Rochelle Zaranek has earned bachelor and master degrees in social work and sociology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and two post-doctorates in research and teaching. But it was a class assignment while a student at Macomb that would have the most profound of impacts.
Her sociology professor “challenged” Zaranek and her classmates to spend a Friday night at Detroit Receiving Hospital, where the majority of patients are admitted through the emergency room. “I left the trauma unit in the wee hours of a Saturday morning,” says Zaranek, “knowing I wanted to go into medical social work.”
At the time, teaching was not on Zaranek’s radar. While earning her degrees at Wayne State University, she concentrated solely on social work, serving clients in Detroit’s inner city.
“The people there are remarkable,” says Zaranek. “I learned some of life’s greatest lessons from older people in Detroit.”
It was as a teaching assistant in graduate school that she was first introduced to the front of the classroom and a good first impression turned into a lifelong commitment. She taught full time at Wayne State for 10 years and, in the evenings, at Henry Ford Community College because, she explains. “I love to teach.”
And that is why she decided to join Macomb’s faculty nearly 10 years ago, where she knew, at a community college, the emphasis would be on teaching not research. But Zaranek’s efforts to reach students are anything but confined to the classroom.
Developing a new pre-social work curriculum, Zaranek purposefully included a service learning component in the same spirit as that life-changing classroom assignment at Detroit Receiving. That evolved into her role as Macomb’s service learning coordinator, assisting other faculty with service learning projects. She also organizes all of the volunteer opportunities offered to students and staff on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service each January and is advisor to the Social Work Student Organization.
Spring break is no different and in addition to arranging for students to volunteer at soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food banks during their week off, Zaranek has also taken several groups to Louisiana to assist in post-Katrina rebuilding. Last summer, she capped off a two-year distance service learning project with a visit to three orphanages in Kenya, an African country where more than half of the population live in poverty, for which her students had been collecting notebooks and backpacks. That visit paved the way for a formalized study abroad opportunity, with Zaranek leading the first group of Macomb students to Kenya this past June.
For all of these efforts and more, Zaranek has received a 2017 Award for Teaching Excellence from the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development, an offshoot of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas. But for her, nothing eclipses working side-by-side with her students to make the world a better place.
“When you can take your textbook and bring it to life, it makes it real for the students,” says Zaranek. “I can lecture to them about homelessness or poverty, but when we work together at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen or at an orphanage in Africa they begin to really understand.”