Featured Faculty: Helena & Michael Tomko

John Doody

Within the Honors community, students and faculty certainly have a close relationship. The seminar style classrooms allow for in-depth discussions amongst students and professors, enabling a more profound understanding of the material. There have been many iconic professors in the history of the Honors Program, and two such examples are Helena and Michael Tomko. It seems that virtually every current Honors student knows at least one, if not both, of the Tomkos. Having taught courses in each of the cohorts’ sequences since the 2012 inception of the “Good, True, Beautiful Cohort”, the “Global Humanities Cohort”, and the “Philosophy, Politics and Economic Cohort”, it is difficult to find an Honors student who has not had one of the Tomkos as their professor. The Tomkos, both faculty of the Humanities department, have been fundamental in the progression of these honors cohorts, and the duo is even more dynamic when teaching these courses together.

While their backgrounds are quite different, the Tomko’s share a love of teaching and a mission of education. Helena, who grew up in northeast England, completed her undergraduate degree in German and Italian at the University of Bristal in the southwest of the United Kingdom. She then continued her studies in German at Oxford University, where she met “the other Dr. Tomko.” Michael hails from a family of elementary and high school teachers around the Pittsburgh area and always knew he would become a teacher himself. While Helena did not come from a teaching family, she always liked the idea of returning to teach at her secondary school in Durham, England. While that is not how things worked out, Helena explains that she still strives to embody the enthusiasm and imagination of her old English teacher while in the classroom at Villanova.

The two Dr. Tomkos truly enjoy working together as professors here at Villanova. They spend a great deal of time discussing certain books or how to plan best plan out their syllabi. When teaching the third semester of the Good, True Beautiful sequence in tandem, Helena explains that they often discuss their class plans in the morning over coffee. “The coffee is expertly made by him [Michael], me doing most of the talking.” They then go about their days teaching and reconvene in the evening. Helena continues, “We usually discover that we taught very different versions of the same class-and that he was funnier than me- and we both learn a lot from this exchange of ideas.” The duo admits that, like many of their Honors students, they can be a bit competitive about academic things, Helena adding “all to the good, of course.”

The pair also explains the rewarding environment that they enjoy in the Honors and Humanities programs. They continue, “It is a joy to be among students who like to seize the full challenge of what a class can offer” and that the camaraderie felt among Honors students is obvious and spills into the classroom, making the experience all the more fulfilling. Helena describes the satisfaction she feels when she is able to “plumb” the philosophical depths of a text with her students in order to best understand the lives we all can lead.  The pair offers this advice and encouragement to students-past, present, and future- “Love the books and the questions you study and seek what is good in them. Why are you at home with some of them more than others? Don’t forget- college makes you a scholar for life!” 

Written by Newsletter Co-Editor, Margaret Shull '16 CLAS. Margaret is receiving a degree in French and Francophone Studies and Honors, with a concentration in Ethics and Healthcare. 

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