On Wednesday, July 7, Mercer County Community College (MCCC) received devastating news. Longtime MCCC Professor of Communication Kathryn “Kathi” Paluscio has suddenly passed away.
“Kathi was an exceptionally talented and dedicated educator who was deeply loved by her students,” said President Dr. Jianping Wang in her formal campus-wide email announcement. “She was a beloved and respected colleague and a great human being.”
In her lifetime, Prof. Paluscio was honored nationally with the League for Innovation – John & Susanne Roueche Excellence Award and won awards for Human Relations, Woman of the Year, Advisor of the Year and been awarded a full scholarship to represent Mercer at the American Association for Women in Community Colleges (AAWCC) Leader’s Institute, a content-intensive, specialized focus of community college leadership and collaboration.
Prof. Paluscio also completed a Mid-Career Fellowship with Princeton University with a focus on guerrilla techniques in connecting with the modern-day student. She wrote and directed well over 100 comedy shows/short films and evaluated over 30,000 speeches, and is also a published author of speculative fiction under a pen name.
In 2012, Prof. Paluscio was awarded MCCC’s Distinguished Teaching Award of the year. At the commencement ceremony for the graduating class, she was called upon to give her speech, and in funny Paluscio fashion, she dropped her written speech. The crowd cheered as her and a graduating student raced to pick it up off the ground. As she hustled backed to the podium, she laughed and said whimsically, “That was not planned.” That bit of laughter in a serious time was the kind of light Prof. Paluscio brought to MCCC and all of her public speaking courses and seminars.
One of Prof. Paluscio’s former students, Kim Hoff, was one of those nervous speakers. She never wanted to take public speaking. However, after putting it off until her graduation year, she was forced to take the required course. She remembers how Prof. Paluscio turned the most dreaded courses in college into her favorite.
“I actually waited to take public speaking until my last semester at Mercer because I was so nervous,” said Hoff, “but I remember walking into her class the first day, and she just made everyone’s anxiety kind of go away. I forget exactly what she did, but her aura was honestly just so calm and welcoming.”
According to Hoff, Prof. Paluscio had faith in every single person’s public speaking abilities, and it showed in her teaching. For Paluscio, public speaking wasn’t just a course, but a lifetime skill we all have the ability to master, and a fear we all have the ability to overcome.
“After I graduated from Mercer, I kept in touch with her and we became really good friends,” said Hoff, who has since moved on from MCCC and is attending graduate school. “We talked on the phone all the time, and I remember calling her one day, and I was like, ‘Kath, you’re right! I had to do a whole presentation, and I was perfectly fine because of your class.’ She was just like, ‘Yeah, I knew it! I had no doubt in you.'”
She continued, “She was honestly one-of-a-kind. She always made sure that you felt special no matter who you were.”
One of the many ways Prof. Paluscio would make her students feel special was by incorporating them into a song she wrote. At the end of each public speaking course, she would bring in her guitar and sing a comedic tune about the class, switching up the names depending on her current students. You can watch a video of Prof. Paluscio performing that song HERE.
Alyvn Haywood, Professor of Speech and Communication at MCCC and close colleague to Prof. Paluscio spent over a decade teaching along side her. “She was not only a friend, but like a little sister to me,” he said. “A brilliant, creative spirit, and a gentle spirit – that’s how I see Kathi.”
According to Prof. Haywood, Prof. Paluscio left an indelible impression on her students, as well as to the people who work with her and who knew her intimately. Whether it be a colleague, student or friend, there is not one person in Prof. Paluscio’s life left without a distinct, happy memory.
“I think Kathy would like for us to think of her that with both a tear and a smile, as [famous writer] Khalil Gibran would say,” said Haywood. “She is one person who I feel we’ll be talking about for years to come.”
He continued, “In fact, I feel the more we remember her and speak of her, the more she will live on our memories and in our hearts.”
In Prof. Paluscio’s memory, the college is flying its flags half-mast for one week. MCCC is also working to establish a scholarship in her name. Additionally, a small group of faculty are leading the planning of a college-wide memorial service in the near future.
Prof. Paluscio’s cause of death has not yet been disclosed, however, details will be shared by the college and close community as they are made available.
“It is indeed a sad day at Mercer,” said President Dr. Wang. “However, in sadness, we unite to carry on what Kathi did best – preparing our students for success in college and in life.”