The Charger Blog

University of New Haven Alumna and Benefactor Honored as Distinguished Educator

Elizabeth Doane '88, who has been blind since birth, received a lifetime achievement award from Housatonic Community College for her career as a college math professor that has spanned four decades.

January 24, 2019

By Jackie Hennessey, contributing writer


Image of Elizabeth M. Doane
Elizabeth M. Doane

Math was what spoke first to Elizabeth “Betsey” Lombardi Doane. She loved everything about numbers and solving problems, and she knew exactly what she wanted to do: teach mathematics.

That some doubted her only made her all the more certain. “I was told I could never teach math because I was blind,” said Doane, MS '88. She and her twin sister, Barbara Lombardi, were blinded as premature babies by a high concentration of oxygen in their incubators. Her engineer father and her mother encouraged them to follow whatever dream they were after. When her high school teachers told her to reconsider her goal, “I didn’t listen,” Doane said.

She went on to teach mathematics at Housatonic Community College in a career that spanned four decades. Doane, MS '88, was honored last spring with the Housatonic Community College (HCC) Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement award for outstanding teaching, for groundbreaking work developing computer literacy courses for students with visual impairments and for her philanthropy.

“In honoring Betsey Doane, the Foundation brings recognition to one of HCC’s most dedicated and outstanding professors,” HCC President Paul Broadie II said. “Betsey’s commitment and contributions to HCC run deep. Over the years she has had a profound impact on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of HCC students. This honor is well-deserved.”

A longtime friend of the Tagliatela College of Engineering, Doane is a member of the Professional Advisory Board and the Engineering and Science University Magnet School’s (ESUMS) Advisory Board. She established the Elizabeth Lombardi Doane STEM Fund, providing financial support to programs and activities that foster an interest in STEM for middle and high school students with emphasis on ESUMS students and for programs/activities geared to female students.

She’s been encouraging young women to consider STEM fields since the 1970s, when she first visited middle schools with her Albertus professor and mentor Florence Jacobson to talk about “the art of mathematics and to show girls that this is something women do.”

“Betsey is passionate about encouraging young women to develop an interest in STEM fields. She also is a living example of how someone who is visually impaired from birth can leverage technology to enhance all aspects of their lives. She is an incredible role model."Ronald Harichandran, Dean, Tagliatela College of Engineering

Dean Ronald Harichandran said, “Betsey is passionate about encouraging young women to develop an interest in STEM fields. She also is a living example of how someone who is visually impaired from birth can leverage technology to enhance all aspects of their lives. She is an incredible role model."

Her tenure at HCC began in 1970, after she received her BA in mathematics at Albertus Magnus and her MA in mathematics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Creating transparencies for the overhead projector meant using a typewriter that required manipulating symbol keys by hand and keeping a braille notebook with her as she taught classes so she knew when to put the next transparency up. When students wrote problems on the board, they’d talk out their process and Doane would share her responses.

“On the first day of classes each year, my students would watch me approach the desk differently and they’d go quiet. And I would just set everything up and start right in with the lesson,” Doane said. After class students often had questions. “They’d ask how I could do what I did,” she added. “I think for some of them, who had struggles outside of school, they saw what I was doing and looked at their own situations and said ok, I need to get going here.’”

Doane was promoted to assistant professor, associate professor and then professor. A fortuitous moment at a New England Mathematics Association of Two Year Colleges conference opened a whole new passion and world to her. “They showed us how we could use a computer – very primitive at that time – to demonstrate theoretical concepts in mathematics,” she said. “I could get my students to understand the central concepts of the calculus by using a computer to generate lots of data and look at the results.” With the help of a program that translated what was on the screen into Morse code – as a ham radio operator, Doane knew Morse code – she was able to read the computer screen.

She couldn’t wait to learn more about computers and enrolled in the Computer and Information Science MS program at the University of New Haven. “The professors were excellent and very accommodating to me,” she said. “I had a braille terminal that I would hook up to the system and I was on my way. I did a lot of work in that computer lab.” In 1988, she earned her M.S.

As technology advanced, she kept learning and developed a transfer computer science program for HCC students, sharing her work at national conferences. As Housatonic officials noted, “For more than four decades she has been on the cutting edge of major industry advancements in teaching techniques for all including the visually impaired.”

“I am so excited about where the Tagliatela College of Engineering is going, with its emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship."Elizabeth M. Doane

She marvels at how changes in technology have impacted her life, whether smartphones or smart home devices, or Power Point presentations or WebEx and Blackboard which she uses to teach online, and Aira glasses which have changed the way she navigates a trip to the bank or travel abroad.

“My sister and I can now travel using special glasses with a camera or video, a wifi device for connectivity and our iPhone with an app for audio,” Doane said. “We still use our canes but we are connected to trained agents who can see where we are and where we are going and direct me where I need to go.” Last Spring Doane and Barbara Lombardi shared those experiences as Alvine Engineering Series lecturers speaking on “Aira: A New Way for the Visually Impaired to Explore the World.”

“I am so excited about where the Tagliatela College of Engineering is going, with its emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship,” she said. “They are keeping up with how companies handle work now with open environments and maker spaces.”

Though retired, Doane continues to teach online at the college and continues to work with visually impaired people on how to use technology to enhance their lives whenever the opportunity presents itself. “I stay up-to-date on software and I also learn from what other people are doing. There is always something new to learn,” she said. “I’m grateful to be able to use what I’ve learned to help other people.”

Hear Elizabeth “Betsey” Doane discuss the impact new technologies have had on her life on NPR’s Story Corps.