By the end of every semester, all of Dr. Timothy K. Nixon’s students know his favorite drink of choice is a chilled can of Diet Dr. Pepper. He brings one to almost every class.
Nixon grew up in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He was raised in sunglass weather and underneath shady palm trees, postcard scenery that could make anyone jealous during a bad work week.
“It’s not a big place,” Nixon said, “but it has the most beautiful beaches in the world, as a matter of fact.”
The movies “Jaws II” and “The Truman Show” were even filmed there, Nixon recalled. This tourist destination was not all that it seemed, though.
Nixon said, “I grew up in a very conservative, small-minded community. It made me who I am but as a negative example. I didn’t want to be like that, so I hurried from there as soon as I could.”
Nixon attributes many of his experiences to his time spent in Germany. He lived there on two separate occasions. The first time was with a host family, which enabled him to learn the language and speak it well. The second trip to Germany was on a Fulbright scholarship.
During his Fulbright, Nixon taught 12 hours a week in a German academic high school called a gymnasium, in which most of the students attending are being prepped for a university.
Nixon said, “I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t had those experiences. I can’t say enough to encourage others to study and live abroad.”
Nixon has not always been an English professor. Nixon is an example that not all teachers always choose their profession from the beginning. In fact, Nixon spent almost 12 years of his life in corporate America before returning to academia.
From 1990 to 2001, Nixon worked in positions such as policy writer, demographics manager, analyst and product manager. The majority of his corporate experience was spent at the company Bell Atlantic, where he dedicated eight years to the business ladder.
Nixon said, “It took me 11 and a half years to figure out that corporate life wasn’t for me. I made a lot of money but could never get excited about the work I was doing.”
This combination of personal experiences encouraged him to return to academia. He received his doctorate from George Washington University and now currently teaches various English and literature courses at Shepherd University.
As an English professor, Nixon also believes that his personal experience impacts the way he reads.
Nixon said, “I remember being assigned ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as a sophomore in college, and I hated it. I just didn’t have enough life experience; I was too naive to appreciate it. Then, about 15 years later, I picked it up again and absolutely loved it. I remember that and often think we’re asking undergraduates to read material they’re not really ready for.”
Through Nixon’s teaching and his own experiences, he shapes the way that students learn. When students take a class with him, they work with the corporate Nixon but learn from the academic, a man who chose happiness and excitement as part of his career.
In addition to teaching, Nixon has been compiling, translating and editing material for a book of writings by a German-American author named Klaus Mann. Nixon is trying to find a publisher for the project.
Since Nixon was raised in a small town that two motion pictures were filmed in, it brings up the question of technology and its relation to the evolution of literature. To say that quality literature is no longer valued or as important as it was in the past would be a questionable statement for an English professor, but Nixon had a different answer in mind.
“How we define literature might change,” said Nixon. “A lot of people are speculating that films are the new novels, and I see some truth to that. But humans will always tell stories, speculate about ‘what if,’ create alternate realities and so forth.”
When it comes to life after teaching, Nixon cannot imagine what else he would really do.
He said, “I used to think I would enjoy being the owner of a bed and breakfast in Maine because you’re dealing with people in the summer and then you have all winter to read books, so who knows.”
Regardless of whether it is in the classroom, in Germany, on the beaches of coastal Florida or watching boats docking in a Maine harbor from a bed and breakfast, one thing will be certain: Nixon will be doing what he loves with his favorite drink in hand.