By Elizabeth Walker, contributor
Not many people know exactly what they want to be when growing up, but Anne Jansen clearly remembers the moment that ultimately changed her career path.
“It took me a long time in high school to figure it out,” said Jansen, assistant professor of literature and language. “I originally thought I was going to go to college to major in math and teach math, and it wasn’t until my senior year in high school when we read Macbeth and we had to act out scenes from it that I realized English was an option.”
After taking a few college math courses and figuring out teaching math wasn’t for her, Jansen said she ultimately chose English.
“I decided that for me, what inspires me and also what keeps me on my toes is the conversation,” said Jansen, a self-proclaimed extrovert. “With math, I could see myself being an instructor, but not necessarily having time to have conversations and to engage with the students.”
Working with fellow faculty members Sarah Judson and Trey Adcock, Jansen successfully introduced a new minor, U.S. ethnic studies, to UNC Asheville. According to the university registrar, the minor will focus on examining the experiences of people of color within the United States.
“It’s been a collaborative effort. I was the one who put together the paperwork, got the signatures and did the administrative work, but it arose out of a lot of conversations with faculty across campus my first year here, because it was something that I thought there might be room for,” Jansen said.
Faculty members from across the departments met with Jansen and decided to make the overlap in topics an official minor, with Jansen as the face of the initiative. Jansen said the program will kick off this spring, with Jansen teaching the intro to U.S. ethnic studies course.
“It’s a five-course minor, and one of those courses has to be the intro course. We’ve divided the courses into three different categories,” Jansen said. “One is arts and culture, that’s where you’ll have your arts courses, music courses, literature courses. One is history and politics, so political science courses, history courses. And then power and institution, so I know a lot of religious studies courses fall under there. It’s drawing from courses across the university.”
Jansen said her official area of expertise is U.S. ethnic literatures, so she carves out a niche for classes with topics that otherwise wouldn’t be available on campus.
Classes include ethnic literature: science fiction, postcolonial literature: magical realism and the postcolonial novel and postcolonial literature: literatures of Oceania.
“I could look at just African-American literature or just American Indian literature, but I don’t. Instead I look across regional and cultural lines to see if there are productive connections or significant disparities that we can learn something from,” Jansen said. “So with those courses, instead of focusing on one particular group, which is a different approach, instead of just focusing that way, I’ve been choosing genres.”
Jansen said she remains constantly inspired by both the students, faculty and the commitment to teaching she sees at UNCA. In turn, students say she has become an integral part of UNCA’s literature and language department.
“She’s a really good teacher. Her teaching style was very conversation based, but yet was organized,” said Caroline Kelly, a student who took Jansen’s LANG 120 class last fall.
A poster of Han Solo trapped in carbonite, a map of literary places from various books and rows of unicorns decorate Jansen’s office.
A Batman figurine stands on one shelf, while copies of books accompany it on the other side. Color bursts in the room in different places, showing off Jansen’s spirit.
Jansen said she strives to motivate her students, and her students at UNCA rise to that challenge.
“One of the big things I want students to take away is the ability to think critically about the world around them,” Jansen said. “To not just read books and consume them and think, ‘Well, that was nice,’ but to really think about how were the different portrayals functioning. Books don’t come out of a vacuum, they come out of our culture, and what do they reflect about our culture?”
Jansen said while on a visit to Raleigh to see relatives, a stop in Asheville with her husband turned into moving to the city almost two years later.
“I loved it. I grew up in the mountains, so there was that, but also part of it was just there’s something about Asheville that reminds me of Santa Barbara when I grew up there,” said Jansen, who was born and raised in the Santa Ynez Valley. “There was a lot of indie business., Tthere was a certain kind of outdoorsy culture that was really prevalent, and so the two cities have seemed very similar to me. In that way, it really has felt like home.”
When she saw a job opening, Jansen said she couldn’t apply fast enough.
“I’m a really strong believer in public education, and I always loved the idea of small liberal arts colleges, but I didn’t know that there were such things as public small liberal arts colleges,” said Jansen, who attended larger colleges. “So when I found that out I got really excited, because UNCA brings together two things I really believe in.”
After visiting the campus, Jansen said she began teaching in the fall of 2013.
Merritt Moseley, professor and department chair of literature and language, said it was an easy choice to pick Jansen as their next professor.
“Her teaching demonstration was excellent. That’s a tough thing to do, because you’re under a good bit of pressure and a lot of people don’t do it very well at all,” Moseley said. “Her chat, something we call a job talk, where you talk to members of the department about your scholarly activities and so on, was impressive. And basically we really liked her.”
Jansen said her mom still teases her about how much she loved school growing up.
“I was that kid who would cry when the school year ended,” Jansen said.
Jansen said her childhood was idyllic, with lots of reading, painting, ballet and outdoors activities.
“I would read with my parents. It wasn’t just picture books, but when I got old enough we would hang out in the living room or the backyard and read our books near each other,” Jansen said. “You could stop in the middle and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, this cool thing is happening.’ So it was an interesting interactive but individual thing.”
Jansen remains clearly in tune with her childhood, and she doesn’t deny it either.
“The nerdiness hasn’t gone away, but that’s fine. I’ve embraced it,” she said. “I’ve always been into sci-fi. I’m actually at the point where a lot of my work does look at fantasy and sci-fi, and I do look at comics at times. So I have started to think about the possibility of presenting at Comic-Con. I would not be opposed to presenting at a con and then cosplaying.”
While Jansen has many hobbies and interests outside of academia, she said there remains one thing that truly drives her at the end of the day.
“Super broad strokes and starry-eyed idealism, it’s helping people. Whether that’s helping people intellectually with their goals and professional ideas, or whether that’s letting students come in and lean on me for other emotional things they have going on,” Jansen said. “I like to be there for people, so that’s been a big motivator for getting into a profession like this. Sometimes it’s exhausting, but it’s always worth it.”