College students should keep their options open, says Paula Martino, because they never know when they may discover their life’s passion. Martino did just that a few years ago when she decided to pursue a master’s degree in art history, and now, as an adjunct professor and the most recent recipient of the College of Southern Maryland’s Faculty Excellence Award honoring part-time faculty, she is guiding students in the classroom and to historic sites around the world.
It all began after Martino, after finally completing a long-postponed bachelor's degree in business in 2001 at the University of Maryland, decided to channel her lifelong interests in art and archaeology toward formal graduate work. “I wanted to study something academically in a scholarly setting that I’d done as an amateur all my life,” she said. “I’m just so glad I did.”
Martino earned that master’s and has been bringing her love for history and the ancient world to CSM students since 2004. She has taken students abroad to see first-hand what they have been reading about in textbooks or viewing in electronic presentations. “I believe that college is supposed to be about experiencing new things,” she said, urging students to “take a class that’s outside your major, take an elective that doesn’t have anything to do with your major, just to get the experience. You never know what you might discover. I bring that [mind set] to the classroom because it’s precisely what I did.”
Although some of Martino’s students are interested in studio art or art history, many take her classes because they are seeking an elective in the humanities. That’s fine with Martino. “I want them to leave the class with some interest, no matter how small,” she said. “They may want to visit a museum they may not have otherwise visited or go see an exhibit they wouldn’t otherwise have paid any attention to because they had no prior information about the artwork, the culture, the period … if I can just broaden their horizon a little bit, that’s OK.”
Army veteran Melissa Milani, 34, is working toward an engineering degree and said she had no interest in art history before Martino’s Art 1010 course, History of Western Art. “It ended up being my favorite class,” Milani said. “She made art history absolutely fascinating, brought in the impact of social and economic times, showed us what was going on in the entire time period and how it affected the art.
“She brought her life experiences to the class. You can tell she is very passionate about the preservation of art.”
Martino’s lectures feature PowerPoint presentations and she also offers students opportunities for discussion. “One of the rules of my class is there’s no such thing as a dumb question. Just ask. And they do,” Martino said. “I try to engage them as much as possible, and to the degree we can, some scholarly argument, where I say, ‘I think it says this’ and one of my students says ‘no, it says to me something else.’
“As a student, I couldn’t stand going into a class and having someone just talk to me the whole time, so I can’t teach that way.”
In her courses, Martino tries to highlight the socio-cultural aspects of each time period - “why does art look the way it does at that time, who’s commissioning art and why.” She works to get her students to understand the power of images, “why human civilizations seem to equate monumentality with power. We love to build big things when we’re in charge,” she said, noting the immensity of the pyramids and the grand architecture often associated with dominant societies.
She has also developed courses at CSM, including one on the Art of Ancient Americas, focusing on Central and South America from 1500 B.C. to the 15th century.
But the best way to show students the power of art is to take them abroad to see the real thing, which Martino has done with travel study courses at CSM. Between 2005 and 2007, Martino took students to study ancient art and architecture in Rome, Pompeii, Naples, Capri, Delphi and Athens.
“There’s really nothing better than taking [students] to the top of the Acropolis and say, ‘Here it is.’ The looks on their faces,
the reaction is so rewarding,” Martino said. “I’m always harping that ‘context is important.’ When I take them to these places, they really get it.”
Martino fuels her passion for art history and archaeology - “ancient civilizations really turn me on,” she said - by staying involved in archaeological digs and organizations, including the Charles County Archaeological Society, where she is president. She also spent three weeks last summer at an excavation of Kabri, a Canaanite palace in Israel, where she was a part of a team that helped to uncover ancient art with connections to the European Mediterranean world. That work,
conducted during the summer months, often involved major excavation with picks and shovels before team members were able to use the fine tools to view the artifacts.
“I can study the stuff after it comes out of the ground, but I’m just more jazzed at being able to be there and being able to immerse myself into the archaeology of something,” Martino said. “It helps me enjoy it that much more.”
Martino said she is proud that she was selected by her peers for the faculty excellence award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to teaching, curriculum, professional development, the college community and the community at-large. She is looking forward to more teaching opportunities at CSM, including a course on the Italian Renaissance and future travel study courses. And she wants to continue to connect with her students, who range from recent high school graduates to those in
their 40s and 50s, returning to school for second careers or finishing their degrees. “It’s a joy to teach them.”
Martino says she learns through her students as well: “They always throw me these questions out of left field.” For example, one student asked Martino how much one of the blocks used to build the pyramids weighs. “Great question, so I have to find out myself, and that broadens me (which online sources estimate at roughly 2.5 tons).”
Martino, a La Plata resident with three children, works full-time as the government affairs director of the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors. She said teaching has been incredibly rewarding and says she feels fortunate that she is able to do it near her home. “This feeds my soul,” she said. “This is my creative outlet, it helps me to give back to the community, just fulfills me in so many ways.”
For information on CSM's faculty excellence award recipients, visit www.csmd.edu/faculty.