Humans of TAMS is a photojournalism project that seeks to capture the diversity of the TAMS population through a series of interviews and portraits of students and faculty. Thank you to this week’s interviewee, Sam Earls.
Upon entering Sam’s office and sitting on his remarkably comfortable couch, there is one thing that becomes instantly apparent: Samuel Earls is a man who wears many hats. His metaphorical hat collection is in fact so expansive, he takes on a myriad of roles in any given day.
Previously, Sam worked at the Gatton Academy of Math and Science in Kentucky. Although The Gatton Academy was modeled off of TAMS, it had a slightly different structure, and therefore, Sam was known as a residential counselor. “It was kind of like a mix of a Residential Assistant and a Hall Director,” he says. Sam lived in the hall full-time and put on various programs.
“I didn’t have an office or office hours so I essentially kept the same schedule as the students,” he recounts. “I was up late and we would play Rock Band and Halo and Frisbee all the time. That was essentially what my job was: just being there and hanging out.”
Like his residents, Sam took classes at Western Kentucky University. “While I was there, I got my Master’s in Higher Education,” he explains. “Just as I was about to graduate, I started looking for jobs and saw an opening at TAMS, and I thought it would be perfect.”
Sam’s decision to move from his hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky to Denton, Texas was tough at times. “My mom tried to convince me not to come down here,” he laughs. “But I just knew that it was the perfect opportunity.” He was truly courageous, as the first time he had ever been to Texas was the day he moved to TAMS. “I packed everything in my car and drove down here with my dad. He helped me set up and then he flew back home. I think it’s hard sometimes, being so far away. My family is back in Kentucky, which is an eleven-hour drive, but I try to go home every few months to spend time with them.”
When discussing his family, Sam mentions his brother. “He’s two years older than me, and he has high-functioning autism. It’s been interesting because I feel like I’ve learned a lot from him as far as being patient and just listening to people. He’s a really caring person so that’s been helpful for me.”
Despite sometimes missing home, Sam recognizes that he fits wonderfully into the McConnell Hall environment. “The community is by far the best part, especially working in the hall. I don’t think I would like my job nearly as much if I were in Sage,” he laughs. “Just being here, right in the middle of all the students and getting to hang out with you guys all the time – I think it’s really fun. Your motivation and desire to do cool stuff helps keep me motivated to try to keep up with you all,” he beams.
“I think that’s the best part: you guys.”
Although the Class of 2017 knows Sam well as their academic counselor, he stresses that he is available to discuss more than just school. “I want people to know that they can come talk to me not just about academics but about anything,” he says. “I’m here to be a resource.” This is certainly true, as Sam has brought to Denton the same fun-loving, involved attitude that he displayed at The Gatton Academy. “Once I switched to more of an administrative position [at TAMS], I didn’t want to lose that involvement. I feel like you develop relationships a lot better if you’re outside of the office. I’m glad I can still be involved; it’s not as much as I used to be, but I think I can help in different ways now than I was able to in my previous job. That’s always been the plan.”
Sam lives out this plan each day by acting as an athlete on many of the TAMS sports teams such as ultimate Frisbee, basketball, and softball, a guest star at various events in McConnell, and a friend in the courtyard throwing a football with residents. He also has no problem relating to TAMS students, and his office décor demonstrates this nicely. The walls and bookshelves are plastered with superheroes, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Halo. “Well, I guess quite frankly, I’m pretty nerdy myself. I’m interested in all of this stuff,” he says, his eyes lighting up with joy. He has seen the new Star Wars film twice in theaters and although he admits that it did borrow from the previous films, he “really enjoyed it. The character development in Episode VII was amazing. It was a really fun, light-hearted movie even though serious stuff happened.” When asked about Episode VIII, Sam continues, “I’m really excited for it, and to see Luke do stuff. He’s my favorite character.”
Sam also explains that if he was an RA, his wing theme would probably involve superheroes, especially Spiderman, his favorite. “I mean, I know it’s been done a lot, but you can get into the whole Marvel vs. DC debate. I also love puns, so maybe I would try to make a wing theme around puns.”
Although it’s clear that he loves his job, Sam acknowledges that there are some difficult aspects of it. “It can be frustrating in certain situations when I don’t feel like I can help much – when I see things that I know are upsetting to you all but I can’t do anything about it,” he explains, with an air of serious reflection. “I think, in general, you all feel things really strongly so sometimes it stinks to just sit here and watch somebody cry their eyes out or be really upset about something and I can just offer advice and sit it out. It’s tough when you can’t help as immediately as you would like to.”
After a short pause, Sam continues. “Other than that, I wouldn’t say the job is easy but it’s so much fun. It’s very busy, but the problems are good problems to solve, and there aren’t really annoying things that happen.”
When he is not working, Sam spends the majority of his free time keeping up with his own coursework. He is pursuing a PhD in Educational Psychology here at UNT. “I’m definitely really interested in it, and it’s exactly in line with that I want to do career-wise. I’m studying gifted kids specifically, so it matches perfectly with what I’m doing here at TAMS,” he says. “My ultimate goal is to run an academy one day. I think even opening a school somewhere would be really cool. It’s the perfect fit.”
Of course, he also takes time away from both work and school to have fun with friends. When questioned about his mustard suit, Sam burst out laughing. “Fun fact: I wore that outfit to the premier of the last Harry Potter movie,” he says with a grin. Among hundreds of other fans sporting their finest Hogwarts attire, Sam stood in a bright yellow mustard costume. “I walked in, and I don’t really like attention that much, but I had sunglasses on which made me feel more withdrawn. People were high fiving me and taking pictures with me; it was hilarious. I was even interviewed by some random local magazine while I was there. It was so fun!”
When asked what he would tell the TAMS community if given the chance, Sam offers reassuring words that reflect his outlook on the unpredictability of life. “My main piece of advice is just to chill. I mean, I love the energy but sometimes people get so stressed, thinking that things have to go a certain way,” he explains sincerely. “We all come up with plans and when they change it can be really hard to deal with. From my perspective, with a few more years of experience, I see that I have a lot of things that I didn’t plan to work out. I think that if you put yourself in a position to succeed and pay attention to what’s around you, you can go from there.”
“TAMS wasn’t on my radar two years ago and now I love it and plan on being here for several years.”