The well-worn pages of Jaclyn Costello’s passport hint at far more than a simple love of traveling and living abroad. Each stamp from 40+ different countries represents a conscious decision to seek out new ways of understanding the world and the human experience.
From a young age, Costello found herself asking questions like, “Where did we all come from?” and, “Why are we here?” This innate curiosity led her to study film, literature, anthropology, and Eastern philosophy at New York University and Aix-en-Provence, France, and, eventually, to UNLV’s International MFA Program.
As an associate professor-in-residence in the Honors College, Costello carefully guides students to make connections between course materials — often a diverse collection of poetry and prose on spiritual thought — and their lived experience. In 2016, she also launched the popular “Mindfulness in the Mountains” program to offer Honors College students an opportunity to practice meditation together.
What was your inspiration to become an English professor?
I don’t feel like I chose this career. It chose me. While working on my MFA at UNLV, I was assigned to teach as part of my graduate assistantship. I never thought I’d teach at any level, but I slowly realized I had a knack for it. I really enjoy connecting with people around the ages of 18-23; that age is such an informative, curious, exploratory, contemplative period, and it’s exciting to play a role in a student’s life during that transformative time.
Tell us about an 'aha!' moment in your life
When my entire concept of God collapsed. I was already pretty open-minded and humble about my understanding of the God-mystery, but at one point, even my most expansive constructs shattered, and the idea of God was no longer at all comforting. It became something much greater: more alien and other and beyond any understanding, ever, ever, ever.
If you weren’t working at UNLV, where do you think you’d be?
I’d likely still be here in Las Vegas because I have other anchors mooring me here, but once those were raised, you might be able to find me deep in a forest somewhere like Washington or Bavaria. Come and visit. There will be magical teas waiting for you, and your room will have comfortable pillows and a view of the mountains.
What was the best advice you ever received?
The most important piece of advice I’ve ever received came to me when I was 8 years old. Sadly, my friend’s mother had just died by suicide. In a dream, she spoke to me with the most soothing, loving, understanding voice I’d ever heard. “Be yourself,” she said. It was profound because I'd always felt she was unhappy in life from playing roles to meet the expectations of others. She had seemed like she was carrying pain because her life did not align with who she was inside. Her simple advice has saved me many times from making decisions in my career and personal life that would have led me to stray away from who I really was inside.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m actually a very logical, scientific person. I mention this because I’m typically described as “spiritual” or “creative” or “bohemian” — and those things are also true, as many of my interests show — I teach meditation, I disappear into the Amazon to work with medicine-women and men, I make my most important decisions based on my intuition. But my father was a very grounded mathematician, and I’m also a lot like him. I think things through, from all directions, and I don’t hold beliefs about any aspect of reality; everything I understand is understood through testing various hypotheses.