Associate Dean, Executive Director of Friday Institute Hiller Spires: ‘Make Sure You Leave a Place Better Than You Found It.’ I Hope I’ve Been Able to Do That in the College of Education.
Hiller Spires, Ph.D., an associate dean and executive director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, will retire June 1, 2022, after 35 years at NC State’s College of Education and 43 years in the field of education. In this Q&A, Spires talks about how she ended up at the College of Education, what she’ll miss most about it and how she hopes she is remembered.
Why did you choose education?
I’m a first-generation college student. Growing up, I didn’t have a vision of what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. Like so many of us in education, it was one of my teachers who inspired me to go into education. My 12th grade English teacher, Ms. Inabinet, was smart, loved literature and writing and challenged me every day in class. I loved her and I wanted to be like her. So I chose to be a teacher.
How did you end up at NC State’s College of Education?
I was completing my dissertation at the University of South Carolina, and there was an ad for a position in the College of Education at NC State. They wanted to hire someone who had experience working with undergraduate students who needed support in academic reading and writing, and who could also help grow their graduate program in literacy. That was my expertise, so I applied.
How did you come to focus on digital and disciplinary literacies with diverse learners?
I was fascinated by society’s transition from the print age to the digital age and how that impacts teaching and learning in schools. So, I began obtaining grants and conducting research in new literacies, in digital literacies. These areas at the time were undertheorized, so it was very exciting to test out new ideas and pedagogical approaches.
How has the College of Education changed since you first joined it?
When I first joined the college, we didn’t have a lot of exciting programs and opportunities for students to be involved with the way we do now. Also, there’s much more collaboration among faculty members within and across departments, as well as with external partners now than we had when I first joined the college.
When you think back on your time at the College of Education, what are you the most proud of?
I’m so proud of all of the programs in our College of Education. We have an amazing college. And I’m grateful that I was able to lead the development of the New Literacies and Global Learning program along with my fellow faculty members. We were a little bit ahead of our time, but the program set our college apart from others who were following a more traditional path at that time. I also led the development of the literacy cohort, which has produced the most master’s-level students in literacy in North Carolina annually for the past decade. Our literacy faculty are amazing and are at the forefront of the literacy profession today.
What other highlights stand out from your time with the College of Education?
One of the exciting opportunities that I’ve had in my career is to work with educators in China. I became fascinated with the people, the culture, the language. And I’ve been able to travel to China 17 times, which has just been absolutely amazing for me. It’s so rewarding to develop these relationships that I have both at Beijing Royal School and also in a school that I was able to help design and create, Suzhou North America High School. We’ve been able to do cross-cultural exchanges, taking students and teachers from North Carolina to China. Teachers and students from China have been able to come and visit us here in North Carolina as well. It’s been extremely rewarding.
What will you miss the most about the College of Education?
What I’ll miss most about the college and NC State is the people. I’m a people person. So hands down, the people.
What do you hope students have learned from you?
I hope my students have learned from me that if you can imagine it, you can do it. Spend time imagining what can be, and then set your mind, heart and hands to the task. And most importantly, inspire others to come along with you.
What do you hope others would say about your time at the College of Education?
One of my she-roes is Marian Wright Edelman. I’ve heard her say often, “Make sure you leave a place better than you found it.” I hope I’ve been able to do that in the College of Education.
What’s next for you?
I’ve had an amazing career at North Carolina State University for the past 35 years. It’s been so much fun, challenging and rewarding. Now, I’m looking forward to my next chapter. I’ll continue my professional work through research and writing. I’m also going to create a nonprofit organization where I’ll be working with and collaborating with underserved communities to make children’s books available to inspire a love of reading. I’m extremely excited about the future.