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A professor, a mentor, an Influence
Today we continue our 10-part series profiling some of the people who made a difference in 2012. Those profiled were nominated by Daily Press readers, with the finalists selected by the Daily Press staff.
VICTORVILLE • Now a senior at the University at California, Irvine, Stephanie Weldy recalls with vivid clarity the day that she did the unthinkable: public speaking at an honors conference.
It was March 6, 2010, and the High Desert native didn’t think she could do it. But she did because of the help of one man, Tim Adell. Adell, an English instructor at Victor Valley College, had Weldy in four of his classes and she believes that it was his coaching and teaching that have led her to where she is today.
“I have always been afraid of my voice, but since that day — the day of the conference — the day I presented my research on the works of author Joyce Carol Oates to nearly 40 pairs of intently gazing eyes, I’ve found myself believing in myself,” Weldy said. “People like Tim Adell are not easy to come by, but when they do, it’s a game changer.”
Weldy said that her story about Adell is not unique. She says that many of her peers have had similar experiences with him, and she feels this is one of the reasons Adell deserves to be named as a Daily Press’ Person of the Year.
“The best thing he ever did was believe in me,” Weldy said.
Adell, who was born in Colorado, lived in California until attending college in Chicago. He received a master’s degree in English and a master’s of Fine Arts in creative writing from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La. He has taught in China and Greece and has held his current post at VVC since 1999.
Adell said that he’s the honors coordinator for the college, runs the annual student writing contest and works closely with VVC’s Model United Nations team, which is ranked 20th in the world. Adell has been married to his wife, Cindy, for 17 years and they have one son.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: In my free time, I play soccer, golf, work out and write.
Q: Who is someone who had a big influence on your life?
A: Aside from my parents, whose influences I forget until I do or say something that is so obviously Dad or Mom that I can’t ignore it. In teaching, my history professor Xenos Hawkinson is probably the single most prominent example. The other profs called his classes “Uncle Xenos’ Story Hour,” and I’ve always thought: What could be better? Story hour, with grammar, punctuation and Tolkien. But when it comes down to it, I feel all those who taught me when I was young and just want to carry on the traditions and learning they passed down to me.
Q: Where do you find deep satisfaction?
A: My deepest satisfaction comes from the feeling of a class going well, of getting the ideas across and making sure they stick. There’s something new every day, like practice for any sport, so though 50 research papers coming in at once may be temporarily overwhelming, but it’s never anything less than satisfying in the end.
Q: What type of music inspires you?
A: My musical inspiration depends entirely on what I need inspiration for. When I’m playing soccer, anything Rock-like is perfect, while for grading anything without lyrics is. But my favorite musical inspiration right now is saying I like Coldplay. There’s almost nothing in the world better than the horrified looks on my students’ faces.
Q: Who are your literary icons?
A: The writers I keep coming back to are Wilfred Sheed, a currently mostly out-of-print British-American who could manage to get in a joke a sentence without seeming crowded, and P.J. O’Rourke, whose politics are salvaged by just the right amount of laughing crankiness.
Q: What is your favorite book?
A: I keep going back to Sheed’s “The Good Word and Other Words.” But ask me again tomorrow, and it might be Karen Armstrong’s “The Battle for God.” The great thing about books is that there’s so much wonder out there, you’ll never run out of it.
Q: What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done?
A: The most adventurous thing I ever did was agreeing to go to China on 45 minutes’ notice.
I was teaching at Lamar University in Texas, coming home from a pick-up basketball game with some faculty members. I was walking with Tim, my department chair, and Kevin from Sociology. We came across Guo Kun, who was working with the English department to set up an exchange program between Lamar and Hohai University in Nanjing. We talked to Guo a couple minutes, and after he left, Kevin asked me, “Tim, have you ever considered teaching in China? I mean, you’re young, you’re unattached and no one in America likes you anyway.” Tim turned to me and said, “Would you be interested?” A half-hour later, I was in an interview with Guo Kun deciding, sure I’ll go to China.
All the really important decisions in my life have come almost by accident, and this is the biggest one. I was there for two race riots, a people’s movement and Tienanmen. I met the girl I moved to Greece for, and nothing in my life has been the same since. That’s why I tell my students not to over-think chances like this. If they do, there are a million reasons not to flop your life around in any of the ways that make it so rich.
Q: What do you love most about teaching?
A: What I love most about teaching isn’t so much one thing as the composite life of lecturing, hectoring, encouraging and grading. It’s a feeling of keeping alive traditions that came before me and seeing them go along in my students and theirs after them.
Q: How do you feel about being nominated by one of your students?
A: I’m touched and honored to have been nominated.