Unwieldy stack of books? Check.
Fierce commitment to edifying students? Check.
Her colleagues would tell you they’ve never seen professor Maria Jerinic on campus without all three. The hundreds of students who have sat under her tutelage would undoubtedly add a fourth item to her daily checklist: kindness.
An associate professor-in-residence specializing in advanced composition and 19th century literature (Jane Austen, anyone?), Jerinic has played a key role in shaping the academic experience for students in the Honors College the past 14 years. This year, she received the Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award.
Did you always dream of becoming a literature professor?
Oh, I was going to be a marine biologist, a nurse, a doctor, a banker — but never a teacher. I was, however, always a reader, but it was only after I took a Victorian literature class in college that I thought I might go to graduate school just to read more and write. I just loved sitting in that small class held in my professor’s office, analyzing novels and then returning to my room to write about those ideas.
Even then I didn’t think I’d actually teach. I thought I was much too shy. Then I had to teach as part of my graduate school stipend, and I fell in love with the process.
Favorite part of your job
I love working with students as they come to realize what they value, as they define and redefine their goals. I love witnessing their epiphanies. I love that I am able to interact with their energy, their curiosity, their many kindnesses to each other. The highlight of my work is the time I spend in the classroom, when we discuss, analyze, make connections between the material and our broader world. These hours so absorb me that I lose track of time, as my students will tell you. Suddenly the period is done.
Last semester, in one class we read Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. One student shared that, while she would probably not have picked up this novel on her own, reading it had changed her. She found herself approaching people with more compassion and a desire for understanding. That conversation alone made my semester.
What about Jane Austen’s work has captured your interest?
Since middle school, I have read her work repeatedly for many different reasons. As a student of literature, I admire her prose, her style. I appreciate the contributions she made to the novel genre, her satire and social critique combined with her compassion and insight into the human condition.
Recently, I am drawn to her characters I think of as the good hosts: Elinor Dashwood, Mr. Knightley, Colonel Brandon, characters who quietly but actively care for their communities, who address the needs of others. As I get older, I appreciate more and more these qualities in people, which I think reading Jane Austen has helped me to recognize as strength and goodness.
Still, I never planned to teach an Honors seminar specifically on her work until a few students saw my Jane Austen action figure on the bookshelf and asked me to do so.
That class has turned out to be an enormously satisfying experience (personally and professionally) every time I teach it.
Favorite spots on campus
The classroom and the library stacks – I love the smell of all those books, all those ideas and stories.
A lack of generosity.
Maroon 5 and peanut butter cup ice cream.
Surprising moment on campus
While chatting with a friend on the FDH elevator, a man riding with us turned to me and asked if I was from Massachusetts. How could he tell? I don’t have a Boston accent! He grew up in a neighboring town and said I sounded “like home.”
Sometimes books appear in our lives when we need them most. Here are three books I found when I was young, and that I return to over and over again: Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Jane Austen’s Emma, George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
This list is not exclusive, not the three best books ever, but three books that have meant a lot to me over the years. What I realize now about these works – they focus on the importance of generosity, of kindness as strength.
Most frequent advice you offer students
Beware the tyranny of the GPA. Try not to worry if “it” is on the test. If your focus is solely on grades and job training, something vital is lost.
Instead, please try to immerse yourself in the life of the mind, the world of ideas. Your years here at UNLV can be the most wonderful time to develop personally as well as professionally, to focus on your mind and heart.