Jim Umile ‘94
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What was your major at St. Mike’s and when did you graduate? I am a member of the Class of 1994 and graduated with a degree in Political Science.
Did you take part in any clubs or activities at St. Mike’s that were important to you or shaped your experience there? I was a member of the hockey team for a few years, which had a significant impact on my overall experience at St. Mike’s and development as an individual. Playing hockey introduced me to so many great teammates and friends and would eventually provide me the focus I needed to earn the education St. Mike’s offered. Additionally, Coach Lou DiMasi’s leadership, support and guidance were more instrumental than he most likely knows.
What is your current profession and why did you choose it? I am a High School Special Education teacher at Manchester-Essex Regional High School in Manchester by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. Soon after graduating from St. Mike’s, I was working a typical 9-5 business office job. Unhappy with the job, I found myself searching for a rewarding occupation where I could make a difference and be happy at the end of each day, which are consistent with the morals and values with which I was raised and were subsequently fostered at St. Mike’s.
Growing up, I always wanted to pursue something that provided me a strong sense of purpose and it was during my years at St. Mike’s that this focus became most clear. I always looked up to, and had so much respect for, many of my teachers and coaches so I applied for a teaching assistant job; I loved the environment, energy, sense of community and of course, helping kids. At the end of that school year, I was offered a full-time teaching job and encouraged to enter a master’s program. Though only taking introductory education classes while at St. Mike’s, my overall experience and well-rounded education facilitated my ability to further my professional career in Special Education. At the end of the day, I can thank my parents for always thinking I would enjoy teaching. I love my job.
What activities, hobbies, volunteer work or passion project means the most to you? Does it give you a sense of purpose or help others find theirs? Without having some passionate interests, I would not be nearly as effective as I set out to be each day. I am an avid skier and cyclist and enjoy surfing and golf as well. I try to live a happy, healthy life. Continuing my education is an embedded passion of being an educator. Most recently, I have earned certificates in “Understanding Autism” and the “Orton Gillingham Reading Program” and am currently in a program for “Creating Trauma Informed Schools”. At school, I have given several presentations on ADHD, Autism, Social Emotional Learning and Specific Learning Disabilities in order to promote the progress of my students and our department. I have also mentored, coached and tutored so many successful students over the years. Lastly, my wife, Kristi, and I donate to various charities and participate in fundraisers, highlighted by a bike ride from Boston to New York to raise money for AIDS research in honor of my uncle who passed while I was a sophomore at St. Mike’s. Interestingly enough, Kristi and I began teaching at the same time, have taught at three high schools together and share in our passions and interests, which has made life pretty fun altogether. Currently, she is our Science Department Chair, one of the school’s greatest supporters of all students and nurtures so many kids’ love of Biology. All of these efforts provide purpose because we both know we are doing our part to make a positive impact, be positive role models and make a difference in the lives of others.
Do you feel that the liberal arts education you received at St. Mike’s helped your abilities to communicate effectively or problem solve? How has a liberal arts education helped or hindered you on your career path or finding purpose in your life? Without the liberal arts education I received at St. Mike’s, I firmly believe I would not have found my passions in life. St. Mike’s required me to take classes that opened my eyes to new and different ideas, which is one of the main reasons I chose the school. Being required to engage in various projects, research new and different ideas, work in groups with a diverse group of classmates, consistently participate in discussions and frequently present my products helped practice and gain comfort and confidence in communicating and problem solving. To this day, these skills are important because of the various student personalities with which I work. Teachers need a wide range of tools and having a stronger understanding of the bigger picture helps to support students in reaching their goals. I value all of my students equally and learn more from them each day than they could ever imagine.
Do you recall when you first realized what your purpose or passion in life might be? My job as a teacher is symbolic of my purpose and passion in life. It represents hard work, determination, practicing and modeling good standards, morals and values, consistent awareness and strong leadership and people skills. Additionally, it is where I truly feel like I am leading a meaningful life. Not long after graduating from SMC, I earned my first job as a teacher in an alternative program in Wakefield, Massachusetts, where I grew up. Having spent time working an office job, I knew right away teaching was for me. The various rewards and powerful experiences of interacting with students, families and staff were as prominent then as they are today.
How did St. Mike’s nurture or inspire your sense of purpose? What has this sense meant to you and others around you? How has it shifted throughout your life and career so far? I grew up in a Catholic family that always promoted treating others the way you want to be treated, doing the right thing, being respectful and making the most of our opportunities. As a result, St. Mike’s was a nurturing environment for me and consistent with everything I knew. My experiences at St. Mike’s were my first true independent opportunities to develop as a young adult and I have always been true to my beliefs. I continue to live my life similarly to these developmental years and encourage others, my students in particular, to live similarly.
Which of your accomplishments have made you most proud? There are a few things of which I am most proud. I am probably most proud of knowing my parents share so much joy in many of my professional and personal accomplishments. I am also most proud of being an uncle to five nieces and a nephew. My brother and sister-in-law are St. Mike’s grads and proud parents of three of them. Lastly, I am most proud of the many relationships I have forged with my students thus far in my teaching career. I consistently stay in touch, have coffee, or lunch or share in the joy of the birth of a child with so many of them and their families.
What has it meant to you to have a sense of purpose? What is the most important lesson you have learned? Having a sense of purpose has given my life significant meaning; it is my foundation and a large part of why I feel very grateful. It provides me with happiness, inspiration, and success. Occasionally, there are challenges, like having a bad day or a difficult student or parent interactions, however, I quickly remind myself of the rewards. When I do encounter a setback, or even reflect on setbacks I have experienced, including those while at St. Mike’s, I know with grit, determination and resiliency, there will always be an opportunity for redemption and the opportunity to achieve established goals. I keep a copy of my college transcripts in my schoolbag to remind me of these ideas. Through all of these situations, I have learned so many lessons in life. A few that resound with me include the importance of starting with yourself and the significance of having the support of family, friends, and community.
What part of the ‘Forward with Purpose’ strategic plan stands out to you as the best new ideas for the St. Mike’s community, going forward? What in the plan do you find most inspiring? After reviewing “Forward with Purpose”, it is clear the community is focused on providing the most supportive, positive, and meaningful environment full of diverse opportunities that promote their efforts to “Do Well and Do Good”. I experienced a great example of the amazing community that is St. Mike’s just a few years ago. My sister and I took my niece for a tour of the campus and an interview. After a quick phone conversation, everyone’s favorite and a personal friend, newly retired Jerry Flanagan, met with us at the Office of Admissions and answered questions, provided firsthand insight, and shared in a few laughs making our visit truly special. Jerry is the epitome of the St. Mike’s community.
St. Mike’s mission pillars, which include “having access to expert guides, making a difference and having a positive impact and global engagement”, are clear and the tone is consistent with the reason everyone falls in love with St. Mike’s. One aspect of the strategic plan that stands out to me is to “blaze your own trail”. For everyone entering St. Mike’s, the environment provides endless opportunities to explore, research and discover oneself and new passions, which is paramount in preparation for graduation and transitioning to adult and professional life. I am personally thankful for the personal and professional opportunities St. Mike’s has provided me.
Is there anything you’d like to add about your experience at St. Mike’s and what it means for your life now? My St. Mike’s friend group includes some of my closest friends. They all share in the pride we have as SMC graduates. Each has taken advantage of the opportunities St. Mike’s offers. Further, when I meet someone who is a fellow Purple Knight, regardless of age, the energy of the conversation and the feeling of camaraderie is palpable. Just this past fall, two of my graduated seniors entered their freshmen year. They have already begun to benefit from the St. Mike’s environment and experience and are proud members of the class of 2025.