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In Focus: Jennifer Voelger

Jennifer is currently enrolled in the Masters of Education in Fine Arts. Upon completion in 2010, she will be certified to teach art in grades K-12. Her husband Larry is a social studies teacher on Long Island and served in Iraq. During his time abroad, Larry and Jennifer exchanged love letters and plan to publish a book containing those exchanges

Tell us a little bit about the book you and Larry are working on and when it will be published.

Right now we are at the beginning stages of putting the book together. We have hundreds of letters to place in chronological order. Most of the letters I received from Larry were placed in a binder and along with organizing the letters is the task of typing them. We are not sure if anyone will be interested in the book, so we are working on a web site that will have the look and feel of a book. If that is successful, we will try to publish the book. With my husband newly employed in the teaching field and my 13-credit course load this semester, it has sadly taken the back seat. We are excited for summer to arrive so that we can focus on it.

One of the hardest parts of this project is reading the letters. Many are embarrassing to read because they are so raw with emotion and longing. When death is a possibility each day you really pour out your soul to the person you love. It is also hard to relive those days, especially for Larry. There are many letters in which Larry apologizes to me for things he may have to do on a particular mission and others where he says goodbye because he doesn’t think he will survive a mission. The letters were mailed to me before the missions so that I would definitely get them if something bad did happen. They are hard to reread.

What made you choose art education?

Growing up, like a lot of kids I had some familial and personal struggles.  Art was an outlet for me.  I always imagined helping other young people find that outlet. As I got older the creative bones in my body kept growing.  Though I was on my way towards a serious administrative career, I could not shake the desire to work with students.  I found refuge by working at Stony Brook University and for a while that was enough.  While working there, one of my International Graduate Assistants asked me why I wasn’t a teacher and I couldn’t answer her.  I had always blamed it on the time and money and the financial hardships that I would have to endure if I left my job.  I couldn’t explain that to a girl that was my age, studying here far away from her family in China with very little money.  I started my application at Hofstra that very same day which made my husband, who had been begging me to do it, very happy.

Are you a full-time student?

Yes, I am studying full-time.  When my husband returned from Iraq, he went back to school full-time and I worked full-time to support us.  Now, I guess it’s my turn and he is working while I attend school.

How did you and your husband meet?

Long story - we grew up together literally.  While attending high school I lived with his family for a few years.  His older brother was an acquaintance of mine and was going off to college.  He offered his room to me because he knew my living situation wasn’t working.  I’m now married to his brother, though we held off dating until 2004 because we feared risking our relationship or adding stress to family relationships. We’ve known each other about 15 years.

How long was Larry in Iraq and is there a chance of him returning?

Larry is part of the fighting 69th Infantry division, a part of the New York National Guard.  He served active duty in Manhattan after 911 for a year and a year in Iraq.  He has a year left in his inactive ready reserve contract but has completed his active contract.  Basically he is out but if WWIII happened he could be activated.  He sustained an injury that prevented him from going to Afghanistan after the Iraq deployment.  His unit just got back from Afghanistan with no serious injuries or casualties.  A weight was lifted that day and he felt guilty not being able to go.  That isn’t to say he enjoys war, he hates it, but he felt a responsibility to his battle buddies.  We are very happy they are all home and with their families. His back injury may require surgery but he is trying to avoid that.  He is doing a lot of physical therapy but still ends up in the emergency room here and there because he can’t walk due to the pain.  It’s a constant battle that doctors say will stick with him forever.  He feels lucky though, and doesn’t complain about it too much.

Do you both plan to stay on Long Island and teach?

If I can find a job, yes, we hope to stay on Long Island.  My husband loves his job, our families are here (most of them) and we have a tight network of friends.  Art teaching jobs are hard to come by though, so we’ll see.

Tell us about your experience at Hofstra?

My experience at Hofstra has been amazing thus far.  My degree program is made up of talented and focused students who share my passion for art education.  I’ve been challenged continuously by my degree program to think outside the box.  Coming from a state university, I was ready for all kinds of challenges and was amazed at how smoothly things at Hofstra run. 

Where did you complete your undergraduate degree?

I completed my B.A. at Purchase College. I graduated in 2001 and feel my experience there was priceless.  I am still in contact with many of the faculty and staff from Purchase - it is a second home to me.

Influential teachers along the way at Hofstra?

Dr. Susan Zwirn, my program director is amazing.  I’ve never met anyone with so much on their plate and yet she tirelessly gives more and more.  She is one of the smartest and most objective people I have met and gives 100% at each class.  Her energy is contagious. She is always available for advisement and most importantly knows her facts and has lots of experience in the field.  Her leadership is essential for us as teachers in training – she is a truly amazing human being. She does work us to the bone though, but I’m pretty sure that is a good thing.

More writing in the future after this project?

My husband writes fantasy fiction, nothing published.  I enjoy reading it and we’d love to write some fiction.  I’m more of the voice of reason for his zany ideas.  We make a good team.

Where do you and Larry currently live?

We reside in Holbrook but are in the process of trying to purchase a foreclosure.  Rent on Long Island is not getting any more affordable as the economy plummets.  We are trying to make our month to month expenses a little more tolerable.  We will stay in Suffolk County since Larry’s job is out east.

Are you an artist yourself and if so what kind of art do you create?

For as long as I can remember I have always had a thirst for creativity that was unquenchable, but it wasn’t until taking classes with Dr. Susan Zwirn at Hofstra that I actually began to consider myself an artist.  Dr. Zwirn gave me a confidence in my own creativity that I hadn’t possessed before I met her.  Sadly with such a heavy course load it is hard to make art.  Art is like a valve for me, once it’s turned on it’s hard to turn off.  Unfortunately that can come between me and hours worth of reading so it’s better to be turned off.  I carry a small digital camera with me so that I can capture the happenings around me - that helps keep the creative bugs at bay.

Jennifer Voelger

May ‘10