Ward, former Hopkins student and current professor, talks film

Meredith Ward can be recognized around campus by her flawless style and enthusiasm for film. Ward, a lecturer in the Film & Media Studies Department, did not simply give a one-movie answer when asked what her favorite movie was. She explained that she changes the movie depending on the audience she is speaking to, altering it so she can have the most enjoyable conversation. Following that comment, she listed not just one film, but five that she loved, unable to narrow down the list.

Ward is the type of professor that knows everyone’s name by the second day of class and says hello on campus even years after having taught you. Throughout her interview with The News-Letter, she used the phrase “that’s a good question” abundantly and spoke as if to an old friend. She truly makes an active effort to get to know and mentor her students.

She is originally from the small town of Columbia, Md., which is not too far from Hopkins, and lies between Baltimore and D.C. It was a planned community, one of the few in the country. Ward explained that there was nothing nefarious about it, but rather that Columbia was based on the idea of creating neighborhoods of mixed socioeconomic classes, mixed races and mixed faiths.

“I went to church at an interfaith center and the street I grew up on was completely racially mixed and somewhat class mixed,” Ward said.

Ward has been a professor for the past five years, but before that, attended Hopkins herself. She graduated in 2003 with a double major in Writing Seminars and Film & Media Studies. She was very involved in both the writing and film culture at Hopkins. She especially enjoyed when the two blended together. Ward cites Witness Theatre as one of her favorite experiences as a student. She worked with the theatre for all four years of her undergraduate degree and even had four of her own one act plays performed.

“To have someone else take on your words and interpret them and make them their own and to actually see your work staged is such a valuable experience,” Ward said.

She then attended graduate school at Northwestern University. She studied in the Radio, Television and Film Department at the School of Communication. Northwestern’s size meant that it provided a very different experience than Hopkins.

“It was very lively and vibrant. It was really fun to interact with all the other students because there were so many of them, who had such diverse interests,” Ward said.

She also got her first taste of teaching while attending Northwestern. Her advisor, for whom she would TA every year, went to Venice (which, Ward admits, was an “awesome gig, obviously”), leaving her to teach his class.

“My first experiences with teaching were not little seminar classes. They were 150 person lectures,” Ward said.

She found herself having to learn how to keep a large group of people entertained and enthusiastic as she covered the material. Her lectures here at Hopkins, which are much smaller (the maximum would be around 50), are no problem at all after her experiences at Northwestern.

Ward returned to Hopkins as a professor in the Film & Media Studies program. She loves Hopkins and is invested in the Film program, as it was her alma mater. She commented that taking the job did not require a lot of thought.

Upon returning to campus as a professor, Ward noticed many changes had occurred at Hopkins, the most obvious of those being an entirely new quad. But subtler changes had occurred too.

“One thing I’m heartened by is that student life seems stronger at Hopkins than it did when I graduated … I feel like it’s a livelier campus than it was,” Ward said.

She has tried to help cultivate activities outside of class by being the faculty advisor to the Film Society. With each passing year, she finds herself having to teach less and less to the students involved, which she explains is how it’s supposed to work. She has taught students how to budget a film festival, how to write a grant to get the money for the festival, how to project 35mm (which is a dying art according to Ward) and how to program a film series. Basically, she has taught the students all the skills they would need to run an effective, small-scale cinema. She wants to give the student population something to be excited about on campus. The Film Society screens films regularly and holds FilmFest, a highly attended event, every spring.

Her five years back at Hopkins have held different experiences from when she was a student. She teaches both seminar and lecture classes and appreciates the different challenges they present.

“I think it’s fun as a teacher to teach in really different ways. When I have a seminar, it’s like a conversation with my students. For the big classes, I like having to put on a show,” she said, “It’s a challenge. You get an immediate response as to whether it’s working or not because you can read it on their faces. They’re both different challenges but they’re both really healthy challenges for teachers, I think.”

Based on her passion for teaching, it’s surprising that Ward didn’t always know she wanted to be a teacher. In her first two years of college, she planned on going into screenwriting but found herself gravitating towards the history and theory of film. With that, she made the choice to go to graduate school and get her PhD, a pretty big decision to be making during her third year of college. But she’s glad she did because it has led her to where she is today.

“I have the luxury of really genuinely enjoying and loving what I do and thinking it’s interesting every day,” Ward said. “Even if you think what you’re doing is really important, not everybody gets to find their job as interesting as I find my job. It’s what I would be doing even if it weren’t my job but it’s nice that I get paid for it.”

When asked what was her favorite class to teach, Ward had a difficult time narrowing it down to just one.

“You can teach the same class different semesters and it’s a different class because the group of kids makes an enormous difference,” Ward said.

She could honestly say that she had never disliked any of the classes she’s taught during her time at Hopkins. She cited one particular class she has been teaching this semester called “Love and Film”. The class looks at the philosophy of love and films that illustrate it. It spans a timeframe reaching back to Plato and the Symposium. Ward explained that her class eventually realized they had created a symposium of their own in a sense, minus the wine that played a role in Ancient Greece.

Ward wants her students to really question the material she teaches. She is not so concerned with them agreeing with her all of the time, but wants to ensure they master the ability to think.

“I’m interested in them really engaging in a process of thought and I want them to interrogate their ideas. I want them to carry away the questions,” Ward said, “I think education is a life-long process.”

Professors like Ward only come along once in a while. When a teacher so obviously cares about her students doing well and learning as much as they can, it shows. Her favorite part about being a professor at Hopkins illustrates this. She explained that about two years ago, students started coming to her office hours for more than just discussions on grades and papers, but to discuss ideas.

“It indicates that people are really learning. They’re taking things on for themselves and thinking about things themselves,” Ward said, “I feel really honored that students would include me in that conversation.”

Ward’s investment in her students’ success is evident even through her paper prompts. In one particularly lengthy email she explained, “Why send out such a long paper prompt with so many details? I want to make expectations clear. This is a clear way to do that. It’s designed to help you by outlining exactly what is expected. This gives you the best chance of getting an ‘A.’ The real answer? I love to see you do well. Go make me proud.”

 

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