by Charlie Crane and Hank Essman, Alum Series Editor
Marcia Nichols, a 2000 graduate with a BA in English, uses her passion for literature to enhance her work as an Associate Professor in the Center for Learning Innovation at the University of Minnesota Rochester. Nichols now teaches classes that use an interdisciplinary lens. For example, she uses poetry to complement lessons in a sociology class, a style of teaching which she admits is “not something you would not normally do in a traditional sociology department.” Nichols believes the study of English “. . . enables you to make connections and understand the world.”
Prior to her current position, Nichols earned a PhD at the University of South Carolina and was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center. She began specializing in eighteenth-century literature but slowly branched out into medical rhetoric. This multi-disciplinary approach appealed to the University of Minnesota, who was looking for a professor who could combine the interdisciplinary department’s focus on health sciences with the humanities.
Nichols credits her undergraduate education with giving her a broad base to draw from as she explores varied perspectives. She believes it keeps her flexible and willing to investigate topics outside her normal areas of expertise. As Nichols recounts, during her PhD comprehensive exam in literature, “The professors quizzing me were impressed that though I was primarily [an] eighteenth-century [expert], I was able to look forward and back from that period and make connections off the top of my head.”
She also credits part of her success to mentors at MSU, remembering them throughout her PhD program. She phoned these faculty members as soon as she landed her position in Rochester. Her lesson plans draw from those professors as well. Nichols recalls examples as specific as assigning reading journals and illustrating ideas using diagrams she learned in an undergraduate class which emphasized Jungian theory.
“Majoring in English trains your brain.”
Nichols’ advice for students is to stay flexible. “You can do almost anything with an English degree. You do not have to be a professor. What an English degree does is teach you how to think and how to communicate. Those are useful in every field. Majoring in English trains your brain.”
About the Author
Charlie Crane is a junior studying English Education at Missouri State University. She grew up in Buffalo, Missouri. She spends most of her time reading and writing,
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