From Student to Professor: Teaching at their alma mater

Compiled by Nate Harling
 
The University of Kentucky, being a large research university with a wide selection of disciplines, gives students the tools for careers in academia. UK graduates have gone on to have success as professors and researchers at universities across the United States and beyond, but some of them feel the pull of UK and Lexington strongly enough to come back. To gain a perspective of what it’s like to be a faculty member at one’s alma mater, Arts & Sciences caught up with a few of these professors.
 
Jennifer Cramer ’04
Department of Linguistics 
 
Originally from Louisville, Associate Professor Jennifer Cramer studied linguistics and French as an undergraduate student at UK before obtaining an M.A. in linguistics from Purdue and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Q: What made you choose to study at UK as a student?
JC: Being from Louisville, but being a UK fan, there was no way I could go to U of L. I had a lot of friends at UK already and I got some nice scholarship money. I also knew, even then, that it was the best university in the state. It was a no-brainer!
Q: What is it like to have your former instructors become your colleagues?
JC: It was strange at first. I couldn’t help the inclination to call them “Dr.” But each time, my former professors encouraged me to think of them as colleagues.
Q: Do you think that having been a student at UK gives you a special perspective as a professor?
JC: Sometimes. It also makes me sound old. When I mention that I lived in Patterson Hall, which is not a dorm anymore, I think students wonder how long ago that must have been. But I have a good idea about where things are on the campus and an even better idea of the experience of UK students. I was a first-generation college student, and I know what those students are going through when they arrive here. I try to relate to them in ways that might be difficult for my colleagues who don’t have my background.
 
 
Julie Human ’03
Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures & Cultures
 
Assistant Professor Julie Human is another Kentucky native. Having grown up in Frenchburg, she went on to study French at Transylvania University as an undergraduate student. Human spent her time at UK working on her M.A. in French before going to the University of Michigan for her Ph.D.
Q: What made you want to become a professor?
JH: The wonderful professors I had as an undergraduate and graduate student. They were so inspiring in the classroom and I wanted a career like that, with opportunities to work closely with students and learn more about literature and culture. My dream was to come back to teach at UK, but I didn't imagine I would actually get to do it.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working at UK?
JH: Getting to work closely with students and being a member of the Department of Modern & Classical Languages, Literatures & Cultures (MCLLC). When I was a grad student at UK, the language departments had just begun the transition from several small departments into the larger MCLLC department. When I was hired, we were still transitioning from maintaining separate divisions based on languages into a department unified around our shared goals and research and teaching interests, and I very much enjoy being part of such a diverse, thriving department.
 
 
Melanie Goan ’96, ’00
Department of History
 
Another UK alum who has returned to the university as a faculty member is Associate Professor Melanie Goan. Goan completed an M.A. and Ph.D. in history at UK. Coming to Kentucky by way of Erie, Pa., she has embraced Lexington as a place to call home for her and her family, and is very enthusiastic about the opportunity to teach for the institution where she spent her graduate school days. 
Q: What made you want to become a professor?
MG: I loved the idea of spending my life on a college campus. I loved the idea of learning every day, and I haven’t been disappointed!
Q: What led to your decision to work at UK?
MG: Following graduate school, my husband had a good job at UK and we decided to stay in Lexington. That choice significantly limited my job prospects. I was happy to have a few years to stay home while my children were very young. By the time I was ready to send the last one off to school, the History Department approached me about a lecturer position they had created. It was the perfect opportunity, and one I wouldn't have even dared to dream would fall into my lap.
Q: How do you feel about the city of Lexington?
MG: My family has had opportunities to go elsewhere, but we can't imagine leaving this place. It has big city amenities with small town charm and a wonderful sense of community.
 
 
Jeramiah Smith ’ 07
Department of Biology
 
Associate Professor of Biology Jeramiah Smith is yet another case of a student who came back to UK as a professor. Coming to Kentucky after growing up in Gillette, Wyo., and obtaining a bachelor of science from Black Hills State University and a master’s from Colorado State University, he earned his Ph.D. in biology from UK. After completing postgraduate fellowships at a number of universities, Smith came back to Lexington and has been enjoying the research and teaching opportunities it has granted him.
Q: How did studying at UK prepare you for a career in academia?
JS: When I was a student, the University provided several opportunities for students to obtain support for their research. These investments were invaluable in terms of training and in developing a competitive research portfolio.
Q: Do you think that having been a student at UK gives you a special perspective as a professor?
JS: Yes, absolutely! I have a diploma from UK hanging on my office wall, so I feel like I’m invested in helping maintain and grow UK’s status as a research institution. It’s also fun to have known most of my colleagues in the department for several years as a student. I think it gives me insight into their work and personalities that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been a student here. I remember seeing Dr. Cassone (Vincent Cassone, chair of the department) and several other scientists give seminars when the department was searching for a new chair during my last year here as a graduate student. The next time I met him, I was applying for a job myself. 
Q: How do you feel about the city of Lexington?
JS: I love Lexington and am delighted to see the dramatic improvements to the downtown area over the years. The development of the microbrewery scene is amazing. We didn't have any when I was a graduate student. I also love the changes of season and the reflection of the seasons at the farmers' markets. &

 

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