One Minute with Thia Eller, Professor of Art

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What is your background in the subject you teach?

I earned my Master of Fine Arts in medical and biological illustration at the University of Michigan in 1991. After graduating, I worked on a surgical atlas for orthopedic surgery for Dr. Tachdjian, the chair of orthopedic surgery at Northwestern University. At that same time, I started teaching as an adjunct professor at Olivet.

What do you like about teaching at Olivet? What do you like about teaching?

I enjoy teaching at Olivet because of the beautiful art facility and small class sizes. It gives me the opportunity to get to know our students very well. The art building helps foster a family atmosphere since most of the students who use the space are art majors. On the other hand, I love that two of my courses, drawing skills lab and ceramics, are offered as a creative experience through the liberal arts core, which allows me to develop relationships with students from the entire student population.

Teaching art is especially rewarding when I see students exceed their own expectations as they learn drawing techniques or develop skills in ceramics. I am often amazed at the creativity of so many of our students. They challenge me to constantly improvise and improve my teaching skills as I tailor my teaching to individual needs.

What’s cool about the major or career path your classes are a part of? Why should students consider your field of interest as a career path?

Biological illustration offers students with interests in both science and art to combine them into one major. The program prepares students for graduate study in medical and biological illustration, where they will be required to take several medical school courses. These usually include gross anatomy, pathology and cell biology. Having a solid science background is essential for success.

Medical illustrators can work in a wide variety of settings, including media departments of medical schools, law firms specializing in malpractice, and medical publishing houses, to name a few.

What do you think all students should learn before graduating? What words of wisdom do you have to share?

I always encourage students to take as many writing classes (or classes that require a lot of writing) as they can fit in their schedules. Good oral and written communication skills take time to develop and are essential to the foundation of a good education. Often, students avoid these classes if they feel they need to improve in this area, but there is no profession that does not require competence in writing. The first impression you will make when applying for a job or graduate school will be a cover letter. Make sure that you are a confident communicator.

Also, get out of your comfort zone whenever possible. Sign up for one of the travel trips or service trips. You grow so much as a person when you stretch beyond your usual safe space.

What is an interesting or little-known fact about yourself?

I listen to Harry Potter audiobooks in German when I walk my dog in the mornings. Right now, I am listening to “Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Askaban.” [“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban.”] It’s good for the brain.


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