Ruth Baldwin joined the Middlesex faculty in 2013 after completing her Ph.D. in English literature at the University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley, Ruth also designed and taught undergraduate English courses, served as a teaching assistant, and mentored both undergraduate English majors and new graduate student instructors. Her talent in the classroom was recognized by the university with an Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award and an Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award. Ruth earned her B.A. in English and religion at Amherst College, graduating magna cum laude and with departmental distinction in English.
Where did you grow up? In what way(s) did your hometown or your growing up experience shape your future path as an educator?
I grew up in Bryan-College Station, Texas. My parents are both professors of biochemistry and taught for many years at Texas A&M, so I really grew up among educators—when I was home sick or if I had a day off of school and my parents couldn’t get a sitter, I’d spend the day in the lab “helping” graduate students (which usually meant refilling pipette boxes for 25 cents per box…) or I’d sit in the back of my parents’ lecture hall and read novels while hearing them lecture about the Krebs Cycle. The reason I majored in English, though, rather than in science, is really the result of the school I attended from grade school through 11th grade. The public schools in my home town weren’t all that great, so I went to a tiny independent school that mainly catered to A&M faculty kids. It emphasized the humanities, especially literature and foreign languages. They started kids with French in 1st grade, and then all students added Latin in 5th grade—we then took two languages, a modern language and an ancient language, through 12th grade. I learned to see patterns in language and to see a kind of beauty and elegance in those patterns.
You taught at the college level before coming to Middlesex. Why do you like teaching teenagers?
Teenagers are still figuring themselves out. I like to see students reinvent themselves continually as they reimagine the person that they want to become. It’s not that college students have completely figured out their identities, but the development is less apparent to college teachers, who generally don’t see as much of their students outside of the lecture hall.
What is your favorite literary genre and why?
The novel, hands down. More specifically, the realist novel, particularly of the early- to mid-19th century. The novel is such a capacious, messy, flexible, adaptable genre; it can interpolate other forms so easily, and can integrate the voices of its characters to create visions of the world that are unexpected and beautiful.
In addition to your work in the classroom, you also advise the student newspaper, coach volleyball, and serve on a variety of student life committees. What do you enjoy about these aspects of your work?
I like to get to know students outside of the classroom. The students I know the best in my classes are generally the ones that I’ve had in the dorm or have coached or have worked with on the newspaper or in another capacity. It’s a lot easier to understand and to help the whole student when I know about the students’ whole lives—their co-curricular commitments, their study habits in the dorm, their sleep habits (or their lack of sleep, too often), their musical tastes, their social dramas, etc. It’s hard to assess a student’s performance and to figure out how to help when I don’t know his or her whole story.
You have three kids -- a 5-year old and twin 3-year-olds -- and a dog. How would you describe life in the Baldwin/McDowell household?
Barely contained chaos. I’m learning to just go with it.
Ruth Baldwin, English