Lending a Helping Hand: Family Connections, Passion for Teaching Help Findlay Alumna Influence Students
Striving to help students reach success is what keeps the passion burning for Erin (Nenadal) Tong ’03, a biology teacher at Nordonia High School in Macedonia, Ohio. This compassion for students also led her to the proudest moment of her career: helping a struggling student graduate from high school.
“I found out about her home life, called her back to the school, created a lab practical, and made her earn a passing grade. She was so grateful, and I know that taking that extra time to make sure she earned a high school diploma made a difference in her life,” Tong said.
Helping that student as well as many others has given Tong’s job as an educator meaning and purpose. Teaching and helping students is something that Tong can attest is in her blood, and has been with her from an early age. Carl and Debbie Nenadal ’73, who both graduated from then Findlay College with bachelor’s degrees in education, influenced their daughter’s choice to later become a teacher.
“My parents were both teachers, and I liked the life that it allowed me to have as a kid,” she said. “After having a horrible high school science teacher, I realized that I wanted to save other students from ever having a bad teacher like him.”
But in order to live out her passion to become a teacher, and help students, Tong first had to find the right academic path for her. The University of Findlay has greatly influenced both her personal and professional life. She met her husband here, as well as her maid of honor, and classmates and colleagues who would become her closest friends. But according to her, it almost didn’t happen.
“I actually did not apply to Findlay first. I didn’t want to go to the same school that my brother was attending,” Tong said.
However, as fate would have it, Tong ended up attending Findlay with her brother Brent, who is also a teacher at Nordonia High School.
“We were at Findlay at the same time, with the same major, and had many classes together,” she said.
The call to become an Oiler went beyond simply finding the right degree and program. Tong says she also fell in love with Findlay’s campus and its atmosphere.
“I came for an overnight visit and loved the campus and the students that I met,” she said. “I felt that it was a community that I could really fit into and be a part of for four years.”
Before she earned a Bachelor of Science in 2003 and a Master of Arts in 2006, Tong made the most of her time at Findlay. Not only was she a dedicated student, she also competed with the track and field team, which she says gave her some of her most cherished memories.
“We were all so different, but had one goal, and we were such a family – a very weird and dysfunctional family, but we worked hard and we worked together to begin the legacy of amazing throwers here at Findlay,” she said. “When my teammates walked into my dorm room and took me to the weight room that first September day, I had no idea what life was about to give me, but it was more than I could ever imagine or put a value on.”
In addition to the support of her teammates, friends and family, Tong credits the relationships she formed with her advisors and professors as instrumental in her chosen profession. Even though she is now a successful teacher and coach, Tong credits two Findlay faculty members with helping her to reach where she is today: Gwynne Rife, Ph.D., and Dan May, Ph.D.
“Dr. Gwynne Rife was my advisor and helped me with both my bachelors and masters and I feel I can still go to her with professional questions. I also worked with Dr. Dan May for my honors project. There were so many professors who have had an impact on my teaching career.”
Thanks to the experiences she had with Rife and May, Tong now impacts the students she teaches at Nordonia High school in the same way.
“I like teaching kids to love learning and showing them that teachers really do care about their success,” Tong said. “Some of my best moments have been ‘real’ moments with kids as they are preparing for graduation, or when they are not heading for a passing grade. That is when they figure out that teachers are people, and we are really fighting for them to do their best.”