Fort Liberty & Pope English professor returns to her North Carolina roots

Pamolu Oldham is one of those people who are more interested in meeting new people than in being recognized. A unique fixture at the Fort Liberty & Pope campus for over 25 years, she is a favorite among her students and colleagues. “Pamolu has the uncanny ability to connect with our students,” says Ellen Strahan, Fort Liberty & Pope academic counselor. Adult learners often express the uncertainty of returning to the classroom after years, sometimes decades. Oldham’s philosophy is to engage with students from a place of respect. “A good hostess meets people where they are,” she says. “I teach ‘academic’ English, which may or may not communicate in all situations. That’s why I stress the audience, point of view, dramatic irony. We must express our thoughts in ways that make them ‘real’ while never devaluing our listener or downsizing our message. All people have value, and everyone is welcome in my classroom.”

Pamolu teaches English 100, 101, and 102. All three courses fulfill general core requirements in Campbell University bachelor degree programs. She feels she must often deconstruct conventional ways of teaching to enhance her students’ ability to comprehend. “I am merely teaching skills students need to communicate their ideas,” she advises, “and encouraging them to practice those skills to get where they want to go.”

Pamolu grew up in Sanford, North Carolina. She received her formal education at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia, and at Columbia University in New York City. Her accolades include a National Endowment for the Arts writing fellowship; sculpture in the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA); and a documentary film on North Carolina folk artist Clyde Jones, which she presented in Chandigarh, India.  Pamolu is more than an English instructor. She is an artist, a storyteller. Her artistic work mirrors her passion for teaching. “I love language, people, and places,” she says. She collects folk art, much from Mexico; building materials for sculpture, especially colorful concrete block, old linoleum, etc. from structures beyond reclamation; and stories from everywhere. “Those old building materials hold stories,” she says.

During her graduate studies at Columbia University in 1975, Pamolu purchased a 270-year-old Huguenot-style log house and relocated it to a parcel of land near her mother’s homeplace in Moore County. The two-story cabin turned into a lifelong project and a place Pamolu will return to this fall.“I’ve spent years wandering and traveling; reared Jess, a graphic designer living with her family in Brooklyn, NY; met many people; and been on a great journey,” she reflects. As the poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “I learn by going where I have to go.” Although she will continue teaching, Pamolu will focus on personal projects including completing stories, traveling back to Mexico and India, and working on new sculptures. “I’m blessed to have been in so many places and to have a faith to know a world of great possibility and mystery,” she says. “I guess you could say this is circling back to my roots. I’ll be in the woods with wonderful cousins across the road and their salt-water pool nearby.” Pamolu believes the next chapter can be best summed up in Robert Frost’s poem “The Death of a Hired Man.” Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in.”