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Hillin features famous female flyers as Distinguished Faculty Lecturer

Sara HillinLamar University has selected Sara Hillin, associate professor of English, as the 2017 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer. The free, public lecture will be hosted this fall by the Lamar University Faculty Senate and will be sponsored by ExxonMobil.

“I’m honored to be selected,” said Hillin, a LU faculty member since 2006. “I was taken aback because I’ve never received an award of this magnitude before. I’ve seen the last several presentations and I understand how important this is.”

Her lecture, “Flashpoints of Flight: the Enduring Rhetorical Legacy of 20th Century Women Aviators” is the result of a decade of research through letters, speeches, news stories and articles to shed light on the rhetorical legacy of early female aviators who promoted their craft and the involvement of other minorities in the field.

“I’ve been amazed at what these women have accomplished despite the oppression and censorship and the overt sexism. It’s given me more respect for what a person can do when she’s driven,” Hillin said.

Hillin discovered that female flyers’ rhetoric about their experiences revealed moments of social revolution where women sought to reestablish themselves as well as create opportunities for marginalized groups in aviation.

“Very often, what you see in the discourse about women pilots in the mainstream press from the 20s, 30s, and 40s, is, ‘she’s done all these great things, but she’s still feminine.’ They stress their femininity instead of their accomplishments with things like ‘Oh look, she’s wearing makeup. She’s wearing a dress,’” said Hillin.

“The women pilots that are writing about it are pushing back against that. They’re saying it doesn’t matter; they shouldn’t be confined to the domestic sphere, the private sphere. They should be able to go out in public, and that’s what flying gave them—a way to go out in public in the biggest way possible,” she said.

Hillin’s inspiration to study the rhetoric of women aviators stems partially from her education at Texas Woman’s University, where she earned her Ph.D. and became interested in topics like feminist discourse. But it wasn’t until she began working on a private pilot’s license in 2007 that the research concept truly took off.

“I think that’s where I made a personal connection. I remembered that when you’re up in the air by yourself, it’s a fascinating experience, and you need a lot of confidence. I thought that this is an experience that not everyone has and maybe I can link it to some original research,” said Hillin.

After investigating the topic, she discovered little discussion of women pilots’ discourse and decided to contribute to the relatively unstudied field.

Women in Aviation History“There’s still not enough out there about women’s accomplishments in all kinds of facets of society. I think this melds women’s accomplishments as writers, speakers, and in a technological field,” she said.

Though Hillin’s talk spotlights the achievements of marginalized women, the message of her lecture can appeal to any audience.

“As human beings, we all struggle, and we all want to succeed,” said Hillin. “With every one of the stories I talk about, there’s a struggle, there’s perseverance, and there’s some measure of success, even if it’s not the success the woman had been aiming for.”

Hillin is the 31st recipient of the honor – one of the highest accorded a Lamar faculty member. A committee of faculty, staff, students and community representatives make the selection.

Hillin received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas Woman’s University, Masters of Arts in English from Tarleton State University and her Ph.D. in rhetoric from Texas Woman’s University. Her research interests include composition and rhetorical theory and practice, research methods in composition and rhetoric and feminist theory and pedagogy.

Other honorees have been: Julia Fischer, art history; Steven Zani, English and modern languages; Jerry Lin, engineering; Catalina Castillon, English and modern languages; James Esser, psychology; Donna Birdwell, anthropology; Keith Carter and Jerry Newman, art; Richard Harrel, biology; George Irwin, physics; Rafael Tadmor, chemical engineering; Jean Andrews, deaf studies/deaf education; Jim Jordan and Jim Westgate, earth and space sciences; Sam Parigi, economics; R.S. “Sam” Gwynn and Jim Sanderson, English; Kenneth Rivers, French; William Pampe, geology; John Carroll, Ronald Fritze, John Storey, J. Lee Thompson and Naaman Woodland, history; Dianna Rivers, nursing; Joe Pizzo, physics; Terri Davis, political science; Dorothy Sisk, professional pedagogy; and Christine Bridges-Esser, Spanish.