Coffee with Corey: Scholars and Accessible Education

By Corey Poole

Let me start this article off with a side note: I’m a proud Louisiana Scholars’ College graduate, so this interview was a very special one for me.

Louisiana Scholars’ College Director Dr. Tyler T. Travillian has come full circle when it comes to classic Southern movies. Originally from Marietta, GA (home of the Gone With the Wind Museum), he now calls Natchitoches, LA home (known as the scenic setting for Steel Magnolias).

Tyler earned a Bachelor’s in Classics in 2005 from the University of Dallas before moving to Boston, where he earned both his Master’s in Latin in 2006 and Ph.D. in Classical Studies in 2011 from the Department of Classical Studies at Boston University.  From September 2010 to July 2011 he lived in Rome, Italy where he held the Arthur C. Ross pre-doctoral fellowship in Ancient Studies at the American Academy in Rome.

Dr. Travillian’s primary areas of interest are Latin poetry and historiography of the late Roman Republic and early Empire, especially how questions of identity, such as gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity are represented in Classical literature and how historians assert claims about truth and reality in their texts.  He also enjoys lyric poetry more broadly, translation studies, and Classical Greek philosophy, particularly Plato and Aristotle.

So what brought him to Natchitoches? It wasn’t a movie, but the opportunity to direct an honors college, something that was similar to his undergrad focus in Dallas and his time as director of an international honors program. It was the άρετή (are-e-tay), the Scholars’ College motto, translated as “virtue,” which is a trait of excellence that may be moral or intellectual. It is the cultivation and refinement of virtue that is held to be the “good of humanity.” This is valued as an end purpose of life or foundational principle of being.

Coming into his new position and stepping into the college’s Text & Traditions course felt like home for Tyler.

“It was serendipitous,” he said. “The curriculum led me to the Scholars’ College. It was something I’m familiar with and something I believe in.”

The integrated curriculum at LSC supports the same education Tyler had as an undergrad, but in a more structured way, and with a thesis requirement. This made the Scholars’ College program different from others.

“I think there’s real value in a thought out program like this where all the pieces are intended to work together,” Tyler added.

As he was specifically looking for a position as a director of an honors college, one can’t help but wonder what led him down this particular academic path…

Tyler always had a passion for languages, so at 14 year old, when he had the opportunity at his high school to take a Latin class, he seized it. A few weeks into the first semester, the school wanted a head count for students interested in taking AP Latin. Tyler was on board, and it was around this time that he realized he wanted to be a professor of classics.

“I didn’t grow up around them [languages], but it was written in me from the beginning,” he shared.

Today, Tyler also knows German, Spanish, French, Greek and Italian. His abilities may vary with any of these languages, but he can most definitely read all of them.

He became the LSC director on May 18, 2022 and his first impression of the area was the 104 degree weather he stepped into from the airport terminal. It took a few tries to figure out how to get groceries home unspoiled, and having most recently lived in Washington state, it was very bright and sunny in the South.

“I know Vitamin D is a thing, but the sunlight is really making a difference in my daily life,” he added with a smile. 

Besides the heat, the traffic in Natchitoches runs at a much slower pace and there is a general sense of intimate friendliness that took a few days to adjust to. Work started with phone calls instead of just emails and the local State Farm office called Tyler for his birthday.

One of his favorite memories of Natchitoches so far was going to Peggy’s Pizza for the first time.

Overall, Tyler said he and his wife Lois have settled in after the move and are starting to get to know the community. This means Tyler has plans to get more involved, soon!

So is there a work-life balance when it comes to educating future scholars? Tyler said the work he does is something he’s very passionate about. It’s a vocation.

In his spare time Tyler enjoys reading, and is a horror fan. He enjoys book binding and watching cooking shows with Lois (The Great British Bake Off is like a sporting event). They also love to travel and take trips away for special occasions so they can disconnect. Some favorite destinations are New Orleans and Harrison Hot Springs near Vancouver, Canada.

Back to the academics, Tyler said education is changing, especially with the dual enrollment courses that are available to high school students. This means the Scholars’ education needs to be available to every student. Some ways the college is working toward this end include:

Scholars’ certification for students who come in with an AA degree (Associate in Arts)

T&T alternative for students with dual enrollment credits in English, Languages, and Arts (This is an advanced version of T&T to count toward the student’s major)

Adding a 7th concentration to the list of Scholars’ majors: Business Technology & Society (Any Business major can complete their degree through the college, plus these courses are intended to contextualize the business side of the degree)

Adding a dual enrollment section of T&T I for students at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts

The goal is to introduce incoming students who are motivated and interested in their education to the Scholars College curriculum and its faculty.

“I’m a big fan of access,” said Tyler. “People shouldn’t be prevented from accessing a program like ours where they can succeed by life situations.”

The best piece of advice Tyler has received was given to him by his high school Latin teacher and it’s simply this: Don’t run from, run to.

“I’ve given this advice to countless students since,” said Tyler. “When you’re having difficulties, find solutions and run toward that instead, because the difficulties are going to follow you wherever you might try to run to.”