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Tina DiBacco Jurcisin ’85: A Lifelong Learner

When Alumni Board President and Adjunct Communication Professor Tina Jurcisin accepted an additional position as Administrative Coordinator in the Office for Professional Development at Notre Dame College in December 2012, she already had a long history with the College. In fact, there are very few people who can understand Notre Dame from as many perspectives as she can.  Jurcisin has held positions on campus ranging from student and counselor to administrator and professor.

“I have traveled the gamut, the whole full-circle,” Jurcisin said. “I feel that I’ve had the best experience possible at Notre Dame.”

Jurcisin’s Notre Dame story began when she was a first-year undergraduate, a commuter student. At first, Jurcisin worried that living off campus would mean that she could not be as involved as students who lived in the residence halls. So she made a point to connect with her classmates and with faculty and staff. In her four years at the College, Jurcisin eagerly explored leadership and the arts.

She became a member of the Commuter Board and a representative of the Student Affairs Council. She also was a staff writer and sports editor for Notre Dame News, the student newspaper, and an active member in Masquers, the College’s theatre organization. Her involvement in extracurricular activities mirrored her expanding academic skills. Her performance in the classroom even earned her a scholarship for outstanding achievement in communication from the Radio & Television Council of Greater Cleveland.

“Tina was always thirsty for ways to improve her considerable communication skills,” said Associate Professor of Communication, English, and Theatre Anthony “Tony” Zupancic.  “She took direction well and was absolutely dependable.”

Jurcisin credits Zupancic with helping her get involved on campus. Zupancic remembers Jurcisin as hard-working and driven to master all aspects of her courses.

Jurcisin said becoming more involved in student life drew her more fully into the mission of the College and the value of developing the whole person.

“Developing the whole person to make a difference,” Jurcisin said, “whether it’s here at Notre Dame in our little microcosm, in my family, or in the faculty and staff on campus, that is what I believe in.”

Jurcisin graduated from Notre Dame in 1985 and stayed on campus to work as an admissions counselor for three years. By 1989, she was acting director of admission. Jurcisin had finished her bachelor’s degree, but she was still hungry to learn.

“I think I’ll be a student the rest of my life. Who doesn’t want to learn things? It makes you better as a person and better in your profession,” Jurcisin said. “So why not learn and expand your knowledge base, then rearrange the skills and talents that you have and pour them into the next opportunity?”

Jurcisin’s next opportunity to expand her knowledge and skills actually took her away from Notre Dame. She was accepted into a graduate program at Indiana University, where she also became a graduate assistant in the career development office.  But after earning her master’s degree in 1993 and working as a career counselor for a few years, providence brought her back to Notre Dame as director of alumni affairs and special events.

“It was Tony who invited me back after I was away for seven years. I wanted the position at Notre Dame, but before I took the job, I said I really missed the daily interaction with students. So when I moved on and changed my professions, I changed my life, changed my role, but I always knew that I missed the link you have in the classroom,” Jurcisin said.

As a professor, Jurcisin feels close to one of the most integral elements of the College’s history and mission. Jurcisin remembers that an important objective of the Sisters of Notre Dame was always to instruct those who did not have easy access to higher education. Through teaching at Notre Dame, Jurcisin is able to advance that mission─and relate with students─in ways she could not do as easily when she was an administrator.

“When students cared about what they were studying, about what they wanted to learn and about what they wanted to do, that excited me to want to give them more, to do what I could do,” Jurcisin said. “That’s the feeling of caring, truly and genuinely caring about success.”

Jurcisin loves to teach morning classes beginning at 8:30 a.m., but she always brings a positive attitude and a travel mug of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with her. If it’s Thursday, she also brings fruit snacks and granola bars. Snack Thursdays represent one of the many ways Jurcisin strives to interact with her students personally as well as academically. According to Jurcisin, when students attend her classes, they will learn─ that is the importance of academics─but if she can know what their favorite snacks or songs are, something personal about each one of them, she can relate on different levels, too.

“It’s important to get to know your students on a personal level and to develop trust and respect with them. And they will give that back to you,” Jurcisin said. “They’re not just a number here.”

Zupancic considers Jurcisin to be one of the best adjunct professors in communication, teaching Elements of Speech and Interpersonal Communication.

“She cares. She works hard and really enjoys helping others. She’s a lifelong learner and a gifted teacher,” Zupancic said. “Tina’s joy for life is contagious and her warm sense of humor cures those around her.”

Jurcisin not only builds community in her classroom by getting to know students personally but also reaches out to thousands of alumni of Notre Dame, bringing who she calls wonderful and passionate graduates of the College back to campus, in her role as alumni board president.

To Jurcisin, being on the alumni board is an absolute bonus to her other experiences at Notre Dame. She is excited about giving back, through fundraising, events and other programs, to the College she has called home for much of her life.

Karen Poelking, who knew Jurcisin first as a student and later as a co-worker, said that Jurcisin has a passion that seeps into her work, regardless of the job. She described Jurcisin as contagious, positive and professional.

“Tina is passionate about learning and about the College. And it shows,” Poelking said. “She is a delight to work with, and when you work with her, everything is very directed and very focused. You get things done, and you have fun doing it.”

Jurcisin is particularly passionate about events that help younger alumni get involved with Notre Dame again. She does not want them to feel cut off from campus. She stayed engaged as a commuter student and rejoined the College as a professional and a professor─and those bonds have made all the difference in her life. To Jurcisin, this is the essence of the College: Notre Dame is all about building connections.

“It is small enough that even with growth, we can still be connected with one another,” Jurcisin said. “Mission, being responsible, social justice, doing what’s right in the world─it all comes full circle when we’re living that mission.”

Jurcisin said she has no plans to leave the Notre Dame community she has grown right along with any time soon.

“I will never give this up. They’ll be pushing me in in a wheel chair, and I’ll still have my coffee and my positive attitude. I’ll help keep the learning going,” Jurcisin said. “Notre Dame College is not just a chapter in my life. It’s the book: My Life at Notre Dame.”

Written by Caroline Pratt