Before they were our professors

A look at some Troy professors’ lives outside of the classroom.

Alyse Nelson
Features Editor

Scientist during the week, magician on the weekend
Teaching students about anatomy, physiology, neuroscience and toxicology during the week, Julian Pittman, a faculty member in the biology and environmental sciences department, becomes one-half of the duo behind Pittman Magic on the weekend.
“I had this urge to perform from an early age — it’s a product of where I grew up,” he said. Pittman was raised in Williamsburg, Virginia.
His involvement in Colonial Williamsburg included juggling, dance, music and several drama productions. He performed there until he graduated from high school.
“I was always obsessed with the college environment,” he said, citing his parents’ careers on college campuses as an influence.
A faculty member at Troy for five years now, Pittman has been performing as Pittman Magic with his wife for three years.
According to the Pittman Magic website,, several different types of shows are offered. These include juggling, mentalism, audience interaction and grand stage illusions.
The website states that he “strives to make the audience believe that impossible is truly possible.”
Most shows are performed around the Florida Panhandle, according to Pittman, and they “stay pretty busy,” as both have fulltime jobs outside their performances.
He has also competed in the past and was ranked as a Silver Medalist Juggler.
There is little separation between his two lives, one as an educator and the other as an entertainer.
Pittman said that he incorporates different tricks into his lesson plans when he can to demonstrate concepts for students. For example, he uses juggling while teaching about vision during neuroscience classes.
While his students may have seen some of his talents, Pittman said that audiences are often surprised when they hear about the Pittmans’ occupations.
“Pretty much after every show, they ask if we do this full time,” Pittman said. “They’re always surprised that we have full-time jobs.”

A counselor with no college degree

With an early life shaped by addiction, Joe McCall, now a senior lecturer in Troy’s history department, first turned to a career in drug and alcohol counseling after dropping out of college.
“That was before they had academic programs for certification,” McCall said. “If you wanted to be a drug and alcohol counselor, you typically were an alcoholic or from an alcoholic family.”
When he was 17, McCall’s mother died from issues related to addiction.
McCall dropped out within his first year at Emory University, having started using during the late 1960s.
His father checked into treatment for himself after McCall’s mother’s death.
“It made me look at myself,” McCall said.
McCall describes the process of becoming an addiction counselor as finishing a five-year internship before receiving certification — no college degree required.
He spent 17 years in the field, partially dealing with teenage addicts, and then moved on to eight or nine years in private practice.
“I decided it was time to go to school,” McCall said of his decision in 1996 to quit his job and sell his house.
“I always loved history, and I’ve always loved storytelling,” he said.
McCall said that he does notice similarities in his different careers, as both require a certain amount of analytical thinking and empathy.
“There is no big truth in history, and that’s why you study it,” he said. “The same is true with counseling.
“As a counselor, the first thing you had to do was get a history of your client. You couldn’t diagnose until you knew their story.”
McCall has not left counseling, though. He meets with students weekly to discuss problems and said that anyone having issues can contact him.

‘Stay a starving artist’: advice from an actor that went corporate
Originally from Birmingham, Quiton Cock­rell, an assistant professor in the theatre department, earned his MFA through a program hosted by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance.
Cockrell then headed to New York City to pursue acting.
Attending auditions during the day, he worked at night as a temporary employee for American Express.
“I started in data entry,” he said.
This was his means of supporting himself during that time.
Eventually he was asked to become a permanent employee and spent almost six years moving into sales and marketing.
“I was tempted by the security and the money,” he said.
“I was flattered that I was able to work with people that had MBAs from NYU and Columbia, that I even had a seat at the table,” Cockrell said.
Eventually, he left to begin his own company, but that did not last.
“I realized I had all these wonderful things in my life, but I was very unhappy,” he said.
“I got really burned out on the whole corporate thing. I enjoyed it at the beginning, but that catches up with you.”
Cockrell said he was glad he had the experience, but ultimately decided to step out of the career and move back to Alabama.
He decided to teach one class at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and discovered his love for teaching there.
“The more my life is about others, the happier I am,” he said.

From cadavers to teaching, it’s all about communication
Though examining humans — both alive and dead — was an ordinary part of her first career, Susan Sarapin doesn’t feel much has changed now that she teaches journalism and communication as an assistant professor.
“I didn’t even know medical illustration was a profession,” she said. “I had been an artist my entire life, and I was always interested in science.”
In fact, after a cousin told her about the career field, she became interested and discovered that there were only six schools in the nation with medical illustration programs and fewer than 500 medical illustrators in the world at that time.
She enrolled in a five-year program.
“We had to know everything about the human anatomy,” Sarapin said.
“Sometimes we were asked to draw during operations,” she said. “That was fascinating.”
Years into her career, technology evolved, and the Internet changed how medical illustrators worked. She had been drawing everything by hand, but now tools make it easier to perform the tasks on computers.
At this point, Sarapin was raising a family, so she moved into graphic design, working in advertising, among other projects.
“The technology was forcing us to change periodically,” she said.
After the passing of her first husband, she remarried a man from Purdue University, which is where she chose to go back to school for her master’s and doctorate, focusing on the Media Effects program there.
“That is how watching television or being on the Internet affects your view on the world,” she said.
Specifically, Sarapin studied the “CSI Effect” — the widespread impact that stems from watching copious amounts of TV crime dramas.
When she saw an opening at Troy University, she joined as an assistant professor, continuing to write papers and research.
“I love teaching what I teach,” she said regarding her media law, features article writing and public speaking classes.
Though Sarapin admitted that she sees how people could view these as big career shifts, she doesn’t share that viewpoint.
“I have never really felt like there was a huge difference,” she said. “When I look back on it, it’s all really one thing: communication.
“First I communicated with the medical community. I was like a camera for them that could go into the human body.”
She noted as a medical illustrator, she communicated with pictures. Through graphic design, she communicated with pictures and words. Now, as a professor, she communicates primarily through words to her students.
“Research is my great love,” she said. “Finding out why we do the things we do. Life is about changes.
“You have to be flexible and know that change happens.”

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