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Professor takes 'non-traditional' path

Published: Sunday, April 27, 2008

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


The cool breeze on a warm spring day danced through her short brown hair while the sunlight accented the scarlet strands and created a glow around her face. Sitting on a bench outside McGuinn, Deborah Piatelli's smile was contagious. Looking out at the Boston College campus, eating her strawberries and discussing her time at the University, Piatelli only had positive things to say about her students, her family, and her career.

Piatelli's educational experiences may have followed what she refers to as a "non-traditional path," but that doesn't change her belief that her time at BC has been both challenging and exciting. As a teaching fellow in the sociology department, Piatelli teaches Research Methods, a required course for both sociology majors and minors. Although Piatelli only teaches this one class after having just completed her doctorate work in March, she says that she loves teaching and is excited to join the department as a visiting assistant professor next semester. She is scheduled to teach Research Methods, Introduction to Sociology in the fall, and a new class titled Social Construction of Whiteness in the spring.

Getting to the point of being able to teach more classes, however, was a long process that culminated in Piatelli's dissertation. After spending three years working with a peace and justice network that, for the purpose of her study, remains anonymous, Piatelli wrote her dissertation on the issue of power structure in this organization and whether this network was or could be diversified across race- and class-organizing practices. In summary, her research question related to how this group - a predominantly white middle class organization that came into existence after Sept. 11 that had a "history of being exclusionary" - was going to organize across race and class. Although she had assumed that the study would be positive and that she would "find this really positive story about white middle-class people actually working across race and class and creating a diverse movement," she found only pockets of positives. Her dissertation then focuses on those positives.

After the immense workload of her continued research in the field finally allowed her to receive her doctorate, Piatelli says she is now enjoying her free time. "I'm relaxing for a couple of months, just teaching one class and having a great time with it," she says.

The way Piatelli found BC is an interesting twist to the average story professors usually tell. Growing up in a working-class community where many graduates didn't attend college, Piatelli worked for six years at the Department of Defense. She laughs at this now, saying, "You can see how much my world view has changed. I've done a 360."

After 12 to 15 years of working different jobs, from computer programmer to human resources director, she began night school first at UMass and then at Northeastern, until she finally made her way to Chestnut Hill and received her bachelor's from BC from the Dean of the College of Advancing Studies Rev. James Woods. It may have taken Piatelli eight years to complete her studies, taking night classes that complemented her work schedule, but she says she feels as though it was worth it. "I feel like I kind of got this unique education by doing that," she says.

While she was completing her degree at BC, she also worked here, where she met Charles Derber, a professor in the sociology department. While taking a class with him, he urged her to consider sociology. She explains how her work in human resources made her consider sociology as a major, saying, "I was really interested in corporate power … coming from business and having to lay off thousands of people in the human resources industry, I had seen how people were really disempowered in the work force, and that's sort of what attracted me to the sociology department."

By getting involved in activism on campus from sweat shop labor to facilitating and, at one time, being an advisor to the Global Justice Project along with Derber, Piatelli recalls how exciting her years at BC have been.

"I just love working with students … and my interests always were about social movements," she says.

This is where she came up with the idea for her dissertation - and when she first originally thought that teaching could be the new career for her.

Even though teaching and being with students makes Piatelli happy, she considers herself to be a very family-oriented person. With six nephews and one niece, Piatelli spends most of her time with her two sisters, her brother, and their families. Smiling, she talks about her nephews and niece, ranging in age from 5 to 16.

"I spend tons and tons of time with them … they are over my house all the time," Piatelli says.

Between going to their hockey games or other sporting events, Piatelli thoroughly enjoys her time spent with the children. In fact, she watched them last week while they were off from school.

Although Piatelli lived in Charlestown, Mass., for 12 years with her husband - Michael Piatelli, director of the biology department at BC, who also received his doctorate from BC - the couple recently moved to Westford, Mass. The move for Piatelli was a happy one, as she acknowledges that living one hour away was too far. All her family lives in the area. She laughs while mentioning how high her phone bill was when her sister moved to California for a year. The two would talk almost every day.

"I can't ever imagine not living close to my family. My family is the core of my life," she says as she recalls the family get-togethers, such as Christmas Eve.

Likewise, having her husband so close during the work day has made her job more enjoyable. "It's nice to be able to just go over and have coffee or we get together for lunch. We have things in common, and we talk about the campus and the environment," Piatelli says.

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