Dr. Michael Hancock is a member of the charter class who returned to IMSA as faculty in the English department. Initially, he came to IMSA looking for a more challenging academic experience than what his home school could offer. Upon arrival he recalls being more homesick than he had anticipated. As part of the charter class, he also had the experience of living in the main building until the residence halls were completed. He felt unprepared and struggled in classes, particularly in math and science. It took time to adjust to asking more questions, turning to classmates for help, and learning necessary study skills.
To him get through these challenges, Dr. Hancock valued the support and enthusiasm of the teachers. His parents knew he struggled and they embarrassed him by writing to the faculty mentor he’d been assigned, Tim Ritchie, who forwarded the letter to all his teachers. As a result, they asked how he was doing and it helped for him to know that they cared. After the first semester, life got easier and he felt more at home in the IMSA community. Dr. Hancock always loved humanities subjects and speaks highly of the teachers he had - Dana Goodman, Barbara Taylor, and Patrick McWilliams, with whom he did an independent research project. He did enjoy biology as well, especially classes with Ed Goebel and Ron Pine.
The charter class was the first to go through the IMSA experience, which led to a feeling of camaraderie and spontaneity. The students experimented: they formed an underground newspaper and put on performances, plays, and concerts. He also remembers his whole sophomore class being taken to a professional Shakespeare production at a theater in Chicago, which he describes as an eye-opening experience. The students also went to Fermilab to hear Stephen Hawking speak and IMSA had a series of Saturday seminars with notable local scholars.
After graduating, Dr. Hancock attended the University of Notre Dame, where he majored in English. He went on to graduate school, doing a Masters and then a Ph.D. in English at the University of Kansas. As he was finishing his doctorate in 2001, he saw an advertisement for an English faculty position at IMSA.
Returning to IMSA after 12 years, he says it felt both the same and completely different, in terms of both the institution and the students. The first few years of teaching had a steep learning curve, but he valued mentors among other faculty who helped him develop his teaching practice. While he sees a lot of his younger self and his classmates in today's students, they are also different for having grown up in a more technologically-connected world.
In 2020-21 IMSA has faced a new challenge in its history: adapting to distance learning in a pandemic. At the time of the interview, the current sophomore class had not yet come together in person as a community. Nonetheless, Dr. Hancock says the students have risen to the occasion and shown their resilience. It has still been possible for faculty to support students and build community - they often come to class online early or hang around afterwards to ask questions, much as would happen in a normal classroom.
In 2020 the IMSA faculty formed a union, which emerged from a desire to have more of a voice in decisions that affect teaching and learning, as well as concerns about pay inequities. Dr. Hancock had been involved in the process since fall 2018 and is now the council president, serving as the point of contact between the union and the administration. The bargaining process has been delayed as a result of the pandemic and is still in process as of February 2021. Dr. Hancock hopes ultimately this will help open channels of communication and collaboration between faculty and administrators to help IMSA provide the best educational opportunities for its students. Those opportunities were what he valued most as a student, and providing them to the next generation is what motivates his work as a teacher.
Interviewer: Sara Goek. Duration: 1:09:21.
alumni, charter class, English classes, faculty, humanities, residential life, students
Digital Video Recording
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Hancock, Michael '89 and Goek, Sara, "Michael Hancock" (2021). Oral Histories, IMSA Archives and Special Collections, Leto M. Furnas Information Resource Center. https://digitalcommons.imsa.edu/oral_histories/23