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Apache for life: English professor recalls her start as a TJC student

Tyler Junior College English Professor Brittni Tracy has a unique connection to her students because her own college journey began at TJC.

“TJC was the first place that I really felt encouraged and known after moving from Southern California to Lindale, Texas, my senior year of high school,” she said. “It became home. I have immense pride in being an Apache, and there’s no place I’d rather be.”

During her time as a student, Tracy was in the TJC Presidential Honors program and served as an Apache Chief student leader.

It’s also where she discovered her passion for language and literature.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do, which made TJC a great place for me,” she said. “I was a general studies major, and it was actually through the advice of an advisor here who noticed I was taking a lot of English courses and said, ‘Have you thought about pursuing a degree in English?’”

Tracy took that advice and, after graduating from TJC in 2010, went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from The University of Texas at Tyler. She had plans for law school until fate intervened.

“During my last semester of grad school at UT Tyler, I had the opportunity to do graduate teaching for English Composition I and II,” she said. “It just clicked, and I said, ‘OK, this is it.’”

After graduating with her Master of Arts degree in Spring 2014, Tracy returned to the TJC campus that fall as a member of the English faculty.

“I love it here,” she said, “and now I’m able to give back in ways that helped me as a student. My involvement in the TJC Employee Campaign has been one of those ‘full circle’ moments for me. As a student, I benefitted from so many of the programs that are supported through the campaign; and being able to contribute to student success through my participation in the Employee Campaign Task Force has been one of the highlights of my faculty career.”

Tracy also gained notice for her success in the classroom and was named a 2020-21 award recipient in TJC’s Endowed Chair for Teaching Excellence program, which enables professors to nominate and reward their peers who distinguish themselves as educators.

“My department chair, (and now dean) Dr. Jim Richey, nominated me; so just that alone, being nominated and considered by your department chair to be a nominee, is an honor in itself,” she said.

“The nomination process is intense. You have to gather a lot of materials and provide a lot of information such as students’ evaluations of your teaching. There are a lot of questions you respond to that all surround this idea of teaching excellence, professional development and how you respond to student success and engagement.”

The nomination packet also requires five letters of recommendation — from the dean, department chair and three others.

“It was a lot of work, but it was fun to do it because it made me really look at all these things and follow the history from my beginning here until now: What have students been saying about my teaching, and what are my colleagues saying in their letters of recommendation? So, even though this process was extensive, it was fun and enlightening to see the progress of the years of teaching.”

After the materials are gathered, they’re turned in to be reviewed by a committee.

“And then you wait,” she said. “And because of delays due to COVID, recipients weren’t announced until last fall — which was nine months after I turned in my nomination packet last January.”

Award recipients are customarily surprised with the news during class time.

“One day, you’re in class and going about your business, and then in pops (Provost) Dr. (Deana) Sheppard, Dr. Richey and (Department Chair) Alyssa Haynes with balloons and flowers and all the fun things!” she said. “The students were so excited, and it’s great that they were part of the energy of that moment. It was special for all of us to be able to share that.”

Shared experiences and relationships are also a hallmark of successful teaching, she said.

“You can have all the technology, programs and innovative teaching strategies in the world, but nothing has a greater impact on student success and engagement than empathy and compassion,” she said. “I’ve found that building relationships with my students and connecting with them is the most powerful teaching tool I can employ.”

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