Usually, faculty members who attend University of Tennessee at Martin commencements sit in rows of seats below the stage on the floor of the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center, but on the night of May 6, 2022, Dr. Daniel Pigg, UT Martin professor of English, walked across the stage as he received his master’s degree in higher education leadership. This degree marked his seventh master’s degree and his 10th degree overall, and with another degree in hand, Pigg enters his 33rd year at his newest alma mater doing what he enjoys most – teaching English and literature and religious studies to UT Martin students.
Since he was a child, the Columbia, Tennessee, native was interested in being an educator. Between his grandmother being a third-grade teacher and his childhood nickname, teaching was always the path he wanted to take.
“I knew I wanted to teach from the time I was eight years old. I had a relative who, in fact, dubbed me ‘The Professor’ at age eight, so this has been in the blood for some time,” Pigg said.
Pigg began his educational journey at Lipscomb University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English. He then began his master’s and then doctorate in English at UT Knoxville, which he placed on hold in 1986 to complete a master’s degree in medieval studies at the University of York in England on a Fulbright Scholarship.
“It (the medieval studies degree) brought together an interdisciplinary way of looking at the world,” Pigg said. “I had courses in medieval Latin, paleography, manuscript studies, literary studies, art history, drama studies – it brought a number of things together.”
It was from there that Pigg began his career in 1989 at UT Martin teaching in what was, at the time, the Department of English. He knew he wanted to teach in multiple disciplines, and that opportunity arose through the secondary education program where he could teach both English and education courses. To qualify for a position, Pigg decided to begin his doctorate in curriculum studies at the University of Memphis.
To receive that degree, Pigg had to earn nine foundational credit hours at a different institution. When he completed those hours at Middle Tennessee State University, he was informed that he only needed 20 more credits to complete the Master of Education degree program. He finished his second master’s in 2002 and his second doctorate in 2003.
During his earlier studies, Pigg considered working toward a doctorate in biblical studies but ultimately decided against it. After the death of his father in 2005, he decided to begin a Master of Arts in Religion at Memphis Theological Seminary. Since then, Pigg has also completed a Master of Sacred Theology degree in Biblical Studies (Hebrew Bible) from the University of the South in Sewanee and a Master of Theological Studies from Phillips Theological Seminary.
For Pigg, one of the most noticeable changes between when he began his academic career and now is the attitudes of both the students and educators. Namely, there is often a lot more communication between professors and students about deadlines and schedule conflicts.
“I never would have imagined as an undergraduate asking a professor to change the date of a paper,” Pigg said. “In a class in which I was enrolled in spring 2022, on the final class meeting, which was a class that met on weekends, several of us asked if the professor would change the due date for a paper because we were all in difficulty. It was no sweat at all for her to change that.”
Another noted change is the use of technology in classrooms and education in general. At the beginning of his educational career, Pigg could only supplement his presentations with handouts, and now online technology is commonly used in college courses, with entire courses even being held online.
The differences were especially marked when he was working on his most recent degree: his Master of Science in Higher Education Leadership. Pigg began his degree in 2020, and because of the program’s format and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, all his courses were held completely online, just like the ones he was teaching for his undergraduate students.
“In some ways, it provided a kind of stability through some really, I think, emotionally wrenching times,” Pigg said. “It was so odd to be on campus, to be in my office and teaching students via Zoom, and they were sitting in their dorm rooms, and I never saw anyone in the halls. It was sort of like the day after the apocalypse, and everybody had disappeared. It was crazy.”
Two years later, Pigg finished his master’s degree at the university where he has devoted more than 30 years of leadership and instruction. For Pigg, the degree served to not only further his education but to give back to an institution that became such a major part of his life.
“It feels really nice to be a graduate of the institution where I have spent my teaching career. I didn’t know from the beginning that UTM was going to be my home for all of my teaching career, but that’s what developed, and it has been good,” Pigg said.
“It feels really nice to be a graduate of the institution where I have spent my teaching career. I didn’t know from the beginning that UTM was going to be my home for all of my teaching career, but that’s what developed, and it has been good,” Pigg said. “In some ways, doing the degree was my kind of ‘thank you’ to UTM.”
Currently, Pigg is working on his third doctoral degree from Phillips Theological Seminary. This degree seeks to combine curriculum theory with teaching Biblical Studies in various contexts – two of Pigg’s areas of interest.
For students entering their undergraduate experience, Pigg emphasizes the importance of reading about the experiences of others to understand what to expect and how to build a support system to lean on in times of happiness and hardship.
“College is not a trailblazing experience whereby a person has an ax and hacks through a forest alone and comes out on the other side. That kind of going into the wilderness and surviving the wilderness mode is not a good paradigm for understanding what it means to be part of having a higher ed experience,” Pigg said.
For those beginning an advanced degree, Pigg urges students to keep their goals in mind and keep track of any debts that may be incurred.
“For those people who are thinking about going on to graduate school, I think the question is always, ‘Why am I doing this?’” Pigg said. “I think it’s always okay for a student to pursue a master’s degree in an area that they want, as a part of their own intellectual curiosity and development, if they want to do that. I think beyond a master’s degree, it becomes a very different kind of thing to decide.”
As the days until 2022 fall classes started ticking by one by one, Pigg prepared himself for the things that are unexpected as well as one thing that is expected: a little bit of first-day jitters.
“I’m looking forward to fall 2022, and just for the record, I’m always a little nervous on the first day of class. Never changes,” Pigg said. “I have a series of names and a series of people sitting in seats, and the fun begins.”