Student shows some love for inspirational professor



 Steven Ly and Peter Palermo pose for a picture that was posted to the FAD Twitter page Jan 9

Looking for a way to tell a professor they’re awesome? Take a tip from Art Fundamentals student Steven Ly, who wore his program coordinator’s face on Jan. 6 to kick off a new semester. The shirt, designed and ordered online, has Peter Palermo’s staff picture, taken from the Sheridan website, big and centred below an “I” and a red heart.

Ly calls his public display of affection as something that “started off as a joke which just grew.” Ly’s shirt caused enough student buzz in the A Wing that Anne Whitehead, communications coordinator for the Faculty of Art, Animation and Design, tweeted a picture of Palermo and Ly together with the caption: “Sheridan College Art Fundamentals students love Art Fundies coordinator Peter Palermo so much they made this t-shirt!”

Although the shirt’s intent is humorous, the thought behind it is sincere. Ly is working on a portfolio to apply for a Bachelor of Animation which is labelled on Sheridan’s website as one of its most competitive programs. When doubt crept in on whether he had what it took to get accepted, Ly followed the advice of a friend, and went to see Palermo.

As a professor and coordinator of the one-year introductory fundamentals program, Palermo is in touch with 500 students who are deciding whether they should continue their art education, and if so, in what field. His past students are now in Animation, Illustration, Photography, Interior Design, and Craft programs at Sheridan and he gets calls from past students now studying in Australia and Seneca College. Palermo’s office is busy.

“I give career choice and direction, I’m also a shoulder to cry on, and I’m here when students are stressed and sick,” says Palermo.
It’s his knowledge, empathy and humour that have made him the art college therapist, career counsellor and buddy.
The inside of his office shows a full life. Post-it notes cover the walls, an Irish green party hat sits on his shelving, papers and books litter his desk space. Notes and a hand-drawn portrait of the coordinator decorate his walls.

“When you first go into A100, my office is on the left and Peter’s is on the right, and there’s all these chairs in the waiting area, and I’ve found since I’ve moved into that spot, it’s a social hub, a lot of which is because of Peter,” says Whitehead, who watches from her office and observes on twitter the transformation of students from stressed to relaxed after meeting with Palermo.

“Peter is always happy, always joking around and always making fun,” says Ly. He attributes Palermo’s teasing and adult humour to have created a celebrity status around the Art Pit, an open area of desks in the A-wing. There, students gather to work on projects, hang out, or draw on a mural set up by Palermo. Stick around long enough, and the coordinator will be out of his office, walking around and talking to students.

He was responsible for organizing the Art Fundamentals superhero costume pizza party last year, where he dressed up in a Star Trek uniform, gave out awards, and danced with faculty and students. The event was held before the end of the year after applications were accepted or rejected, so it was designed to serve as a celebration or stress reliever.

He sits on the beautification committee at Sheridan and has had a hand in the art work in the computer commons, giant letters in the library, mural in the J building, and colourful lawn chairs outside. He’s working on getting more art into the college.

All he has is praise for students. “I have teachers saying, ‘my god these students work hard, they just arrived here and they are already working on portfolios. Students come here ready to take off’,” says Palermo.
It is this perseverance that got him where he is today. He’s been teaching for 26 years now but once was an accessibility student at Sheridan with dyslexia and diabetes.

Never the best in his class, Palermo remembers his teachers always telling him to keep trying. And he did. After his education at Sheridan he went on to complete an undergrad and two masters degrees.

His advice is simple. “Don’t be afraid to fail. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Everyone makes mistakes. Disney screwed up a lot. The perseverance of learning to overcome your mistakes is what makes you who you are.”