Still a neighbor and friend of Belmont University, alumnus Dr. Philip Phillips looks back on his time at Belmont as one of the best experiences in his educational career. His professors at Belmont had a lasting impact on him and what he studied, making a difference in his future educational endeavors. Now the associate dean of the University Honors College and professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University, Phillips has the opportunity to be just as influential to students as his Belmont professors were to him.
Phillips was initially inspired to come to Belmont after some guidance from a teacher of his who had attended Belmont. He was interested in going to a small liberal arts school for his undergraduate education. Through his teacher he was able to meet a few Belmont professors and gain a better understanding of what it would be like if he went to Belmont. After a visit to campus Phillips was even more compelled to attend college here. “I saw the kinds of classes I could take and how beautiful the campus was. I was also impressed with how friendly everyone was,” Phillips said. “I felt like Belmont had a really great sense of community, and I was looking for that at that particular time of my life.”
Calling his Belmont professors “some of the very best,” Phillips speaks of them admirably and as some of the most influential people of his life. It was professors like Dr. Doug Murray, Dr. Marcia McDonald, the late Dr. Virginia Chaney and the late Dr. Mike Awalt that Phillips worked closely with who had an impact on him. Chaney was arguably one of the most important people in Phillips’ undergraduate schooling as she was the one whom he took all his Latin classes from and worked very closely with. “She was one of the most influential people in my life who really inspired me,” Phillips said about Chaney. “She loved literature, she loved life, and she loved working with young people.”
After graduating from Belmont in December 1990 with a major in English and a double minor in philosophy and Latin, Phillips went on to attend graduate school for both his masters and doctorate degrees in English at Vanderbilt University. Admitted to Vanderbilt’s Master’s program early, Phillips made a shift in focus from romantic and Victorian literature to Renaissance poetry. He worked closely with faculty exploring authors like John Milton, who he eventually wrote his dissertation on.
During his time spent teaching AP English and French at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, a faculty position opened at MTSU that was focused in the same field as Phillips in early European and English Renaissance literature, and even more specifically, Milton. Phillips began in 1999 as a tenure-track assistant professor and was promoted to associate professor with tenure after five years and then professor after an additional five years. Now the associate dean of the University Honors College, Phillips does not teach as much as he used to, but because of his position, Phillips still gets to work closely with students. Students in the Honors College represent almost every academic discipline at MTSU. “I’ve got one of the best jobs on campus,” Phillips said about being able to interact with students with diverse interests. “Education is not just about teaching; it’s about learning from other people.”
Phillips has taken an interest in honors societies throughout his education and career. At Belmont he was involved in Sigma Tau Delta, English honor society, and now at MTSU, it is no different. A member of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi that recognizes all academic disciplines and includes professors, staff, students and alumni, Phillips is actively involved serving as the president of the MTSU chapter. At the organization’s recent biennial convention, Phillips was elected to serve on the national Board of Directors of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi until 2020.
Outside of teaching and mentoring students, Phillips is an active researcher and two-time recipient of the MTSU Foundation Distinguished Research Award. Looking specifically at Boethius, Milton and more recently Edgar Allan Poe, Phillips has written, edited and co-edited several books, as well as articles and book chapters, on various aspects of these writers and their work. Research is a major part of what Phillips does, as not only a professor, but also as someone interested in these topics. Currently, Phillips is editing a book about Poe titled “Poe and Place” that is set to be released in November 2018.
Phillips’ time at Belmont greatly defined his future interests and career. Not only did the community at Belmont make a difference, but the relationships he formed with faculty left lasting impressions. Phillips has worked to keep his relationship with Belmont alive by occasionally making visits to campus for speaking engagements or attending past professor’s retirement parties. Phillips commented in regards to his relationships with Belmont professors that they “are completely committed to their students.” “The professors who took an interest in me and guided me…really helped to prepare me for my graduate studies and enabled me to be successful in my career as a researcher, as a scholar and as a teacher.”
“I had a wonderful experience overall,” Phillips said about his years at Belmont. “I could not have gotten a better undergraduate education.”