We are devastated and heartbroken as we share with our community the terrible news of the passing of one of our most beloved instructors.
Maria Louella Sebastian had been a medical instructor and member of the Swedish Institute family since 2013. She passed away yesterday morning while at home, conducting a remote class online.
Words cannot begin to describe our feelings as we mourn this tragic loss. And since we are at a loss for words, the most fitting way right now to honor Ms. Sebastian is by re-sharing our spotlight interview with her from 2020, when Ms. Sebastian leaned into the chaos of the pandemic and continued to touch the lives of students every day.
In re-reading the interview, we found one quote from Ms. Sebastian herself that touched us most deeply at this moment:
“Times like this can be frustrating. But it is our frustrations and failures that make us stronger. Because we learn from them.”
— Maria Louella Sebastian
Although her physical body has passed, we know that her legacy will live on in the minds and memories of the countless people she touched, from her family to her students to her colleagues and beyond. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and loved ones and to all our students, alumni, faculty, and staff here at Swedish Institute who are so deeply affected by her passing.
Faculty Spotlight: Maria Sebastian
At Swedish Institute, we are extremely fortunate to have incredible faculty who exemplify what it means to be a teacher. This issue’s spotlight is on Maria Louella Sebastian, who teaches the Bioscience courses in our Surgical Technologist, Medical Assistant and Medical Billing & Coding programs.
Maria Sebastian has been an adjunct instructor at Swedish Institute since 2013. She has a Bachelors of Science degree in Nursing from Western Mindanao State University College of Nursing in the Philippines, and has been a medical instructor for the past 19 years.
In the words of Dr. Joseph Balatbat, Director of Education at Swedish Institute: “In my years of analyzing and evaluating students’ surveys, I have never encountered an individual who consistently receives such high marks and positive reviews from students as Ms. Sebastian. Her dedication extends beyond the delivery of course content, providing assessment, student feedback, and engaging her class in a variety of fun-filled activities. She goes above and beyond to support her students. She is a consummate educator and well-loved by her peers and students.”
Ms. Sebastian’s colleagues echo Dr. Balatbat’s sentiments.
“I have seen no one come close to her passion and dedication to teaching — and I have been around a long time,” says Dr. Sabrina Cruz, Adjunct Instructor in our CAMA and MBC programs. “You can hear the passion in the way her voice reverberates through the hallway when she teaches. Besides instruction, she also always steps up to the plate whenever there are school activities to be done, it amazes me! And to top it all, she does it all with such a healthy sense of humor and vibrancy…she is truly an academics maven.”
Dr. Mohammed Peerzade, who teaches alongside Ms. Sebastian in our CAMA and MBC programs, reiterates these feelings.
“I have known Maria for 13 years. She is an excellent educator. She creates a sense of community and belonging both in and outside of the classroom. She collaborates with her colleagues and peers for the well-being of her students on a constant basis. She is active in all the social happenings of the school, and is always there for her students. She herself is constantly educating herself and her love for learning is an inspiration not only for her students, but also her fellow teachers, colleagues and friends. She is warm, accessible, enthusiastic, and caring. I would love to say that she is a pillar of our institution.”
We sat down with Maria to learn more about her story, and how she has managed to pivot her course delivery and continue to engage her students remotely in the wake of COVID-19.
How did you get into teaching?
Growing up, I have always wanted to be a Nurse and not a teacher. When I was referred to teach in an Allied Health School in 2001, I never realized that I would find another passion aside from nursing.
Teaching is not easy. It takes patience, compassion, and commitment. Students spend more time in school than at home. To some, we are role models whom they trust and depend on. And to some, we are “headaches” as we push them to become better and better each day. We are who we are, because we care. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
How was the transition to remote learning due to COVID?
Teaching from home was not easy at first. I was so used to seeing my students in the hallways; I was so used to seeing my colored markers all lined up on the Mayo stand in room 404; I was so used to having my “foot stool” with me at all times because I’m too short to reach the top of the white board to write my notes.
I had to find ways to be able to bring the classroom to the students. I finally found a space in the house I could convert into a classroom: the attic. My husband started nailing the white board to the wall, and he made a stand for my iPad. I ordered a life size skeleton and organs from Amazon to use in my lectures.
We had many challenges in the beginning — students not being able to log into class, poor internet connections, power outages…earlier this summer we had a power outage caused by a storm so I had to teach my evening classes from inside my car at night using my cell phone.
How would you summarize your experience this past year?
Despite all these challenges, I am blessed that I am still able to share with my students remotely what I used to share on campus. Knowledge, laughter, guidance, and reassurance that everything will be okay. For as long as they continue to believe in themselves, they can do more than what they think they can.
Times like this can be frustrating. But it is our frustrations and failures that make us stronger. Because we learn from them. The year is almost coming to an end. And if are able to survive teaching and learning remotely this year, then rest assured that we can continue to do so.