A gesture of emotion kept her from fully expressing her feelings towards her students and colleagues. Since 1967, students and faculty at PCC have known her.She was the first to teach a women’s history course, which is still taught today, and now, Professor Kathryn Wiler Dabelow has 52 days left of teaching before she retires.
In 41 years, Dabelow has seen the campus evolve from its rebellious era to its present time. “[PCC] has changed a lot physically and in terms of [student] body,” she said.
One aspect that has changed the most, according to Dabelow, is that most students during her first years of teaching were enrolled full-time but today more students are enrolled part-time because of a hefty work schedule.
Dabelow has served twice as PCC’s academic senate president in 1979-1980 and 2004-2008 and teaches history and English. She has also been coordinator for PCC’s Oxford program twice. She received the Ralph Story Service award in 1989. Outside of PCC, she has served on the California Council for the Humanities for a four-year term.
Born in a small town in New Jersey called Little Silver for its silver mine, Dabelow lived there for 10 years until her father found a new job in California.
When teaching, Dabelow would incorporate historic events to the day it was. In 1974, before Susan B. Anthony was on the one dollar coin, Dabelow announced in her class that it was Anthony’s birthday. When nobody in the classroom knew who she was, Dabelow decided to teach a women’s history course at PCC.
“I like the college, the people I work with. I had so many opportunities to work with everyone, to use different skills,” said Dabelow on why she stayed at PCC for so long.
Students may have found her to be a difficult teacher, but Dabelow said, “I want [students] to learn. That is why I may be regarded as a hard teacher.”
Not giving extra credit in class is one of the philosophies she stands by because people can not succeed through just extra credit, she says.
Dabelow had experienced PCC before teaching because she is a former student. After three years as a student at PCC, Dabelow transferred to UCSB where she met her husband.
She received her Ph.D through an experience she would never forget. The presenter came to her with a look as if he had bad news for her; she was shocked that he came to congratulate her on her degree.
Dabelow found a job at PCC through a former teacher she had at John Marshall High School who moved on to teach at PCC. When her former teacher decided to go back to school, he offered her the job as a full-time substitute teacher.
After three years, Dabelow became a permanent professor. She was grateful to get the position after some of her friends with a Ph.D could only find jobs pumping gas.
Dabelow had wondered sometimes why there were some men interested in taking her women’s history course. Some would take her course as a way to meet women, she said.
For one of her exercises in women’s history, Dabelow decided to pair a male and female on a date where they would take opposite positions. The male acted the stereotype of a woman on a date and the woman did vice-versa. The class laughed about the reality of the male and female persona.
“That student became one of the best in the class, even his girlfriend thanked me,” said Dabelow.
Some students have thanked Dabelow in the most awkward way. “A former student told me it was my fault that she is now a history major,” said Dabelow.
PCC faculty members are emotional about Dabelow and her retirement. “She is the greatest person in the universe, she is always there for faculty, and we love her very much,” said Anthropology Instructor Lauren Arenson.
Social sciences division secretary Alicia Martinez said, “She is a wonderful friend, she has given many countless hours, she doesn’t know when to quit and never says ‘no.’ She will be greatly missed.”
Associate professor of social sciences Susie Hsiuhan Ling said, “Kay has always been my mentor. She never tires of learning new things. She isn’t one of the professors to await retirement. Kay has been an excellent Academic Senate leader because she works well with many and is very fair and even in her assessment of conflicts. She will be missed.
“She is only retiring so that she can seek out more adventures in Louisiana, Prague or wherever life takes her.”
Dabelow does not credit only one person for where she is today, because everyone she knows has done something to contribute to her contentment at PCC. “I can’t single out anyone, everyone have been supportive to me,” she said.
On her final words to her students, Dabelow said, “What I always hope for [students] is that they learned what they want to learn in my class, to help them better do what they want to study and do what they want to do with their lives.