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Outstanding Alumni – Claire Howell Major (PhD, 1998)

Betz Kerley

Claire Howell Major believes her position of professor in the Department of Higher Education at the University of Alabama is the “best job ever.” And who’s to say that she’s wrong?

With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, Claire wanted to go further educationally, and focus on teaching and learning in higher education in general. “I wanted to think about it from a bigger picture than say from the perspective of ‘what is the best way to grade students,’” explains Major.

“I wanted to learn more about how we ‘do’ teaching and learning in higher education, why we do it the way we do (i.e., what or who is driving the decisions about teaching and learning in higher education), what are the implications of the way we are doing it, should we be doing it the way that we are, and so forth. I started looking for a program where I could do that and found the IHE.”

Claire says that the three things that give her the most satisfaction are:

Writing: “I enjoy working on a challenging topic, reading everything I can about it, figuring out what I need to say and how to say it.”

Teaching: “I like thinking of a good subject for a class, one that I would like to take myself. I like working with students, helping them learn.”

Service: “I work with faculty from a range of disciplines to help them think more deeply about their teaching, so that they can improve it. Perhaps they will publish their research and others can learn from it as well.”

When thinking back on her time at the Institute and her reasons for going there, Claire says that she chose the IHE because she believed it would offer her the best opportunity to situate teaching and learning in the broader context of higher education policy questions. She also found the staff to be smart, supportive, and encouraging.

When asked her advice for today’s Ph.D. students, Claire says, “Take the time while you have it to learn something important. Be independent thinkers, and question everything.” Because, after all, what better way to find yourself in the “best job ever”?

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PhD, 1998

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