Michael Hettich and Colleen Ahern-Hettich have been an educational power couple at Wolfson Campus for two decades. Combined, they have worked at Miami Dade College for 42 years.
Their tenure will soon come to an end.
Hettich’s last semester teaching will be this spring. Ahern-Hettich is retiring in July.
“We didn’t really plan for us to retire together,” Ahern-Hettich said. “I love what I do at the [Earth Ethics] Institute, but I’m tired of sitting in the office. I feel like I have more than ten good years left in me and I want to spend that time being able to do what I’ve learned all these years.”
Ahern-Hettich, 63, has served as the director of the Earth Ethics Institute at Wolfson Campus for the past 14 years. Hettich, 64, has taught English and creative writing for 28 years.
Hettich started pondering retirement after a procedure on his right ear last summer left him hard of hearing. He also yearned to structure his life more freely, but he admits he will miss his students.
Their nurturing qualities and creativity, he says, has kept him at the College. During class, Hettich strives for a “rigorous and highly creative community where everyone is free and open to share their ideas.”
He focuses on listening to his student’s opinions. It’s common for Hettich to coach them through assignments and their college admissions process during his office hours.
“[Hettich is a] wonderful teacher who really cares about his students,” said Kassandra Curiel, an English major in the Honors College at Wolfson Campus. Curiel has taken classes with Hettich for three semesters and is senior editor to the campus’ literary magazine, Metamorphosis, which he advises.
His colleagues say they will miss Hettich too.
“He really helped me through the adjustment period when I became the department chair,” said Joselle LaGuerre, the English department chairperson at Wolfson Campus. “Each day he would stop by, and poke his head through my door, asking if there was any help I needed. He’s really somebody whose personality will be hard to replace.”
Ahern-Hettich, leaves her position as director of the Earth Ethics Institute with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
During her tenure, she expanded the program to four campuses and increased the staff from about 30 to more than 100. She was also instrumental in developing sustainability fairs at Wolfson Campus, implementing a carpooling program and starting initiatives to promote earth literacy.
“It’s hard to find someone that can replace what she’s done at that position. It’s not just her work ethic that we’ll miss,” said Heidi Lellelid, an EEI program assistant and Ahern-Hettich’s coworker for the past nine years. “You can tell that she had such a strong passion for promoting Earth Literacy. She would come in each week with new ideas she learned over the weekend and she would want to do everything she could to get them working.”
Ahern-Hettich and Hettich plan to move to Asheville, North Carolina to spend more time with their daughter Caitlin Hettich and be surrounded by nature, which is a large part of their lives—they spent their first date backpacking in the mountains 38 years ago in Denver, Colorado.
Hettich said he will focus on his poetry, for which he has received numerous awards such as the 2013 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry and the David Martinson-Meadowhawk Prize in 2016.
Ahern-Hettich said she will take advantage of the “next ten years, where I still have the energy I do now.” She hopes to work on projects connected to earth literacy and hike through the mountains of North Carolina.