In 1986 Thomas Patchell was driving across country from Virginia to California in his 73 Celica with a cardboard stand up Elvis Presley riding shotgun unaware in nine years he’d be teaching college English.
Tom Patchell now works for the English department at Cuesta, serves as a grievance officer for the Cuesta College Federation of Teachers, is the advisor for the Student Veterans Association, in addition to the publisher of Cuesta’s literary magazine “Tellus”, a hard copy of fiction, poetry, and essays written by students.
Patchell has been going to Cuesta since the late 80s. He was a student in ‘88 and ‘89 starting as a graphic design major. He changed gears when he took a European Literature class at Cuesta taught by a foreign exchange professor from England. He found out he loved reading classics such as The Odyssey.
”I Thought wow, I can actually get a degree in this? It was one of those lightbulb moments.” Patchell said.
For Patchell it was a long road of education, taking eight and a half years of schooling to get bachelor’s in English alongside a minor in philosophy.
Patchell has been on faculty since early 2006, as a English teacher. He has taught all English composition classes, American literature, Creative writing, and multicultural literature.
“He is very passionate and keeps his class lively and exciting using different voices and telling personal stories that relate to the subjects his teaching.” Kaylin Boutwell said, an English Major.
Besides his work as a professor, Patchell also works with the veterans writing group, with Maxine Hong Kingston – a national book award winner. Together they published a book together- ‘Veterans of war, Veterans of Peace’.
The veterans writing group, focuses on writing as a form of meditation for veterans, survivors of trauma, and even peace organizers.
“It’s really kind of a community” Patchell said. The group meets four times a year, the location varies.
Patchell served in the Marines Reserve starting in 1987, in the field artillery as fire direction control. He was honorably discharged in 1995, but his time in service still influences many aspects of his life and he continues to provide for all service members.
When asked if he believes if his past experiences have better suited him for his career, Patchell said he used to “work in the medical industry doing night shifts in the emergency room after which he would have to walk to Cal Poly–two nights a week I didn’t get any sleep”. Having this experience under his belt helped shaped how he views students who also work and attend college.
How would he improve Cuesta? “Thing that I’ve heard over and over again is better counselor-student connections, particularly with veterans. Student veterans have voiced concerns in this regard to me.” Patchell said.
Talking about the future: “I want to publish more short fiction” Patchell said, “I used to think I was gonna be a comic book writer, I even created this comic book villain, ‘Arsenal’, who wore camo neck ties and suits.” Patchell said. He also wants to publish more grounded and realistic works “One of my major topics I like to write about is my father’s service in the Korean War, he was a paratrooper in the Army who received the Purple Heart.”
Patchells favorite thing about working at Cuesta? “I love working with the undergraduates. A lot of students that come here, like me, may have never gone to college.” Patchell said. “ Cuesta is a gateway.”
Driving cross country in 86, Patchell may have not known that he would end up contributing to Cuesta is such big was but as it says on a card from his wife he keeps in his office ‘Every snowflake lands in the right place.’