Dr. Wilkins Faculty Spotlight Q&A
Dr. Catherine Wilkins has been teaching in the Honors College for three years and enjoys leading courses in Arts and Humanities, Capstone, and Acquisition of Knowledge. Her "signature course" is entitled Connections, a course she teaches at the Tampa Museum of Art where students learn to facilitate interactions with art for people dealing with Alzheimer's disease, depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions. Check out the question-and-answer below to learn more about Dr. Wilkins.
1) What is your educational/research background?
When I began my undergraduate studies back in 1997, I had no idea what I wanted to do in terms of a career. I took a Humanities class because it was a General Education requirement for just about any sort of degree – and it changed my life! I fell in love with the study of art and literature and music, and still haven't stopped learning and thinking about these things. I received my BA in Humanities right here at USF, then went on to grad school at Tulane University in New Orleans, where I earned a Master's degree in Art History and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. involving study in the fields of History, Art History, and Literature.
2) What is your favorite area of study/research?
My primary area of focus is 19th century to contemporary visual culture – encompassing everything from painting and photography to film and television. I'm especially interested in the ways in which people have used visual arts to reflect and shape sociopolitical issues and values.
3) How many years have you been working in the Honors College?
This is my third year teaching in the Honors College, and I'm still so excited and grateful to be back at USF. After I received my Ph.D., I taught for several years at other schools, like University of Colorado Boulder and Florida Southwestern State College. There is no place like the Honors College, though.
4) What are all of the classes you teach in the Honors College?
I teach a lot of different classes! Mostly Arts and Humanities courses, but also Capstone, and Acquisition of Knowledge. Some of the topics I've taught in the past include New Media Studies, The Romantic Spirit, and Weird Nature. My "signature course" right now is probably Connections, the course I teach at the Tampa Museum of Art, where students learn to facilitate interactions with art for people dealing with Alzheimer's disease, depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions. It's really a unique opportunity for students to conduct interdisciplinary research at the intersection of art and medicine, while also providing a great service to the community. I am consistently impressed and proud of the student work that has come out of this course.
5) What is your favorite class that you teach at the Honors College?
Well, I really love the Connections class. It has been incredibly rewarding to grow that program and work with students on meaningful research in the fields of Art Therapy and Mental Health. Having said that, the class that's nearest and dearest to my heart is probably From Middens to Mermaids: Florida, a Cultural History of Place. This class is all about using experiential learning to connect students to their local community and its colorful past. We take a lot of field trips to some of my favorite spots in the area, to explore the hidden history of Tampa Bay and reveal connections to contemporary issues from climate change to human trafficking. Although we address some pretty heavy topics from a critical perspective, we also have a lot of fun. As a native Floridian, it's my goal to help students better understand and more deeply love this complicated and beautiful state that we call home.
6) What is one lesson you want all of your students to take away from studying your
In every course I teach, my goal is to demonstrate that there are valuable lessons to be learned from the past, particularly from the cultural artifacts that previous generations have left behind. I want students to become more curious about the world in which they live and the origins of our current values, ideas, and society. Hopefully students will be able to perceive the applicability of what we're learning in my classes, and understand and build connections between class content and what happens in their lives outside of school. I think ideally an education should inspire students to care about the community that surrounds them and become responsible contributing citizens within it.
7) What do you like about being a faculty member in the Honors College?
The students are the best part. Honors students are intelligent, hard-working, creative, and deeply inspiring to me. I really appreciate the collaborations I've been able to have with students here, both in the classroom and working on thesis projects and undergraduate research.
8) What activities do you like to do for fun when you're not teaching in the Honors
I'm kind of a crazy cat lady! I have 4 cats at home, and volunteer at the Save Our Strays shelter once a week. I'm also totally a nature girl. I love being outside, kayaking, riding my bike, and hanging out at the beach. I find it so peaceful to feel my toes in the sand, go floating in the Gulf, and read goofy Florida fiction, like Tim Dorsey and Carl Hiassen, while watching the sunset. I also try to pick up trash every time I take a walk on the beach – I'm pretty passionate about environmental issues, and feel like I should do my part, no matter how small, to minimize the pollution that threatens marine life.