Melanie Hood-Wilson ’93, MSEd ’94

Melanie Hood-Wilson ’93, MSEd ’94Every month, we ask a member of the alumni community five questions about their time at Sarah Lawrence and beyond. Melanie Hood-Wilson ’93, MSEd ’94 is a program director for the Community College of Baltimore County, designing and managing continuing education programming for adults with disabilities.

Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence?
Funny story. I'd attended Baltimore School for the Arts for high school, majoring in acting. I was bound and determined to attend a conservatory for college. I wanted no part of a liberal arts education. After taking the PSAT, I started to receive literature from lots of colleges. Some were conservatories, some were Ivy League, but one caught my attention with its study abroad program in which I could live in London learning theater. I was intrigued, but not quite interested in applying.

During the fall of my senior year, sitting in a history class, I had an epiphany: I actually love history. I love literature. If I never took another math class, it would be too soon, but I wanted to continue to learn things other than acting. I looked into this little college with the study abroad program that kept sending me mailings. I found out that I could study all the things I was most interested in and passionate about without the limitations that a major places on a student. I learned that I would have a faculty member to mentor me through my four years of learning and I could be a member of a progressive, intelligent, creative community. I learned that I would have the opportunity to use my creative side in my exploration of academic topics. And when my city-girl self visited the campus and saw the sprawling lawns and Tudor architecture, I was HOOKED!

I ended up being the first Baltimore School for the Arts alum to attend Sarah Lawrence. I'm proud of that distinction. My own daughter, herself a BSA alum, has just applied to Sarah Lawrence. Those two schools create a great pathway for those of us who choose it.

Did you have a favorite class?
The classes that I enjoyed most were the ones that helped to shape me as an adult and that helped to shape my world view. I thoroughly enjoyed Carl Barenboim's developmental psychology class. It was studying with Carl and interning at the Children's Learning Center that I realized that I wanted to spend my life teaching. I took two of Priscilla Murolo's labor history courses. Reading American history through the lens of the labor movement and viewing women's history through the lens of working women didn't only teach me new concepts, it helped me to better articulate and to explore and to challenge those things that I already believed.

How did activism shape your time at Sarah Lawrence?
Outside of my involvement in the Anti-Apartheid organization, I have to say that I was not much of an activist during my college years. Activism came later for me. What Sarah Lawrence did do for me as an activist was to provide me with a fuller and better informed understanding of what the challenges are that we face in becoming the nation we need to be. My courses helped me to better understand the specifics of how those challenges impact me as an African American woman as well as the ways in which they impact my community. It was at age 27, when I brought a new life into this world, that I became determined to do something about the state of things and all of those Sarah Lawrence teachings kicked in. (Priscilla Murolo, Komozi Woodard, etc.) In experiencing the world more fully and living in it as an adult, now responsible for new generation of Black women (including the ones I taught each day and the ones I'd given birth to), all I'd learned ignited a fire in me. I went into full activist mode and have remained there for the last 20 years.

How did your time at Sarah Lawrence shape your career?
How has it NOT?! I began my career as a middle grades teacher in Baltimore City. In education circles, this is generally considered the act of an insane person. I, however, loved it. I'd spent two years studying elementary education and earning my Master's Degree in Sarah Lawrence's Art of Teaching program where I learned that teaching is a creative endeavor and that learning is created in partnership with a student. Basically, I learned to teach the way I was taught during my four years as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence. Respecting that all students have their own interests, their own approaches to their own learning, and their own priorities as learners, even as eleven year olds, and that my job was to partner with them in their learning and to respect who they were as learners made me good teacher. Having spent four years developing independent projects in academic courses in which I had virtually no limitations on how I expressed my learning prepared me to be an excellent and daring writer of lessons and, later curriculum. Students expressing their learning via tests and essays bored me silly. My students painted, sewed, presented, wrote and performed skits, even cooked to demonstrate concepts that we learned in class. That's all Sarah Lawrence.

After six years of public school teaching, I went on to run a program of my own. As the director of the Single Step Program, a program teaching academic skills, general studies, and providing career certification training programs for adults with learning differences and disabilities, I've had the opportunity to, again, integrate my creative side with my academic side in growing my program from eight students on one campus when I came here in 2001 to more than 400 students across central Maryland today. The process of developing projects with community partners, the writing skills necessary to market my program effectively, the public speaking that I do on a regular basis, the discipline and creativity that I have to employ in developing new programs, new courses, and curricula, these are all skills I developed in the classrooms of Sarah Lawrence. The ability to lead and collaborate with my very talented team has roots in the seminar system.

What are you most looking forward to at Reunion 2018?
I wish I'd been less shy, more confident, and more outspoken back in undergrad. I'm looking forward to fully participating in rigorous discussions and seminars at Reunion in ways that I wish I had back in 1993. I am also looking forward to trading stories and memories over cocktails while also learning what life after Sarah Lawrence has taught my classmates. I'm looking forward to finding out who they are today.