A deep love of travel and history forged Susan McGann’s professional path. As a history teacher in the St. Andrew’s humanities department, she combines these passions to create a curriculum for her students that not only broadens their intellectual horizons, but also opens their eyes to the world.
But this may never have transpired had McGann stuck to her college plan. “I had just gotten my Bachelor of Science in Business from Providence College and decided, you know what, I don’t want to do that,” she said. It wasn’t until her sister — Pam Farmer, then head of the foreign language department and a Spanish teacher, now the director of alumni relations — suggested volunteering at St. Andrew’s that she found her calling. Indeed, after her very first day teaching consumer economics to Middle School students, McGann knew that teaching was what she wanted to do. “It was a great way for me to put my big toe into the water before I took the dive,” she said. “I loved it and I never ever ever thought about doing anything else.”
During that first year, McGann taught during the day, took education classes in Providence at night, and began a Masters in Guidance and Counseling. And after a year of volunteering, she was offered a place on the faculty. It has been 33 years since that fateful day and McGann has no plans to go anywhere else. “The atmosphere just pulled me in,” she said. “It’s really like a family here.”
For McGann, St. Andrew’s truly became a family affair. In addition to working with her sister, her daughter graduated in 1990 and one of her granddaughters is currently a sophomore. There is also one very important member of her family that she wouldn’t have met had it not been for St. Andrew’s. Eric Mack, currently a member of the school’s Board of Trustees, was McGann’s advisee when he came to St. Andrew’s in 1997. “He has been part of our family ever since,” she said. “He has spent every Christmas with us since he was 17 years old.”
McGann continues to advise students and begins and ends each day with her seven current advisees, checking in on their schoolwork and well-being. She also, in addition to various other duties, sits on the Strategic Planning Committee and the Faculty Council, runs the Business Club, and works in the Coleman House dorm one night a week. Primarily, however, McGann teaches two classes: European History and Renaissance Florence, which includes a trip to Italy.
She came up with the idea for Renaissance Florence while studying Renaissance architecture and Renaissance art in Florence in the summers of 2002, 2004, and 2008. In the one-semester class, students discover the art history and architecture of Florence and then visit the city in December to experience it in person. “I’ve been taking students to Florence for 13 years,” McGann said. “It’s the same every year, but, with a whole new set of kids who love it and appreciate it, it’s like the first time every time for me.”
While the opportunity to travel is a rewarding aspect of her job, McGann also has the pleasure to see, firsthand, the effect she has on her students. “Most of my years are behind me instead of in front of me,” she said, “but I really try to make a difference in the lives of my students. I want to inspire them to try new things and have different experiences and I want to encourage them to travel and explore unfamiliar roads. I think that’s the most important thing I can do.”
And thanks to social media, McGann can see those students’ paths. “When I first started working at St. Andrew’s, there was no such thing as social media,” she said. “But today I can watch young people become successful adults. It’s amazing the transformation that they make through their years at St. Andrew’s and beyond and, today, when a kid walks across the stage at graduation, it doesn’t mean I won’t see them again.”