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Get to Know HFC: Ruth Ann Schmitt believes knowledge is not just learned but created

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A headshot of Ruth Ann Schmitt.

HFC English professor Ruth Ann Schmitt loves the short story. That love led to her becoming an English professor as a natural progression.

“I’ve been in love with the short story forever,” said Schmitt. “I’ve always been interested in how short stories and poems were created. I pored over the structure of Anton Chekhov, Raymond Carver, Alice Walker, and Grace Paley in college. I read Amy Hempel’s ‘In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried’ thousands of times.”

A love of the written word

An only child, Schmitt was born in Steubenville, OH and raised in New Cumberland, WV, where she graduated from Oak Glen High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV. She earned her master’s degree in English from Ohio University in Athens, OH.

One of her students while teaching at OU was fellow English professor and director of the Henry Ford II Honors Program Dr. Adam Hazlett.

“She was my freshman composition teacher,” recalled Hazlett. “It was her first semester teaching and my first semester as a college student."

Her path continued to cross with those of other future HFC faculty members, including geology professor Dr. Brian Kirchner and hospitality instructor Sharon Horvath. Kirchner took Schmitt’s creative writing class at HFC in 2016.

“I absolutely loved it,” recalled Kirchner. “It gave me the inspiration to help me finish my first novel (unpublished), write an award-winning poem in late 2016, and write a short book for 8-14-year-olds that won a national writing award in 2017. If it weren’t for Ruth Ann, I wouldn’t have accomplished any of those things. She was a fun and inspiring teacher who really opened my eyes to the possibilities of fiction and poetry.”

He continued: “What I remember most about her class was how obvious it was that she loved the written word and understood its power to move hearts and minds. In particular, she showed the class a video of a poet doing a reading, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I remember his delivery was like a righteous machine-gun, if you can imagine that. The reading was like a punch between the eyes – in the best possible way – in terms of how it awakened me to how powerful poetry can be. I’ll always be grateful to Ruth Ann for exposing me to that reading, and for everything else she taught me.”

“The best thing I could do with my talents”

After graduating from OU, Schmitt went on to earn her MFA in fiction and short story-writing from Texas State University in San Marcos, TX. Her mentors at TSU include author Tim O’Brien, a winner of the National Book Award and an endowed chair of the MFA program; and Dr. Debra Monroe, a winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, a novelist, short story writer, poet, and essayist who earned the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2012.

These teaching styles were very influential on Schmitt as she worked on her own classroom pedagogy.

“In my grad program at Texas State, I developed into a teacher. I felt one of the best things I could do was help students become more articulate and expressive. I thought it was a good goal, a noble goal – the best I could do with my talents,” she said with a laugh.

Schmitt has been a professor for 25 years. Of those 25 years, she has spent 17 at HFC. Prior to coming to HFC, she taught at OU and TSU, as well as OU-Chillcothe and St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, TX.

Schmitt took the job at HFC, immediately recognizing that the College had strong teacher support through its faculty governance and union. HFC also offered the opportunity to engage with a multi-talented, diverse range of students.

“Teaching at a community college appeals to my interest in civic and social responsibility,” she explained.

Her colleagues also recognize her passion for student success.

“Ruth Ann is a teacher who really pours herself into helping her students develop their writing skills,” said fellow English professor Dr. John Rietz. “Our conversations often turn to troubleshooting assignments or one-on-one interactions with students. She can really get absorbed in refining her teaching practices.”

Offering a creative challenge

HFC Hospitality instructor and alumna Sharon Horvath took Schmitt's College Writing and Research class. She confessed she wasn't looking forward to taking this class because English wasn't her best subject. Schmitt assuaged her fears.

"Being an older student, every day was a challenge," said Horvath. "I will tell you she was a great teacher. The first day she was so easy to talk to. She had a gift for communication. I remember that she sat on top of the desk in the first row, and I thought that was great. I wished I was young like her. She made it easier for the class to communicate with her. Our class requirement was a research paper on Vietnam. First, I had to ‘research’ how to do a research paper. After that, I realized how much I enjoy doing research. I did research for the thesis in my master’s degree. Now, I am an instructor at HFC, and Ruth Ann is one of the best instructors. In the end, English became one of my favorite classes."

This semester, Schmitt is teaching three English classes:

  • Accelerated Learning Program – Reading and Writing
  • Introduction to College Writing
  • Creative Writing

Her favorite class to teach is Creative Writing.

“Our student body brings a wealth of life experience to class,” she said. “When writing creatively, they’re engaged and interested. This vast life experience makes our students’ submissions competitive with writing at a 4-year college or university.”

For Schmitt, the best part of her job is being in the classroom and interacting with students. She has chosen to teach in-person this semester.

“I think part of the learning process happens in the moment, in the interactions between students and teachers,” she said. “In writing, knowledge is not just learned but created. It’s the best thing that happens in the classroom.”