Jeannie Ludlow’s self-described “colorful education history” suggests that she could be called the ultimate poster child for claiming an education.
She’s certainly the right person to serve as Eastern Illinois University’s 2015-16 Faculty Laureate, an honor presented to her by the institution's Council on Academic Affairs. In addition to her duties as a full-time faculty member in the Department of English and as coordinator of the Women’s Studies program, Ludlow will spend the coming year as the university's official spokesperson on the importance of a general/liberal education.
Her first opportunity will take place at 9:15 a.m. Friday, Aug. 21, when she delivers the keynote address at this year's convocation, a welcoming ceremony for incoming students.
“I wish I could tell (students) that, for an entire year, they should just take classes that appeal to their interests,” she said. “To take a class just so they can claim the knowledge.”
For Ludlow, it doesn’t seem that long ago that she, too, was a recent high school graduate -- a small-town farm kid from Veedersburg, Ind., with a long future ahead of her.
“I had a lot of (high school) teachers tell me to go to college,” she said.
Her parents were supportive, but not well versed in the area of higher education. “My parents were both smart people, but neither of them went to college,” Ludlow said.
Additionally, Ludlow didn’t have a lot of friends to lean on for support. “I was a smart, mouthy girl and, as a result, I wasn’t very popular,” she said. Plus, higher education wasn’t a big priority for her peers; only six out of her class of 114 planned to attend college after high school.
“I decided my life’s goal was to be a high school band director,” Ludlow continued. “Music was something I really, really loved, and I was a musician. I could play pretty much all of the woodwinds (clarinet, oboe, flute, saxophone, etc.), as well as some other instruments.”
To reach her goal, she enrolled at nearby Indiana State University, located about one hour south in Terre Haute. That experience lasted about six weeks.
“I hated it,” she said. “I was immature, lonely and scared. I was not ready and did not have strong support.”
Instead, Ludlow found a full-time job and set about putting some money aside. Within a year, she found herself attending Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, another institution fairly close to home. This time, she took classes in computer science/computer programming. And again, she dropped out.
There must be something to the adage, “third time’s a charm,” for when Ludlow then decided to attend Indiana Central University (now known as the University of Indianapolis), she felt she had found her niche. “And I’m not even a Methodist,” she said, fondly recalling her years at the United Methodist Church-affiliated institution.
“It was a great school,” she continued. “The school itself was small and, strangely enough, I felt comfortable in Indy.”
At first, Ludlow declared herself a music education major at UIndy, but she altered her thinking when, during her sophomore year, she was told by a professor that she could not teach high school.
“He told me I would never command enough respect from my students,” she said. “And, believe it or not, I listened to him.”
She decided on a more general music degree before switching yet one more time as a senior. “I fell in love with my literature classes, and I ended up graduating with an English major and a music minor.”
Per the strong suggestion of one of her professors, Ludlow advanced on to Graduate School. At Bowling Green State University, located in northwest Ohio, she earned both her master’s (English literature) and doctoral (American culture studies) degrees.
“By then I had discovered and was taking classes in cultural studies,” which appealed to her because of their interdisciplinary content, she said.
“I found that, through cultural studies, I wasn’t looking at the world through one lens but, rather, I was looking through a prism.”
Her plan, by then, was to become a professor. She began focusing on women’s studies, spending time working at domestic violence shelters and crisis hot lines, as well. She did her dissertation on Native American women’s cultures. She got her degree. And then, she taught.at Bowling Green for 17 years.
“I liked my job at Bowling Green. I liked it a whole lot,” Ludlow said, noting she wasn’t actively looking to move on. But an ad featuring a position at EIU caught her attention.
“Eastern wanted a coordinator for its Women’s Studies program, and Charleston was closer to home,” she said. “My folks are not getting any younger and I felt more comfortable being a two-hour drive from them, rather than the seven-hour drive it took from Bowling Green.”
Ludlow currently teaches courses in both women’s studies and in English. “I love teaching at EIU. I identify with so many of my students and I learn something new from every single student I meet.”
Some of her courses fall among the university’s General Education program offerings.
“I love teaching general education classes,” she said. “If I hadn’t had gen ed classes, I wouldn’t have found out who I am.
“Yes, degrees are important,” she continued. “But I think individuals should take classes just to claim the knowledge they provide. I know I still enjoy learning, and I may be paying student loans until the day that I die. But no one can ever take knowledge away from me; they can’t repossess my brain.”