In a packed auditorium at the Lee Nursing Building, the Department of English, Modern Languages and Philosophy took time to celebrate student achievement on a warm Monday afternoon.
This fall, Jason Owens became one of three new faculty members to join the English Department. We asked him to tell us about himself and what he brings to FMU.
Q. Tell us a little about your research. In what areas do you research? What was your dissertation about? Any future plans?
My research interests include Black social and political thought, the systemic, institutional, and technological forms of violence against youth in the United States, and the impact/influence of privatization/corporatization on operations, curriculum implementation, and values orientations in public schools. My dissertation focuses on social reconstruction theory in education, particularly the work of Theodore Brameld, and the theory’s radical instructive influence on the values, vision, and mission of public education in the United States. In the future, my research plans are to engage social reconstruction philosophy with different areas of youth culture. I plan to offer social reconstruction theory as a force to defend violent capitalistic onslaughts against the youth, as well as offer awareness to the contemporary crises that endanger this most vulnerable and targeted group.
This post was written by Dr. Veenstra, Assistant Director of Composition.
On Monday, October 20, the English Department hosted Pastries with Professors, a regular event that brings together students and professors with the lure of delicious goodies and information about English courses offered next semester.
This semester’s gathering had a strong turnout, with over 35 faculty and 50 students in attendance. Among the students were those with majors or minors in English, Education, and Professional Writing. These students met professors who will teach specific classes in the spring. For example, Dr. Kellye Corcoran explained to students her ENG 328 class, which promises a “sassy” take on Neoclassical British Literature and will include film clips that paint vivid portraits of life in the 18th century. Other students got guidance about how to structure the courses they’ll need to take over the next few years. There were also several non-English majors who stopped by to get a copy of the Schedule of Courses for Spring 2015 while snacking on some sweetness. A few professors encouraged their whole classes to visit, and many of the students in Dr. Linda Jacobs’ Shakespeare class did so.
Niki Gause, a sociology major with collaterals in professional writing and psychology, talked with several professors about courses and bragged about her successes with the professional writing program. As a student employee who works with both the Orientation Office and Campus Police, she has learned that, in her words, “communication is key” to success in the working world. People don’t realize how important good speaking and writing are, she says, and she explained how she has benefitted from her training in professional writing. By crafting an informative and purpose-driven memo about a discrepancy in her paycheck (she had worked 12 hours but only got paid for four), she got to the root of the problem: one of her timecards had been lost. She was pleased to be able to tell this success story of how her writing helped solve a problem and gave her a clear reward: more money. In contrast, she has noticed how unprofessional communication can be confusing and frustrating. Since she frequently interacts with prospective and new students as well as their parents, she has seen badly worded emails that read more like texting shorthand than formal messages.
Another attendee was Nisheeka Simmons, a Writing Center tutor who brought an ENG 111 student she is working with in the Write on Target program. Although he is a business major, Julian grabbed a donut and a schedule, taking some time to plan out his Spring semester, along with a few of his teammates from the soccer team.
Maybe it was all the sugar and coffee, or maybe the combination of so many great personalities, but the room was full of energy and smiles. For both professors and students, it was a great opportunity to connect with each other outside the classroom.
In this post, Dr. Jones reflects on teaching English 250: Introduction to Literature. At FMU, Dr. Jones frequently teaches Introduction to Literature as well as English 348: African American Literature and English 200: Writing in the Disciplines.
The Joys of Teaching English 250: Introduction to Literature
A few years ago I read that the average American reads one book a year. Changing that frightening statistic is my motivation for teaching. One of the most challenging courses to teach can be English 250 Introduction to Literature. The first day of any class can be anxiety producing, but the first day of English 250 seems to elicit boredom in most students. Ah, those first 15 minutes of “I have to take this course so let’s get on with it so that I can tweet.” English 250 is my favorite course to teach because it gives me an opportunity to pass on a priceless gift: the love of reading. I know that most students don’t read for pleasure but, as President Carter said at graduation a few years ago, we aren’t doing our jobs very well if we don’t create lifelong readers. Producing not only readers, but informed and passionate readers is my goal for English 250.
I like teaching English 250 because reading together is a great way of forming community. We share our likes, dislikes, hopes, and dealbreakers for relationships. I know that my students are sometimes surprised that they reveal some of their deepest thoughts and desires about life and love as we discuss works such as Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. We form an emotional bond by sharing our reading experiences. I respect the demonstration of faith and trust they create by being engaged in the readings. With that said, I must admit that many of my students have lost their dating privileges. Perhaps my protective parental instincts took over, but I just had forbid them from dating to protect them from themselves. It all started when an offspring of a faculty member enrolled in my section of Introduction to Literature. Now I’ve known this person grow from a talented artist in high school into an amazing young man. So, when I heard his hopeful yet totally inaccurate description of a character in our novel, I had to immediately rescind the student’s dating privileges for his own benefit. It turned out that the way that he responded to the character reflected his actual romantic history. He wanted to save her when she clearly was incapable of saving herself. What started as a joke became serious when other students, out of concern, agreed with the loss of dating privileges for other students. I would hear “You know, Dr. Jones, Mr. or Ms. really shouldn’t date.” It has been funny and touching to see the protectiveness of the students develop for each other.
I also enjoy helping students, who openly admit to not liking literature, turn into combative sonnet lovers. Seriously, each semester discussions of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed And Where And Why” are downright heated. I don’t know why Millay provokes such strong responses, but it is beautiful to listen to the differing interpretations of the poem’s speaker. Let’s just say that there aren’t many budding feminists among my students.
After a few weeks of reading works by Edith Wharton, Shakespeare, Lorraine Hansberry, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, these young people form passionate opinions about literature. They begin to welcome the challenge of tackling a new literary work. I am always so proud of all of my students for being emotionally and intellectually present when they read literature. The fiery disagreements also reveal who has not done the reading. That number decreases to about 1 by the third week. If they haven’t read, they can’t participate. I’ve seen students sneakily try to read in class to find out what has everyone so excited.
Lastly, my goal in English 250 is to introduce the students to works of literature that every college graduate should know. Because I want to inspire confidence in their abilities to understand canonical literature, my students come to class without knowing the text of that day’s class. Everyone encounters the work at the same time. Being able to understand a sonnet by William Shakespeare makes my students feel confident in themselves. They start to banish that voice in their heads that has labeled them as bad English students . Sometimes they even read works that I haven’t assigned.
My ultimate goal is to help them to make more informed life choices. At least I feel certain that my students will forever remember at least one lesson from William Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”. Students have come back to tell me that they keep a copy of the sonnet with them to remind them of their own romantic goals while others keep the sonnet with them as a talisman. They tell me that they can still hear me saying over and over “Love’s not Time’s Fool” and now understand the motivation behind my constant refrain. Then my work is done. The class is over. Let the dating begin.
In this joint-authored post, Dr. Catherine England and English majors Thomas Wampler and Meagan Hooks recount their trip to Dickens Universe, an annual event in Santa Cruz, California.
There’s a foggy, seaside town in California where scholars, students, and enthusiasts gather to discuss, analyze, and enjoy Charles Dickens’s works every August for a week. It’s called the Dickens Universe, and it has been hosted by the University of California, Santa Cruz for thirty-four successful years. I was lucky enough to take Thomas Wampler and Meagan Hooks, two FMU English majors, to this event last summer because of the generous support of FMU’s REAL Grant program. We attended lectures, seminars, and workshops to enrich our knowledge of Dickens, Victorian culture, and the field of English Studies more broadly. I am excited for Thomas and Meagan to tell you more about the Universe and their wonderful experiences in their own words!
What is the Dickens Universe?
One of the organizers of the Dickens Universe calls it a combination of a “scholarly conference, festival, book club, and summer camp,” and it lives up to that billing. Each year the Universe focuses its lectures, seminars, and other events on one novel by Charles Dickens. In 2014, the Universe focused on Dickens’s final, completed novel, Our Mutual Friend, a dark work that takes its readers from scenes of dead bodies floating in the Thames to massive heaps of “dust” (something like a Victorian landfill) as it explores the relationships between life and death as well as money and filth.
At the Universe, top scholars powerfully deliver lectures once or twice each day, and between these lectures, participants attend seminars and workshops lead by English faculty and graduate students from all over the world. It is an opportunity to listen and learn from others while formulating and expressing your own ideas about literature. As an added bonus, you get to stay in beautiful Santa Cruz with access to unbelievable views of the mountains, the Redwoods, and the Pacific Ocean. This unique event concludes its scholarly conversation by embracing whimsical fun with a Victorian ball on the final night, during which you can, despite your jeans and T-shirts, learn and practice nineteenth-century dances. The Dickens Universe provides daily intellectual stimuli, a very busy schedule, and the opportunity to learn all about Charles Dickens, the Victoria era, and contemporary scholarship.
One of the most exciting things that happened to me while attending the 34th Annual Dickens Universe was the opportunity to interact with Professor Jessica Kuskey. Dr. England, as part of our summer preparation before attending the conference, had us read “Our Mutual Engine: The Economics of Victorian Thermodynamics” by Kuskey. We were required to summarize the article and also prepare a basic response in support or disagreement with Kuskey’s work. I found out the first day we arrived at Dickens Universe that I was going to be in Kuskey’s seminar. I had the opportunity to discuss her paper in class and later one-on-one. She answered my questions and proved as kind as she was smart. She took the time to tell me her thought process in writing the paper and how she eventually “stumbled” upon the subject of thermodynamics, which was not originally her topic.
Another aspect of the Universe that struck me was how international its make-up was. In my morning seminar, there was a student from Japan. In my mid-morning session, there was a participant from Australia, and the session was led by a graduate student originally from India. In all my classes we had a variety of people from all over the United States: Colorado, Washington State, Washington, D.C., Maine, New York, Iowa, Hawaii, to name just a few. The fact that I was exposed to so many different people with different backgrounds only enhanced the educational and cultural experience.
I really enjoyed my graduate-student led discussion group at the Dickens Universe. This open forum was great for allowing participants to delve deeply into Our Mutual Friend and analyze critically through close reading and class discussion. In these forums, I was able to learn a lot from the grad students along with my fellow classmates, who all brought unique perspectives. I feel confident I will be able to apply what I learned from my experience in my own English studies, and hope to be able to apply teaching strategies in the future when I may have students of my own.
There was much more to Dickens Universe than just the classroom, however. One of my favorite activities was the Grand Ball on the last night of the conference, during which we were taught traditional Victorian dances. The dance was a great way to have fun and socialize with other participants, as well as get a taste for Victorian culture. Overall, Dickens Universe was a truly unique academic experience unlike anything else.
The deadline for this opportunity has passed, but you can read more about the fully-funded trip Dr. English and two FMU English majors took to Dickens Universe.
Calling All English Majors!
Apply for a full-funded trip to the Dickens Universe Conference at the University of California, Santa Cruz from August 2-9, 2014.
Email letters of interest to Dr. England by April 24th, 2014. More information on the application process and the Dickens Universe can be found below and on this flyer.
The Dickens Universe
The Dickens Universe is a unique week-long conference that focuses on one work by the Victorian writer Charles Dickens each year. This format allows its participants to fully prepare for an in-depth, scholarly experience that will include lectures by outstanding professionals in the field, discussions groups, and even Victorian-themed activities (yes, there will be lots of tea and even a ball).
For FMU English majors interested in increasing their knowledge of English Studies and who have experience reading nineteenth-century literature, this is an incomparable opportunity to learn from leading scholars while also experiencing the Pacific Ocean views, redwood forests, and California culture of Santa Cruz.
For more information, visit the Dickens Universe website or watch “The Dickens Project Mini Documentary” on YouTube.
Dr. England, Trip Coordinator
Dr. England (a three-time veteran of the Universe) will be accompanying selected students and preparing them for this year’s conference on Our Mutual Friend through reading and writing activities.
To apply, send a short email to c e n g l a n d [at] f m a r i o n [dot] e d u by April 24th. Your email should briefly describe your career goals and past experience with British nineteenth-century literature. Strong candidates will be asked for an interview. All majors (including graduating seniors) are strongly encouraged to apply.
Apply today! The application deadline is April 24th.
In this post, Dr. Veenstra describes what happens at academic conferences and notes some memorable learning experiences from conferences she’s attended. She also explores how conferences nourish vital social and intellectual communities in academia.
Every February, the University of Louisville hosts their conference on literature and culture since 1900. Almost every February, I am one of the many hundreds of academics and independent scholars that flock to the city of bourbon, basketball, and derbies. It has become a tradition for me and for many of my colleagues from graduate school, who first started attending the conference under the guidance of our advisors. In fact, it feels much like a mini-reunion each year, as we come together again, from increasingly diverse locations and jobs.
Once we were all in graduate school together at Michigan State University and we clung to each other out of excitement – who doesn’t love continuing conversations about Jean Baudrillard or Virginia Woolf over coffee? – or out of desperation – at the end of the semester, with 40 pages of seminar papers to write and even more grading to do, we needed all the friends and commiseration we could find – or out of genuine affection. Indeed, I met some truly amazing people in graduate school. Not only are they smart and committed to both the intellectual life and the service of teaching, but they are also genuinely interesting people.
I don’t use that word lightly—interesting. What I mean to say is that they helped me see the world in a different way as we talked about literature, theory, teaching, and life. And, without exception, they knew how to laugh and make others laugh. In hindsight, I am pleased to discover that, although we were engaged in a deeply serious endeavor, we somehow managed not to take ourselves too seriously. And that makes for true character. It’s easy to get beaten down by grad school and the pressures of making it in the world, especially when you’re living on the meager wages of a graduate student and pondering the increasing difficulty of landing a job as an English professor. But if you can make it through that and be able to laugh about the absurdity that is academia or even the absurdity of being an adult, then your character has been forged in just the right way—you remain open to the possibilities of the world, don’t ignore the harsh and unfair truths that come at you every day, and remember that we are all in this together, so we might as well make friends.
And that brings me back around to the conference. Sure, I ran into people I knew from “back in the day.” But every year I see more familiar faces that are part of a different community – the mobile collection of scholars, thinkers, and fans of literature and culture that are a distinct hallmark of academia. As a scholar of modernist literature, I also attend the Modernist Studies Association conference most years. I start to see overlap between attendees at the two conferences, and we are able to follow the development of eachother’s ideas from year to year. Some of the people I have met at conferences were introduced to me first through their papers and ideas, and then I got to meet them in person. Some of these people – often the keynote speakers – I met long ago through their writings, and it is a curious phenomenon indeed to see the physical person who has produced such work. They are all just people like us, people who started plugging away at some ideas decades ago and are still engaged in the process of searching for and creating new knowledge.
This year, I heard noted feminist scholar Jane Marcus speak about Adrienne Rich, her friend, fellow feminist, and poet who passed away last year. Afterwards, I joined her and a small group of others to see an exhibit displayed for us by the University of Louisville’s special collections librarian. Included in this display were some rare editions of books by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. Many of those in the library, Jane Marcus included, were thrilled to see a copy of A Room of One’s Own with Woolf’s signature on the title page. My favorite book was the copy of Woolf’s novel Orlando, which had been owned by Sylvia Plath. In the first page of the book, Plath had taped a newspaper clipping, a photo of Woolf with the caption “morbidly affected” underneath. What a delightful discovery to make – how one author, clearly influenced by Woolf herself – chose to think of this past icon, through a lens that intensified her complex and ultimately disturbing emotional life.
Why go to a conference? I am struck by the generosity of all the people I meet, people who are deeply invested in their work and in the collective endeavor of intellectual discovery that goes on display at conferences. The librarian was a scholar in her own right, and she was eager to help others with their research interests. Within the conference itself, after papers are presented, audience members often ask questions and suggest ideas that help expand the thinking of the presenter. Since there is a healthy mix of graduate students and established scholars, there are always moments when the older generation reaches out to help the younger generation in their work. Many years ago at one of the conferences of the Modernist Studies Association, I added my thoughts during the Q&A portion of a panel and mentioned that I was working on Ford Madox Ford. Afterwards, Max Saunders – author of a biography of Ford and one-time Chair of the Ford Madox Ford Society – came up to me to express his gratitude that the younger generation was continuing work on this author in whom he was so deeply invested.
I always return from conferences reinvigorated to do my work as a scholar and a teacher. I am reminded of what I love about this field—namely, how one’s mind can get expanded over and over again by the thoughts of other people. I used to find this sensation somewhat intimidating and overwhelming, especially when it seemed to suggest that my research had only scratched the surface of something that had turned out to be much larger than I had initially imagined. I felt that there was so much to know that I had not accounted for in my research, and I despaired at ever mastering it all. Now I am pleased to realize that it’s true – the quest for knowledge is indeed endless – but it is much less solitary than it appears at first glance. At conferences, in the classroom, in coffee shops, and through the many publications that connect academics, there is a thriving community of people who take pleasure in the quest, and who invite the next generation to add their voices.