Professor Spotlight: Meet Nicolette Nicola

Spreading a Love of Language to Students at the University

Nicolette Nicola, adjunct professor of English, grew up in the south hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania amongst her “warm loving, big hugging, and very loud Italian family.” Today she has two kids of her own, Ian, who is eleven and Elena, who is nine.

When she isn’t teaching English, she enjoys jogging and journaling ideas for future poems and play topics.

Nicola began teaching English Composition at the University in the Fall of 2011. She had been teaching literature classes and tutoring for six years at Brookdale Community College when a colleague recommended that she start teaching at the University to receive more of “an overall college teaching experience.”

Nicola still tutors at Brookdale’s Writing Center and spends some afternoons teaching there as well.

Nicola received her undergraduate degree in English with a minor in French at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

When learning a language, she believes immersion is the best route. “I recommend studying abroad if you are given the chance,” she said. “I went to Paris and I was able to pick up the language quickly.”

Nicola also suggests watching foreign video tapes, listening to foreign music, and most importantly, reading foreign literature.

While receiving her undergraduate, Nicola had the opportunity to participate in work study with incarcerated youth. “I taught at a Youth Development Center for my whole undergraduate experience,” she said. “My English professor freshman year announced the opportunity to all his students and told us that there would be a bus that would periodically take us.”

Nicola taught the incarcerated youth how to read and write. “Some of them never even had the opportunity to read or write. These students ate up the tutoring sessions and were so eager to learn,” she said. “I felt like I wanted to continue to do that line of work and perhaps even work in the prison system,” Nicola said.

In addition to her work study, Nicola had an internship with the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. “I worked in marketing and wrote press releases. I reviewed children books for the museum too,” she explained.

After graduating from Westminster College, Nicola became an editor for the oldest literary magazine in the United States, Poet Lore. “We had the old printing press system. We hand-printed everything,” she said.

Nicola went onto Bennington College in Vermont to receive her Master’s degree in writing. While at Bennington, Nicola also wrote plays as an intern for an off-Broadway theater company called About Face Theater.

Despite her love of the language, Nicola wasn’t always certain that she wanted to be an English major. “When I was in high school I wanted to become a landscape architect so I thought I wanted to major in graphic design. However, the professors in the English department at Westminster inspired me,” she said.

Nicola continued, “They each had their own individual skills. They were writers and travelers. They had published material, poetry and short stories. They were willing to sit and work on your writings.”

Something Nicola strives for is good relationships with her students. “I do not want students dreading class,” she said. “I want to inspire students and I want them to think about things differently. I want them to think about the world differently.”

Nicola recalls reading and writing all the time when she was younger. “There was a tiny library in my town and I explored everything in it. It was nothing fancy, just a municipal building,” she said.

Nicola’s family support motivated her to continue in her desired career path. “If I wanted to study poetry, my family supported it,” she said. “My dad was a big believer in doing what you loved. He told me to go out there and explore every opportunity,” said Nicola.

For English majors at the University, Nicola believes, “You can do anything, from publication work to playwriting.” She said editing and tutoring are two great paths to take.

Nicola believes it isn’t about what other people think. “People may say ‘Oh you are an English major, what are you going to do with that?’ You may very well go onto law school after,” she said.

“I tell my kids, ‘Fall seven times, stand up eight.’ It’s about being present and strong when life throws you down.” Nicola’s final advice to her students is this, “Don’t sell yourself short with your English major. You are more versatile than you think.”