The Nyack College campus community was saddened to receive the news over the weekend that Dean Emeritus, Dr. Joyce Simons, passed away.
Dr. Simons was the chief academic administrator responsible for programs in the Office of Academic Support Services (now the Division of Student Success). Her tenure as Dean at Nyack began in 1995 and with that appointment, she practiced her personal philosophy rooted in biblical text: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
Her distinguished career in education included several Nyack College “firsts.” She was the first African American faculty member with an earned doctoral degree. In addition, she was the first African American academic dean and Dean Emeritus.
In her fourteen years at Nyack, Dr. Simons was passionate about serving all students and particularly, those in the College’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and the Nyack Introduction to Academia (NIA) program. Both initiatives offered students the academic guidance that may have been lacking in their pre-college educational experience, a profile intimately familiar to her.
Raised in Harlem by a father who was a cab driver and a mother who worked in a factory sewing tags on dresses, Dr. Simons embraced her parents’ belief that education was the key to a better life. This led to her being among the first HEOP students to graduate from Cornell University. She went on to earn two master’s degrees and a doctorate from Columbia University. For several years she taught undergraduate courses at Borough of Manhattan City College.
When she and her husband moved their family to Rockland County in 1994, she inquired about teaching positions at Nyack College and learned that the Associate Dean for Academic Development had resigned, and a search had begun for a replacement. This phenomenal woman had come full circle: the HEOP undergraduate became the Dean of the Higher Education Opportunity Program at Nyack.
Dr. Simons was adamant in her advocacy for HEOP students. “They are underprepared for college through no fault of their own,” she once commented. “When they are given the tools, the help – they begin to BELIEVE they can do it, and that’s exciting to be a part of. A big part of the program is re-educating them – dispelling the myths about what it means to be a successful student, and it often takes a full four years to complete that re-education process.”
It was her sheer joy to witness her students go on to become administrators, doctors, pastors, missionaries, educators and businesspeople.
The brilliance of Joyce Simons was dimmed only by a medical affliction. She ended her tenure at Nyack on August 31, 2007. In her testimony before an audience at an Alzheimer’s Association event in 2009, she shared: “I am one of the 5.3 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. I am one of the large numbers of people under the age of 65 with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia – whose world has been turned upside down. More than a job, more than a career – teaching, helping to shape young minds, was my greatest passion. Education had been my life’s work for 30 years.”
She added, “I was no stranger to health issues. For years, I had managed diabetes, hypertension and a pituitary tumor, but I was able to balance family, health and work until the fall of 2006, when I suffered a stroke. It was during my recovery that I started to experience memory and perception problems which persisted over time.” Despite her persistent health struggles, she leaves a legacy of loyalty to students and their education.
Dr. Simons was invited back to the Nyack campus in 2010 for the annual Social Justice Day celebration where, surrounded by her family, friends and colleagues, she was named Dean Emeritus. She will be remembered for her contributions to the expansion of Nyack’s ethnic and cultural diversity and for being a champion of Nyack’s core values.
The family’s plans for final arrangements will be announced as information becomes available. Please keep the Simons family in your thoughts and prayers.