Professional Spotlight: Tamara Hollins
Dr. Hollins is an English Professor at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and volunteer on CareerVillage.org
Written by: Corina Chen and the CareerVillage.org Team
Outside of papers, lectures, grading, and reading, what do professors really do? Long-time creative writer and English professor Tamara Hollins describes her daily rhythms to me in an interview we had earlier this week. Tamara starts her day with a workout before feeding her cat. After breakfast, she goes to the university. The day ahead is full: classes, 1:1 student meetings, another meeting, and work meetings…meetings, meetings, meetings.
At times, the prospect of so much to do is anxiety-inducing. As Tamara tells me about her day-to-day life, she reveals her attitude of seeing mistakes as challenges. “Since I see mistakes as challenges, I see no mistakes. Everything has a purpose.” Rather than give in to the anxiety, Tamara says she sees it as a challenge she gets to creatively work through.
She continues, “Challenges are experiences that promote growth and expansion. Challenges call for adjustment.” Knowing herself as an introvert and empath has encouraged Tamara to know when she needs to take a break to work better. “I find being alone both rejuvenating and peaceful. However, my career calls for interaction with others. The challenge concerns creating balance.” Because of this need for balance, Tamara is “intensely focused during [her] engagement with others” while carving out the time she needs for rest.
Tamara’s outlook on teaching and life are often captured together in the way she tries to bring so much heart to the table. Her style of work is person first, career second. When I ask about her professional goals, she says she has achieved the goals she thought she had to achieve as a professor. She strives to excel at everything she does and is constantly working to improve in the classroom. Even though she might teach the same course each year, the class dynamic changes every semester, providing a creative opportunity for Tamara to adapt, change, or create within the classroom and alongside her students.
She is committed to not just seeing her students as just another name on a roll sheet and takes the time to hear, listen, and encourage her students. She shares a story she had with one student, who was incredibly frustrated over an assignment. Rather than explain to the student what she thought the student should do, Tamara let the student speak first. She listened to the student’s troubles and walked her through to the end of her frustrated self. Ultimately, Tamara remarks, the student left with a smile.
With four degrees in Art, Writing and Literature (creative writing), Cultural Studies, and English, Tamara has found ways to continually study and embrace her interests in the academic world. These four areas of knowledge continually intersect.
She says, “All of my interests remain pertinent to my career. For instance, creativity takes many forms, from creating a drawing to illustrate the interpretation of a setting in a piece of literature, to innovation, communication, pedagogy — creativity is life.
Creativity also takes place in scholarly, creative, and technical writing, all of which I continue to produce. The cultural studies program from which I graduated focused on theory, and I apply that theory in the discussion of literary and non-literary texts.”
Even when it comes to writing a syllabus, Tamara notes thoughtfully, she brings her creativity into that space too. “I value the product, but I adore the process,” she says as she thinks about her enjoyment of learning and producing.
I asked Tamara if she has any highs and lows as an English professor. She replies, “Everything has a purpose. Everything is part of the moment. I appreciate being able to employ my skills and abilities in my profession for the sheer sake of it and to fulfill professional goals.”
The best part of her job “is the freedom to explore my interests with room for complexity of thought while helping others.” As a writer and professor, Tamara can constantly apply herself to classroom and syllabus content. And as a professor and advisor, she is able to help students in their good days and bad, turning frustrated frowns into smiles.
Tamara’s discovery of CareerVillage meshed perfectly with her preexisting beliefs about championing individuals. “I advise in an official capacity as part of my career, and I extend that effort to the community through … CareerVillage. It’s a wonderful way for me to help students based on my education, expertise, and experience.”
We close our interview discussing her final words of wisdom for students, which Tamara summarizes,“In the end it’s always about what’s inside.” She talks about how it’s so easy to get bogged down in the details — what college to apply to, the best grades to work for, which professors to connect with — that you can forget. Instead of forgetting, she urges us to “see how far you’ve come.”
Ultimately, Tamara believes that people are heart-centered: it’s where the vision, perspective, and world come from in a person, and it’s in your heart that you can “let how you think be informed by the wonderful center of you.”
Where are you centered? As an English professor and creative, Tamara makes an insistent, attractive call to stay grounded in your heart, interests, and challenges.