Ulli K. Ryder is a faculty member in the history department at Simmons College, as well as visiting scholar in ethnic studies, Brown University. She has a Ph.D. in American Studies & Ethnicity, as well as masters degrees in Professional Writing and American Studies & Ethnicity, from the University of Southern California. She also has a Master of Afro-American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Bachelor of Arts in English & African American Studies from Simmons College.
Why did you choose this career path?
I always loved the educational experience and am now able to pass on my love of education to students. Being able to help students learn about the world – and find ways to engage in it meaningfully – is very fulfilling. The best by-product of this is that while learning about the world, students learn about themselves. And I also continue to learn and grow.
How has having advanced degrees helped you personally and professionally?
My degrees have allowed me to take advantage of opportunities that would not otherwise be available. Of course, teaching is at the top of the list but I have also been able to write and publish, serve as an advisor to young people and work in university administration because of my educational background. On a personal level, I experienced a great sense of accomplishment by fulfilling my educational goals and now have knowledge and skills that I can use in all aspects of my life.
What do you enjoy the most about your career?
Watching students grow into confident, engaged, educated adults. I am particularly proud to say that I have been able to maintain relationships with many former students and love hearing updates of all they are doing with their lives.
What is the greatest challenge?
Because I teach “hot-button” topics (race, gender, sexual orientation), the biggest challenge I face is with students who are resistant to the ideas presented in class. Finding ways to reach these students in a non-judgmental way is crucial.
What careers do people who major in your field pursue?
Most people with degrees in American Studies go into education. Often they become professors but many also go into administration. Some also work in non-educational settings. For example, there are opportunities to work with the government or non-profit agencies.
What are the personality traits of people who thrive in those careers?
Enthusiasm for the subject matter is key. A desire to understand our world and how to make it better, more equitable, more just is also essential. One also should have effective communication strategies, creativity and patience.
What classes should students looking to major in American Studies take in high school?
History courses: both U.S. and world history, any courses that focus on gender or different racial/ethnic groups, English, social studies or civics, foreign languages. And also math, science, art and music. American Studies is interdisciplinary so there are many opportunities to bring a variety of perspectives into your research.
What was your favorite part of your college experience?
My favorite undergraduate professor at Simmons College remains someone very important to me today – all these years later. His name is Dr. Mark Solomon and, although he has now retired, he remains a great source of support and advice. I remember taking every course he offered while I was a student – his enthusiasm coupled with his enormous breadth of knowledge was (and is) a model for how to be an inspiring educator.