Shakespeare, Technical Communication, The Bible as Literature and Goat Shearing 101? You might not find the last class on Professor Amy Nicholls’ fall schedule, but the fact that you could contributed to her selection as the Jannen Renaissance Scholar Teaching Award winner.Nicholls is a local girl done well in the truest sense. She grew up locally in the Camden, Michigan community, and after a short stint at community college, she transferred to Trine University. There, she earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary English education. She returned to the local Camden community where she taught for eight years at the high school level before finally returning to Trine University as a professor of English. That’s the short version.
In between those points she also taught non-violent offenders at a women’s prison, was a teacher/mentor for the Head Start preschool program, taught at both Kellogg Community College and Baker College as an adjunct and served as department chair at both Coldwater and Camden-Frontier high schools. But that all only speakers to the teaching side of Nicholls, which is the side her students and colleagues are most familiar with.
Outside of the classroom Nicholls has embraced a variety of different arenas. She has been active in church singing as part of the worship team, taught Bible study classes (there’s that teacher aspect again) and organized the church’s vacation Bible school. Her husband and she founded a nonprofit charity, Hillsdale CARES (Cancer and Related Event Support), to help families facing financial hardship due to illness. She was inspired to do so after her father, father-in-law and brother all battled with cancer. In the past year alone the organization has raised over $20,000 to help families in crisis.
Nicholls can work with her hands as well as her mind, though. For many years she served as a landlord, which included purchasing and restoring local homes. Not many students likely expected the smiling teacher at the front of the room was hanging drywall the night before their Shakespeare exam. Nor would many predict that under her array of titles is goat beautician. Her daughter shows goats each year for the 4H fair, which means Nicholls often finds herself shearing the notable climbers, or at times playing midwife for a particularly stubborn kid (the baby goat, not her daughter).
As an academic advisor Nicholls has served in a mentoring capacity to undeclared students as well as majors entering the communication and professional writing and English studies majors. She often encourages them to branch out and use their elective hours creatively. She notes, “This is the one time you can take a class in video games or music for ‘free,’ and they should take advantage of that!”
That commitment in and out of the classroom has not gone unnoticed by her colleagues. HAC professor Dr. Sarah Young noted that Nicholls shows a wide breadth of interests in just their daily conversations. “I’ve talked to her about the travails of small business ownership, the challenges facing the hog farming industry, competitive tournament volleyball, obscure tax codes and what it takes to become a conservation officer, in addition to whatever was on NPR this morning and what she thinks about alternative King Lear interpretations.”
Craig Laker, Dean of the Jannen School of Arts and Sciences, is Nicholls’ immediate superior and sees those diverse skills and how they lead a department. “A renaissance woman is an outstandingly versatile, well-rounded person. Mother, professor, farmer, wife, administrator and friend are just a few of the roles Amy plays. The world is but a stage, and Amy is a lead actor.”
HAC Professor Brandy DePriest put it as only one English professor could of another. “When it comes to leading the department, we tend to have soles of lead—but Amy stepped in and has always danced nimbly. With interests that range from goats to Shakespeare, her chopines (shoes) elevate her above the administrative muck and keep us running.”