Professors are People Too: Dr. Michael Elam
Are professors really as cold as we think, or are they more like us than we’ve presumed?
A new year means new challenges…
Beginning a new year of college is a somewhat overwhelming experience. Buying books, starting classes, and making new friends can become daunting obstacles, and meeting professors can easily be classified as one of the most intimidating and difficult of these. These learned individuals have vast experience and knowledge in various fields of study that many of us are simply dipping our toes into. Many of us assume that they take pleasure in slaving students and lowering their GPAs. However, are they really as cold and inhuman as we so often think? Perhaps Professors are people too.
Proving a point
With this in mind, last school year, I began conducting interviews with professors, attempting to prove that they’re not so different from you and I.
Intentionally asking questions that had nothing to do with academics, I not only found that these professors were actually human, but that they’re fascinating, brilliant people with interests and ideas that many of us would have in common.
With a new school year beginning, I can’t think of a better way to introduce students to some of the amazing faculty here at Regent, and to make the experience of meeting a professor an enriching, rather than traumatic, one.
I decided to interview Dr. Elam. He currently serves as a full time professor in the College of Arts and Sciences English department, and someone I’ve been given the privilege of having as a professor. I remember how he always taught that words are the “stock and trade” of scholars, and how powerful even the simplest of works can be. He’s a professor that invests in his students and is un-afraid to be both honest and vulnerable.
When I met with Dr. Elam in his office, I couldn’t help notice the vast quantity of books he had in the room office. However, though having nearly an entire wall covered with a book shelf may seem copious to some, it is a part of Dr. Elam’s office that reflects the good professor himself, and is a testament to his devotion to teaching and to literature. Before we began, he expressed how honored and “touched” he was to participate in the series.
“If you could live in any time period, what would it be?”
Dr. Elam: “Oh my goodness. So this is gonna be a copout answer. I would want to live in Medieval times, but with all the comforts of the modern era… Probably in a city. I know that they could be dirty… but there were good cities. Probably Oxford or Cambridge or one of those university towns.”
Philip: “So, not [something like] the American west?”
Dr. Elam: “Maybe. So my dad’s family is kind of from that setting, Arkansas, Missouri. They went west to find work, all that kind of stuff… It’s never grabbed me… [However] I love the idea of being in Sacramento around gold rush time.”
Philip: “Ok second question… This one’s a lot less deep.”
“If you have a favorite video game, what is it, and if not, what would you make one about?”
Dr. Elam: “I do have a favorite video game and it is Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. And I love the cell shaded animation. Peggy Sutherland, over in comm… she would love to hear me say that… There’s something strikingly beautiful about its visuals… I mean there are parts that I’m not good at, but I really, really like that game a lot. Oh [and] can I add?”
Dr. Elam: “My second favorite game… is a combination of the first 2 sonic the hedgehog games. There’s a level called “aquatic ruin” and the music in that level… I think I could listen to that without the game.”
“Would you rather be telepathic or invisible, and why?”
Dr. Elam: “Oh my goodness. I’d rather be invisible. If I were telepathic, it’s just too much to know. That would freak me out, and sometimes it’s nice to not know what people think, but sometimes it’s dangerous not to know what people think, but the weight of it could be too much. Being invisible, you could sneak into the movies, maybe not have to pay admissions going to bush gardens or something.”
Philip: “So true.”
“What is your favorite piece of literature?”
Dr. Elam: “So, there are a few works I like for different reasons. I like the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings as complete experiences of reading… I think they affirm what the bible says about God and his goodness and his beauty, and they do so in a way that’s not alienating… I don’t feel outside of it; I feel drawn into it. I love that about it. And then I would have to say love the Iliad… because it captures human emotion in a way that makes it ok to feel that way. Like when Hector is… trying to do the right thing, and it’s not going to work out for him, people weeping and wailing over their lost friends, [and] I think it’s good that people can get that out, and I think the Iliad does a great job. And then the divine comedy, all three canticles of it. Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Dante’s Journey of recognizing sin – struggling against it to find himself struggling through it to find God in the end – I know it’s not everybody’s taste, but to me it’s encouraging.
And I know the safe answer is the Bible… I like the book of James a lot. There’s a bit of down to earth cold water theology that is also comforting to me in a way.”
“Who is your favorite character of literature?
Dr. Elam: “Ooh. My favorite Character. Oh man. I like Gandalf the wizard. I really do. I would like to be him, I don’t think I am like him, but I just like him a lot… He’s kind of a cranky old man in places… I know he says some mean things to Pippin, like ‘throw yourself in [to the well] next time,’ but he seems to have an apologetic side that makes it endearing I suppose. And one more: Ransom, from Lewis’s space trilogy, especially in Perelandra where he has to make that critical choice.”
“If you could live in any country for a year, which would it be and why?”
Dr. Elam: “I’d live in the British Isles because I like the way it looks on TV. I don’t pretend to know much about, but if I could live there for a year, I’d do that.”
“What type of charity would you start if given unlimited resources to do so?”
Dr. Elam: “The first thing that came to my mind was [the time] when my mother died. My mother died from Mild Dysplastic Syndrome… What I remember was how hard it was to go through it as a family member… So maybe a charity helping people with family members struggling with Illness because the despair can be so difficult in and of itself.”
“Is there anything you would eliminate from pop-culture or even modern society if given the opportunity?”
Dr. Elam: “Yeah, pornography. It’s just so… destructive to everybody involved. Purchasers of it, producers of it, people involved in it… it empties people of their personhood. It just takes it away and turns people into objects and it’s very sad. And as a parent now… I think ‘my goodness.’ I don’t think any parent says ‘I’d like that for my children’ or ‘I’d want that kind of thing for my children.’ It’s just so destructive.”
At the end of the interview, I thanked Dr. Elam for taking time to talk. He responded by graciously thanking me as well. I know that we both thoroughly enjoyed talking, and I was almost sad that we couldn’t chat longer. Dr. Elam’s sincerity and honesty, which shone brilliantly throughout the interview, are qualities that myself and many others are extremely grateful for as students here at Regent University, a place where professors are people too.
Philip Reynolds is the Senior Editor of the Daily Runner.