Before They Were Educators: Dr. Marianne Hollis

Born and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Dr. Marianne Hollis, associate professor and masters of health sciences program director, has always had southern roots. Hollis explained how her great grandmother was five years old when Sherman marched through Atlanta and burned it down. She still has family living there today. After she grew up and graduated from high school, she went to the University of Tennessee.

Hollis said, “My bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee was actually in anthropology. My whole path throughout life was not linear, which has been fun, and I have certainly enjoyed that. I really support non-linear paths. In anthropology, I went on digs to Mexico and Yugoslavia and learned to focus on listening and asking good questions. You can learn a lot by listening.”

Hollis did not stay in anthropology long. At the same time that she was earning her bachelor’s degree, she decided she needed more economic security.

Her decision, she explained, was to go to nursing school.

“I went to nursing school, and then I went back and earned my bachelor’s degree in anthropology,” said Hollis. “I was in my early 20s. It’s interesting, though, because I was a little older than most of them in my class. My anthropology background was a big help when I was in nursing school. One of the first things they teach you in nursing school is therapeutic communications. I was able to get patients to talk about their fears and their problems. The experience in anthropology really helped me. Each step in life has provided me with help in the next stage.”

After nursing school, Hollis went to work in a coronary care unit and in cardiac rehab. Hollis described these jobs as being a lot of fun and the first time she ever got into teaching.

“I was teaching mini-classes in cardiac rehab. It was about communication and people’s lifestyles, and I figured out I really enjoyed working with adults. In many ways they taught me as much as I ever taught them. I always say that teaching is learning twice. You learn from doing it, and you should always learn from the people you work with. That was my first exposure to teaching, and I really enjoyed it. Then, I later got a job as a nursing instructor at the same nursing school I graduated from, which was extremely interesting. As a nursing instructor, that’s where I started getting into the research aspect of things. I really liked to go to the library and go through all the journals; it was just fun. To me, research is a puzzle, a wonderful puzzle.”

Always driven to succeed and do more, Hollis decided it was time to get her master’s degree. She finally realized what she loved doing most in life, and that was the pleasure of teaching.  

 “I went and decided to get my master’s degree in Education from the University of Tennessee. I had a minor focus in public health. At the same time, I switched jobs in Knoxville and became a clinical specialist in an open-heart unit. I was teaching again there and sort of extending my cardiac rehab experience. After that, somebody talked me into becoming a manager of a Neurology unit. That was a very valuable experience. I really learned about health care and how everything ran and went together.”

Three years later, Hollis went to work at St. Joseph’s in Asheville. Still driven to do more, Hollis decided it was time to think about whether or not she was going to pursue her doctorate.

“After I earned by master’s, I gave myself five years,” she said. “I said after five years I’m either going to go back and get my doctorate, or I won’t. I said, ‘Either I want do it and nothing will stop me, or I’ll choose a different path.’ So, that’s what I did. I went to the University of South Carolina in Columbia and got my Ph.D. in health promotion, behavior and education. While I was doing that, I met a couple of professors from Western Carolina University. As luck would have it, one of those professors was the program director for this program here at Western. As a result, I did a little adjunct teaching for Western in 1999. I loved it! I was hooked. I liked the population, and I liked the program.”

Hollis did not stay in the area long, however, because soon after she ended up moving to Michigan. For the next five years, Hollis held various teaching jobs at different places until one day a job announcement landed in front of her and brought her back home.

Hollis explained, “In 2005, I saw a job announcement for a full-time position here at Western in the School of Health Sciences. I was very fortunate to get that position. I still go to back to Michigan when I need time off or to get away, but I love this program here. If anyone was to ask me what my dream job was, this is it. I love it. I made it. I have traveled a lot of different paths to get here, and I can’t think of a job that I like more.”

Hollis plans on staying at Western Carolina University as she said she has found her home among us. She loves the school and the students and cannot think of anywhere else she would rather be.