Dr. Tricia McElroy is Associate Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences. English student Meegan Gildehaus interviewed the newly appointed Associate Dean to learn about her journey to this position and plans for the future.
I met Dr. McElroy in an office heavily decorated with drawings and photos of a smiling little girl. There is a large window overlooking a courtyard that is attractive when there is no construction. Now it resembles more of a mud bath. Regardless, natural light pours through the glass and lends to the already homey feel of McElroy’s new base.
McElroy greets me with enthusiasm and warmth – not quite as intimidating as the word “Dean” tends to lend. Her passion for this position, UA, and the humanities is clear and her excitement for the future is inspiring.
Dean McElroy, where are you from originally?
I grew up in Kilgore, Texas, home of Van Cliburn and the Kilgore College Rangerettes. (No, I was NOT a Rangerette.) Go west on I-20 for seven hours. Watch your speed around Vicksburg.
What sparked your interest about the English profession?
Both of my parents were teachers (my mom was a high school English teacher), so I grew up in a household full of conversations about students, classrooms, pedagogy, and, of course, books. But when I went off to college, I wanted to be a successful businesswoman with a corner office and leather briefcase. I wanted nothing to do with teaching…or so I thought. When I called my parents to announce that I was going to get an MA in English at Southern Methodist University, with the idea of pursuing a teaching career, they burst out with knowing laughter. Teaching, for me, goes beyond vocation. It really is what I love most, and even with my new administrative position, I will try to be in the classroom whenever I can manage.
I suppose another important factor in the development of my specific interests was the Texas Shakespeare Festival, which began in my hometown during summer 1986. The Festival stages fantastic productions, and they stimulated my interest in Shakespeare and in English Renaissance literature. But my dad claims that he took me to a production of Romeo and Juliet when I was only four years old, and I was riveted. True or not, I like the story.
Did this interest lead into your area of study within English?
Yes, British Renaissance literature, especially non-dramatic literature of the 16th century. Even more specifically, I work in the field of Scottish studies, focusing on the relationships among literature, history, and politics during the Reformation. I work quite a bit with Scottish political satire and propaganda.
Where did you earn your degrees?
I received a BA in Journalism from Texas A&M University; an MA in English from SMU; and a D.Phil in English from Oxford University. I also did three years of graduate work at the University of Georgia in between my Master’s and D.Phil.
Texas, England, and then to Georgia, what led you to The University of Alabama?
I taught as a lecturer in English for five years at the University of Michigan, as I finished writing my dissertation. I was offered the position of Assistant Professor here at UA in 2006.
And not too many years later, you moved up to Associate Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts. What did this process entail?
Dean Olin advertised last fall for a new Associate Dean. At first, I didn’t consider the possibility all that seriously. A couple of colleagues suggested that I should put my name forward, and it slowly dawned on me that this might be a wonderful new challenge and an opportunity to contribute to UA in a new way.
Well, I’d say you’ve reached the businesswoman with a corner office status now. What were your feelings about being chosen to be the Associate Dean?
Astonishment! I was really surprised and humbled by this appointment. Thus far, I am thoroughly enjoying the work. To say that my learning curve is steep – well, that’s the understatement of the century. But I love the variety of my work (everything from meeting with architects to interviewing Humanities and Fine Arts job candidates), and I get such a rush out of meeting and working with so many new people across the disciplines of A&S and across the university.
What is your favorite aspect of the UA English Department?
My students and my colleagues – the former always engaged and enthusiastic, the latter always supportive and generous. I have been very happy at UA English.
What would you like to see accomplished by Dr. Weiland’s PR Literacies course for The Scarlet Newsletter and the department in general?
I didn’t realize that Dr. Weiland was teaching a class with this specific focus, and I’m delighted about it. I think there’s a real opportunity here for English majors and minors to put their creativity to work in service of promoting the exceptional accomplishments of the students and faculty in English.