Many cell phone map applications provide optional routes.
Countless students through the decades have found that an education from Oklahoma Baptist University does the same.
Lia Hillman, who graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in news and information, began her college experience at OBU as a nursing student, but changed routes. She went on to focus on journalism, and then carrying with her the knowledge gathered on Bison Hill, took graduate classes to prepare for teacher certification. She now teaches 11th and 12th-grade English, media and journalism at Hydro-Eakly High School.
The route Hillman has traveled is one that high school students, as well as parents would be well-served to hear. So, she recently set aside grading papers to share it.
“OBU equipped me to appreciate the value of education and embrace the relationships I made,” she said. “I honestly think that if I did not have my experience at OBU, I would not be the teacher or person I am today. I strive to be like my professors every single day: challenging yet compassionate, firm yet friendly, rigorous yet reliable. I would not have the courage to step out of my comfort zone and try new things.”
At that point, the smile treasured by all who know and have come to appreciate her, sweeps across Hillman’s face like a breeze across the plains.
“Who would’ve thought I would ever be a sports broadcast manager/sometimes commentator for high school basketball games,” she said.
It’s highly likely that a route will feature some less than smooth stretches. However, Hillman’s traveling partner in and out of the classroom is God. So, she’s kept moving forward, trusting Him.
Hillman’s mom Laura Work Hillman graduated from OBU in 1990 and is president of the alumni board.
“I remember listening to her college stories, but the first time I actually stepped foot on campus was at a state vocal music contest,” said Lia Hillman, who grew up at Cheyenne, Oklahoma. “My mom gave me a tour of the University, and I felt a sense of peace just being on campus. OBU was actually the only university to which I applied. I visited campus many times throughout high school, but I think I cemented my decision when I attended Resonate Worship Arts Camp right before my senior year. I was able to experience the campus more closely and meet some of the professors.”
It wasn’t far into her freshman journey that Hillman started to realize that the landscape of life varies.
“I was in Dr. Galen Jones’s first Old Testament class he taught at OBU,” she said. “During the second week of class, I remember a classmate who claimed not to believe in the Bible. I was a naive freshman with limited life experience, and it had never occurred to me that someone who wanted to attend OBU wouldn’t even consider themselves a Christian.”
They spent the semester studying and discussing the Old Testament. Even in all of Hillman’s years spent in Sunday School, she had never studied the Bible in that much depth before.
“Dr. Jones also encouraged us to volunteer to prepare a devotional for the class throughout the semester,” she said. “I was nervous about speaking in front of my peers and Dr. Jones, but everyone was so encouraging to each other. That one particular classmate at the beginning of the semester came to class one day and told us she was now a believer. Dr. Jones had tears in his eyes. Even though I don’t remember her name, I still think about her and that class often. It was because of that class during my first semester of college that I felt I was right where I belonged.”
Hillman remembered how much she loved to write and share people’s stories. So the director of the student success center helped her find a place with “The Bison” as a news and information major. She eventually became the Editor-in-Chief her senior year.
There are many individuals at OBU for which she is thankful, including Ann McNellis and Holly Easttom. McNellis, her advertising, public relations, public relations writing, and professional writing teacher, taught Hillman so many valuable skills that she uses daily.
“I’m especially thankful to Holly Easttom, my advisor and journalism professor, for all the laughs and for always loving her students, even when they text late at night about an idea, even five years post-graduation,” Hillman said.
News and information studies at OBU shaped Hillman’s future and now she’s using that to shape the futures of her students.
Immediately out of college, Hillman began working in the newspaper industry, but began thinking about new adventures – another route. She didn’t forget where she’d already traveled in terms of “news and information,” she just added to it.
Hillman started her teaching career in 2019 at Hydro-Eakly High School. In January 2021, she was chosen as the KWTV-News9 Teacher of the Day with her nominator stating, “She has a huge heart for her students and finds new ways to connect with them every day.”
Hillman said some of the biggest blessings of her life have occurred in the last five years.
“I fell in love with teaching,” she said. “My students are the best part of my job, and I am thankful for all of the relationships I have built and the experiences I’ve had with them. I’ve prioritized my health; I lost 50 pounds in a year, and I’m still going. I’ve grown closer to my brother and my parents. I’ve grown as a person in learning who I am and in learning my identity in Christ.”
In addition to the blessings that have come, the last five years of her life have also been the hardest. Once again, what she learned on Bison Hill and in the years that followed helped get her through the rough stretches on life’s highway.
Her younger cousin died in a car accident. She moved away from home to start her career as a teacher. The dynamics in her family were altered significantly. The pandemic began during her first year of teaching. Her childhood home burned in a wildfire last December, and her mom and brother lost their belongings. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer and started chemotherapy in February.
“I am, by no means, perfect in my faith, and I’ve struggled at times,” she said. “But I do know that I could not continue to survive these trials without turning them over to God. I try to reiterate to my students that hardships will come, but we must learn to adapt. I have survived 100 percent of the hardest days I’ve endured, but I could not do it without my faith in God and His love.”