Collin Hobbs, assistant professor of biology, sits at his desk going through mail that has piled up after weeks of not checking it. Several cacti and leafed plants scatter the room, along with pictures of his family and book after book about plants and biology.
Working with nature has always been his passion.
“Some people are animal people,” Hobbs said. “I am just a plant person.”
Hobbs attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, receiving a bachelor of science in biology with a minor in music viola performance.
But he, like many other students, had no idea what he would do with his degree.
“I have always liked plants, and knew I wanted a degree in biology,” Hobbs said, “but there isn’t really a lot you can do with a plant degree.”
Unlike Hobbs, many of the other professors that teach at HU didn’t start out in the field they currently teach. Starting in a major that died away or feeling a calling in another direction, professors know the struggles of the students they teach. They lived it.
Kate Brown, assistant professor of political science, always had a vision of attending college to work in finance.
“Even though I loved history, I had it in my mind I just want to make money and be powerful,” Brown said.
Don’t we all?
Brown attended Cornell University for her undergrad, graduating with a degree in business.
“I generally thought finance was, for lack of a better term, sexy,” Brown said. “I felt like when you understand how money works and flows around the world, you then know how the world works.”
It wasn’t until Brown was in graduate school that she realized she couldn’t put her love of history on the back burner any longer.
“I knew I loved being a student and constantly learning, and that I really liked to talk about history. Then I thought, ‘I may do okay teaching.’”
Brown thanks her mother for her career calling.
“My mom set this really great example of a professional woman,” Brown said. “It wasn’t until I understood that I didn’t like the business world, that I saw the example my mother had set.”
Some professors took a little more convincing.
“I had the pleasure of studying in Israel for a semester in my senior year, and while I was there,” Noble said, ” I had gained enough credits to add a major in Biblical literature to my sociology major, so I said, ‘Why not?’”
Noble has always found himself wondering about the Bible, being “unsatisfied with the answers in Sunday school and wanting to pursue more.”
Noble graduated with a double major in sociology and biblical literature from Taylor University.
“I’m really thankful for the track God has laid out for me, at least for the time being,” Noble said. “I love teaching and working with students. This age range of eighteen and twenty-two is so critical and to be a part of that is a huge opportunity and privilege.”
The idea of teaching was present before Noble was aware. One of his early jobs was a tennis instructor in college.
“I played tennis in high school and college and thought I could make money by teaching,” Noble said.
That was when he realized teaching was a possibility.
Jerry Noble, his father, said via e-mail that he is very proud of his son even though he felt he didn’t have that big of an impact on his son’s career.
“I always said I just tried to stay out of his way and not interfere with the good things he was doing,” Jerry said. “His judgment, dedication and hard work are just that good.”
Noble found that his father “supported [him] most when [he] had the crazy ideas.”
Like college and high school students today, professors had the same trouble finding a job.
Sometimes even professors don’t know why they chose a career. Dr. Dianne Prost O’Leary is a Distinguished University Professor Emerita of computer science, and also holds joint appointments in UMIACS and in the Applied Mathematics and Statistics and Scientific Computing Program.
In an interview via e-mail, she finds that it is normal for students to have trouble finding a path and sticking with it.
“Sometimes it is because a person is good at a lot of things and can’t decide which to choose, ” O’ Leary said.
Sometimes it is because the person gets discouraged too easily, especially in beginning courses before they get a feel for the subject. Or maybe they think that they need to have perfect grades in order to be good at something.
She goes on to state that the reason professors teach is all in the students.
“At some point, they [professors] realize that teaching energizes them and that research — discovering something that no one else in the world knows — is really exciting!”
After a long and stressful day of grading, working in the greenhouse in the science hall and getting ready for a conference, Dr. Hobbs closes his laptop, knowing that tomorrow he will have to do the same thing all over again.
He sighs softly, but yet, he couldn’t be happier.
“Knowing I get to do this every day with these students,” he said, “why would I go anywhere else?”