“I believe that some of the most beneficial educational experiences occur outside of the classroom, and when I learned about Guttman’s focus on experiential learning and the support given to those experiences through Community Days, Global Guttman, or other activities, I knew it was a place I wanted to be a part of.”Dr. James Mellis, an assistant professor of English at Stella and Charles Guttman Community College identified Guttman’s innovative model and focus on experiential learning to be distinguishing and especially attractive features of the college.
“I believe that some of the most beneficial educational experiences occur outside of the classroom, and when I learned about Guttman’s focus on experiential learning and the support given to those experiences through Community Days, Global Guttman, or other activities, I knew it was a place I wanted to be a part of.” Professor Mellis joined Guttman in 2017. The newness of the college—Guttman opened in 2011—allowed Professor Mellis to have an opportunity to help build the institution. “And once I started, and met some of our extraordinary students, I was hooked.”At Guttman, Professor Mellis’ scholarship primarily focuses on African American literature and culture.
“Lately, I’ve been interested in African-based belief systems (Vodou, hoodoo, and conjure) as they’re rendered and addressed in African American and Caribbean literature.” In 2019, he published Voodoo, Hoodoo, and Conjure in African-American Literature, a collection of original essays on the topic. More recently, Professor Mellis finished an article on Zora Neale Hurston’s engagement with the figure of Moses in her work, and he is writing a monograph about the history of African-based belief systems in American literature. Professor Mellis notes that his teaching style has evolved significantly since he started at Guttman. “Increasingly, I realize that some students need support beyond the traditional instructor/student dynamic. As such, particularly since the pandemic, I try to focus on the whole student, their individual learning styles, their interests outside of the classroom, and, when possible, tailor assignments to those interests.”
Professor Mellis also tries to give students more individual attention as they are writing essays. He credits the diversity of Guttman’s student population for his pedagogical flexibility. Composition 1, Composition 2, and Special Topics in Literature are courses that Professor Mellis teaches at Guttman. In the Spring 2023 semester, his composition course’s theme will be Food and Identity. “As part of that experience, I’m planning on a class trip to a food-production center, either in the city or elsewhere,” says Professor Mellis, who is experienced in planning extracurricular trips. “I’ve been fortunate to lead a few initiatives that have allowed students to branch out and engage with other spaces and activities. Some that stand out to me are leading a Global Guttman trip to New Orleans, where students explored the unique culture of the city and helped with post-Katrina recovery efforts, taking a literature class that focused on the Harlem Renaissance to a performance honoring poet Gwendolyn Brooks at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, and partnering with the Stavros Niarchos branch of the New York Public Library as part of National Poetry Month.”
For National Poetry Month, Professor Mellis coordinated an event where Guttman students performed original work for both the Guttman community and the general public at the library. “All of these were very memorable experiences.” The trait that Professor Mellis would most like to pass on to his students is curiosity. “Despite having so much information at our fingertips, getting out into the world, meeting people, traveling, and exploring new places, whether through physical travel, reading, or some other means, is truly an exciting and fascinating lifelong adventure,” says Professor Mellis. “There is so much to know, and I hope our students never stop wanting to learn and know more.”