A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Hothem Came for the Job, Stayed for the Love of Collaborations

May 4, 2015

Tom HothemFanatical bicyclist, writer, lecturer and academic coordinator Tom Hothem is probably a familiar face around campus. After all, he has been here since UC Merced opened.

Hothem started at UC Merced as a lecturer among the first groups of faculty members to help start the university. He’s now an academic coordinator who assists with the day-to-day operations of the Karen Merritt Writing Program, which his wife, Anne Zanzucchi, co-directs. They have one son, Sam.

He said he joined the campus because he was excited about the prospect of sustainable employment, but fell in love with the collaborations he has with colleagues and students.

Between juggling all his different duties, life might seem like a circus at work. But home might feel more like a zoo, with two cats, Flo and Fran, a dog named Lily and about 30 koi.

Please describe what your job entails.

I coordinate writing program faculty members and senate faculty members from across the schools in delivering general education curricula. I co-coordinate and lecture in Core 1 — which is UC Merced's signature lower-division general education course, a vibrant panoply of disciplines and topics among which students work to make connections — and provide supplemental instruction for the course.

This includes organizing the university's annual Common Read, which is a big part of the Core 1 curriculum. I also oversee and occasionally teach upper-division science writing courses like Environmental Writing and Writing for Engineering, which means I work regularly with science faculty members on such curricular initiatives as those revolving around the concept of sustainability.

To that end, I serve actively on the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Sustainability, and I sit on the advisory board of the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve. I'm also working with the School of Engineering to help develop its Service Learning initiatives, particularly as it regards writing about sustainable design.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job?

Working with my colleagues and students is pure joy. Our collaborations have yielded so many good ideas and innovative curricular initiatives. The Core 1 course, for instance, represents a synthesis of fascinating ideas, subjects, readings, assignments and pedagogical approaches, all of which have derived from colleagues' and students' input. Without that rich, regular interaction and feedback, my head would be in the clouds — or, perhaps more accurately, in the sand.

What are some of the challenges you face in your role?

During accreditation discussions a few years back, a colleague was asked by a visiting team about what UC Merced lacked. His answer was that there's a severe shortage of apathy here. He's still right. I knew it'd be hard work founding a university, and it never ceases to be. Hence, although my circumstances and mindset are nothing like Hamlet's, I'm fond of describing work at UC Merced in terms of an inverted (if not bastardized) line from his "to be or not to be" soliloquy: To wit, my UC Merced motto has really always been "to dream, perchance to sleep."

What new initiatives/projects/plans are you looking forward to in the coming year?

I'm looking forward to working with School of Natural Science faculty members and the Center for Climate Communication in coordinating sustainability-oriented curricula and symposia at UC Merced. We certainly do a lot of sustainability research, and we can keep working to organize and promote it such that our students develop their environmental literacy, and, with the wider community we learn more about this amazing place.

I'll also be working to build out the writing program's offerings in environmental and engineering writing and service learning, via collaborations within and beyond our program, university and community.

Additionally, I plan on working with UC Merced's population of undocumented students to produce an anthology of their personal stories. And with next year's Common Read focusing on food and agriculture — it's David "Mas" Masumoto's “Epitaph for a Peach” — I'll be busy working to organize the Core 1 curriculum around it.

Tell us something about you that people on campus might not know.

It's kind of old school, but I'm an inveterate fan of fountain pens, and have a small collection of them. They help keep my writing in flow when I run into blocks. Also, I have a collection of about 2,000 CDs, mostly rock of the so-called "indie" variety, but also a large helping of hip-hop. My house is kind of a little museum/archive, along these lines.