Having spent most of her adult life in New York and Chicago, Hanna Andrews wasn't sure what to expect when she moved to "the mysterious West." The best surprise about Las Vegas, she said, has been the university itself.
How did you end up at UNLV?
I came to UNLV in 2015 to pursue a Ph.D. in English.
What is your current job title and what are a few of your duties?
I am an assistant professor-in-residence at the Academic Success Center (ASC), and I teach COLA 100E, the first-year seminar for exploring majors. As part of the academic transitions faculty team at the ASC, we also collaborate on student success strategies, consider best practices for the first-year seminar, and attend the Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I have been working with first-year students for over a decade teaching developmental writing. And during those years, I worked a lot with students in all sorts of academic transitions — transfer students, veterans coming back to school, first-generation college students, first-generation Americans/English language learners. I began to realize that I loved working with first-years and other students in academic transition, and helping students acclimate to multiple aspects of college life. I myself am a first-generation college student, and if you told me, when I was 17, that I would eventually obtain a doctorate, I would have been hopeful but dubious. I didn’t have any sense of what that path might look like. In college, I often felt like I was playing catch-up in so many ways. I had a million questions and didn’t know how or where to ask them. I tried to soak up information wherever I went, and I believe this curiosity and desire was ultimately a driving force behind any success I experienced. So I’ve tried to instill this in my students as well.
I came to the ASC as a visiting assistant professor last fall, after having taught Composition and Creative Writing in the English department. A couple of weeks into teaching COLA 100E, I realized that the first-year seminar combined all of the things I love about teaching — the opportunity to teach students skills development, community building, empowerment and pride, and building a path for success.
Is there a class you have taught at UNLV that isn't your typical class?
Before coming to the ASC, I was an instructor in the English department, where I taught ENG 101 and 102, and ENG 402, the Advanced Creative Writing Workshop. I've been teaching English (developmental writing, honors composition, poetry workshop, literature/texts and contexts, ethnographic writing) for the last 10 years, so COLA 100E/the first-year seminar, was, in a way, an atypical class for me the first time I taught it in 2018. That said, there's a good deal of overlap — getting students to engage with critical thinking and inquiry, research skills, and the process of writing in different forms/modes have always been pedagogical focuses for me. The kind of community built in the First-Year Seminar is also reminiscent of what a good writing workshop can foster. I love getting students engaged in problem-solving and team-building activities, and guiding them to the resources they need to succeed at UNLV and beyond.
Tell me about an a-ha moment in your career — a time when your perspective shifted and shaped where you are today.
Early in my teaching career, I had a student who was the provider and caretaker for her mother and brother. She really wanted to go to college, so she worked the overnight shift at UPS to be able to attend classes during the day. She was a wise and very capable student. She was also exhausted and thinking about giving up. This was her second attempt at college, and the demands on her were just too great. I remember, in conference with her, something she said that stopped me in my tracks. She said that something was driving her to be in school, even though it wasn’t really practical for her to do so. She was right — it wasn’t — at least not in the short term. She was a shift supervisor at UPS and was making enough money to support her family, and that came first. But her potential for academic success was something that filled her with happiness and pride. It was deeply personal to her, and afforded her an opportunity to discover new things about herself as well as the world around her. In that moment, I realized that the best job I could do as an instructor was to really see the students sitting in front of me, to listen to their stories, to support their desires to succeed, and to foster a sense of pride in their work.
I disagree with the oft-cited dichotomy of “college” versus “the real world.” These two spaces exist simultaneously for most of my students (as they did for me) and there is a possibility for a deep connection between school and the rest of their lives. This student ended up writing an incredible ethnographic essay about her South Side Chicago neighborhood as her final project and earned an A in the course.
Today, my UNLV students inspire me in countless ways. I love learning about their values, goals, and dreams. Besides teaching me, daily, about perseverance, I’ve also learned a lot about technology (video games!), food, and culture from my students!
Is this what you thought you’d do when you grew up?
No! A career counselor once asked me, when I was a teenager, what I wanted to do for a living and I believe my answer was, “I don’t know, but definitely not teaching.” I originally went to college as a vocal performance/music major, and eventually made my way to my true love: literature and writing. My teaching career began as a byproduct of getting a master’s degree in English many years ago, but once I started teaching at the college level, I realized that I had a passion for working with students and sharing ideas in an academic community.
I’m also a poet and so, outside of the classroom, I spend most of my time reading, writing, and working on finishing my second book.
What was your biggest misconception about UNLV or Las Vegas before you got here — or best surprise?
I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m from New York, and though I moved here after a short stint in Denver, I’ve spent most of my adult life living in New York and Chicago. What would it be like to raise my daughter in Las Vegas? My idea of Vegas was all lights, simulacra, basically the Strip. A movie-set-like city in the middle of, what for me, was the mysterious West.
The best surprise was, of course, UNLV — the friends, colleagues, mentors, and students that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know here. The vibrant university community, and community -at-large, bursting with art and literature and innovation. The other best surprise is the landscape, which I love: the colors, the plants (like yucca! ocotillo!), the mountains, desert wind and lightning storms. All of this has inspired a sense of wonder that I’m so grateful for.
My ideal summer vacation
My favorite vacation spot currently is Palm Springs, although it’s even hotter than Vegas in summertime. Other ideal vacations are Yellowstone National Park, spending time in New York City with family and friends, Chicago, and anywhere near the ocean with a blanket and a book.
Favorite holiday food or unique tradition for your family
Baking bread is very therapeutic and I’ve more or less mastered a delicious milk and honey challah that I love to bake on holidays.
For the last three years, we have driven to Big Sur for New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day to celebrate the turning of the year on the central California coast and among the redwoods.
What's your guilty pleasure?
Seasonal candy. Watching reruns of The Office. Dreaming about travel.
What was the last book you couldn’t put down, show you binge-watched, or band you kept on replay?
I read poetry all year, and take a break in the summer for fiction. This summer, I enjoyed reading R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries and Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry. Both offered glimpses into worlds I was already familiar with (university, literary) with some dramatic twists. I binge-watched both seasons of Fleabag in a week and think it’s the best show I’ve seen in a very long while; it is somehow simultaneously earnest and sardonic, and filled with both grief and hilarity. On long drives, my fam has been singing along to Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride. Our 5-year-old requests it, so it’s become our summer road trip album.