Chemistry Professor with Ph.D. Pursues Associate Degree in Liberal Arts
It was the first day of First-Year Seminar class when Mike Cross’s secret was uncovered by Justin, another student in the class.
Justin was giving Cross a funny look before class began. Finally, he asked “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
Cross, a chemistry professor at Northern Essex and chair of the Natural Sciences Department, was slow to respond. He knew he had met with Justin earlier in his role as faculty advisor, but today he was trying to blend in as just another NECC student.
After he was recognized, Cross quietly confessed, sharing his story, a remarkable example of how far a faculty member will go to truly understand the student experience. Cross, who has a Ph.D.
in organic chemistry, has taught at Northern Essex for the past six years. He decided to pursue a liberal arts degree at Northern Essex last spring after attending the annual Awards Convocation.
“I was clapping for my students and I started thinking about how much our students overcome,” he said. “I wondered what it was really like to have kids and a full-time job while getting an associate degree. I wanted to understand where our students are coming from so I know better how to help them.”
Cross figured the best way to do that would be to become a student himself. With three children—ages 6, 9, and 11—and a full-time teaching job, he enrolled at Northern Essex.
He took his first course—Literature: The Novel—online last summer, two courses in the fall, and he is scheduled to take five courses in the spring semester. If all goes well, he’ll walk across the commencement stage in May and receive his associate degree from Northern Essex President Lane Glenn.
Cross readily admits that his experiment has been “humbling.” He’s up until midnight every night doing homework and in his office at the college by 7:30 a.m. “As a professor you worry that students overestimate
how much work they do, but I’ve found that’s not the case. Our students have a lot going on and they just quietly soldier on and make it through.
How hard they really do work has been surprising.”
After earning his degree, Cross will share his ideas on how the student experience can be improved at Northern Essex, especially for adult
learners. “Overall I’m finding that we have a lot to brag about here at NECC and now I can say that from a student perspective as well as from a faculty perspective.”