Tanya Harmer

Tanya Harmer

From Moldova to Pitman, Rowan grad Tanya Harmer spans many worlds
From Moldova to Pitman, Rowan grad Tanya Harmer spans many worlds

Arriving in America, Tanya Harmer did not speak a word of English. But on May 13, the Pitman resident will graduate from Rowan University with a bachelor’s degree in English and elementary education, minor in music and certification in reading. 

Harmer, 23, spent the first four and half years of her life living in an orphanage in Moldova, a former country in the U.S.S.R. that is adjacent to Romania and the Ukraine.  One morning, her caretakers unexpectedly said she was leaving for America, and her friends lined up to say goodbye. Harmer was sad and scared.

Getting ticket home
“I was allowed to come to America because I had crossed eyes, and Moldova’s medical technology could not correct this birth deficiency. I see this as a blessing, my saving grace. If I were not born with crossed eyes, I would probably still be in Moldova. They were my ticket home!” said Harmer. 

She met her parents for the first time when she arrived in America. “I fought against them when they tried to take me because I was scared,” said Harmer.

A language barrier made adoption more difficult.  Harmer spoke no English and her parents knew only 10 words in Romanian. They were encouraged not to speak her native tongue to help assimilate her into American culture. Harmer and her parents relied on hand gestures to communicate.

Within six weeks, though, Harmer started picking up English.  Her English continued to improve. When she began kindergarten, her teacher thought she was a native speaker.

Soon, speaking English was not enough. “I remember crying because I couldn’t read,” said Harmer.  So, with her mother’s help, she learned to read and write and fell in love with both. “I enjoy writing, because you have to pick apart your piece and be analytical, but you get to be creative,” she said.

Learning the value
Following her passion, Harmer decided to major in English and elementary education and complete the Teacher of Reading Endorsement Program. “Through my experiences, I learned the value of reading and writing, and I want children to love them like I do,” Harmer said.

Harmer thinks outside the box to excite students about their work. When one of her tutoring students hated reading, she used articles about football to gain his interest. “I have been taught to make learning fun, engaging and meaningful. Students are more likely to succeed if they feel like their interests and desires are being considered.”

Adding to packed schedule
While at Rowan, Harmer minored in music with a focus in voice even though it added 33 credits to her packed schedule. “Music has always been a big part of my life, culture and family,” said Harmer. “Before I was adopted, the adoption agency sent a video of me singing to my parents.” In Pitman High School, from which she graduated in 2006, Harmer sang in honors choirs and participated in musical theater.

“I initially chose to pursue the music minor to continue my formal training, but I ended up receiving so much more.  I grew not only as a musician but a person thanks to my wonderful vocal professor and artist in residence Jon Garrison,” said Harmer.       

In fall 2009, Harmer performed a senior recital, which is usually reserved for music majors. In that recital, she sang pieces in five languages. She also participated in the Rowan University Opera Scenes program and Rowan University Concert Choir, which toured Italy in 2008. 

Exceeding her expectations
“My time at Rowan has exceeded my expectations,” Harmer said. “Growing up, I lived between two Rowan faculty members (Barbara Bole Williams from the College of Education and Nathan Carb from the English Department). They told me about the school and its strong education and English programs. I found that all my programs were great, as were the professors. Not only are they passionate about their work, they really care about you as a student.”

One of the reasons Harmer came to Rowan was because it was close to home, but as she graduates, she feels now that in many ways Rowan is her home.

“I am thankful for my parents’ support, the opportunities I’ve had, and the relationships I’ve developed,” she said.

Harmer will graduate summa cum laude with a GPA of 3.875.  She is also a member of Kappa Delta Pi International Education Honor Society and will proudly don its colors at commencement.