One year after arriving at UNC Asheville as a new assistant professor, Dr. Sophie Mills found herself the chair of a tiny unit which had just lost several faculty members to retirement. Dr. Mills has worked tirelessly to rebuild the department, to reinvent the curriculum, and to recruit and mentor students. The result is a flourishing department which, in proportion to total enrollments at this small liberal arts campus of UNC, is now one of the strongest undergraduate classics programs in the state.
What did Dr. Mills do to accomplish this feat? What didn’t she do? She taught overloads (and the teaching load was already 12 credits per semester) to make sure the curriculum was covered while the faculty was under strength. She added a Classical Civ track to the major. She developed multiple new courses, many with interdisciplinary connections to other departments, and encouraged colleagues to bring their own new offerings on board. She joined faculty from Math and Health & Wellness to create a summer study abroad program in Greece and Turkey. She introduced new units on gender and on classical civilization to the college’s humanities core course, and linked her tragedy course to performance studies in the drama department.
Student letters show Dr. Mills as an exceptional and engaged teacher. “I was continually pushed out of my comfort zone,” says one. An engineering student faced with an unwanted humanities requirement found himself delighted with the course he had not wanted to take: “Dr. Mills inspired me to learn in spite of my resentment.” Many students and colleagues note her efforts to help students connect the modern and ancient worlds, whether that involves an awkward discussion about ancient and modern sexuality or asking students to evaluate and analyze a ‘fragment’ which students assume is by Sappho—but is in fact extracted from a Dolly Parton song. No wonder one of her students (now in a doctoral program after an MPhil at Oxford) says: “I wanted to follow in Sophie’s footsteps.” No wonder she has won two separate teaching awards at UNC Asheville.
For the vision and leadership she has brought to Classics and to her college, the SCS is proud to honor Dr. Sophie Mills with this SCS Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Classics at the College Level.