Faculty of year: Virginia Zimmerman, Professor of English

Faculty of year: Virginia Zimmerman, Professor of English

Katilin Bonacci, Editor-In-Chief

This year has been unlike any other, and while professors everywhere had to adapt to online learning, Professor of English Virginia Zimmerman stood out to University students. Zimmerman came to the University 19 years ago after earning an undergraduate degree from Carlton College and a PhD from University of Virginia. Since then, not only has Zimmerman taught classes for the English department, but she also served as chair on the committee for Admissions and Financial Aid and is a member of the Arts & Sciences Curriculum Committee. 

Zimmerman admires the diverse range of opinions her students bring to her classes. “One of the classes I teach every year is young adult fiction. Everyone has a slightly different perspective and we are meeting at the site of this literature, and it is exciting to see what people have to contribute,” she said.

Zimmerman had always been an avid reader and an ardent actor and director, though she didn’t always know she wanted to be a professor. She went to a career center meeting and when posed with the question of graduate school she was told, “You really should not go to graduate school if you cannot imagine yourself doing anything besides sitting around talking about books.” 

From that point, Zimmerman decided that she really could not imagine herself doing anything else. Zimmerman sees teaching as a combination of her two passions: “Teaching really is not much different from those two things, so I realized that teaching was a way to continue with that creative performance that felt like the right choice.”

It is not easy to stay connected with students on campus during a pandemic with virtual meetings, cameras staying off and masks covering faces. “There’s that extra spark that happens in the classroom when everyone can see each other, and even when we are in a classroom but masked and distanced it’s hard to cultivate that spark,” Zimmerman said. However, Zimmerman still managed to engage through a hybrid class schedule, where small groups of students would meet to discuss the weekly text in person. “The ways I have been doing that for 20 years do not work so in a way it’s been a unique opportunity to reimagine my pedagogy in a time when I wasn’t expecting to have to do that,” Zimmerman said. 

Despite the challenges of virtual learning, students still felt engaged in Professor Zimmerman’s class. “She is super engaging and understanding, and I always look forward to her class. She has so much knowledge to share and teaches in a fun and compelling way that makes me look forward to our newest book and discussion each week” shared Hailey Robinson ’22

Her best piece of advice for students is “to just read anything you can get your hands on. You are never done becoming who you are going to be and everything you read helps you on that journey.” Zimmerman recommends her favorite book “Middlemarch” by George Eliot. Zimmerman also encourages students to take classes outside of their comfort zone because “it is so valuable to hear from students of different backgrounds.”

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