Laura Hope-Gill is a creative. She's traveled the world and published written works. She's created poetry and organized festivals recognizing others' creativity. As director of The Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative at Lenoir-Rhyne University, Asheville Center, and the program's developer, she's forged a way for students from all walks of life to find their voice and share it with the world.
But even she didn't envision receiving an award recognizing a lifetime of work.
In a faculty assembly, Hope-Gill was surprised to hear her name called when it came to present the Raymond M. Bost Distinguished Professor Award for the 2020-21 academic year.
"I was actually preparing to clap for one of my colleagues," she said. "I've just been processing it, and it really means more to me than anything else that's happened in my career."
Each year, the Bost award, named after the seventh president of the university, recognizes a faculty member who has demonstrated complete effectiveness in teaching and to the academic and personal welfare of their students.
"Laura's students view her as someone who is very, very special," said Dr. Michael Dempsey, dean and director for the Lenoir-Rhyne University Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville. "They're inspired by her, not only as a teacher, but also as a professional."
A teacher and storyteller at heart, Hope-Gill's own story is certainly one to tell.
A Toronto, Ontario native, Hope-Gill followed her father whose career as a doctor took them to England, North Carolina and Florida before returning to Asheville after college.
She traveled to Australia with the goal of making it to China to complete research for a book about her grandfather and father who spent time in Japanese prison camps during World War II. Along the way, she ran into a group of poets and stayed in Melbourne for a year studying and creating poetry.
Hope-Gill returned to North Carolina where she began organizing poetry events in Asheville, some of which are still being held today.
A sojourn to Peninsula College on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington introduced her to teaching, and 10 years at Christ School in Arden, North Carolina, proved it was a calling for life.
"We all experience imposter syndrome from time to time," she said. "I have felt it as my colleagues have taught me about the roles and process that maintain a university—things you don't learn shouting a poem from a bar top at 5 p.m. in Chicago or Melbourne. One thing I don't ever feel like an imposter about though is being a teacher. Teaching is knowing how to tumble down and clamor back up time and again. I'm good at that. It is always trying a different approach with each different student and sometimes getting it right. At its heart lies recognizing every voice is already singing and helping the world hear it in a way it can understand without changing the song."
In 2012, Lenoir-Rhyne purchased space in downtown Asheville and the Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville was born. It just needed programs, faculty and students.
At the time, Hope-Gill was working for a publisher and produced two books on architectural history and published a collection of her own poetry, The South Tree, becoming the first poet laureate of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
"She's a gifted teacher," said 2018 graduate Dr. Dan Waters. "Some people just have it. She's not a lecturer. She can teach you without you feeling like you're being lectured to from afar. She shares her knowledge rather than stuffing it down your throat. It's a gift."
Waters is more familiar than most with education. A resident of Clear Lake, Iowa, he recently retired after 30 years as a cardiac surgeon. Between undergraduate studies, medical school, residency and continuing education, he's spent plenty of time in the classroom as a student and a health care educator. He turned to the narrative health care program Hope-Gill started hoping to take his abilities to the next level.
"It was one of the best things I did in my career," he said. "It helped me channel my energy and creativity and survive the last five years of my career. Cardiac surgery is high stress and wears on you. Laura and this program helped me avoid burning out."
The narrative health care program is part of The Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative at the Asheville campus, which also houses the Master of Arts program. It's designed to provide students, many of whom are already established professionals in their respective fields, with the opportunity to improve communication skills, patient care and prevent burnout through the study of storytelling.
"It's a program that reminds us that we aren't science or creativity; we're both," Hope-Gill said. "Both nourish each other."