Words to Live By
Mike Piero found inspiration at Tri-C as a student; now, as an English professor, he motivates a new generation to realize their potential.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
These words, penned by author Samuel Beckett, form the basis of Mike Piero’s personal and professional philosophy. They are words he has lived by for as long as he can remember.
Today, the 31-year-old is a tenured professor of English at Cuyahoga Community College. But he never forgot the ninth-grade teacher who told him he would “never make it” in higher education — an assertion that, rather than discouraging him, motivated him to prove otherwise.
Piero joined the Postsecondary Enrollment Options Program (now College Credit Plus) as a junior at Medina High School. The dual-enrollment program allowed him to earn college credit at Tri-C’s Western Campus in Parma while meeting his high school graduation requirements.
In addition to attending honors classes, Piero worked full time at Burger King and cared for his mother, who suffers from a chronic illness. It wasn’t easy, but he soon found the balance he needed — along with an appetite for knowledge that he hadn’t recognized before.
“I excelled at Tri-C in a way that eluded me in high school,” Piero said. “The environment offered the flexibility for me to have more agency in my own learning.”
At 18, Piero received an Associate of Arts from Tri-C and transferred to the University of Akron, where he earned a bachelor’s in secondary education. He took a job teaching ninth-grade English in Baltimore, Maryland; but after about a year, he craved something more.
“I realized I wanted the deeper intellectual conversations one can have at the college level,” he said.
Piero accepted a graduate assistantship at John Carroll University, where he earned a master’s in English. He immediately dove into his career, teaching at Notre Dame College and Ursuline College before returning to Tri-C’s Western Campus in 2011 as an adjunct instructor.
Eight years later, Piero is an associate professor at the Westshore Campus in Westlake, where he also serves as Honors Program coordinator.
“I’ve enjoyed all of my teaching experiences,” he said, “but Tri-C and its students occupy a special place in my heart given my own beginnings, struggles and successes here.”
Piero was particularly pleased to return to the Honors Program, where his own ambition took root. Since becoming Westshore Honors coordinator in 2015, he has seen campus membership nearly quintuple. In addition to managing the Honors Lounge — an exclusive space for honors students — he arranges lectures, activities and trips to places like Severance Hall and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
As an instructor, Piero inspires his students to succeed in college through his own passion for learning, coupled with a good amount of empathy. Pursuing a Ph.D. in English from Old Dominion University, he is currently working to finish his dissertation — and he is not afraid to admit how difficult it can be.
“Like most Tri-C students, for as long as I’ve been in college I’ve worked full time and had a personal life that involved daily care for one or more family members,” Piero said. “It’s not easy to integrate these aspects of life, and I don’t ever pretend that it is.”
Aside from his work at the College, Piero serves as a peer reviewer for various scholarly journals; several of his own essays and articles have also been published. When he’s not teaching or writing, he can be found conducting science experiments or having philosophical conversations with his 6-year-old daughter, Halle.
“I’ve had a couple writing projects emerge out of discussions with her,” he said. “She’s taught me more than nearly anyone else in life.”
Tri-C taught him a lot, too. Piero’s experience as a PSEOP student gave him the knowledge, skills and confidence he needed to pursue his dreams, at any cost.
“At Tri-C, I learned to make mistakes, fail, and keep pressing on,” he said. “Life is a series of failures; but a person who takes risks, who learns to ‘fail better,’ does well in life.
“It’s the pressing on that matters.”
March 27, 2019
Beth Cieslik, 216-987-4538 or firstname.lastname@example.org