By Leslie Jernegan
“Why not spend your time doing the things you enjoy doing, and then figure out what to do next by following your interests?”
Such was the mindset of Kevin Mullen, who, in the past year, has earned both his PhD in English as well as a teaching position as a Writing and Reading Comprehension instructor with the UW–Madison Odyssey Project.
After a transformative study abroad experience during his undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, Mullen decided to further explore living overseas and moved to Bulgaria to teach English. Returning a year later to live and work in Chicago made him decide to move back abroad, eventually teaching in Istanbul, Southeastern Turkey, and Japan.
While initially Mullen moved abroad for the ability to travel and write, he was surprised to discover another fascination of his – teaching. This led to him applying to graduate school at the University of Iowa, and later to earn his PhD at UW–Madison. “I wanted to keep getting better as a teacher, and I wanted to teach different age groups,” Mullen explains.
“I didn’t know at the beginning I would end up loving teaching as much as I did. It was the only job that didn’t really feel like it was a job, and I really loved working with the students.”
Mullen’s work with the UW–Madison Writing Center led him to a connection with the UW–Madison Odyssey Project, a free six-credit humanities course taught by UW–Madison professors for students who face economic barriers to their education.
“I fell for the class right away,” Mullen says. “It is such a lively and engaged academic setting. You have people who are really trying to get the most out of the course as they possibly can, and it just seemed very alive and energetic.”
Working individually with the students on their writing skills, Mullen found joy in helping them bring out their voices, and observing their transition into being better writers. The director of the program noticed the benefit of Mullen’s presence too, and made his role a position for which Mullen applied and is now filling.
Mullen now reflects on his unusual career path – one that was influenced by passions and desire for lifelong learning, rather than by practicality, money or security. Passion over practicality, he says, steered him to a job that is better than he expected to have.
“I saw living in other countries, and getting to know other cultures, as the next step in my education. I wanted to keep growing and keep developing, just outside of the classroom setting. It did not seem initially, like the kind of path that would lead directly to a career, but I know that each place, and each group of students I encountered made a major impact on my development as a teacher. I would not be where I am now if I hadn’t gone to those places first.”