Taylor Atkins

Distinguished Teaching Professor of History, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs

Taylor Atkins

What year did you start working at NIU?

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
My hometown is Little Rock, Arkansas, and I now live in Sycamore, Illinois. 

Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
B.A. history, summa cum laude, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville
Ph.D. history, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

In which department(s) do you teach?
Department of History 

What do you like about working at NIU?
I love working with students from diverse backgrounds, many of whom are returning as adults or are the first in their families to attend college. The best students I’ve taught at NIU would do well anywhere. 

When I started working here, I also noticed how friendly and helpful the employees were. I didn’t care to stay in Illinois when I began my academic career, but I have come to believe that NIU is my real home. I’ve worked with world-class historians and terrific students. I can’t imagine a better career than I’ve had here.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
There are so many opportunities to find your own niche and develop your talents. You’ll never have so many opportunities to learn, grow and develop as you will as a student. Be curious. Work hard. Ask for help. We’re here to help you become the best person you can be.

Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
I directed an oral history project in the wake of the 2008 shooting, in which my students interviewed dozens of people from throughout the community about their experiences of that horrible event. Working with the University Archives, I also brought StoryCorps to campus for a week, so that NIU folks could record interviews with each other. These interviews are stored in the University Archives and Library of Congress. I hoped it would help us all heal.

What do you hope students take away from your class?
Since my main specialty is Japanese and Korean history, I hope to get my students to learn about other times, places and cultures without resorting to simplistic stereotypes. I hope my students understand and appreciate the relevance of the past to the present. I hope they will learn to use sources of information in a critical manner, asking questions of those sources and thinking about their meanings and importance. I want them to leave with a sense of accomplishment and confidence. I also want them to have fun in the process. I seriously believe that humor is a terrific device for enhancing understanding.

What is your favorite campus event?
The World Music Festival in April, organized by my colleague in the School of Music, Dr. Jui-Ching Wang.

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
My colleagues and students have won much recognition and many awards. I enjoy attending the ceremonies to celebrate these. There are too many to count.

Who has influenced your professional path?
My interest in East Asian history was sparked by Dr. Henry Tsai at the University of Arkansas. I have been blessed with many great teachers. I wanted to have the sort of positive impact on others that they had on me. I would not say that I teach with the same methods of all of my teachers, but what they did worked well enough for me. I have developed my own style.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
I did not think too much about a career until I got to college. When I was young, I probably wanted to be a superhero more than anything else. But once I got to college, I realized that I had no other talents than to be a perpetual student, which is why I became a professor.

Taylor Atkins

Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
I am a member of the American Historical Association and the Association for Asian Studies. The professional connections and publications of these organizations help me stay up to date in my field and have an immediate impact on my classroom teaching.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
I play in two bands: the Wild Blue Ukulele Orchestra and a reggae band called Aseda. I play electric bass and baritone ukulele, and write arrangements and original songs for both groups. For 5 1/2 years I also played the daruan (Chinese bass lute) in the NIU Chinese Music Ensemble. I enjoy travel and have spent a lot of time in Japan, in particular. I enjoy watching movies and hanging out with my wife.

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