themselves. I recently heard
from a retired police officer who was one of my students many years
ago. He told me that he never forgot what I told him, and that it
made such a lasting impact on his life. That was probably one of
the nicest things I’ve ever heard, and I owe it all to St.
Verna believes in giving back to the University in a variety of
ways. She has made gifts to St. John’s Library, and is an active
member of The McCallen Society, a donor recognition group for
alumni and friends who have included St. John’s in their estate
plans. She believes that by establishing her legacy at St. John’s
she will be showing her lasting appreciation to the University
while also reaching out to future students who may one day follow
in her footsteps.
An outgoing person by nature, she also enjoys the many
opportunities to socialize with other alumni at numerous McCallen
Society events throughout the year.
“I love being a member of The McCallen Society,” she remarked.
“Whenever a group of us get together, it’s like it was only
yesterday that we were all back on campus. Even if we don’t know
each other, there’s a connection that we all have to St. John’s,
and that bond is what makes us feel like we’re old friends. The
University has done so much for so many people, and I’m happy to do
what I can to keep that greatness alive, not just for today but as
far as we can see into the future. For me, St. John’s will always
be a family – and it’s a nice family!”