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Wiser’s Wramblings-Those Who Taught Revisited

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A toast to former Alfred State Professor Phil Alesso

By Chuck Wiser, I write the words to share what my eyes see and my heart feels.

The picture, left, shows today’s featured personality Phil Alesso, readying to celebrate his 87th birthday with his daughter Suzi and her son Joey, both of whom will also be a part of this story.

Professor Philip F. Alesso, now residing in Detroit with his daughter Suzi, recently celebrated his 87th birthday. Thanks to the Facebook feature of “Friending” I was able to be reminded of the event, as his daughter posted the picture of Phil before his digging into the cake in celebration.

A little over a year ago I wrote a column about Alfred State College faculty members who taught me in my college career and, who, not also taught “with me” but who continued to teach me ever after. I learned everything I know about teaching from those who had previously taught me.

I was mentored by them; I observed them; and I talked to students often, and they shared their likes, dislikes, and grievances with me. When I wrote my previous article, I suggested that I would revisit and expand on the writings for some of those mentioned. When we became teaching colleagues the formality of being called Mr. Alesso was dropped, replaced by the less formal first name. For writing purposes, I will refer to him as Phil herein, as he would also prefer.

Knowing that I was going to write this article featuring Phil I reached out to colleagues and former students for comments or stories based on their relationship with Phil as their teacher or colleague. I received the following comments from former students

Paul Roman

Oh wow! Happy Birthday! I learned the most valuable lesson in his CAD class… SAVE YOUR WORK! He was helping me with something, I followed his directions….**poof**…work gone. I asked how to get that back and he (in his always calm demeanor) “did you save it?” “Um…no”. “You should have.” “Thank you Professor.”

Sharee McGonigle

“Passion” is a word that comes to mind when thinking of Phil. Everything he taught, every word he spoke, even the words he didn’t really want you to hear…all with “passion”!

Over the years when I encounter former students the first “other” professor they name and discuss is Phil. If I had to think of just one word that describes or reflects the comments of former students, that word would be “CARING”. Phil cares about you as a student or colleague, but more importantly, about you as a “person”.

Throughout the years following his retirement from Alfred State College in 2007, Phil became the “caregiver” for his wife Rosanne, until her passing in 2018, as she was afflicted with a lifetime debilitating illness requiring constant care. At that time, they had been married 50 years.

Also, during that time, Phil had to baby sit with Joey while his mother Suzi worked full time. Phil would often bring Joey to work with him and while Phil was in class Joey might wander around the halls and classroom areas and labs visiting with whomever he encountered. We were all on a first name basis with him. One of my labs was the Engineering Technologies “Machine Tool” lab so I had to keep an eye on him making sure his youthful curiosity didn’t allow him access to any equipment that might cause him harm. He was very cooperative and was never disruptive.

Pictured left is Phil, his son Andrew, his daughter Suzi, and grandson Joey. I’m not sure of the others so won’t risk a guess. They certainly are proudly displaying the “Alesso” name, however.  

Suzi, at my request, sent me a copy of Phil’s resume which, dated as 1970, was apparently  produced shortly before his formal teaching career started at Alfred State College. My reference to “formal teaching career” was due to the apparent teaching that Phil offered in his many Educational writings and publications produced during his lengthy pursuit of learning in those areas that he specialized in later in his career. Included in his “Resume of Learning” were such institutions of higher learning such as: Bucknell University, Penn State, University of Rochester, and General Motors Institute. Among Phil’s educational writings during and for his teaching career were: Precision Measurement Laboratory Manual, Metallurgy Laboratory Manual, Analog Computer Application of Engineering Mechanics Problems, Plastic Tooling for Injection Molds, and Effects of Tool Material Selection on Tool and Product Costs both written for General Motors Corporation.

Enough of the Professional Academics history and successes of Phil…Now to the human side of Phil. Many of the “higher level” courses taken during my 8 year “Night School” educational career, were taught by Phil. His teaching spectrum overlapped with what I ended up teaching, and it is not coincidental. We were both focused primarily on subjects and educational areas that delved into the actual design of mechanical components and equipment, and the processes utilized in that production. Phil was a mentor to me, and to many others in the Mechanical Engineering Technologies Department.

One of Phil’s teaching “loves” was anything relating to the relatively new phenomenon of Computer Aided Drafting (CAD). Phil became the resident expert in teaching of the worldwide standard AutoCAD. As Paul Roman mentioned above, Phil used to preach “save often.” When working with any computer graphics or even just word processing, an errant keystroke, your hand, or heel of your hand as in my case, can cause you to lose all of your work. If you save often (as I am now reminded to do), you can retrieve your lost work “up to a point,” and continue on from there. Depending on what you are using there may be an “autosave” feature, or a saved “draft” copy, early on, those were not features built in. This writer has had to completely re-do many writings as punishment for not taking Phil’s sage advice. Sadly, even still, all too often, I forget his admonition to SAVE OFTEN!

The story I most often recall about my history with Phil involves his bailing me out when in need of “writing” paper. Fairly early in our teaching relationship I happened to visit the “Men’s Reading and Writing Room” and failed to check to see if the necessary paper products were available. Sure enough, after completing my mental composing process and other duties, I was in need of writing materials. There I sat pondering my dilemma. After several moments of pondering my options, I heard the door open and I meekly called out “Who’s there? What relief and gratitude beset me as I heard the familiar voice of Phil saying “It is I.” I asked Phil if perhaps he could provide me with some writing materials. “Of course,” he said, and promptly did so.

I know that I’ve used this photo before, but I don’t believe Phil’s daughter, and most likely neither he, has seen it, nor know of its connection to Phil. I can’t say that this propelled my writing career but at least my writings haven’t landed where this one started. I owe Phil, and the others who taught me along the way, my deepest gratitude. My payback, at least in small portion, is to share the stories that they generated in my mind, and which will always be in my heart.

I have to thank my wife once again for the inclusion of the photo of my writing media notation shown with this article. I spent over an hour searching through my files for this actual “media” that I used that day, coming up empty handed. Out of desperation I approached her with the daunting task of remembering what I may have done with the “note.” Upon my description of it she thought for a couple of minutes and replied that while she didn’t know where the note specifically was, she knew where it might be. She had saved a poster that I had made several years ago featuring snippets of “poem starts.” Surely enough (with apologies to Rodney Dangerfield) she produced said document from one of her typical “safe keeping” storage areas, under a couch, and saved the day. The red dot at the bottom is not a new form of “highlighting”, but rather accidental contact with my marking pen. I hear the head scratching over my “Surely” comment, but people of my generation likely recognize the reference. Look it up…you can Google it.

It has been my profound honor to know Phil, and now my honor, and privilege, to write this, and share it with him as a belated 87th year birthday gift.

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