Waubonsee Community College has announced its 2023 Outstanding Adjunct Faculty member, Evelyn Cassano, Adjunct Faculty in Adult Education. Cassano, a Waubonsee alumnus and lifelong Aurora resident, has been a member of the Adult Education Program since 2019.
"Receiving this award is an honor and the culmination of years of hard work, grading papers, preparing lessons, attending conferences, triumphing, and growing personally and professionally," said Cassano, with tears in her eyes. "It's still hard to believe I'm being recognized when I work alongside so many dedicated educators at Waubonsee.”
Cassano says her commitment to education was instilled in her early childhood. "My parents were born in Manatí, Puerto Rico, in the late 1930s, and despite my dad only attending school until the second grade and my mother attending school until the sixth grade, they always stressed the importance of education to have a better life," said Cassano.
Cassano's father, the late Santos Maisonet, was well-known and loved by many in Aurora as the founding member of the Puerto Rican Fraternal Order in Aurora. In his memory, the Puerto Rican Fraternal Order founded a higher education scholarship in his name. "To this day, the scholarship honors and pays tribute to my dad's legacy and impact in the community," said Cassano.
Cassano's journey as a traditional student, transfer student, graduate student, and an adult learner later in life, combined with her traditional Puerto Rican upbringing, has informed her approach, method, and sensitivity in the classroom. After high school, Cassano was offered a Lucile Gustafson scholarship to attend Waubonsee debt-free. Upon earning her associate degree, Cassano received a transfer scholarship to attend the University of Illinois at Springfield, earning a dual degree in psychology and teaching. Afterward, she enrolled in Aurora University and earned her Master of Arts in Teaching. With a teaching credential, Cassano returned to Aurora, where she served as an elementary teacher for over 15 years before joining Waubonsee.
"I am one of eight children, and I grew up witnessing a deep commitment to excellence both from my mom and dad," said Cassano. "My dad worked two to three jobs while my mom cared for us children, but at home, if there was a better way to do something, my mom would do it, and that is where I learned to be innovative."
Cassano recognizes that every learner is unique and comes from a different cultural and linguistic background. She routinely uses the results of an English language and literacy skills assessment to differentiate her teaching strategies to better address her students' specific learning needs. She is intentional about creating a classroom environment that is safe, inclusive, and one that promotes understanding and respect.
"My students come from Honduras, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, and Ukraine," said Cassano. "Teaching them is very rewarding because it broadens my own cultural understanding."
To enhance her instruction, Cassano makes extensive use of technology in the classroom and is always on top of emerging instructional technologies that could benefit her students. Through serving on the English Language Acquisition Curriculum Committee, Cassano has been involved with curriculum development, program planning, and course design initiatives for English language and digital literacy courses. She has mentored new instructors and developed a Technology Bootcamp to help onboard students enrolled in hybrid or online classes, providing greater accessibility and access to Canvas, Waubonsee's learning management system, email, and Zoom.
Cassano never hesitates to share her ideas, assist new and experienced teachers, and enjoys learning new ideas from others. She has received training to earn an ESL Standards Proficient Instructor Certificate and is working towards an Illinois Community College Board ESL Specialist Credential Certificate. She was one of 30 teachers in Illinois to become a member of the Illinois Digital Learning Lab, which supports adult educators in incorporating learning technology into the classroom.
Cassano has been involved in many initiatives to expand digital literacy, including working on a project through Digital Resilience in the American Workforce (DRAW), an initiative from Jobs for the Future, World Education, and Safal Partners, with support from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. She is also involved in an EdTech Maker Space in which she participates to develop edtech and/or content-area skills to expand access to free and open educational resources (OER) for adult educators worldwide. Cassano is an active member of the Illinois Adult and Continuing Education Association and the Coalition on Adult Basic Education.
"Doing my best, whether in my role as a student, teacher, wife, or mother, is what I have lived by," said Cassano. "Good enough just doesn't cut it when it comes to the things that truly matter to you."
Cassano will be recognized and presented with the Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Member Award at a college event in August. The final selection is made by the college's Outstanding Faculty Member Selection Committee, which is comprised of previous recipients of the award and academic administrators.