Centers of Distinction

Ella Kirk, Professor of French

There are a lot of stories French Professor Ella Kirk can tell about being “First at Hiram.”

Her job has provided her first opportunity to lead a study abroad trip, her first opportunity to connect with students and her first opportunity to start her own business.

“For me, being first means that you’re really an individual at Hiram,” Professor Kirk said. “You get to pick what you would like to do, and if you see the dream, if you see it in the future, there is not much standing in your way to go ahead and try to get it.”

Such was the case when she began to envision a bakery on campus. As a French professor, she thought it would be a unique and interdisciplinary way to connect French literature and language to every day campus life. And she had always dreamed of running her own bakery.

Professor Kirk started by pitching her idea at one of the Center for Integrated Entrepreneurship’s annual idea competitions. She didn’t win, but the Center provided her start-up funds, and she began developing the bakery in the form of a First Year Colloquium class, “The Art of Making Dough.”

Now, for the second year in a row, freshmen in her class have bonded over the opportunity to learn how to make bread and then sell their product to the campus community.

“In this particular course, it’s the first opportunity many of them have had where they get to drive the agenda,” she said. “They get to decide what’s important and how to make it happen. That part is missing in a lot of our education, but at Hiram, they get to do it at the very beginning.”

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The phrase “First at Hiram” also reminds Professor Kirk of the opportunities Hiram College affords first-generation college students. A first generation student herself, she said she has cherished the opportunity to connect with them and share their experiences, because she was once in their shoes.

“I think (first generation students) thrive because they find people like me and others, and a lot of people on the faculty, who understand the ethos or the background that they’re coming from,” she said. “(We) see these students not as destined for certain places, but changing social classes, changing education levels, changing professions, and we want to help them make that crossover.”

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