by David Koch '07
Dickinson graduates are known for the wide variety of paths they take after descending the steps of Old West. This past semester, Nicole Dispenziere-Pitcher ’99 and Alison Taylor ’76 demonstrated how those divergent paths began at the same source. On February 26, the two alumni returned to Dickinson as honorees of the Cogan Fellowship, a program that aims to acquaint current English majors with the broad range of opportunities available to them. Each spring, the English department invites two alumni to share their experiences through classroom visits, talks, and a banquet. The honorees are chosen in the spirit of the example set by Eleanor Cogan, a former continuing education student at Dickinson. After a distinguished career in science and as a homemaker and mother, Cogan took over fifty courses at Dickinson, starting in 1979. She quickly discovered a passion for English literature and took thirty-two courses in the English department. At age ninety, she was honored for her commitment to lifelong learning at commencement in 1999.
Over the past six years, the Cogan Fellowship has honored a philanthropist, a library curator, a CEO, a doctor, a screenwriter, and others representing diverse fields. The seventh fellowship added careers in education and law to this group. Dispenziere-Pitcher started her career teaching high school English in England, and is now a caseworker within the Special Educational Needs Team for the East Sussex County Council. Taylor spent the first part of her career in public relations in New York City and later earned her law degree. She has worked as the chief clerk for the Cumberland County district attorney, assistant district attorney, and now serves as the Deputy General Counsel for the state of Pennsylvania under the Governor’s Office of General Counsel.
Dispenziere-Pitcher and Taylor had the opportunity to sit in on English classes during their February visit, and Dispenziere-Pitcher met with current English majors for lunch. Both fellows took the time to talk to professors and students about Dickinson and the way classes and departments have changed over the years. Late in the afternoon, students, faculty, and other guests gathered in Old West’s Memorial Hall to hear the prepared talks.
Nicole Dispenziere-Pitcher gave her talk, “Living, Learning and Working Abroad: A Graduate’s Experience,” in which she chronicled the course of her education and career in England. She spent a year abroad at the University of East Anglia with Dickinson’s study abroad program, returning to UEA after graduation for a fiction studies master’s degree. She then received a post-graduate certificate in secondary school English from the university. Dispenziere-Pitcher described the difficulty of being away from home and family, despite having her boyfriend Robbie (now husband) with her for support. But she persevered and put down enduring roots in England, working as a teacher and now at-risk student caseworker. Dispenziere-Pitcher concluded her talk with the announcement that she would soon embark on earning a certificate in language and speech therapy. She admitted that it might have been easier to pursue speech therapy from the beginning, but that she “wouldn’t have [had] the same depth of experience.” It is important to realize, she said, that “it can take several steps to reach a goal.”
Talking about how her degree in English brought her to this point, Dispenziere-Pitcher said that her need to grasp complex information and communicate effectively with parents has been facilitated by her ability to read well. Additionally, “I have to write a lot of difficult correspondences and make them accessible,” she says. Overall, her experience has been “challenging,” but Dispenziere-Pitcher still feels that “living abroad is wonderful.”
Alison Taylor followed with her talk entitled “Life’s Opportunities.” An immediate link with Dispenziere-Pitcher’s experience emerged, as Taylor explained that she chose to attend Dickinson because it was well-known for its study-abroad program. Like Dispenziere-Pitcher, Taylor also studied in England, but at the University of Durham. Upon graduation, she started a career in public relations in New York, which involved writing press releases, by-line articles, and speeches. She found the “vigorous achievement and focus” needed to succeed at Dickinson to be echoed in this position. However, after a considerable period “pitching cereal, kitchen countertops and the nutritional value of beer,” Taylor decided that she wanted to pursue a lifelong dream to become a lawyer. She enrolled in the Penn State Dickinson School of Law and earned her juris doctor in 1991. Since then she has built a career of distinguished public service for Cumberland County and the state of Pennsylvania.
Taylor noted that her two careers—public relations and prosecution—both demand that one “prove an argument to an audience,” a necessity that was aided by Taylor’s English degree. Indeed, the best way to learn how to communicate, says Taylor, is to “read good literature.” Like Dispenziere-Pitcher, the path to Taylor’s current career has not been direct, yet her life has been “all the richer for my journey, and that journey was propelled by Dickinson.”
Although a first glance at the careers of this year’s Cogan Fellows might indicate widely divergent paths, there were clearly more similarities between them than differences. Neither Dispenziere-Pitcher nor Taylor discovered their passions immediately, but reached their current careers gradually through a rich and fulfilling journey. For both, being English majors has fundamentally been about communicating with people, whether it be consumers, parents, students, or the judicial system.
To conclude the day, the new Cogan Fellows attended a dinner with students, faculty, and other guests in the Depot. Students presented their entries in the traditional Literary Dessert contest, which Dispenziere-Pitcher and Taylor judged. They chose Lauren Burleson’s “The Pound of the Baskervilles” for third place, Shannon Kobran’s “Better to reign in hell, than serve [cake] in heaven” devil cakes for second place, and Sara Shaffer’s “Flan Quixote” for first place.