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Honors professor reflects on first year at Westminster

Alicia Cunningham-Bryant with her dog Joey in her office in Gore 115 on Nov. 6. Cunningham-Bryant, an Honors professor and is the director of Fellowship Advising, began teaching at Westminster College last year and was the unanimous first choice out of 281 applicants for her faculty position. (Photo by Maddie Cushing)

One blistering hot day in July of 2017, Alicia Cunningham-Bryant sat down in her empty office at Westminster College to help a student apply for a fellowship.

Cunningham-Bryant, an Honors professor and director of Fellowship Advising, was on site at Westminster two weeks before the date she had planned on starting, all because she had heard a student needed some advice. This, however, is not an uncommon occurrence for her.

“[Cunningham-Bryant] works tirelessly to do outreach on campus, and help students [whenever she can],” said Richard Badenhausen, dean of the Honors College.

Cunningham-Bryant was the unanimous first choice out of 281 applicants for her faculty position and she created the Office of Fellowship Advising for Westminster.

Cunningham-Bryant has degrees in history and archeology and a PhD in eastern languages and civilizations. She has also done archaeological field work in Egypt and Jordan.

Since her arrival at Westminster, Cunningham-Bryant has become a well-loved teaching partner for her welcome to thinking seminar teammates.

Teaching with Dr. Cunningham-Bryant reminds me of a favorite Nietzsche saying: ‘Nothing succeeds without high spirits.’” said Nick More, one of Cunningham-Bryant’s peers and one of her team-teaching partners.

Cunningham-Bryant has also become a favorite advisor for many of her students

“Alicia’s deep understanding of ancient cultures and languages makes it easy and interesting to understand and learn from her,” said William Harvey, a student of Cunningham-Bryant’s.

The Forum sat down with Cunningham-Bryant to talk about her first year at Westminster. Her responses have been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Q: What has it been like for you living in Utah for the past year? What has been the most different from the other places you’ve lived?

A: There have been two big differences about Utah. When I interviewed here, it was in February, and a storm had just broken up the inversion, […] people kept telling me how unusual [the lack of inversion] was for that time of year. And then last winter, the inversion was so bad it was like Victorian London. I couldn’t believe it.

The other thing is something I love. I always describe Utah to my friends and family back home as Patagonia Disneyland. Everybody is super outdoorsy, and there’s lots of commitment to go be outside, and I’ve always been someone who loves being outside, so that’s been really cool.

Q: What has it been like teaching at such a small college as Westminster? Is there a cultural difference from the other places you’ve studied or taught at?

A: The opportunity to explore and create new and exciting programs has been something I’ve really liked. The ability to make mistakes has also been really fun, everyone is very open-minded, and cool with it when things don’t work out. You don’t get that freedom at larger schools.

The other thing that I love about small, liberalized colleges is how relational they are. I know most everyone on the faculty and I know a much higher percentage of the students, more than just ‘oh I’ve seen that person’ but I know who they are, what they’re interested in, I can have a conversation with them. I really like that personalized relationship.

Q: Was it scary being the new teacher on campus?

A: Yes, it’s always scary to do new stuff and to move from far away. I think one of the things that’s nice about Westminster is that there’s a ‘new faculty learning group,’ and all the first-year teachers are kind of going through it together, so you don’t feel so totally alone.

But everyone at the college was so nice and so helpful, and [were] such good sports. We were always encouraged to come and ask questions, or vent if we needed to. […] I’ve always felt comfortable here.

Q: Was there a moment that you knew you were supposed to be a member of the community here at Westminster?

A: On the second night of my job interview, which are about two [day] long for faculty positions, I had just gotten back from a dinner with people from the Honors College, and I was sitting in my hotel room thinking ‘these are the coolest people I’ve ever met, they all genuinely want to work together, and no one is superficial.’ […] I texted a friend of mine and said, ‘This is the coolest place ever. They’re never going to hire me.’

Q: Do you have a favorite class that you teach here at Westminster?

A: Welcome to Thinking II. I’m looking forward to [the sections of that class] that I’m teaching this spring. By that second half of the course, […] people have also found more of their footing and comfort with the discussions, and I enjoy the collaboration that results from that.

Q: What is one of or the most memorable anecdote you have from a class you’ve taught at Westminster?

A: It was this semester. I was teaching Marcel Mouse, who studies the guilt factor in gift exchange, and I brought candy bars to class to explore that and my Welcome to Thinking 201-03 class freaked out about it.

[Then] I brought candy on Halloween, and one of the students was like ‘This is not that thing again, right? Are we going to owe you? What is this?’ and I was like ‘No man, it’s Halloween.’ That was pretty funny to me because I think I scared them [about gifts] for life. One day of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and I’ve broken my students.

Q: What is your favorite part of being a professor at Westminster?

A: The students. I think the most fun thing about being a professor is seeing the students get excited for themselves about the material, and their future, and what they want to do with that future, and seeing them change that a million times, which we all should do.

Q: Just for fun, what is your go to food or drink to order on campus?

A: I love bacon cheeseburgers. I can’t eat them very often, because I’m in my mid-thirties and my metabolism is like that of a snail, but I love bacon cheeseburgers and french fries. You can tell I’m having a week if I’m in Shaw having a bacon cheeseburger. I will be blissed out on all of the meats.

*Maddie Cushing is a member of the Honors College and takes Welcome to Thinking 201 from Cunningham-Bryant.

*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the two-day interview period for Cunningham-Bryant’s faculty position was two weeks.

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Maddie Cushing is a first-year at Westminster College, majoring in communication with an emphasis on journalism. Ever since Maddie can remember, she has been in love with the beauty of the written word in all its forms and is now very haphazardly following her dream to be a part of that world. In her very small amount of free time, Maddie enjoys taking her two dogs to the park, singing at the top of her lungs and escaping town for little adventures with her boyfriend whenever she can.

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