Dr. Dorothy Hollowell knows first-hand how powerfully transforming an education can be in one’s life. It’s also a message she feels she has a duty to share with the students who enroll in her English classes at County College of Morris (CCM).
“I like motivating them to be the best they can be,” says Hollowell. “I tell them that you have got to put your education first and that college is a beginning that can make a real difference in your life.”
Growing up in rural Alabama, Hollowell refused to accept the two options that were presented to her: continue to work on a farm or become a domestic worker.
“I grew up in a poor neighborhood riddled with crime. I could not hang out on street corners so I read. Books are what kept me alive and what motivated me to believe that I did not have to settle for the life before me,” she says.
Along with reading to increase her awareness about life, Hollowell made it a point as a high school student to align herself with others with the same determination to find something better.
“One of my friends told me about a scholarship for a summer program at Harvard University,” she recalls. “I applied and was only one of two people from my community selected for the program.”
From there, she applied for and received a Danforth Grant to spend a year at Yale. Next she received scholarships and grants to earn first her B.A. from Le Moyne College, then her M.A. from Atlanta University and finally her Ph.D. from Tufts University.
Not only is she grateful for her education, Hollowell also believes it is meant to be shared. “It’s not mine to keep. To whom much is given, much is expected,” she notes.
Along with helping her students, Hollowell, a resident of Morristown, has long been active in her community and is a 2013 recipient of the Neighborhood House’s Community Service Award.
One of her first community service projects nearly three decades ago was the establishment of the Homework Center at the Neighborhood House. Also at the Neighborhood House, she led the establishment of the first Books and Games Center for youth.
"If we do not invest our time and energy into our communities, they will not be the neighborhoods we want them to be,” she says.
Hollowell joined the CCM faculty in 1988 and has been voted Educator of the Year several times by the Educational Opportunity Fund at CCM and was named the “Above and Beyond” Teacher of the Year several times by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. For her, teaching is a special joy.
“I like the energy I get from my students and the diversity of their ideas and opinions,” says Hollowell. “Every semester, sometimes every class period, they are coming up with something different and a new way of looking at things.”
“One of the most rewarding moments in my career occurred when I was teaching Writing Skills,” recalls Hollowell. “A student came to my class who couldn’t hear or talk, and had visual problems. I was given the task of getting him to the point where he could write an essay. I accomplished that task in one semester and I realized if I could do that, I could teach anyone.”
That was more than two decades ago, but Hollowell still finds that every class reveals some new insight. “Most of the stories and poems my classes read offer a slice of life that can be used philosophically to understand themselves and others in life. Literature helps us explore why we do the things that we do,” she says.
“Once I was talking about an essay related to gays in my class and one student confessed he was gay,” she says. “He came to me after class and thanked me. This was the first class where he had the courage to make this type of comment without fear or ridicule. My class supported him and took a respectful approach.”
Another semester, she remembers having a student whose mother had died. “He wanted to drop everything, leave school and not continue. I took him aside, several times, and encouraged him to continue in honor of the sacrifices his mother had made.” He did, and eventually graduated.
“I love teaching and I love my students,” Hollowell says. “I want them to succeed and achieve their highest potential.”