Paula Langteau, newly named interim dean at Northwest Technical College, has almost 30 years of higher education experience. She began her graduate education at Ball State, completing her Master’s degree and her doctoral coursework in English here. Keep reading to learn more!
Tell us about your Humanities degree. What was it in? When you first got to the university, did you always want to study the Humanities, or was there something else at first?
I received my Master’s degree from Ball State University in English, and I also completed my doctoral coursework in English at BSU. I knew from the time I was a preteen that I wanted to teach English. Following my undergraduate years, I decided to pursue a graduate education in order to teach Composition and Literature at the university level, and I picked BSU because my favorite undergrad professor had gone there. My major and career choice were driven by my joint passions for helping others and for the strength and beauty of the language, in general, and of narrative, in particular.
What are you currently doing with your degree? Are you continuing your education and doing what you expected to do?
I used my BSU education to secure tenure-track (and later, tenured) teaching positions both in the University System of Georgia and in the University of Wisconsin. For twelve years I taught full-time, and I enjoyed sharing my love of literature and language while helping students harness their own voices and grow as writers, critical thinkers, and sensitive human beings. During my years in the classroom I also published in my field and helped to found the international Arthur Miller Society, serving as its first Vice President and second President, promoting the study and staging of the works of that great American playwright.
From teaching, I later pursued administrative posts, as I discovered a penchant for leadership and felt intrinsically rewarded by the rippling effect of my outreach to faculty, staff, and students alike. I never imagined my path would take me into educational leadership, but I soon recognized that many of my colleague deans, directors, provosts and presidents were groomed through an education in the humanities, where we learn the value of human relationships, the skills of interpersonal communications, and the critical role of liberal arts education in cultivating a democratic society. These skills, together with a command of writing and speaking, have prepared me for the next level of my own professional growth–the pursuit of a doctorate in higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, where I am currently completing my dissertation, with anticipated graduation this May.
What skills have you developed by pursuing a Humanities degree?
My educational preparation at BSU was a key underpinning to my success. While not an elite or exclusive institution, BSU fosters in its students the necessary skills to succeed alongside students with degrees from more prestigiously branded institutions. I found that my graduate work in literature, literary theory, linguistics, and writing enabled me to stand toe-to-toe with my colleagues from blue chip schools in developing juried conference presentations and in publishing in refereed journals. My BSU education prepared me also to succeed within the Ivy League, where I am today. I learned to marshal evidence, to craft compelling arguments, and to leverage the nuance of language to bring ideas to life. I also learned to respect the vast array of perspectives and to recognize and appreciate the common humanity within us all.
Was there a particular professor or opportunity that impacted you or influenced you to pursue this degree?
I will never forget the BSU professors who instilled in me the value of the humanities. I didn’t just learn about Thoreau and Emerson; I began learning the value in stopping, on my walk to class each morning, to watch the muskrats swimming under the footbridge in the stream that ran through what was once the field across from Shively Hall. I learned not only about all of the key literary theories from Dr. Fran Rippy, who was a master teacher, but I recognized how much she personally valued each of us when years later she recalled, in her letters of reference for me, the fine details of my research papers. I learned not only about how to actually teach from Dr. Paul Ranieri–something apparently not taught in most other programs–but that foundation in pedagogy led to my first administrative post, directing a teaching and learning center to assist others with their teaching. Most importantly, at BSU I found my voice, by being encouraged to challenge the ideas not only of my professors but of key leaders in my field, something Dr. Tom Koontz and Dr. Bob Habich fostered in me in the writing of my thesis and later in sending out portions for conference presentation and publication. Finally, I learned to explore and embrace a more expansive view of my own scholarly identity, when Dr. Maude Jennings encouraged me to explore a cognate in African-American feminism, despite my being White, because, as she so aptly put it, “You’re not a Jewish man from Harlem either!”
What advice would you give to current students who are unsure what they can do with their Humanities degree?
If I were to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing about my studies at Ball State. Sure, the media is full of horror stories about humanities majors waiting tables and working retail. But, for every one of those stories, there are dozens more, untold, about those of us leveraging our degrees to pursue our passions and make a difference. The key, I believe, is to go after not only the grades but the learning experiences. Allow them to permeate the lenses you use to view the world. Allow them to sculpt who you are. And then take those lessons, and the skills you have honed at BSU, and go out to carve out your niche in this world.