Ohio University

Faculty Focus – Debra Nickles

Faculty Focus – Debra Nickles

Full Name: Debra M. Parker Nickles

  • Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio

  • Title: Associate Professor of Instruction, English | Director of the OUC Writing Center

  • Department: English

  • Number of Years Teaching: 19 years

  • Number of Years at OHIO Chillicothe: 15 years

  • Degrees/University/Dates:

    • M. A., English, Concentration in Literary Criticism, Ohio University 2004

    • B. A., English, Ohio University 2002

  • Greatest Accomplishment(s): Earning two degrees in the humanities, teaching on a university level, and rearing three lovely children along the way.

Q. What led you to Ohio University and how long have you taught at the Chillicothe campus?

     "I have a long history with OHIO Chillicothe. As a non-traditional student, I came to OHIO Chillicothe hoping to earn a college degree. Having started a family, I was working in the business office of a local hospital in Greenfield, Ohio. The hospital was great, but I had always wanted to be a teacher. The English faculty at OHIO Chillicothe recognized my passion for writing and literature studies right away. They inspired me and encouraged me to pursue graduate school. That changed my life. I had a great foundation from OHIO Chillicothe and was able to grow even more at Ohio University in Athens. Soon, my family surprisingly expanded too--twin sons! I graduated with my MA and decided to teach in Athens. In 2006, OHIO Chillicothe reached out and asked me to teach for the Women Studies curriculum they were building here. I was then asked to coordinate the budding Writing Center. I was thrilled. Returning to this campus, with those same English professors as colleagues, was a dream come true. With their mentorship, my professional opportunities continued to evolve into the positions I hold today. It’s a true gift to belong to a campus where colleagues inspire me every day."

Q: What are the areas of campus and community engagement in which you are involved? How does this support or impact your teaching?

     "Directing the Fishbowl Writing Center for the past several years (ok, 14) supports the writing culture of the campus. We typically have 6-10 writing tutors holding 400+ sessions every semester. These are terrific students dedicated to helping peers become better writers and earn degrees. We get to see all sorts of writing projects and assignments coming from different classes across the curriculum. People hang out in the learning center and develop lifelong friendships too. Tutors often go on to graduate school and become leaders in their professions. Pre-COVID, the Fishbowl offered writing workshops and put together a yearly, creative publication Glass Enclosures.

     In the Chillicothe community, I’ve worked with our local chapter of AAUW, the Women’s Voting League, the Ross County library, the local Rotary chapter, the Pump House Art Gallery, and with the NAACP. Currently, on a state level, I am proud to be on the Executive Board of OCTELA (The Ohio Council of English Language Arts). In 2019-2020, I spent a great deal of time, energy, and love planning, organizing, and developing the state conference, Envisioning Our Future(s). This year, I’ve served as President. We are looking for ways to help Ohio ELA teachers negotiate the COVID pandemic, racial unrest, political upheaval, and student mental health crises. I teach many CCP students in my classes, so the need to understand current K-16 alignment is real. My association with OCTELA’s committed teachers has had a tremendous impact on my teaching.

Q: Who is your biggest role model and why? 

     "I’ve known and worked with many incredibly passionate, creative, brilliant, and kind people. I appreciate those who have a generous spirit and a willingness to share from their gifts and talents each day."

Q. What is one thing your students may not know about you that you would like to share?

     "I’m excited to be part of a spring semester cohort studying Kenya and South African. The readings, speakers, and virtual tours (COVID, sadly, prevented us from travel) are fascinating. I hope to build virtual connections with educators in those parts of the world to enrich my ethnography class. I think a lot of students are ready to discover ways of engaging with people and cultures outside of Appalachia or even the United States. So, I’m looking for new ways to do that. Another example might be simply advising a Studio Ghibli viewing club. My daughter studied Japanese and is insisting I make a study of these films. I received the box set for Christmas and would love to share that experience."

Q. What are some books you would recommend to your students? Why?

     "Read Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Her stories are deeply reflective, resilient, and incredibly moving. With Kingston, students have a chance to step out of themselves and see American life from another perspective. Her version of Fa Mu Lan in a section called “White Tigers” is gorgeous. Any Amy Tan, Octavia Butler, Tony Morrison, or Chimamanda Adichie might open up new ways of seeing and thinking as well."

Q: What is one piece of advice that you would give students?

     "Journal. Journal about your day. Journal about what classes you are taking, what ideas pop into your head, the funny things people say and do. Record the movies you watch and games you play. Journal about how you notice relationships change, come and go. And always, always, journal about the hope you have for the future, about what type of world you will help create. Keep these."

Q. When you were in college, what were your interests?  

     "Like a lot of OHIO Chillicothe students, I was a commuter mostly focused on the DARS, checking off classes. But I did enjoy taking courses in the Classics Department. I would drive three hours roundtrip, four days a week, to take Latin or read plays by Sophocles and Euripides. It wasn’t until grad school that I began to understand what campus life could be like by going to plays, concerts, art exhibits, poetry reads, café study groups, and out-of-class lectures. Students today, even on the regional campuses, have travel abroad opportunities now. I want these experiences for our regional students. I am so excited when our students share their overseas stories and pictures."

Q. How would your co-workers describe your teaching style and personality?   

     "I try to be open, welcoming, inquisitive, sincere, and encouraging."

Q. Tell us a little about your commitment to culture and diversity on the OHIO Chillicothe campus: 

     "Cultural diversity is vital. We need talented, diverse sets of people. As part of my service to campus, I’ve been committed to the Cultural Committee for several years. With a modest budget, we’ve been able to develop and host events like documentary screenings with Kamala Lopez who wrote and directed Equal Means Equal, and we spent time with Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black. We have held panel discussions titled “Sexuality in the Midwest,” Veteran Writing Workshops with the Pump House Art Gallery, film events, gallery shows, plays, an African song and dance troupe called Thiossane, multiple Kennedy Lectures, and BHM speakers. COVID and recent faculty changes in the arts have posed challenges for this committee. Still, we are hopeful about offering more vital programming in the future. Appalachia has a rich cultural history steeped in diverse artistic expression. Perhaps one of our most popular examples would be Donald R. Pollock, author of The Devil All the Time and other books. He was once an OHIO Chillicothe student and continues to live in this area. In fact, OHIO Chillicothe offers a Donald R. Pollock humanities scholarship designed for students."

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself or your work?

     "Recent national, historical events have forever shifted Higher Education paradigms in ways most can’t even begin to understand yet, but I remain optimistic. I believe that OHIO Chillicothe will discover new ways of continuing to add value to this region. Many students, families, professors, staff, and administrators depend on OHIO Chillicothe’s educational, transformative mission in this region. I look forward to the next chapter of our story."