Eastern Michigan University
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Alumni Spotlight: Hava Levitt-Phillips

Current Job Title: Professional Faculty, English/Writing
Organization: Washtenaw Community College


Did you attend Eastern as an undergraduate, or graduate student?

I completed my bachelor’s degree at EMU, and returned to complete my MA there, as well.                          

What years(s) did you graduate?

BA – 2006; MA – 2008hava levitt phillips

What brought you to Eastern?

When I was ready to transfer out of Washtenaw Community College (WCC), I knew I wanted to teach for a living, so EMU was the logical choice.

What was your major/program, and why did you pick it?

In undergraduate, my major was English Language, Literature & Writing, with a History minor and coursework in the College of Education.  Stories and poems have been an essential part of my life since childhood, so I was thrilled to discover that a person could spend her whole life reading and writing and working to make meaning with other people, especially towards a better, more just world.

My MA is in English Literature, with cognate coursework in the Teaching of Writing.  As an undergrad, the literature & written communications faculty in the English department at EMU were so generous to me.  With graduation approaching, I knew I simply was not done learning with these people, so choosing Eastern for my MA was easy for me.  The two years I spent as a graduate student and Graduate Student Instructor were so full of dynamic challenges that pushed me to grow at every turn.

My faculty mentors were huge for me, but I would remiss if I failed to point out how amazing my colleagues were, as well.  My co-students and co-GAs (Graduate Assistants) were such smart, funny, dedicated people, with a diversity of life and work experiences.  They challenged me, encouraged me, and kept me laughing, even when I was neurotically worrying over every aspect of a big paper.  And of course, my students, who were smart, brave, dear, and very, very tolerant of me.

 

How did you get your current position?

WCC is a remarkably student-centered institution, so I began networking there without even realizing it as a student, before I transferred to EMU.  When I started the MA at Eastern, I returned to WCC as a tutor in the Writing Center.  When I completed my MA, I continued teaching at EMU as an adjunct in the English department, and also began teaching as WCC as a part-time instructor.  Just a few years later, two positions in WCC’s department opened up, and with remarkable luck, I was hired as a full-time instructor.

What does your current position entail?

I teach a variety of composition and literature courses for our department, online and face-to-face, as my primary responsibility.  I also support the assessment work of my department and division, complete a variety of projects and mentor part-time faculty.  Currently, I’m serving on the Faculty Professional Development committee for WCC, which is an honor.

What have been the most exciting or rewarding moments of your career so far?

Really, when I’m in the classroom with a group of people who are willing to bring their energy and invest themselves in growing as writers, or making meaning with literature, I am just where I’m meant to be, professionally.  It’s such a great experience, and such an honor to be part of the lives of these folks as they pursue their various paths.

It is always an incredible joy when a student comes back to tell me about his new job, or her new acceptance to a new academic program.  Or when I see all the baby pictures, wedding announcements, and various triumphs of my former students go by on my Facebook news feed.  Honestly, I’m just a huge nerd for teaching/learning, reading, writing, collaborating, and being of benefit to people who are growing, so my job is pretty great.

How did your experience at Eastern shape your career path?

How did it not? WCC gave me a place to find my footing in the academic world, and Eastern gave me everything I needed to grow into myself as a teacher and a scholar.  I was spoiled with brilliant, generous faculty mentors, pretty much at every turn – in the library, in English, History, and the College of Education.  Natalie Lazuka and her colleagues in Service EMU offered me an important model of patience and kindness as they helped me through all the baffling business aspects of going to college.  More than anything, though, my students at Eastern helped me figure out how to be a teacher on the ground, and to them, I am forever grateful.

What aspects of your background have been the most helpful in your current position?

Apart from my academic and professional experiences at WCC and EMU, I would say that I learned everything else I needed to know about teaching in roughly 20 years of waiting tables.  There’s where I learned to think fast and adapt fluidly, fail publicly and productively, and make hard work as much fun as possible.

What advice would you give to students or graduates interested in your career field?

Generally, I think my father-in-law has some of the best advice: fail productively. In my experience, opportunities to fail abound, and it’s been very helpful to me to figure out how to grow through my assorted fails.  As a teacher, I think making mistakes in front of my students helps them feel easier about connecting with me, as just another regular human being.  I also think it helps them be more willing to take risks and make mistakes themselves, which is, of course, an essential part of learning.