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Mystery Ink

DATE: Tuesday, December 20, 2022

"Any group that gets over 1,000 likes on their Tik Tok video can ask me 10 personal questions and then design a mystery tattoo for me that I can't see until it's done." – Sheila Gould

Early education professor Sheila Gould sporting a fresh tattoo chosen by her students.

10 Questions with Sheila Gould

Some teachers offer incentives such as gold stars, extra credit, or even candy for work well done. HCC early education professor Sheila Gould offers her right arm as a canvas for tattoos selected by her students. 

Can we talk about your tattoos?
My new one is the Very Hungry Caterpillar eating a pink cupcake, which I just got three days ago. I now have two tattoos on my right arm that were created by my students in Education 201: Curriculum in Early Education. The students didn't draw them, but it was their idea that they shared with a tattoo artist that I know and trust.

Why did you let them do that?
They had an assignment in class. The assignment is to make Tik Tok videos about their course content to inform the public in a really fun way about how important the field of Early Childhood Education is. And so I gave them a challenge: any group that gets over 1,000 likes on their Tik Tok video can ask me 10 personal questions and then design a mystery tattoo for me that I go in and get without seeing until it's done.

That's a little scary. You've got two so far. What's your limit?
I don't know yet. I'm leaving my right arm available for future projects.

How long will you keep doing it?
I guess as long as the students are interested. I think using the Tik Toks makes them work really hard on their projects because it's a public forum, and they really want to do well. Then they get really into it because there's this incentive that's pretty unique.

So what's your personal limit or goal in terms of the tats?
Oh, it would be kind of fun to have a sleeve by the time I retire.

How many tattoos do you think that will take?
Well, I have a half sleeve here on my left arm, and that was about eight sittings. So, I would say it'll take me a good 10-15 years.

One per semester?
Yeah, because the students have a limit. They can't do something huge. I give them a budget and there are some parameters. 

What was the first tattoo students designed for you? Early education professor Sheila Gould sporting a tattoo chosen by her students.
The first one is a green carnation, and then my maiden name, "Murphy," is on the stem. My dad had passed away shortly before that semester, and we're really Irish. He had always worn or brought us green carnations. The students learned about that through the 10 personal questions they asked me, and that's what they picked. And that was a really touching. 

So what was the question that elicited the caterpillar tattoo?
They asked me a little bit about my favorite foods and about past jobs. I had worked at a pastry shop here in Holyoke for 15 years until they closed, and I'm really into sweets and baking, so I think that's why they added the little cupcake to it. And, obviously, I have a low key obsession with all things Eric Carle, and we do a project with the Eric Carle Museum every semester. So that kind of represents the class. 

Do you like the way it turned out?

I freakin' love it. I really do.

Experience the big reveal as Prof. Gould sees her new tattoo for the first time.

STORY and PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: Prof. Sheila Gould shows off her student-designed tattoos.