by Katie Delaney '12
Meeting Dr. Sam Houser ‘89, Chief of Staff and Secretary to the College, I am immediately struck by the approachable, down to earth, and energetic spirit that shines from behind his fashionable, quirky, almost half-moon glasses. When I sat down with him to hear about his experience at F&M as student and staff, I quickly understood his attraction to the college; he embodies the very caring, attentive, and upbeat energy that he appreciates so much about the faculty at F&M, something he notes has remained consistent throughout his time at the college.
Dr. Houser attended F&M from 1985-1989, majoring in Latin. As a student, he enjoyed singing in the college chorus, working in the press box of the Green Room Theater, and, of course, tutoring at F&M’s Writing Center. He looks back especially fondly on his junior year, during which he studied abroad at University of College London (UCL). Dr. Houser explains that living in an entirely foreign city, being exposed to a completely different education system, and studying with peers who had specialized in their classics’ educations since the age of 15 was a life-changing experience that provided confidence and independence, and pushed him academically more than ever before. It was also this experience at UCL that gave him an appreciation for the American education system and the individualized attention that the environment of a small, liberal-arts college, like F&M, offers.
Returning to F&M as a senior, Dr. Houser spent his first full year of tutoring at the Writing Center. Under the direction of Phyllis Whitesell, he had the opportunity to feel the shift towards the more process-driven, collaborative-style tutoring that we at the Center embrace today. As he discovered his passion for helping others through tutoring, Dr. Houser also enjoyed some of his fondest F&M memories with fellow tutors. Apparently, the Center led the campus not only in compositional support, but also in tom-foolery, as Dr. Houser remembers with a grin: “We were very bad.” Pressed to explain further, Dr. Houser recalls prank phone calls and the practical joker’s ultimate tool: keys to the faculty offices. As he describes one night in particular, when he and the other tutors on shift took all the furniture out of one office and piled it in the hallway, I understand why we don’t have that perk today! But the close-knit camaraderie that Dr. Houser remembers still carries through to today’s staff, despite the lack of pranks.
After graduation, Dr. Houser went on to earn his Ph.D. from Brown in classical philology (Greek and Latin languages and literature), where he gained experience teaching both private middle school and at the college level as a TA. With his doctorate, he returned to F&M for what he thought would be a one-year sabbatical replacement, which turned into an eight-year teaching career in the Classics department. As a professor, Dr. Houser loved the interaction with his students, but he found less joy in research than he originally imagined he would. When a position as Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations became available, he interviewed and was hired. This marked a welcome transition to administration, which Dr. Houser has enjoyed for the last eight years.
In terms of the future, Dr. Houser has given some thought to being a college president himself, but only if he is “the right person, at the right time, for the right place.” Relating to current F&M students thinking about what to do with their own futures, Dr. Houser recommends being honest with oneself, approaching life after college with an open mind, and welcoming change as a good thing. After all, despite his admitted habit of planning, he has happily accepted that “none of my plans have ever worked out exactly anyway.” We’re happy, with him, that whatever his plans were, he’s here now!