Patricia Hamlen was 31 when she left her lab research job to take classes at Harper College.
It was a life decision that eventually led to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology from Northern Illinois University, archaeological research in the southwest, research expeditions across the globe and, this summer, a Fulbright grant that sent her to Brazil for four weeks.
I love her story for a reason you might not expect: I love it because it’s not really unique.
Hamlen is like so many other students who come to Harper – at a variety of ages and stages of life – to do something new, to follow a passion, or to make a dream a reality.
In her case, her dream would grow to influence Harper students for years afterward.
Hamlen so loved what the College offered that she returned … this time as an instructor.
She’s now an associate professor of anthropology who uses all her experiences, including the research she conducted in Brazil this July, to bring her classroom lectures to life.
“Experiences like I’ve had can be life-changing, for me and for my students,” Hamlen says. “It makes a huge difference when I can say, ‘I’ve been there, and I’ve seen this firsthand.’ ”
Hamlen, one of 15 educators accepted into this summer’s Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program in Brazil, spent her time there touring the country’s universities, talking with educators and students, participating in cultural events and dialoguing with local residents.
She’s now armed with first-person accounts of the cultural, economic and social aspects of Brazilian life – material she’ll relay to the Harper students who take her anthropology classes.
“I originally knew so little about Brazil, but the trip’s focus on global community, creativity and collaboration tied directly into topics we always cover in class,” Hamlen says.
She hopes her personal stories about Brazil – a country that possesses both superstitious tendencies adapted from the indigenous Amazonians and superficial interests borne from the creation of mega-cities – will help her students better relate to the concepts she teaches in class.
“It’s so important for our students at Harper to explore how they fit into the world, and to know how they may need to evolve,” she says. “Being exposed to different cultures breeds tolerance and appreciation, and there are many things we can learn from Brazil as a country.”
Hamlen, who began teaching fulltime at Harper in 2001, has published numerous articles on anthropological issues and accompanied Harper students on excursions to Peru and beyond.
She is Harper’s second Fulbright recipient in as many years; International Student Coordinator Jill Izumikawa received a Fulbright grant to spend two weeks in Korea in 2010.