Melina Bourdeau/THE GATEPOST
By Jennifer Johnson
Where did you grow up and what is your educational background?
I was born in Baltimore but I grew up in Philadelphia. I moved to Philadelphia when I was 2 years old. I’m a proud graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls. I got my undergraduate work done at University of Alaska, my master’s degree from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and my doctorate from University of Kansas. I studied in Korea in the summer of 2013. I began studying Korean in 2012.
What are some highlights from your career here at FSU?
I started here in 1999. One of the highlights from being here is that I’ve been able to teach lots of different courses. I’ve taught first years through graduates. I have a background in theater and studied Latin at the University of Michigan. I’ve taught British literature courses to Children’s literature, even modern drama. When I started out at graduate school, I was going to specialize in modern drama. Then, I realized that graduate school itself was depressing, and that modern drama was depressing, and I didn’t think I could handle both depressing things at the same time. Another highlight would be that I started the English to England program. For years, I’ve wanted to take students to England. Study abroad can be expensive not just cost wise but time wise. The first group was this past January. That was something I really wanted to do for a while. I would say it was a major success. I run College Readiness for parents, so that has also been a major highlight for me here.
Do you enjoy teaching one level more than another?
That’s tough. I like the levels for different reasons. I do enjoy teaching Introduction to College Writing despite the fact that it’s so labor-intensive. You can really see improvement. You can see they [the students] really start to struggle. And even the people who don’t do well by the end, they are so much better than they were at the beginning. There’s a stark contrast. I do enjoy teaching upper level courses, particularly to the people who come in with a bad attitude. I’ve been known to be a very challenging instructor. I usually get good to excellence reviews, and people are surprised. However, I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive. It’s just that if students know you’re working hard for them and that you have high expectations for them because they deserve better ... then they really respect that.
How do you expect to influence the students and community in your position as interim Vice
It sounds corny, but students really are the future, and they aren’t just the future for themselves, but they’re the future for us. Part of my job is building community. I want people to see possibility. A student emailed me after convocation and made me cry. He was so proud to see this black woman on stage, and it’s something that I do think about. Not just because I’m a woman of color, but also because I’m a woman in general. I have two daughters, and I’m constantly thinking about what kind of choices I want them to be able to make, and how I want them to be confident in themselves. I want to be that person for other people, too, not just my daughters, I feel a real responsibility for that. I mean, you know how much trouble my grandfather had trying to help get people registered to vote? I really feel a responsibility to my history and you know the fortune that I have been given.
What are some of the goals you hope to accomplish while you serve as Vice President?
My main overall goal is to build more communication between the divisions. It’s just that people are really busy and everyone is working really hard. You get into your own little box of what you do, who you talk to, and what you do every day in your particular world. I think I’m in a unique position, not just because it’s interim ... but also because I’ve been a faculty member and I have lots of friends and colleagues who are faculty members. I think one of the reasons that I was asked to do this is because a lot of my work is outreach stuff within College Readiness and College Access. In this position, I hope to function as this bridge person for the divisions so that both sides know that I get them. We are all here with the same goal and that is for students to come here and be successful. We all have a job, but I don’t want it to seem like we all have a different agenda. I would like to have trust and collaboration over all areas.
Tell me a little about the research you’re doing regarding international college readiness.
Studying in Korea was really about international college readiness and access and why certain people know certain things about being ready, and other people don’t. The US is never ranked very high in international testing. This is not new. So I was really curious about that, partly because I’ve been seeing issues with college readiness, not just when I taught here, but also when I taught in Kansas. Korean high school students, despite their lives being really different, have more in common with Americans. When I listen to their music, specifically k-pop, people always say that music sounds like something that they know. There are different styles but they are very similar. I just want to know why a grandma at a flash market is still working so that she can pay for English lessons for her grandson, who is still in grammar school, and she knows that he will have an advantage if he knows English. Whereas someone in the same academic class in the US, who loves their grandkid just as much, doesn’t know that and why. Why does she know it’s worth it to keep working to do that as opposed to someone in the same economic class with the same background and not knowing that? I would like to figure out what the communication is or the lack thereof.