English Professor Gayla Mills
8/12/13-story by Kaitlyn Sewell '15Writing, music, and teaching are keeping Randolph-Macon College English Professor Gayla Mills busy and out of the heat this summer. Mills is working at the Podium Foundation, an organization that advocates for improving the teaching and learning of writing skills and artful expression in Richmond’s public schools. Her third year teaching there, she enjoys a diverse group of teachers with different levels of experience in the school system. “I am trying to provide them with new inspiration and fresh ideas,” Mills shares. “It’s rewarding to me.”
Education and TeachingMills earned her B.A. in philosophy and her M.A. in medieval history at the University of Virginia, and her M.A. in writing and rhetoric at Virginia Commonwealth University. She joined the R-MC faculty in 2006 and serves as the director of the Writing Center. She also serves as the faculty advisor for The Yellow Jacket newspaper.
Mills' courses include English 185, Advanced Composition, Feature Writing—which is cross-listed with Journalism—and Peer Tutoring and Writing, a required course for newly-hired tutors in the Writing Center.
“The students here are thoughtful, respectful, generous, and good-humored,” Mills says.
Many of the writing tutors learn by doing, she says. Among them is Mario Jackson ’15, who says Mills showed him that he has a “gift” for writing.
“As a writing tutor, it is so rewarding to have students come back to testify about their good grades due to a tutoring session,” says Jackson. “Professor Mills encouraged me to become a better writer myself, which paid off in my other classes.” Jackson, a music major and education minor, began tutoring in 2012. “I began to notice a change for the better in my papers and it's all because Professor Mills allowed me the opportunity to work as a Writing Center tutor. She saw something in me that I did not see in myself.”
Elanya Chin ’13, a philosophy and international studies major with Spanish and ethics minors, was also a Writing Center tutor.
“Professor Mills has the uncanny ability to combine so many variables in a way that makes the Writing Center a wonderfully challenging and comforting place to be,” says Chin, who will begin teaching English as a Second Language in Spain this September. “Some of the biggest decisions I faced during college were not made until consulting her first. More than a boss, she was a mentor, and I’m not sure if she is aware how truly influential she is in the lives of students.” Krista Speicher '09, a graduate student in her second year in the Literature program at James Madison University, considers Mills a mentor and a friend. “It is unique and wonderful to have a professor who, four years after graduation, is still willing to chat with me for hours about career goals and academic pursuits," Speicher say. "She goes above and beyond to mentor and build relationships with her students.”
International ExperiencesMills is a traveler at heart. She spent a semester in India, taught English in Japan, and has visited Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, much of Europe, and the Philippines.
“While traveling, I was able to see first-hand what I’d already suspected—that people aren’t made happy by their material circumstances, but by how they perceive their work, relationships, and the world around them,” she says.
Outside the ClassroomMills has written numerous articles, essays, and reviews for both obscure and popular publications. “I usually begin writing when something keeps intruding on my thoughts,” she says. She keeps several of these works on her website, and specializes in creative nonfiction. Mills’ creativity isn’t restricted to written words. She and her husband Gene, a philosophy professor at VCU, enjoy playing, recording, and performing his original acoustic Americana songs—modern folk with hints of bluegrass and country. They have played around Central Virginia and surrounding areas.
AdviceMills hopes that others will “enjoy life, and make the most of it.” Her book Finite, a collection of essays, conveys a message that nothing lasts forever. “That is what makes life more precious,” she says.