Distinguished Adjunct Teaching Award
Adjunct Faculty, Department of English
A tough job market inspired Joe Mealey ’94 [MA Case Western Reserve] to return to PSU in 1996 to earn his certification to teach high school English. But on his way to register for classes, he saw the light: it was emanating from Professor Emeritus of English Henry Vittum’s office. “I went in just to say ‘Hi’,” Mealey recalls. When Vittum responded to his greeting by asking Mealey if he was ready to teach, Mealey thought he was joking.
It was no joke. Thanks to a phone call from Vittum to Barbara Blaha, then-chair of the English department, Mealey was teaching English composition courses at PSU a week later. That was nearly 14 years ago. “I got lucky,” Mealey says. “There are a lot of good people here.”
Henry Vittum wasn’t the only English department faculty member who saw great promise in Mealey as a college instructor. Mealey was just three semesters into earning his BA in English at Plymouth State when one of his professors, Mary-Lou Hinman, encouraged him to consider a career teaching English at the university level. “Although she knew I was planning on going to law school, she saw how much I loved reading, writing, and discussing literature, and she asked me if I had ever considered becoming a professor,” Mealey says. “Years later, when she evaluated one of my classes, she wrote: ‘I first raised the idea about teaching to Joe and I’m glad that I did!’ on the course evaluation.”
As a teacher, Mealey draws heavily from his own student experience at Plymouth State. “I always keep in mind how it felt to be a student,” he says. “Henry Vittum and Mary-Lou Hinman created a supportive and respectful environment in which I could learn, and I try to create a similar environment for my students.”
To that end, Mealey encourages the free exchange of ideas—whether they are shared during class, during office hours, within smaller work groups, or in class blogs. “I believe that education should be informative, explorative, and fun,” Mealey says. “I work to foster an atmosphere where students can feel free to explore, take risks, and succeed.”
Mealey’s involvement in student activities outside of the classroom enhances the connections he aims to establish in the classroom. He has been an advisor to the staff of PSU’s student newspaper, The Clock, and for the past five years he has served as an advisor to MESA (Mentoring Enhances Student Achievement), an English department student organization. MESA is composed of sophomore, junior, and senior-level English majors who serve as mentors to first-year and new English majors. In addition to offering writing workshops, schedule-advising nights, and online support via instant messaging, MESA hosts social events and does community outreach, Mealey notes.
Whether it’s through teaching, advising, or mentoring his students, Mealey finds his students’ progress and success to be the most rewarding aspect of his work. “I love to see them get better at things, acquire skills, and realize they can do it,” he says, noting that the fact that he’s teaching at Plymouth State is especially gratifying. “As a student and as a faculty member, I have always felt nurtured and respected here. I can’t picture being anywhere else.”