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Meramec Professor Crosses Borders to Teach Students

Angela Hamilton

South St. Louis native Angela Hamilton grew up in a blue-collar family with three older brothers, spending her youth racing bikes and exploring the overflow tunnels of the River desPeres. As the first in her family to attend college, she is an associate professor of English at St. Louis Community College – Meramec. Hamilton is reaching not only beyond the classroom, but beyond the borders of the United States to educate her students.

Even with those tomboy activities, the written word has been one of Hamilton’s loves from a very early age; something her mother helped instill in her.

“As a small child, I would interrupt my mother’s baths, asking her to write text next to the pictures I’d drawn,” said Hamilton. “I still have one of those “books.” It’s called The Circus Book, and, of course,” she said sarcastically, “it’s brilliant.”

The love of reading and literature is something she also pursued socially. As a senior in college, Hamilton and a friend started “Spoken Word Sundays” at a café in the Loop on Delmar in University City, a time Hamilton looks back on fondly.

“We took all kinds of risks, cold-calling Carter Revard, Jason Sommer, Richard Newman and Shirley LeFlore and asking them to come read. And they did! One evening, when Michael Castro was reading, there sat Yusef Komunyakaa at a table, listening to our evening lineup. Those were the days.”

The literary experiences Hamilton had as a student solidified her decision to make teaching a career choice. “Early on, I cut keys, sold shoes, dished up pie, but I knew I had to do something that would allow me to continue those discussions,” said Hamilton. “I didn’t want to lose sight of this. That is not to say there is no poetry in making the perfect key or finding the right shoe. Those experiences made me the writer I am now. There is poetry in that if you can find it. There is.”

Hamilton, a Meramec alumna, found herself as an instructor in the College Writing Center in 2000, and in January 2003, began her tenure at Meramec as a full-time instructor.

During her 2011-12 sabbatical, Hamilton was looking for ways to help students connect to the people writing the literature she was teaching in the Honors World Literature class at Meramec. She discovered an organization called Soliya.

“For my sabbatical, I began researching organizations linked to the United States Institute of Peace.  There, I found Soliya, a non-profit that specialized in bringing together university students from the West and the Middle East for challenging and productive dialogue on post-9/11 issues. It was the perfect fit,” said Hamilton.

“Because I was on sabbatical, I had time to volunteer for Soliya as a co-facilitator for online discussions. It was an amazing experience to guide students through difficult subjects that concern all of us – the status of Israel, extremism, acts of violence, U.S. occupation, and more.”

After working with Soliya, Hamilton knew that Soliya’s Connect program would be useful for her students. However, the program isn’t free. In a world of tight budgets and monetary concerns, she sought funding to make this desire a reality.

Hamilton began to work with STLCC Institutional Development to bring Soliya’s Connect program to Meramec. The Missouri Humanities Council (MHC) awarded a grant of $2500 to St. Louis Community College in support of her project “The Middle East in the Midwest: Intercultural Chat Rooms in the World Lit Classroom.” St. Louis Community College is the first community college in the United States and the first higher education institution in the state of Missouri to participate in the Connect program.

“The world is distinctly and inescapably post-9/11 and, as Westerners, we have been consumed by Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and stories of the Twin Towers,” said Hamilton. “While these subjects are worthwhile, we have lost the humanness of the Middle East, as the people of this region are often portrayed as the enemy, and little is done to quell Western fear. Great literature is one step to building this bridge, as it provides the narratives of a people who are often misunderstood or misrepresented.”

She added, “Another step is to establish connections with people from other lands, meet for dialogue, and grow together. Many community college students cannot afford to experience another culture through a study abroad program. Soliya’s Connect program provides a groundbreaking yet affordable opportunity for Western instructors to bring student representatives of the Middle East into their classrooms to promote growth and understanding through dialogue.”

Students will be interacting with other students from European and Middle Eastern university using specialized software enabling real-time voice and video chat with multiple parties. They will be learning from other cultures in subjects such as religion, politics and their everyday lives.

“My hope is this will shape STLCC students into educated viewers of the media and help them become our next ambassadors of international goodwill,” said Hamilton.

While teaching dominates much of her time, Hamilton doesn’t subscribe to the “all work, no play” mentality. Hamilton likes to run in Tower Grove Park, shop at farmers markets and dish up food from other countries. “There’s a lot to be learned from a country’s food. Many of these recipes have stories. I’m sifting through Persian recipes right now.”

After Soliya’s Connect Program wraps up, Hamilton is preparing for another educational adventure. She is the faculty mentor for a Study Abroad course in summer, 2013 to Istanbul, Turkey. Conveniently, her husband, Stephen Snyder, is a philosopher and assistant professor at Fatih University in Istanbul.

“Every year brings exciting new projects. I can’t imagine what will happen next year.”