A Gift of Education

“Heart” has always been at the center of Helen Wussow’s teaching and administrative career, which has spanned more than 30 years.

At several higher education institutions, Wussow has been committed to providing opportunities to students who might otherwise not have been able to attend university.

“I’ve seen what education does for people,” she says. “If I hadn’t gone to college, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me.”

Much of Wussow’s storied career has been devoted to leading university programs that deliver education for adult and non-traditional learners. She is currently at The New School, where she has served as dean of Open Campus, its division of continuing education in New York City. She is now an associate professor at Parson’s, its college of art, fashion and design.

Wussow is also the recipient of a 2021 MSUM Distinguished Alumni Award. The award recognizes alumni who are at the peak of their professional careers and who have made significant contributions to their professional fields and communities.

Wussow grew up on a farm near Sabin, Minnesota. Neither of her parents attained a college degree because of economic circumstances, but they valued education. They encouraged their only child, who loved to read, to attend college.

She attended MSUM from 1978-1982, graduating with a double major in English and humanities. While a student, she toured London with her Shakespeare professor, Dr. Marie Tarsitano. During that tour, Tarsitano encouraged her to visit nearby campuses.

This exposure eventually led to Wussow applying for and receiving a tuition scholarship from the British government.

As an undergraduate at a college in western Minnesota, Wussow never considered attending one of the world’s most distinguished universities. But with the scholarship and the encouragement of mentors, she did just that.

Wussow studied at the University of Oxford, where she ultimately earned a doctorate in philosophy in English Language and Literature, with a concentration in modern British literature. She is a specialist in British literature after 1880 and has published widely on Virginia Woolf and feminist literary theory.

“I think of this as an example: don’t discount yourself,” she says. “Life-changing things can happen if you take one step.”

Even as she pursued new paths, Wussow deepened her relationship with MSUM. She was an English and humanities instructor in 1984-85 and co-led the Eurospring program in 1987 and 1988. After earning her doctorate, she returned to MSUM to work as Dr. Roland Dille’s executive assistant for a year.

Through those experiences, she saw what university leaders can accomplish when they focus on students and their education.

She left MSUM in 1989 and moved to the University of Memphis, where she taught in the English department and eventually became assistant vice provost for academic affairs and interim director of the honors program. In the decades since, she has worked at seven universities.

“I love learning from others and hope that I have provided opportunities for learning in turn,” she says. “I’ve been blessed by my career and the people I’ve met.”

As an administrator, Wussow has never been the type of leader who tells people what to do. Instead, she has built relationships and encouraged others to grow and demonstrate their creativity. It’s a lesson she’s learned and applied as a faculty member, as well.

“Education helps us recognize that we are not all that different from each other,” she says. “Education is a gift we give to ourselves.”

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