Highlight on Students

Ami Cox


Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Liberal Arts degree? I always intended to go to graduate school but raising my son and working precluded that for a long time. Once my son reached high school I knew it was time for me to pursue that long-delayed dream. I have a wide variety of academic interests and one look at the breadth of classes offered in the MLA program was all it took for me to know that this was the program for me.

How does the program help you grow personally? I continue to grow every day within this program. After a twenty year hiatus, I am back to exploring in depth all of the truly important questions – who am I, what is the nature of goodness, and, yes, what is the meaning of life! We tend to think of our personalities as static but I am still growing, changing, and, I hope, improving. I’ve also made so many incredible friends in the MLA community. The students and faculty are simply wonderful, so smart and funny and kind.

How does the program help you grow professionally? I work with fellowship students, some of the brightest students Hopkins has to offer. It’s nice to be able to connect with them from a student perspective and reminds me to be empathetic when they seem a little overwhelmed by work, school, and life. On a deeper level, though, I find that I am so much more balanced now that I’m in the MLA program. I’ve been able to take so much of what I’ve learned and apply it to my day-to-day work. My critical thinking skills are better than ever and I’m able to find many “out of the box” solutions to the problems I encounter.

How do you use what you learn in the MLA program on a day-to-day basis? I think I partially answered this in the previous question but I find that the program resonates in all areas of my daily life. I feel like my brain is fully engaged all of the time. I’m more mindful of myself, my students, my friends, and my family. I’m calmer and better able to make both large and small decisions thoughtfully. In the era of downsizing and “do more with less” this is an essential skill and one that we can all use.

What was your favorite MLA course? Why? Is that a trick question? All of them, of course! It’s truly impossible to choose. If I absolutely had to pick one, I suppose I would choose “The Self in Question”. It’s an interdisciplinary study of psychology and literature. We studied the biggies – Freud, Marx, and Jung, among others – and read some extraordinary novels. I learned a tremendous amount about historical notions about the self and I continue to ruminate on the works we studied. I also have a soft spot for that class because it was my very first one in the program. Seldom in life does anything live up to all of our expectations but experiencing that class as my introduction to the MLA program proved to me that I was in the right place.

What would you say to someone considering this program? Enroll now. There is something for everyone and the classes are taught by top rate professors. You will join classmates who are engaged, interesting, and incredibly bright. You will be reminded of just how many good people there are in the world and you will be thankful to be in their company. You will work hard, but you will laugh harder. And you will learn more about the world and about yourself than you can yet imagine.

Joshua Ellsworth

Joshua EllsworthWhy did you decide to pursue a Master of Liberal Arts degree? For over sixteen years I have been a Police Officer and Detective for urban Police Departments. Throughout my career, I have striven to improve my professional capabilities by continuing my education and seeking relevant training. Prior to seeking acceptance to the Johns Hopkins University’s MLA program, I studied within graduate level Criminal Justice and Criminology programs and ultimately earned multiple social science related degrees. I succeeded in expanding my knowledge and expertise in my chosen profession; however, I specialized to such a degree that my scope and area of knowledge was purely limited to the most negative aspects of humanity. Therefore, the initial reason for pursuing admittance to the MLA program was to broaden my academic portfolio and hopefully remedy my overly specialized education. My personal goal was to focus my MLA studies in classic literature, philosophy, and history – please keep in mind that other students have very different academic goals here.

How did the program help you grow personally? One benefit that I obtained through the MLA program’s rigorous coursework was in my public speaking and writing skills. Unlike other academic programs that I have been exposed to, either at the undergraduate or graduate level, the MLA student is challenged to improve and learn at Johns Hopkins by not only the faculty but also fellow students. The encouragement to improve one’s academic qualities is not something that fellow students actively or overtly attempt to inspire; this improvement comes about through the mere exposure to such a brilliant, diverse, and hard working cadre of individuals. The student population within the MLA program consists of everything from theologians, art students and teachers, representatives of the United States Armed Forces, and a literal bevy of High School and College Educators, each representing multiple continents, cultures, and sometimes even languages.

How did the program help you grow professionally? Through the courses and seminars that I have taken within the MLA program, I have dramatically improved my research and presentation skills. These particular skill-sets, in addition to the aforementioned communication skills, are important to a professional investigator such as myself.

How do you use what you learned in the MLA program on a day-to-day basis? Learning has the ability to profoundly alter the manner in which a person views the world. The broad, interdisciplinary education I have received through the MLA program has dramatically improved my ability to think; in some ways, it is as though the study of the humanities has improved my internal ability to accurately view arguments or problems.

What was your favorite MLA course? Why? This is not the easiest question to answer. The classes that I have taken were all very good, and I can honestly state that I have not been disappointed. I will admit that some have been difficult, but after they ended, I was profoundly glad that I put the work in – I always learned a great deal. One interdisciplinary course that had a significant impact on me was titled The Self in Question: Readings in Psychology and Literature. In that course we studied psychological texts, such as Freud and Jung, while also reading contemporary literature that reflected the philosophical or psychological readings. For this course’s final research paper, I compared The Wind in the Willows, a Victorian Era children’s novel, with potential psychological components of the author’s world that may have influenced the writer and thus aspects of the story. I feel that this class is emblematic of the MLA program, it is interdisciplinary by definition and also allowed the students to incorporate their individual interests in their research and writing; for me, I was able to draw from academic interests in criminology to enhance my literary analysis of a 19th century novel.

What would you say to someone considering this program? I would be lying if I indicated that this was an easy program: the courses are challenging; the reading assignments are often significant; and the faculty expectations for the students are high. However, if you want a multi-disciplinary approach towards a graduate level education in the humanities, this program of study will inspire you.

Andrew Pappas

Andrew Pappas

Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Liberal Arts degree? The main reason that I chose to pursue my Masters in Liberal Arts was the wide variety of fascinating courses offered in the program. I was loath to get my degree in education, as I have previously found courses on the subject to be too heavily based on theory and lacking any real substance applicable to the actual classroom. That being said, Maryland requires that all teachers earn a Master’s degree by their 10th year of teaching in order to maintain certification. My unwillingness to take education courses resulted in a lot of procrastination and a need to find a program that I could complete in two years. Thankfully, I found the MLA program at Hopkins, and after attending an informational session and determining that I could complete the program in time for recertification, I was thrilled to get started.

How did the program help you grow personally? I believe that the truly interdisciplinary nature of the program challenged me to take courses outside of my comfort-zone, and thoroughly experience subjects and ideas that I would have otherwise never encountered. The courses challenged me as a student and as a thinker, and allowed me to see connections between a wide-range of topics, making me a better learner and thinker, as well as a better student of the world. In addition, it was a blessing to be in a program with so many fascinating and talented people. From the professors to my fellow students, the MLA program is full of wonderful and intelligent people who both supported and challenged me.

How did the program help you grow professionally? While I took many courses that were outside of traditional literature courses, all of the courses I took helped to broaden my understanding of the world around me, which I believe is invaluable for a high school teacher. So much of what I do on a daily basis involves helping students see the connections between their classes and their lives, and the MLA program inspired me to try to create these connections in new and novel ways. In addition, the way the courses were organized and run by the excellent professors in the program inspired me to reconsider how I run my own classroom, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. The program also taught me the benefits of using programs such as Blackboard in the classroom, and I have been attempting to implement my own version of the same here at Poly. My own class website is still a work-in-progress, but without the experience of using Blackboard throughout the MLA program, I would have never felt comfortable starting one. Finally, I was able to take a handful of classes that were based on literature, including a wonderful class on 20th Century American Poetry that directly influences and informs some of the content I choose to teach my students.

How do you use what you learned in the MLA program on a day-to-day basis? In all the ways stated above, but also, I feel that the MLA program really made me more excited to learn about as many things as much as possible every day, which is an excitement that I strive to bring to my students on a day-to-day basis.

What was your favorite MLA course? Why? Ask anyone in the program this same question, and you will most likely receive a LONG answer. All ten of the classes that I took were worthwhile, and I learned a great deal from all of them. Some of the highlights include a course on Film Noir, a course on contemporary American playwrights, and a course on the history and culture of the 1950s. However, if I had to choose one course as my favorite, I suppose I would choose Music and Literature: Opera in the 20th Century with Professor Giarusso. The class examined a number of operas that were based on literary sources, including Thomas Mann’s A Death in Venice and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I was introduced to so many new and interesting things throughout the course, including the music of Claude Debussey and Alban Berg, the literature of Maurice Maeterlinck and Georg Büchner, and deep musical theory and criticism that I would have otherwise never experienced. Professor Giarusso is incredibly knowledgeable, patient, and supportive, and is one of the finest teachers I have had in my life. I came into the class with very little prior experience with opera or music theory, but his excellent lectures and willingness to work with his students outside of class helped me come to appreciate both in a meaningful way. The class was certainly one of the most challenging I took in the program, but the overall experience was also one of the most rewarding.

What would you say to someone considering this program? I would say that I am extremely grateful that I went through the Masters of Liberal Arts program at Johns Hopkins, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in pursuing a degree for the sheer joy and excitement of learning. I would tell them that yes, the program can be difficult, but the professors and advisors are incredibly helpful and understand that life can sometimes be complicated, and are willing to work to meet the needs of each and every student. I would echo the advice of program graduate Lorraine Spencer and ask them to take a look at the courses offered and try to pick just one, (or two!) If they find doing so to be difficult, I would advise them to enroll immediately. I would tell them that I am sad that I am no longer in the program, and that I cannot wait until I am able to take more classes. Finally, I would suggest that they sit down with Program Director and Professor Extraordinaire Melissa Hilbish and try not to get excited by her incredible enthusiasm and passion for the program. She certainly sold me on it, and I will be forever glad that she did!

Lorraine Spencer

Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Liberal Arts degree? Truthfully, I was bored. My job is mentally challenging, but it’s always the same kind of problem solving. I needed a change, to be challenged in a different way.

How did the program help you grow personally? I have so much more confidence now. I feel more fully myself, if that makes any sense. There just isn’t any way to get through the program without learning more about who you are. And the other students are all so amazing — smart, creative people who are just interested in everything. I’ve made so many friends and had so much fun. We really are a tight-knit community.

How did the program help you grow professionally? I didn’t go into the MLA program expecting any benefits professionally; after all, I had been in the IT profession for over 25 years. What could the Liberal Arts do for me in my field? To my surprise, the changes have been amazing—more self-knowledge, mental flexibility, renewed confidence, increased communication skills, exposure to new ways of thinking and new ideas. My work has benefited tremendously. I am a better programmer and a better manager. My department has certainly noticed the difference; I’ve seen promotions and salary increases I would never have gotten in the past.

How do you use what you learned in the MLA program on a day-to-day basis? In what I do, being able to step back and look at the big picture is invaluable. I find I can do that more easily now. I see connections that I would have missed before. I am more mentally flexible. My writing is better. And I find that because I take the time to really listen to my colleagues and co-workers, the solutions I deliver are more successful.

What was your favorite MLA course? Why? People ask that all the time and it is nearly impossible to pick. Which kid is your favorite? Among my favorites were a class in Russian literature that really made me think about some of life’s larger questions, a science fiction film class that was pure fun from start to finish and gave me an excuse to watch a lot of wonderful films with my son, and a course on modern sainthood, From Jerusalem to Graceland, that included a private after-hours tour of the Walters Museum with the museum director, and an Elvis impersonator performing a private show for our class.

What would you say to someone considering this program? Take a look at the course descriptions. If you do, and find it hard to choose because they all sound so interesting, this is the place for you. You won’t be bored. You’ll work harder than you thought you would. You’ll learn more than you expected. You’ll meet people you can’t imagine not having in your life. You’ll have fun. At some point you will wonder why you got into this. And you will never regret that you did.