From Corporate to Teaching, this is how Wayne Hills Ms. Stomel Changed the Photo Program


By Emily Sawyer, Senior Editor

When Wayne Hills photography teacher Pam Stomel got a devastating call one day in 2014, her life, and the Hills photo program, changed forever.

Her mentor, teacher, and friend, Wayne Hills photography teacher Gordon Ryersen, had unexpectedly passed away.

“He was a great, great teacher, and a major part of why I fell in love with photography in the first place,” Stomel said.

In high school, Stomel spent most of her time in graphics, photo, and yearbook classes, and continued on in college for printing, publishing, graphic design, and photography. After graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology with a 4.0 GPA, she entered the corporate fashion world where she planned on eventually becoming the editor-in-chief of a magazine. 

Although she thoroughly enjoyed the corporate world, it was not all peaches and cream. One time, while working on a client’s holiday shoot, the company decided they were going to produce a skirt made out of tweed, and post-production and shoot, completely ready to go, the manufacturing company on their end approached her and said it wasn’t going to happen: we’re doing leather instead. 

“I needed to somehow take a tweed skirt and have the team that I was working with change it out from tweed to leather,” Stomel said, “when it wasn’t really a leather skirt, it was tweed, and just needed to make it work!”

And make it work she did. She spent 10 years working in corporate, loving every minute of it. Up until college, she had never even thought about teaching.

“Never in a million years did I think that I would become a teacher,” she confessed. “Education was not even remotely on my radar.”

However, Stomel always kept close contact with Mr. Ryersen.

“He meant so much to me and took me as a teenager from a really bad place and gave me passion and purpose and I thought I could do that for other people who were not going down a great path.”

Ryersen had disclosed to her that when it came time for his retirement, he hoped she would come and take over the program because he himself had loved it so much. 

“In my late 20’s and via Mr. Ryersen and Ms. Faley’s [former graphics teacher] persistence [the idea of teaching] started to creep in. I even taught a few Adult Ed classes in Wayne in the years prior to me taking this role,” she said.

This idea, however, did not come to fruition until she got that call in 2014 that he had died, and that Hills needed a new photography teacher. And so, she decided to quit her corporate job and start teaching. 

Looking back on her decision, Stomel said, “Never in a million years would I not do this.” Her passion for photography and the comfort and creative outlet it provided her was something she wanted to spread to others. 

“To be able to see a 14-year-old just barely be able to pick up a camera for the first time to by the time they’re seniors say ‘actually I love this and I want to make a career out of it’ and then watch them go into industry and be successful. . .that’s really special,” Ms. Stomel said. She still leverages some of her corporate connections to help propel students forward, which “feels very full circle” for her.

However, the journey to coming to where she is today was not easy. 

“We had horrendous computers that would stop working and would need to get rebooted every 10 minutes,” she said. “I inherited two cameras and one memory card. For everybody to use. And a bucket of point and shoots [cameras] that were half working.” 

For reference, we currently have over 30 high-quality digital cameras.

Stomel also successfully expanded the photo class offerings during her time here, writing both Photo III and IV with the help of Judy Faley. When Ms. Faley retired, Mr. Dederding took over.

Stomel said that Dederding was a huge help in the process of bringing the program to where it is today, and as the other half of the photo program, he does a great job. 

While building up the program has taken time, it is extremely successful. The teacher and student relationships at Hills help keep Stomel going. 

Stomel’s teacher bestie Ms. Peller (Art teacher at Hills) recognized the hard work and passion Stomel has and instills in others.

“Ms. Stomel and I became friends on the day we met at new teacher orientation. I was not entirely new, as I had already covered three maternity leaves and was a paraprofessional for a year. Ms. Stomel however, was coming from industry, so teaching was completely new to her. From the start, I could see that she had found her true calling. I’ve been so impressed with her dedication to her students and the high expectations she sets for them. Everything she does is done all the way, down to every last detail. Her photography students are lucky to have her as a mentor, and I am lucky to call her one of my best friends!” Peller said.

Stomel has put her all into ensuring photography students have as much of an amazing experience in her class as she did when she was at Hills.

“It’s been a really intense but incredibly rewarding 9 years. Seeing the student growth and hearing how the program has impacted students is what makes me want to keep doing more.”