This alumni profile of Tamara Boston was triggered while wandering through Morton College’s archives. Came across a 2010 photo of Boston and Tara Chavez, now a high school biology/chemistry teacher, when they represented Morton College on the Phi Theta Kappa All Illinois Academic Team.
Boston is among the many who started at Morton College and went on to continued academic success at Northern Illinois University. The MC-to-NIU all-star pipeline includes the likes of Dr. Len Kouba (geography professor/world traveler and fisherman), Bob Bergland (Ides of March original band member), Art Belanger (public relations/community newspapers) and Bob “Slivers” Slivovsky (Morton College beloved jack-of-trades in athletics).
She followed Kouba’s path of going from student to employment at NIU. The late Kouba taught geography there from 1966 to 1993, while Boston is at NIU now as Project Coordinator for the Division of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She loves (with the emphasis on loves) her job and was reminded why she thinks that way while recently attending a work colleague’s memorial service.
“It reminded me why I do what I do and not to take the work we do for granted,” Boston said. “There are students out there who needs someone to help when barriers come up. I’m someone who knows how to navigate the landscape of higher education. We’re here to help students break down and overcome those barriers. It’s my mission to share pearls of wisdom. I do this job because I love it.”
Boston admits it’s difficult to describe her specific job duties.
“It changes on a daily basis,” Boston states. “It could be anything. It runs the gamut of dealing with a student crisis to helping a student discover campus resources. My pride is working with students.”
While the Division of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is broken down into a number of different parts, there’s no operating in silos.
“We work together – that’s how we operate,” Boston said. “I appreciate my colleagues and the work we do.”
Boston thought she’d be on the track toward a doctorate in political science. Faith and fate stepped in, though.
“He had other plans for me,” Boston admitted. “I went for higher education. I didn’t quite understand it at first. But it was, ‘Tamara, this is what helps students.’ I had life experiences. I knew how navigate and negotiate hierarchies. But I didn’t really think of it as a career.”
Boston came to Morton College as a non-traditional student in the fall of 2008. She was a single mother, living on Chicago’s far south side and working as a crew chief at a Portillo’s in Summit. Although out-of-district, Morton College became Boston’s best option because of the easy access off the Stevenson Expressway.
Morton College also offered an intangible other places Boston looked at didn’t.
“The vibe of warmth I got from the school when I inquired was special,” Boston remembered. “I just loved it. While I had to pay out-of-district tuition, but that didn’t bother me.”
Boston grew up in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood around 107th and Rhodes. She attended Academy of Our Lady (or Longwood Academy), an all-girls Catholic high school on 95th and Throop noted for its pastoral setting with a grotto of the Virgin Mother, a planned lagoon with a fountain and park, walkways between the buildings, several connecting bridges, and areas plush with grass, trees and bushes. The campus took up several city blocks. School literature described it “as a place to be seen.”
“High school had overprepared me for college,” Boston recalled. “I went off to school, but didn’t feel challenged. Now fast forward – I was looking to return to school.”
Boston admitted to being nervous attending college later in life. She was old enough to be mother of most students. To her surprise and relief, too, Boston wasn’t the oldest student in her political science class. She remembers a woman, a former editor and writer at the Chicago Tribune, who was in her 70s.
“I just loved the vibe,” Boston remembered. “Being a non-traditional student and having a child the same age of the most of the students in my classes made me nervous attending class at a later age.”
A biology class with now-retired faculty member Judy Bluemer helped shape Boston’s philosophy on advising students on test-taking techniques.
“I felt overwhelmed in the beginning,” Boston said. “Biology made me nervous. I hadn’t had it a number of years. On my first quiz, I got a ‘D.’ On my first test, I got a ‘D.’ Nerves got to me. I talked to Judy Bluemer, who told me, ‘Tamara, I know you know the material. You’re just tensing and stressing up. You need to relax – you’ve got this.’”
Boston then went on a charge that resembled Rory McIlory’s final round of 64 at this year’s Masters. While Boston didn’t come away with the green jacket or perfect 100 on the final to finish with an A, a score of 96 was nothing to sneeze over in closing with a very solid B.
“Here’s what I took away from that class,” Boston remembered. “I learned to relax the day before a test and get a good night’s sleep. If you’re prepared, you’ll do well.”
Other memories of Morton College?
She took enough sociology classes at Morton College to be one class away from graduating with a minor in the field at NIU. She remembers the green felt tip pen a professor used to grade her English portfolio. She’s good at proofreading, too, catching a typo in this story’s opening paragraph.
“I can spot a comma splice a million miles away,” Boston recalls.
Boston was a student leader, too, at Morton College. She got involved in student government and was part of a group who helped establish the Student Government Association’s bylaws.
Membership in Phi Theta Kappa did and still does carry some special privileges. She thought back to being acknowledged with the All Illinois PTK honor.
“Earning that honor from Phi Theta Kappa was a surprise,” Boston said. “I remember being honored at a board meeting with (then) College President Leslie Navarro.”
DeKalb has been Boston’s home the last 12 years. Both her bachelors (political science and public law) and masters (counseling, adult and higher education) degrees are from NIU. She’s also been a graduate teaching assistant and researcher at the Center of Black Studies and the Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion areas.
Boston is pursuing a doctorate degree in educational psychology, but admits to “taking the scenic route. I’ve been in school since 2010.”
She sees a lot of parallels between the communities at Morton College and NIU.
“I just enjoy the people and always have felt welcome,” Boston said. “There’s a great sense of belonging in the community. I’m remember when I first got here and I couldn’t find this place to save my life. People approached me and asked if I needed help. It was really endearing. It’s a lot like what I experienced at Morton College.”