Professor Laura Kelly: ‘The classroom is where I feel I am at my best’
This is the second time that Laura Kelly, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication and currently chair of the department, teaches at AUBG. Why did she come back? Because, Professor Kelly said, she “missed teaching desperately.” A skillful tutor, an experienced journalist and a beloved professor, AUBG missed her too.
Tell us a little bit about yourself before joining AUBG. Where did you grow up and where have you studied and worked?
I grew up in Florida. I’m the oldest of five children and I grew up near the water and on the water. There are only six years between my youngest sibling and me, so we were a tribe. I was very active and outgoing. I went to undergraduate school at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida and it was there that I studied Journalism. In my last year of university, I had an internship at a newspaper, the Tampa Times, and I spent my last semester at that internship. At the end of it, the newspaper offered me a full-time job, so I began as a daily newspaper reporter and I did that job for about seven years.
In the course of being a daily newspaper reporter, I covered police and courts and the school board, and just about everything, so I got a lot of experience. I’ve also worked as a magazine editor, as a live radio talk show host, I was a director of Public Relations for a museum, I was the executive director of a symphony orchestra for five years. I was the executive director of an art high school in Arizona, and I have worked as a journalism professor on and off, sometimes half-time, sometimes full-time for the last, wow, almost 30 years. So, I’ve always been making some kind of combination of making journalism and teaching journalism except for a ten-year span when I worked at arts management. But now I’ve returned here, I’ve returned to teaching journalism. I’m very glad I’ve done that.
How did you first become interested in journalism?
I’ve always liked to write. I won a poetry contest when I was in fourth grade, which made me very popular. I used to write long letters to my grandmother and tell her stories, and she would write back and tell me her stories. When I was a senior in high school, my mom and I went to the drive-in movies and we saw “All the President’s Men,“ and it was then that my mother actually planted the seed as to how I could, maybe, work with language, work with people, and make stories. And journalism is just the ideal combination of that. I really liked the idea of public service and the time spent being able to develop my curiosity, the ability to research, the way that journalism asks that I pay attention. I notice, I reflect, I think. There’s the interactive time of dealing with people, and there’s a solitary ruminative time of actually sitting down to write a story.
What is your favorite teaching topic and why?
I like everything I’m teaching. I like to work with emerging writers, with beginning writers, to help them find ways to see their work and make their work reflect what they really want to say. Also, digital storytelling, all forms of storytelling. Mostly, what I like is working with students who are making things because I want to look at what they’ve made and talk to them about what they’ve made and offer them ways of seeing what they’ve made. To, maybe, rearrange it so that it says more clearly, specifically, vividly, what they have intended for it to say.
Why did you choose to teach at AUBG?
You know, this is the second time I have taught at AUBG. I came here and I taught from 2002 to 2004. I had been living in the region. In 1997, I had a Fulbright to Albania and then I went to Slovakia and started a journalism program at a small university there called Academia Istropolitana Nova. I was doing workshops in the region, and working with journalists in Kosovo, and a lot of work in Armenia, work in Georgia. I consulted about the development of a journalism school in Georgia, and a journalism program in Moldova. I came to Bulgaria for two years, and I had to leave because I had a family tragedy that took me back to the States. That took a long time to resolve. I had to stay in the States, turning my life in another direction. And then, four years ago, my life had another kind of opening for me to think about how I wanted to spend this next chapter. What I know is that I had left teaching and that I missed it desperately, and that I wanted to return to the classroom because I feel that’s where I am at my best. So I was accepted to come here for a year as a Balkan Scholar. And when I came back I thought “I want to stay”. There was an opening, I applied and here I am, one happy woman.
What’s your favorite thing about teaching?
My favorite thing is watching someone’s delight, watching students get excited by what they make. And being a kind of guide, maybe an inspiration, if I’m lucky, a mentor. To give them a piece of my experience and encourage them to bloom, you know, to risk and to bloom. That’s my favorite thing.
That alchemy, that delicious alchemy of learning.
What’s the thing you find challenging?
I wish I could have individual conversations with every single student about every single assignment. So, I find it a challenge to give as much of myself as I can without giving so much that I burn out or wither away.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I do yoga, I swim, I hike. I like art, so I’m always at exhibitions, I really like traveling as well. Because I’ve lived over here now for about 10-12 years, I have very good friends in Brussels, in Slovakia, in Hungary, in the Czech Republic, in France and the UK, so I like to go and see my beloveds in those places as much as I can. And I like wandering the city. I live in Sofia and Blagoevgrad, and there’s so much in Sofia that’s happening. I’m going to a photography openings, I’m going to an international film, I’m meeting a group of friends for a walk, all of it.
How do you enjoy your life in Blago and Bulgaria?
I enjoy it very much. It suits me here. It’s good to be back. You know, I returned, and there’s something about returning. I made a choice to come back and to stay because I’m alive here. I am awake. And so are the students. And we give each other what we can. That is just thrilling for me, and it fills me with purpose and satisfaction.