A Professor’s Love for Hillsdale and Its People
Written by Kate Vanderstelt
As I prepared for some interviews for a couple of summer internships I’m pursuing, I was struck by the amount of growth I have undergone as a student at Hillsdale College. I have recently been encouraged to thrive off of my passions rather than focus so heavily on being good at something. I switched my major from chemistry to English, not because I was bad at chemistry, but because my passion for English simply could not be matched by my success in chemistry.
I could think of no one better to talk to than Chemistry Professor Lee Ann Baron, a woman who has cultivated a lifetime of passion for herself in her career, to capture this growth that has taken a hold of me.
The first thing Dr. Baron had to say when I asked her that generic question: “Why Hillsdale?”
“It’s the people. It really is. It really is a phrase that exemplifies the college.” As cliche as the phrase is, it encompasses Hillsdale’s true atmosphere. Baron was almost rendered speechless when trying to describe her awe for the community of the college.
“The college is filled with hard-working people with integrity. They’re amazing.”
Baron started her teaching career at University of Michigan and continued on to a smaller institution before finally ending up at Hillsdale. She spent three years teaching at U of M and says that larger institutions just aren’t a good fit for her.
“To be valued for taking the time to actually help students…[to have] the ability to teach…” These are reasons she loves smaller institutions. Baron said Hillsdale appreciates teaching for the sake of students’ understanding, rather than just presenting information. She appreciates that students are willing to accept and take on a challenge at Hillsdale, and that the faculty is invested in students’ personal goals and growth.
This culture that culminates among the faculty cannot be accomplished without the culture of students that Hillsdale attracts. Baron described the students as having a passion for actually learning and understanding. Rather than filling out a drop card as soon as students don’t understand a concept, an action that is frequented at larger institutions, Hillsdale students take confusion to their professors. We ask questions. We are willing to expand our minds, as the core curriculum we all complete proves. We are willing to take this breadth of knowledge and challenge ourselves to apply it in our areas of concentration. This willingness to learn and understand the world around us is special: “It’s something worth being a part of.”
Further, Baron appreciates that almost every science class at the college has a lab component. “There is so much creativity allowed,” she explained. The coordination between lecture and lab brings a component of cohesion and application to the world, rather than just presented information.
Overall, Baron appreciates the emphasis Hillsdale places on teaching and mentorships. She loves that she can sit down with a student in one of her science classes and really guide them toward their passions and help prepare them for where they want to go post-college. She reminded me, “The faculty truly is invested in your personal goals.”
Through constant intellectual, uplifting conversations, Hillsdale provides a community that is engaged with a high emphasis on learning and pursuing Truth, as is stated in the mission statement. “People come here because the mission is what they think education is. We get the opportunity to ask the big questions in life.”
As our conversation about the good of Hillsdale wound down, Baron sank back again into the joy of the job she gets to come to day after day. “I get up every morning, and I want to come.” She smiled. “I still get nervous for the start of every semester.” When people ask when she will retire, she says: “When I don’t have overwhelming passion, excitement for teaching…”
Though Baron’s excitement and passion for the job and the institution as a whole is all-encompassing, she doesn’t think she’s alone. The whole staff, she claims, the students, everyone involved, has this desire to uncover more. It’s what makes Hillsdale Hillsdale. It’s the people.
Kate Vanderstelt, ‘20, studies English and chemistry. She is an athlete on the Cross Country and Track and Field teams and a member of Chi Omega Fraternity.
Published in November 2018