Longtime faculty members say farewell to the college as they begin a new chapter

By Gabby Bach, Copy Editor

Kayla Macedo

Columbia’s faculty and staff are at the heart of the college. They mentor students and give them industry advice meant to prepare them for their careers post-graduation. However, like students, they have to bid goodbye to their time here at some point.

David Berner has been with Columbia for almost 18 years. He has had a long career in broadcast journalism spanning over 40 years and has also published nine books that have received numerous accolades. At his heart, though, he is an educator.

“I don’t think of teaching as something that’s three hours on a Tuesday. To me, it seems like it’s just part of your nature. If you’re going to do this well, it’s kind of a 24-hour day job,” Berner said. “You’ve kind of stamped yourself as a mentor for the rest of your life if you’ve taught at all, at least the good teachers do.”

Upon leaving Columbia this spring, Berner said he is going to focus on promoting his upcoming novella “Sandman: A Golf Tale,” hosting writing workshops and taking time to travel.

“[I look forward to] being able to fill my days with the stuff that I really love — not that I don’t love teaching — but the stuff that I really love that feeds my soul every single day. Teaching has fed my soul a lot,” Berner said. “I feel like my edges have dulled a little bit. It’s not quite the same, and there’s probably a lot of reasons for that, so it’s time.”

Sharon Zurek, a professor of instruction in the Cinema and Television Arts Department and the owner of Black Cat Productions in Chicago, said she has a similar reason for beginning a new chapter. She was a student at Columbia and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in film and theatre in 1976.

She has been associated with the college for many years and even used to tell people, “I am Columbia.”

However, in recent years, Zurek has missed working on post-production editing projects for films outside of Columbia.

“I miss working with my friends. I miss working with people in the business that I’ve known for years,” Zurek said. “I’m really hoping that’s what’s in store for me in the future: I get on a project now and that I really love working on and [love] the people I’m with.”

Zurek added that her experience leaving Columbia is not much different than the current graduating class.

“I told my students this semester, my seniors, that are graduating in May, ‘I’m just like you.’ There’s this big abyss up in front of me, only this time I think I know where I’m going and what can be happening,” Zurek said. “You have to leave someplace to get someplace new sometimes. … There’s so many changes. It’s mind-boggling, and then, you go through life long enough you realize, ‘Yeah, that’s part of it.’”

Zurek is not the only departing faculty member who has ties with the college as both student and faculty.

Shanita Akintonde is an associate professor of instruction in the Communication Department. Before starting her career as a faculty member, Akintonde graduated from Columbia in 1993 with a bachelor of arts degree in advertising.

When reflecting on her time at Columbia, Akintonde is most proud of the work she has done to give back — both to the community and to her students.

When she was a student, Akintonde launched the first American Marketing Association chapter at Columbia. The chapter regularly visited Stroger Hospital — formerly known as Cook County Hospital — around the holidays to bring toys to children in the hospital.

As a faculty member, Akintonde uses her platform to give students advice based on her own experiences in the industry and as a Columbia alum. One particular lesson stood out to her to share with students:

“You have to discover your North Star, your own North Star, your true North Star and continue to do it,” Akintonde said. “People are going to give you advice, and they’re going to be well-intentioned, and they’re going to tell you things, and, sometimes, they will tell you what you can and cannot do or what you can and cannot become. And, I say, ‘Toss that aside. Don’t listen to that.’”

After 23 years as a faculty member at the college, Akintonde is ready to find some time to focus on herself.

“I’m just doing me,” Akintonde said. “Sometimes you just get an intuitive moment that says, ‘You know what? You’ve done good, and you’ve done enough.’ And, when you leave something, you want to leave it in a good place, and that’s what I want to do.”

Akintonde added that she is always going to be a teacher at heart.

“I’m a teacher through and through. I’m a professor no matter whether I’m in a classroom or not,” Akintonde said. “I’m always going to have that in me, and I’m still going to find ways to connect that because that’s just who I am.”

While these faculty members may be departing from their teaching career at Columbia, this does not mean they are severing all ties with the college.

John Green, a professor in the Theatre Department, is leaving at the end of the semester. He has been teaching at the college for 13 years and has held various roles at the college: chair of the Theatre Department, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts and the associate director of the Acting and Contemporary Performance Making Master and Master of Fine Arts programs.

Green said he still plans on keeping in touch with many of his connections at the college, both faculty and alumni, through his next project — a book drawn on the work he has been doing with graduate students at Columbia about the city as performance.

Green sees his departure as a natural time to step away from the college to focus on his next project while also making way for new faculty members to start their journey at Columbia.

“I think that it’s so important that we have new faculty, that the institution is continually renewing itself. It’s organic, that there’s a continuum — new life — particularly with regard to our DEI commitment, which I think is fabulous,” Green said. “The more BIPOC faculty we can hire, the more new energy that can come in, the more exciting it is.”