From Student to Diverse Faculty Fellow, with a Little Hip-Hop along the Way

Harper alum Bilal Hussain

Meet Bilal Hussain

​Ten years ago, in 2006, I started my first day as a student here at Harper. I was a first-generation college student, but I never thought too much of it until after I graduated from Harper.

My parents are Pakistani Muslim immigrants who did not attend college in the United States and could not offer any guidance on how to navigate college or how to choose a career path. I started Harper with few skills on how to be a good student. Harper and its faculty members were patient enough to wait for me to figure it out. I am forever grateful to everyone who helped me find my place – for Candace McCreary who opened my eyes to the field of sociology to the Career Development Center and Bill Hengtgen for helping me relax and see my path as well as all of those who guided me and supported my explorations.

When I finally was a better student, it was almost time to leave Harper. I went from Harper to Northeastern Illinois University and then on for my master’s at Loyola University Chicago. I am currently working on my Ph.D. in sociology at Loyola. Returning to Harper to teach as a member of the Diverse Faculty Fellows program after attending both a four-year school and graduate school reminds me how far I have come and how far I still have to travel.

The students I teach remind me of who I was when I was 18 years old, fresh out of high school and attending college as a first-generation college student. I did not have the academic skills that I possess now. I’m attracted to the idea of showing students that just because I did not start off as an academic success, it does not mean I ended my journey by not being an academic success. Starting off at a community college can give you the platform to achieve things you would never imagine. I would like to show students that it is in fact possible to return to the same school more educated and more successful. Being a Full-time Diverse Faculty Fellow gives me the opportunity to give back to a school that gave me so much.

The Diverse Faculty Fellows program is an amazing opportunity. I love it! College/university teaching has always been “sink or swim,” but the Fellows program is teaching me how to swim. I’m very grateful for being a part of an amazing program at an amazing school. The students, staff, faculty, administration and everyone that I did not mention who are a part of Harper College, make up the community. This is a community which I am a member of, and this is a community that I am proud of.

What attracted you to sociology?
I didn’t initially start out planning to study sociology. First I was a business major, then a psychology major. It was when I took my first sociology class with Candace McCreary, in Building D (prior to its beautiful remodel), that I realized I had always viewed the world from a sociologist’s perspective - I just didn’t know it was an area of study.

I was born in Chicago to Pakistani Muslims and raised in the suburbs. Growing up, I felt like an outsider, observing life around me, particularly after 9/11. I was only 13 years old when the attack happened. At the time, I was dealing with all of the issues that come with being an American teenager which were made all the more difficult by the struggles of being a Muslim American in a post-September 11 world were layered on top. I had to confront bullying and teasing; I learned who were and were not my true friends. It impacted me deeply. Sociology helps make sense of racism, Islamophobia, inequalities and so much more. I didn’t realize it, but sociology was how I had been thinking and making sense of the world around me. I was so motivated by Professor McCreary’s class, I got an A. I am still in touch with her and am grateful to her for opening my eyes to the field.

When did you know you wanted to teach?
When I graduated from Harper in 2009, I began doing a lot of self-reflection and thinking about a career that I could see myself in. I also began thinking about my community college experience. I knew I wanted a career that involved learning, researching and discovering a subject I had an affinity for.

I realized that when I decided to go on to graduate school, teaching was a possibility. I knew I loved my community college and four-year university experience. After reflecting back on these experiences, I started to consider teaching as a career. I already loved learning sociology, and I thought it would be excellent to work in a field that challenged me and pushed me to learn more. My drive for learning motivated me to consider a career in teaching.

Working as a Teaching Assistant in graduate school helped affirm my decision to teach. Imparting knowledge and interacting with college students is very gratifying. I didn’t fully understand how to enter the teaching profession, beyond getting a master’s degree. Harper’s Diverse Faculty Fellows program is providing an unbelievable path for me to get started!

What attracted you to Harper’s Diverse Faculty Fellows program?
I was attracted to Harper’s Diverse Faculty Fellows program because this opportunity gives me the chance to give back to a community that I respect so much. Harper was the school that gave me the skills, attributes, and perspective to succeed after I graduated. I want to give Harper students the same chance to gain the skills that could help them succeed while they are Harper College students and soon-to-be-alumni.

When I heard about Harper’s Diverse Faculty Fellows program, I was stunned that an opportunity/program like this even existed. I love the fact that I am able to learn how to be a faculty member. College and university teaching has always been “sink or swim,” which is why many colleges and universities do not have quality professors/instructors. Harper’s program gives the Fellows an opportunity of a lifetime by teaching them how to teach. Not only do I have the chance to teach, I also understand what it feels like to be a faculty member – making the experience priceless.

In your first few weeks, what has surprised you the most about Harper?
In my first few weeks, I was surprised by all of the time commitments. Harper’s Diverse Faculty Fellows program keeps me very busy - but I love it! I never realized how busy I was going to be. But if I want to be a great teacher and instructor, working on my pedagogy is what I have to do. I was surprised by how much skill development it takes to be a great professor versus an alright professor. There are so many workshops offered at Harper to help me become a better faculty member. I try to take advantage of them, which explains why I am so busy with the program.

The second aspect that surprised me most was the community aspect. No matter the discipline the various faculty members belong to, they always keep Harper College as a community for everyone. I immediately loved working in a college where it feels like I’m part of a community. It feels good going to work in a community where people help you whenever you need it - not that many places offer that. I truly feel like I’m part of the Harper College community, and it feels welcoming.

What is the most interesting part of your job?
One of the most interesting parts of my job is working with students that remind me of who I was ten years ago. Many of my students are first-generation students who are working long hours every week while also wanting to succeed in college. Many of them do not have some of the essential skills needed to help them succeed after Harper College. Watching students improve their skills in front of my own eyes is very rewarding. I love the fact that I am one of the mechanisms for them to improve themselves. It is also a bit surreal to think about the fact that my office is in the hallway where I once took classes.

An important and gratifying part of teaching is that I am doing my part to promote social change. When I introduce myself as a Pakistani American and a first-generation student, I play a role in breaking down stereotypes. It is what makes sociology meaningful to me.

Finally, I feel like I’m part of the community by working at Harper. However, now I’m realizing that I was always part of the Harper community by being an alumni. I just never noticed it before.

What do you enjoy doing outside of Harper?
I’m a Ph.D. student, so hobbies are an endangered species in my world. Outside of Harper and working on my Ph.D., I try to educate myself on the world of pop culture and Hip-Hop. I try to keep up to date on pop culture, so I can relate to my students and know what is going on in this celebrity-obsessed world. Regarding Hip-Hop, I like to study the history of Hip-Hop and learn about how it became what it is today. Additionally, I like to binge watch horror movies and television shows that deteriorate normal brain cells. It’s a great way to feel relaxed and entertained!

A surprising fact people may not know:
I used to rap and be a song writer starting when I was 13 years old and continuing until I was 21. No matter what you are thinking, I was serious about it! Plus, I was really good. Sadly, I didn’t continue because being so young and rapping, I never found my true voice. I do not focus my attention on song writing anymore. However, whenever the spirit moves me, I pick up a pen and a pad to scribble some rhymes together. It is a great way to relieve stress and emotions in a creative way.

What was your first job?
Officially, my first job ever was working as a barista in Starbucks. It was not the best experience in the world, but it did teach me an unforgettable lesson that I carry with myself today: I’d much rather drink overpriced coffee than make overpriced coffee for strangers.

Learn more about the Diverse Faculty Fellows program.