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Julia May describes herself as the quintessential lifelong learner. That’s one of the attractions for her of her chosen field—art history. “Art history gives you a window into virtually any subject,” she says. “You can use it to shed light on subjects like economics, politics, or religion, and you invariably learn something new.”
This enthusiasm for learning—and her sense that learning is a collaborative activity—made her an ideal candidate to fill a new post as faculty member and administrator in the School’s Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) program.
May enjoys stepping out of her intellectual comfort zone— and she encourages her students to join her. For instance, as an associate professor at Earlham College, a small liberal arts school in Richmond, Indiana, and curator of its art collection, she joined forces with colleagues in chemistry to learn more about the college’s holdings of Chinese ceramics. “The students in my class researched the context and history of the objects, while the students in the chemistry class used high-tech equipment to analyze their glazes,” she says. “In the course of shedding light on the ceramics, both classes of students experienced firsthand the power of collaboration.”
In addition to teaching at Earlham—which U.S. News & World Report ranked in the top ten for teaching among liberal arts colleges—May taught adult students at John Tyler Community College and Reynolds Community College while earning her doctorate at Virginia Commonwealth University. Returning to Charlottesville is a homecoming for her. She grew up in Keswick and attended Albemarle High School.