Colleen Poole: Continuing the Tradition of Mother Cabrini Through Education of the Heart

Colleen Poole, field experience coordinator and adjunct faculty member, was drawn to Cabrini 22 years ago as a graduate student in the reading specialist program. Ever since then, Cabrini has become home for her and her family. Poole was inspired by the incredible spirit of Cabrini’s namesake and founder, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and Mother Ursula.

“I think just their vision, when you see how driven they both were and how strong those women were, you feel like you can’t make excuses.”

Poole follows the tradition of those determined women as she excels at shaping the future educators at Cabrini and dedicates her time to meaningful service and immersion trips.

Recently, Poole returned from a service trip to Swaziland. Located in the south of Africa, Swaziland is a land rich in history and culture.  However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Swaziland has the highest estimated rate of HIV-infected adults worldwide. The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the founders of Cabrini College, have worked to save lives since 1971 at the St. Philip’s Mission in Swaziland.

As part of an initiative, Cabrini students from all majors and faculty visit Swaziland in January in order to make a positive difference.

Although Poole and the group of students and faculty were very far from home, the sense of community is immediately palpable. Poole said, “To me, when you step off the plane and you are on the mission, it’s like going to a different campus of Cabrini. It’s like family, which is really neat when you are so far away. You feel this connection, like you belong, you’re comfortable right away.”

Some faculty and staff sponsor children in Swaziland and asked Poole to learn about the children during her trip. They were hoping for some insight into their lives, but what they found was immensely gratifying.

Poole explained that one such group of children were saved by the donation of a Cabrini community member, which was given to the Missionary Sisters.

“There were three brothers and they were with the body of their mother who had died and they had been sitting there for a week with their dead mom. They were huddled under a piece of metal. It was raining when [The Sisters] found them.”

After the horrifying experience, the boys found family and hope.

“[The Sisters] raised them and fed them and gave them schooling.”

Poole also explained that due to the corruption in the monarchy, the chief wanted to take the land from the boys who just tragically lost their mother. However, the sisters fought for the boys and used donations to purchase a cow to bribe the chief to keep the land.

“It’s absolutely amazing what this little mission does from year to year. With their medical aspect, they are a role model for the World Health Organization on how to take care of AIDS patients … to see that they’ve had an impact on saving so many lives,” Poole said.

In an ECG class, Bridges to Swaziland, students learn about the history of Swaziland and create lesson plans for the children. One activity includes students writing letters back to children in Swaziland who are supported by the ministry. Using colorful construction paper, vibrant markers and bright crayons, Cabrini students send their personal letters thousands of miles away.

One student surprised a girl who she was pen pals with in Swaziland, meeting her during the service trip, clutching onto the letter she received.

Poole explained that it was a very emotional moment and that they have a picture together holding the letter.

The past trip marks the third time Poole visited Swaziland for service work. Poole has had the opportunity to visit Ecuador, West Virginia and New Orleans through Cabrini Ministry programs.

As education is an important part of making a difference and making the world a better place, Poole enjoys embarking on trips with Cabrini students who experience new cultures and create solutions. “I love seeing the students being exposed to something totally new and exciting.”

Students are an important part of Poole’s work. As field experience coordinator, Poole finds placements for all sophomore and junior education majors, which can be a stressful task.

Poole must oversee that all students have different grade levels and school settings for each placement. In addition, she must ensure that all students have an English language learner’s experience and an inclusion experience. Special education opportunities must also be scheduled for students with that focus of study. In addition, Poole coordinates carpool schedules for students.

“My job is to check off and have the most diverse experience that you possibly can so that when you leave here, you know, ‘Oh God, special ed’s not for me’ or ‘I thought I wanted to teach first grade but I really liked fourth.’”

Poole looks forward to the student-teaching banquet at the end of each year where she is able to see all of the students she has helped place. “I’m fortunate enough that I get to place every one of them, four times, so I really know them and [you] feel that you had a part in that preparation and that you’re making a difference.”

Caitlyn Poole, her daughter and a student at Cabrini, knows that her mother has made a difference in the lives of students, including herself.

“My mom is one of the hardest working, strongest women I know because of the people she reaches each and every day with her job,” Poole said. “She has made such an impact on so many lives over the years of working at Cabrini and these past three and a half years allowed me to see it first-hand.”

Fun Facts

  • Former member of the Philadelphia’s professional women’s football team
  • Enjoys kayaking and on sunny spring days; will bring her kayak to school
  • Former aquatics director and Dixon swimming pool consultant. She understands the irony with her last name
  • Celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary this June with a trip to Ireland and Scotland  
  • Favorite show to binge watch: NCIS
  • Favorite Jersey beach: Ocean City