Why did you choose Roberts? What were your majors/concentrations? And why did you choose it/them?
Yes, I attended Roberts Wesleyan College as an undergraduate! Back then I was a Humanities major (sort of like today’s Cross-Disciplinary Studies major). This suited me very well, despite (or because of) having to always explain to other students what a Humanities major is. It’s the coolest thing; you get to take areas of concentration in fields you already like. I am now the College’s only Professor of Humanities, which is also the coolest thing.
What did you see yourself doing as a career when you were in school? Were you open to different paths or pretty set on a specific career or goal? When did you decide on your career path? And how?
I knew early on that I could be happy in any number of humanities-type jobs, and as a teenager had my eyes set on becoming a professor somewhere in the humanities, although I was open to life directing me into related fields too. While in college I was a semi-professional political cartoonist with a weekly in the local newspaper and after graduate school I landed a job in a museum for about six years. It was then that I started to teach as an adjunct professor, eventually piecing little bits of employment into a full-time job. So I started with a strong sense of who I was and where I wanted to go, but stayed open to working anywhere within a certain range of job types. It was a combination of self-knowledge, patience, flexibility, choices I made, and responding to the opportunities life presented to me.
Do you feel like you have an overarching calling in life? And how does that relate to your career dreams/hopes?
My calling is to make connections, to love radically, and to caringly provoke others to become more fully human. I also believe that humor is medicinal and the Lord put me on this earth to help people to laugh. My job allows opportunities for me to work on all components of this calling, whether in the classroom, while writing a play, or working through challenges with colleagues across campus. But I’ve also found that your calling transcends your job. You can pursue and express your calling wherever you are. Parker Palmer wrote a short but essential book about calling titled “Let Your Life Speak” and I recommend everyone read it.
Any advice for current students who have multiple interests or are exploring career options?
I have no regrets concerning my career path. For years, especially as an adjunct professor, my family and I lived in poverty. But as long as I could pay all my bills, I never regretted choosing humanities jobs that were extremely fulfilling but paid little. No regrets whatsoever. Since I am a connector, I am able to see how, even though all the career paths seemed to zig and zag at the time, they all seem to lead in a common direction in retrospect. So I guess I would advise people to live within your means (you’ll probably have the burden of debt for a while) while you explore your career options. You have to find fulfillment whether it’s on the job or despite your job. Exploring your career path reminds me of marriage. The commitment to make it work is essential, but you have to stay flexible and open to evolving— to be an opportunist. Extending that metaphor, exploring career paths (like marriage) can’t be too technical or it loses some of the mystique and happiness. So while you look for career paths, keep your joy as a guide, but sometimes looking for work is just plain work.
Favorite memories/ favorite things about your college experience?
I had so much fun as an undergraduate at Roberts! I came in entirely open to meeting new people and learning whatever I could. This is going to sound like a misnomer, but as a Roberts student we enjoyed what we called “ethical pranks,” which we defined as pranks that don’t humiliate or vandalize. As an example, one time I found a blank Monroe County Sheriff’s crime report in the recycling! I filled it all out with my friend’s personal information and mailed it to him via campus mail. I got to see the look of fear and outrage on my friend’s face when he opened the package and read it. I immediately explained that it was a joke. That is an “ethical prank.”
The biggest struggle in college? Biggest struggle post-college?
The hardest struggle I recall having as a college student had little to do with college. When I was a teenager, my father had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. So while I was a full-time commuting student (and truly loved every single course I took for all four years), I was struggling to take care of my dad at home while maintaining a social life. There was a mixture of embarrassment, anxiety, and laughter when I would bring college friends home and my father would interrupt conversations or abruptly leave the dinner table while we were eating dinner (trust me, those are the least embarrassing examples I can share!) The existential struggle in such an emotionally painful journey for my mother and me ended up teaching me many valuable things that help me to this day— even in my job. Laughing at your own difficult or awkward situations is empowering and therapeutic. Appreciating everything you have (if only your own consciousness and memory) is essential to happiness. Empathizing with everyone because they are always dealing with battles you’ll never know is a simple way of making the world a better place.