Students moving into West Campus housing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have much more than apartments waiting for them. They have Liz Hathaway, and she has big plans.
Hathaway—a UC Foundation assistant professor of kinesiology who joined UTC in 2016, a winner of the Student Government Association’s Most Outstanding Professor Award and active scholar granted tenure as of Aug. 1—assumes the West Campus faculty in residence post as the fall semester begins. She’ll spend her days in class and her nights at home inside a West Campus apartment, just like her students.
Hearing her talk enthusiastically about this new role, two things are clear: She’s committed to seeing students find their passion and make the most of their opportunities.
“I’m big on taglines, so for West Campus, ours is going to be ‘Optimizing opportunities,’” Hathaway said. “I’m also big on nicknames, so for West Campus, ours is going to be the ‘Westies’ and, hopefully, that will come to be known along with the culture we will develop this year.
“For me, it’s also about getting to know and learn about the students as individuals, and that’s why I think I am probably shockingly excited about Operation Move In because it’s so many students and a really important opportunity for us as faculty to learn from them, as well.”
Motivated in part by achieving her goal of tenure and asking herself, “What’s next?” Hathaway said she was drawn to the West Campus post because “I specifically wanted a predominantly freshman dorm.
“I didn’t want to get complacent as a tenured professor, so I thought, ‘What am I passionate about?’ and it’s mentoring the next generation. I’m very thankful that UTC provides opportunities like this—not all universities do—and they understand the importance of it.
“With freshmen, you have emerging adults stepping away from mom and dad, or whoever it was that raised them, trying to become fully adult. They want adult freedom, but they are still learning that with freedom comes responsibility, and we are here to help students navigate this change.”
Hathaway plans to bring a lot of what she learned from her own freshman year challenges to West Campus. She grew up in Statesboro, Georgia, a town of about 30,000, where her father was a math professor at Georgia Southern University. When the time came for her to go to college, Hathaway was off to Athens and the University of Georgia, where enrollment exceeded the population of her hometown.
“I really struggled my first year because I came from a very small community where everybody knows you and you know everybody. Then I find myself in this college campus environment of 30,000 people I didn’t know, and I was like, ‘Where are my people? Where is my place?’ That’s why I’m so passionate about freshmen. I know about the homesickness that can set in, and the being overwhelmed and not putting yourself out there to make that friend group,” she said.
When she returned to Athens as a sophomore, Hathaway worked as a student manager with the UGA women’s basketball team. At 6 feet, 1 inch tall, she’d played her share of basketball, but in this role, she handled support tasks in addition to suiting up as a practice player. When practices started at 6 a.m., she had to be at the gym by 5:30 a.m.
“All of a sudden, I had a community, a built-in family and responsibility, and it was a game changer for me. I was forced to be efficient and manage my time well,” Hathaway said. “I also got my nose busted twice in practice, and Coach (Andy) Landers actually yelled at me once for getting blood on the court. I went to my 8 a.m. micro econ class with an ice pack on my face. It was fabulous. It made me who I am today: ‘Suck it up, buttercup.’”
After earning two bachelor’s degrees—one in economics and one in sports studies—Hathaway earned a master’s in public health from Georgia Southern. While a graduate student working as a high school basketball coach, Hathaway discovered her love of mentoring. She pursued another master’s degree—in kinesiology—at Georgia College in Milledgeville and was a graduate assistant for the women’s basketball coach. That experience showed her how much she loved building relationships with students—but not the travel that is a fact of coaching life.
Upon graduating a second time from UGA—with a doctorate in kinesiology—Hathaway saw her “dream job” in a faculty opening at UTC. That was in 2016, and she’s been in Chattanooga ever since.
“I know what it’s like to be a student. I was a college student for 12 years, and while I don’t advise that,” she said with a laugh, “I’ve had a lot of experience being a student that I hope can help first-year students through their transition process.
“I’ve been very blessed to have had a lot of great mentors in my life and I would not be where I am without them, but the rule with me was always, ‘It will not stop with you. You will mentor others,’ so that’s my rule, too. It’s about continuing the legacy. It’s a failure if it ends with you.”
What will define success for Hathaway’s faculty in residence approach?
“When they are comfortable asking me questions,” she said. “I want them to feel comfortable asking me questions, sensitive questions, and to realize they can come to me with any question—as opposed to only talking to another 18-year-old.”
Hathaway also is conscious of the impact COVID-19 has had on the lives of this year’s first-year class.
“These freshmen were high school 10th-graders when COVID started,” she said. “Because of that, they missed some important opportunities to learn the soft skills that are going to be needed when they enter the workforce, such as being able to engage in small talk and converse with people they don’t already know.
“I’m hoping our students will be open to ‘walk and talks,’ where we say, ‘Hey, let’s just go for a 30-minute walk and pair up with someone you don’t already know.’ I learned from a mentor that since you don’t have to look someone in the face to walk with them, it’s more comfortable to do with someone you don’t know.”
Hathaway’s goals include “a Westies section” of students who go together to campus athletic events: “It’s free, and we have the best possible location for walking to volleyball and basketball and, in that way, to create a culture of even if your roommate isn’t going, come and go along with us.”
Movie nights: “Strategically picking the movie, and then dialogue afterward. That’s one of the points of college—to learn to think, to dialogue with others and, if we have differing views, that doesn’t me we go our separate ways, it means maybe we can have a discussion.”
Coffee chats: “I want to teach them to wake up before 11 a.m.”
“At the end of the semester, I want these students to feel like they’ve built a family and to understand that life will bring all kinds of situations—the workplace, for one—where they don’t get to pick who’s around them, so it’s important that they learn to adapt,” Hathaway said. “To situations, to people, to personalities. To show respect for others.”
Taking out her mobile phone, she points to a photo of herself and her toddler niece—in matching outfits.
“This is the reminder of everything in life, for me: There’s always someone watching the example you set,” Hathaway said. “Are you showing respect for every person? Are you speaking to everybody? I want students to realize people are always watching and that our actions really matter.”
* * * * *
Current UTC Faculty in Residence: Six
Resident assistants / Resident advisors: ~25
Operation Move In: Aug. 17-20