Since joining the staff at what is now Newcomb-Tulane College in 1989, Molly Abel Travis has worn many hats, including English professor, director of freshmen writing, chair of the English department, director of the Office of Service Learning and associate dean for global education.
Last year she took on the role of associate dean for Newcomb-Tulane.
Travis says one of her biggest challenges came not long after arriving on campus, when then-president Eamon Kelly asked her to head a task force on teaching.
“It may sound strange, but Tulane is a research institution and at that time we didn’t have enough ways to recognize the importance of good teaching,” Travis says. “There was a lot of discourse and I think some good initiatives were created.”
Almost a decade later she was again called to lead – this time it was Tulane’s current president, Scott Cowen, asking Travis to lead a large group of undergraduate educators in his strategic planning process.
“The goal was to revise and update Tulane’s entire undergraduate experience,” she says. “That was a two year project but it probably cost me about 10 years of my life,” she laughs.
Out of those efforts, though, came Tulane’s current focus on service learning and experiential learning, international studies and study abroad programs – all things Travis feels passionate about.
She is always looking to get students out of the classroom and into the world, for instance she took her feminist theory class to nursing home with a black population.
“Our reading barely touched on older women and there was very little about African-American women,” Travis explains. “It made the material come alive.”
More globally, Travis has lead student groups on three trips to study literature in South Africa.
“It’s cliché but this is a global era. It’s important to experience the literature of other English speaking countries. South Africa for instance has two Nobel Prize-winning literature authors. Then of course you have the heated politics of that area. It’s created a hothouse that has produced extraordinary blooms.”
Travis’ love of South African literature will be on display soon in her second book, which will examine the area’s contemporary writings.
About to start the second year in her new position as associate dean, Travis acknowledges the big job that lies ahead, but says she couldn’t be happier.
“I love working with students to solve problems and help them lay the foundation for their future,” she says.
And as for the college’s future?
“We have a new president joining us in July so it’s going to be another of those pivotal moments. I look forward to being at a college that is entering into a new tenure. There are bound to be interesting changes ahead.”
mentor: I’ve had a number. Tulane is a great community. There have been so many wonderful deans and provosts and department chairs and older faculty members. Because I’ve played so many roles, I’ve been able to work with so many amazing professionals.
defining moment: Hurricane Katrina. That year I was chair of the English department. We closed that fall of 2005 and it took an extraordinary effort to come back in the spring. I really saw then how precious our city is and how dedicated we all are to it. I am always looking at how we can engage in this community further in our education at Tulane.
advice for young woman: Never sell yourself short. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Choose as your role models the strongest men and women you know and then just go for it.
goals: I want to be engaged even more so in the community. I just accepted a board seat with Planned Parenthood. There’s so much work to be done yet in terms of gender equity, women’s rights to their own bodies and education on reproductive choices. Then there are the equally large issues of poverty and race and equality.
favorite thing about what I do: I’m such a one trick pony, but I love literature. I love teaching it and I love the fact that at Tulane we have such a wonderful creative writing program. Getting to meet so many talented writers, that’s a never-ending delight for me.