Thursday, 16 May 2019

Another May

Here we are again, at the end of another school year. One of my very favorite parts about working in academia is the constant refresh of energy and focus that comes with the shifting of the seasons. One season does not fade into the next. Instead, all four are pronounced, either with a new beginning or another ending, and that rhythm is really lovely.

We concluded Olivet's semester with a baccalaureate service and graduation commencement ceremony this past weekend. It was a really beautiful spring weekend on campus, and I got my doctorate gown out and was happy to march with my department, other faculty members, and administrators. We were also glad to celebrate the English and English Education seniors with a celebratory lunch and a photo after the graduation ceremony. This year was especially special to me, as it is the year that one of my most influential college professors, Dr. Belcher-Rankin, is retiring. She served as my advisor, then trip leader to Burkina Faso, Africa, then unofficial mentor through graduate school. I felt so honored to spend a year-- my first and her last-- as colleagues in the same department.

As I said, the end of the school year is marked by the end of my first year as a full time faculty member. After graduating from ASU in May of 2017, I worked as an adjunct for a year while going on the job market, and then started at Olivet in August of 2018. In addition to teaching the four classes, which I discussed in my previous post, I'm very happy with what I was able to accomplish this year, as I think some really productive measures were initiated, like the two following items:

  1. Even as a new faculty member, I served on two committees this school year. The first was the Department of English Composition Committee, and we worked on reviewing the composition classroom curriculum. With the committee's support, I piloted using a new textbook in the ENGL 109: College Writing I classroom. The department had previously been using an MLA handbook, but I didn't feel I was able to engage the students in my classroom with it very well. I drew on teaching experience from Madison College and brought the textbook Habits of the Creative Mind into the classroom. I used it throughout the spring semester, and the students responded well. In a survey at the end of the semester, 95% of the students suggested using the text again. As a committee, we decided we are going to do just that, and we will use it in every section of 109 that will run in the fall. I've been working on setting up options for how to teach the text, and I'm excited to see what other professors will do with it. 
  2. The second committee I served on was the Department of English Writing Committee, and we took a look at our programatic offerings for writing in general. From this overview and research we conducted in the fall, we brought a new proposal forward to our department. The department members responded positively, so as a group, we spent a good portion of the spring semester ironing out details of our proposal before we will bring the complete idea to deans and administrators. It was exciting to be part of this work, and we are hoping for a positive outcome. 
My position as a faculty member is shifting. This past year I served as a full time faculty member under the title Assistant Professor in the Department of English, with expectations of service on campus. As the commute got to be too tiring and we realized our family would grow this fall, my department chair kindly offered to shift my position in the department. Starting this fall, I will be an Affiliate Professor in the Department of English. I will still be working full time for Olivet; however, my service obligations will be lightened, so I will be able to do the majority of my work from home. I am excited about this opportunity and so appreciative to my department chair and the administrators who opened up this position for me. 

As part of the shift between roles, I am creating a new online course for the university this summer, which I will teach in the fall. This is an online version of the ENGL 306: Advanced Writing course that I taught last fall. I really enjoyed teaching that course and diving into writing and rhetorical histories and theories with my students. The shift to an online format will be different, but I am hoping it is still very rewarding and productive for the students.

In addition to creating this course, I am also teaching an online section of ENGL 311: Business Communication & Technical Writing this summer. I taught B&T both semesters at Olivet. This is an eight week, online, much smaller version of those classes, but again, I still want to make sure the class is beneficial to the students who are enrolled. Between those two endeavors, and starting department work again in just under two months, I think the summer will go by quickly. 

Personally, I've been very blessed with wonderful support and time with friends these past few weeks. At the end of April, my family threw Wade and I a lovely shower over the Easter weekend when my uncle, aunt, cousins, and their families were all in Madison. We had elephant decor, a guessing game, and a delicious Mexican taco brunch. About a week later, my colleagues in the English department were so kind to throw us another shower on the Monday during the last week of school when I know that everyone had so much to do. 

My cousin Candace made a red velvet gluten free cake with cream cheese frosting for the first shower, and my colleague Ann made a chocolate cake with vanilla cream and mirror glaze chocolate ganache for our second shower. They were both beautiful and delicious! So far, these cakes have been two of the best parts about being pregnant. Just in between the two showers we also found out that Baby Bruce is a BOY, so it was fun to let our family and friends know about that! 

May also started off on a lovely note, as I attended the annual Original Women's Conference in Rockford, IL hosted by City First Church. I went with most of the members of our Bloom Women's Ministry leadership team and several other ladies from Ridgeway Church. This is my second year attending, and I had a really wonderful, refreshing time. The conference was held fresh on the heels of the last week of school, but I'm glad that I got to go and be a part of the conference and the time with the ladies. 

On top of the work that I'll be doing this summer, I do think the nesting instinct will kick in as we prepare for the baby this September. This morning I already got caught down a rabbit hole of learning about toxicity in scented candles, nail polishes, and non-standard essential oils, and I feel like I need to do a clean sweep of my house! I've switched to all natural facial products and hair products over the past nine months, and I'm thinking brands like Pure Hive, Palate Polish, and Young Living will become my standards for cleaner, more natural products in these other areas, as well. 

I am currently loving the summer break (as of yesterday) and time hanging out at home with the worlds cutest doggos. I am looking forward to what's to come, both personally and professionally as the seasons shift once again! 

Monday, 29 April 2019

Grow, Baby, Grow

So far, this month of spring has been marked as a season of growth. I do mean this literally as spring is the season of new growth and new life. I also mean it figuratively, as I have been struck several times lately by the growth I've seen happening in my own life and in my classrooms this semester.

One marker of growth is the way that time passes. In January we celebrated my 30th birthday in Thailand, and then this week, we celebrated Wade's 30th birthday here in Madison. Wade and I have been friends since we were 15 years old, so we've gotten to celebrate half of our birthdays together. Quite a marker! Our twenties, for the most part, treated us well, but I'm looking forward to what's to come in this new decade.
My 30th Birthday
Wade's 30th Birthday
We are also growing our family in our new home! This type of growth is marked by expansion, both of my waistline, as well as settling into a new home that's bigger than any home we've ever lived in. We (and the dogs) are loving the space, and I'm excited to feel fully settled. It's really nice to have space to grow, which is more than I can say for the little one inside.

New Home
New Baby
I've also noticed marked growth in my students and their work this semester, which has been really exciting. The semester has been somewhat of an odd one as we started out on such a rough note with literally weeks off due to cold and snow. That made the remaining fourteen(ish) weeks of the semester feel fairly cramped, and I do know that some of my students were feeling that as they came to their final products. In each of my classes, though, I've seen marked improvements in the areas of composition and communication.

College Writing I
Brainstorming in CWI
I ended up with about 40 College Writing I students this semester between two sections. That is slightly smaller than the average load, but I appreciated being able to give more one on one attention to the students in the classes. One class met from 6:00-8:30 PM on Monday nights, and though I know many struggled to get through, 19 students are finishing that class, which I think is an achievement. In their work, though, I've noticed noticeable growth over the last few weeks, which is always very exciting to see as a professor.

In class we spend a lot of time talking about genre conventions, which we define as "components of any given composition that are considered to be generally true." I usually give an example like, a letter versus an email versus a text message. They are all types of communication, but as composers and communicators, we understand that there are basic format, tone, and delivery methods for each type of composition-- those are the conventions. I would say that the students (like most) struggled with this idea through the first half of the semester, but as they have been composing this most recent project I've been really excited to see them engage with new conventions in ways they hadn't before. They are drafting magazine articles that synthesize outside arguments grounded in their own argument, and they are playing with conventions and new ideas in really cool ways. I've also seen significant growth from individual students, as they struggled at the beginning of the semester and now are near the top of the class.

Business Communication & Technical Writing
I would say of all of my classes, this B&T class felt the time crunch of the semester the most significantly. There are four major projects that run in this class-- right around midterm there are three going at one time-- so I understand the students' concern about getting everything done. That being said, I've seen some of the best results come out of this class that I've ever seen from business or professional writing courses that I've taught. One example is that the students are required to conduct a 30 hour practicum in order to earn one credit of the course. This is 30 hours outside of class where they work with a local business or organization to create professional writing texts. These are very real world situations, as the texts that the students research, compose, edit, and send out go to live audiences. One student's text was even sent to the IL State Senate. The practicum has been a requirement of the course where I've seen some students really excel and some not so much. This semester, though, for the first time, I've received back glowing evaluations from all 22 of the practicum supervisors. Every single student earned full credit from their supervisors on their work, and that is a real testament to their tenacity and work ethic this semester.
2019 B&T Proposals

The students in this class also work as groups to present a final proposal to members of the administration or leadership in various departments around campus. This is a large amount of work, as a problem needs to be clarified, solutions need to be feasibly composed, both primary and secondary research need to be conducted, and all of this needs to be put together in both a professional proposal and a professional presentation. As always, some groups struggled a bit in one or more of these aspects, as working in groups is tough enough in addition to all of these specific components. That being said, a few groups really went above and beyond. Of the five presentations given these year, I'd say at least two were up there with the best I've ever seen. One presentation immediately got the attention of the Vice President of Student Development, Dr. Woody Webb, who told the group he'd like to get working on their proposal immediately and have it in effect ASAP, which was very exciting for the whole class.

Writing Fiction & Poetry 
I was excited about the marked growth in this class because I actually wasn't the one who identified it! As we moved through the semester, I asked the students to consider the five rhetorical canons of composition (as I mentioned in my previous post) in order to better compose and understand the work of their peers. Based around these canons, the students participated in five writing workshops where they would meet with their peers and get feedback on their work. After the last workshop, I had us all gather together and share just one aspect that we liked in the work we read. That discussion brought about comments from multiple students about the exponential growth they had seen in the work of their peers over the semester. I totally agreed with them, but it was really cool to hear them give specific ways that they had seen their peers grow this semester in their voices, style, and arrangement. I think it was encouraging to the students as well, to hear things about their work they may not have even realized on their own.
Dr. Case's Author Talk

The students in F&P have had a lot of outside input, like the two guest speakers I mentioned last time. Since my last post, we have had a third guest speaker come speak to the class. His name is Dr. Stephen Case, and he is an Associate Professor in the department of Chemistry and Geoscience. He has also published widely, including both a novel and now a nonfiction text. He had a lot of great insight to share with the students. We also had a guest lecturer come in, as well as a lot of feedback from each other in the composing process. This will all come to fruition now at the end of the semester, as the students will be submitting work for consideration for publication and doing a public reading as a joint effort with Professor Jon Seals and the Art Department at the Victorian House Gallery on Olivet's campus. I am looking forward to the students getting to showcase their work.

As a professor, too, I think I have been challenged to grow this semester. These four classes that I taught challenged me to transition between conceptions of academic writing, professional writing, and creative writing on a regular basis. As notions of communication, composition, and conventions shift across each genre and purpose, I had to fine tune my ways of explaining ideas and setting expectations for my students. I've also been challenged to be better in those areas myself as I work with my TAs, department members, or other faculty and staff across campus. I think as I become more aware of my own habits of communication and composition I'm able to be more effective in instructing others along those same paths.

I look forward to what is to come as we conclude this spring semester-- my first as a full time faculty member-- and look towards what is next.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Ide[a]s of March

March is here, and it brought some sunshine and warmer weather along with it!

At Olivet, we celebrated moving into the second half the semester the first week of March, and then we had our spring break the second week. All four of my classes were ready to have a little time off, as they have all been working hard on various writing projects. My College Writing I students completed a critical review of an episode of a food show on Netflix just before the break. My Fiction and Poetry students have been working through drafts of chapters, short stories, and poems as we examine the five rhetorical canons of composition. My Business Communication and Technical Writing students had a busy first half of the semester jumping into writing practicums, writing documentation for an online process, and starting a group proposal project. As always, there have been some ups and downs, but the students have been working hard towards these projects goals.

My Fiction and Poetry class have had a special treat of having two guest authors come speak to them during class time to share about drafting, invention, and the composing process as a whole. The first is my friend, Thomas Hunt, who I studied with in Oxford almost ten years ago now. Quite a bit of time has passed, but Tom was so kindly willing and quick to schedule a time to chat with my class from a quiet corner at Cambridge University where he is currently earning his second master's degree! Tom and I lived in the same house and were in the food group together during our time in Oxford, which means we're forever bonded. He shared about his writing and publishing of his two published books: Winter With God, which I love and read at the beginning of every class this semester, as well as The Way of Faith, which I am excited to get my hands on! My students were enamored and learned so much.

As a second guest, my friend Ian Matthews also came to speak to our class. Ian and I were English majors at the same time at Olivet, and we actually took Fiction and Poetry together about nine years ago. Since then, he actually taught the class for a few years after completing his MFA. He recently took a new position at the university in instructional development, but he was kind enough to come back to speak to our class about his process specifically composing, editing, and publishing poetry, including his poem "Glad" published in The Badlands. He shared quite a bit of his own poetry, as well as the poetry from poets he is inspired by. It was a wonderful glimpse into this specific type of composing, and as the previous professor of the course, Ian had a lot of great advice to share with these six creative writing students.

As I mentioned in the last post, I spent my spring break in Pittsburgh, PA at CCCC 2019. Wade traveled with me this time, and it was nice to be able to see him in the morning and hang out together at night. As we live apart during the work week, it was especially great to be able to have dinner together and just chat about our day in person instead of over the phone or FaceTime. At the conference, I served as a co-chair of the feminist workshop, which this year was titled "Living Feminist Lives: Materialities, Methodologies, and Practices." In this 9:00 AM- 5:00 PM workshop we got to hear from a variety of wonderful speakers, including both graduate students and foundational scholars in the field. My very favorite feminist theorists, Jaqueline Jones Royster and Gesa Kirsch, spoke as the keynote speakers. I am always so excited and so inspired when I get to hear them speak. My dissertation and the majority of my subsequent scholarly work has been based off of their 2012 text, Feminist Rhetorical Practices, which is sometimes referred to affectionately as "the feminist Bible." Their work emphasizes the importance of ethical communication and research practices, particularly with members of the community outside of the academy.

I attended some other panels on the two main days of the conference. This year I attended panels exclusively focused on feminist teaching and scholarship, and I loved it. I don't know if I will be able to attend my very favorite conference in the fall-- Feminisms & Rhetorics-- so I had to soak up all the feminist research and discussion I could now! I also presented my own work on the Saturday morning of the conference. My two co-panelists and I talked about food scholarship. My presentation (surprise surprise) was based on two of Royster and Kirsch's feminist rhetorical practices. We even had eight attendees who contributed to discussions and questions following our panel. Wade and I flew out a few hours after my presentation, so it was a great end to my CCCC 2019 experience!

I got to spend time with my wonderful friend and writing group colleague, Dr. Casie Moreland, as well as other graduate school and conference friends, which is one of the best parts of attending these conferences every year. We were also lucky enough to get to see our college friend Jerry Scheller and get a personalized tour of Pittsburgh!

Since returning home we've been hanging out with our dogs, working on buying a house, and I've of course, been back in IL at work. This week is ending with a two day departmental workshop focusing on adjusting our major offerings, outcomes, and course structure. It's a lot to work on, but we have a solid group of nine, dedicated, hard working English professors and instructors coming together to discuss these changes and work towards a, hopefully, better program for our students. It is a lot of hard work, but I am energized by the sharing of these ideas, proposals of changes, and overall shifts in some of the ways we've been working and thinking.

On a personal note, about seven days after arriving home from Thailand we found out that I am pregnant! We are expecting a little bundle in mid to late September. This little one already been on ten airline rides with us on our trip to and from Asia, as well as back and forth from PA. I didn't feel great on the trips to and from Pittsburgh, so I'm thinking we might stay grounded for the next six months or so. We were shocked, to say the least, but we are getting very excited to welcome this new little life. Our family, friends, and coworkers have been the MOST excited and loving, and it's made me appreciate our strong support system more than ever. We believe the best is yet to come!

Friday, 15 February 2019

Here We Go, 2019!

January and February are always transition months-- into the new year as well as a new semester, schedule, and group of students. Lots of both personal and professional updates all mixed together. Here we go!

This spring semester I have 74 students between four classes. I am teaching two sections of College Writing I. One section meets twice a week, and the other meets just on Monday nights. I like the diversity between the courses, and both sets of students are attentive and strong. I am also teaching Business Communication and Technical Writing, which I taught in the fall as well. I really enjoy that class. There is a lot of hands on work time, group work, and live audiences responding to the student's work. I think especially for professional writing classes that last element is really important. I am also teaching Writing Fiction and Poetry for the first time. With a class of six students I am working towards a discussion based class where students can share, work, ideas, and misgivings. We've had a strange start to the semester with snow, ice, and wind days, but as we wrap up the fifth week of the semester I feel like we are going to move into the latter two thirds strong.

We had an eventful end to last year, including winning the baking contest I mentioned in my December post. Out of a friendly, intense competition of four, we came out on top. And our bake was gluten free! Got to spend good time with cousins and friends, though my lovely 88 year old Nana ended up in the hospital after all the Christmas excitement. Glad to report that she is finally back home and starting to heal.

The beginning of the year was also one for the record books! I helped host a women's event to celebrate the new year with our Ridgeway Bloom Women's Group. We had a great turn out, delicious breakfast food, and really fun activities. A week or so later Wade told me he was taking me out for dinner one night to celebrate my birthday, but it turns out he had a whole surprise party planned! It was a wonderful night of feeling so celebrated by my friends, eating lovely snacks my sister put out, and playing games together. It was a "Black and White" theme, and I loved it. 

I started the semester here at Olivet in mid-January. I taught my first week of classes, packed up and boarded a plane headed to Bangkok, Thailand! My husband and I spent ten days in Thailand to start out 2019. We spent about three days in Bangkok total, exploring the markets, getting foot massages, and looking over the river. The majority of the trip we spent in Sukhothai, Thailand at Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary. Hung out with the two employees, six kiddos, one volunteer, other three guests, 12 elephants, at least six dogs, multiple mahouts, and a host of other rescued animals including a horse named Teddy. We spent our days walking with the elephants, helping take care of dogs, eating delicious Thai food, cutting down corn or banana trees, and watching the sun set over a bonfire or water reservoir. I celebrated my 30th birthday there, and I fell in love with sweet old elephant Pang Fai. It was truly a magical, once in a lifetime experience. 

This semester a few exciting things are coming up. One is the 2019 Conference on College Composition and Communication. It is being hosted in Pittsburgh this year, and I am excited to host help host a workshop and present on a panel. I also received news of an article publication acceptance, and I submitted a proposal for a food symposium this summer and for a panel proposal for Fem/Rhet 2019 with my writing group for the fall. I enjoy these professional development opportunities and chances to connect with people.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

December: Finishing What We Started

December is here! For better or worse, we've made it to the end of the year. I remember thinking that 2017 was tumultuous, but I guess it was just a warm up for 2018. Some really wonderful things have happened, like I got to start my first full time job after earning my Ph.D., but there have been some heartbreaks as well. Glad to have made it to this point. I'm ready to celebrate Christmas and welcome in 2019. Below is the image we used for our family Christmas card. Merry Christmas!

I finished my grading today! Grades for all 82 students went into the final grade book. It always feels slightly unnerving to submit grades at the end of the semester-- so final! But I do feel good to officially have the fall semester behind me, as well as the spring semester to look forward to. For final projects my students submitted a variety of work. In my Business & Technical Writing course the students submitted final portfolios, as well as did presentations on the practicum work they had done over the semester. In my Advanced Writing course my students also submitted portfolios and presented on their writing identities. I appreciated their introspection and willingness to share.

My College Writing courses ended with final reflection letters. For most of the students in those two course sections this was their first semester in college, and overall, they did really well. They talked about engagement in the course, learning to overcome preconceived notions or concerns, and about conducting reviews of the peer's work and the way that had helped them grow. One comment in particular that meant a lot to me was from a quiet student who had told me mid-semester that she would be transferring to a community college closer to home at the break. In her letter, she wrote:

I really appreciated this comment because this student wasn't trying to earn a better grade or future approval. She just wanted to let me know this before the end of their time at Olivet, and I really appreciated it. It's comments and reflections like that that inspire me to keep working hard and appreciating my job. 

Outside of the classroom I've attended five of ten holiday parties/events/gatherings for the year. So far, I've enjoyed them all. One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is the baking and food preparation! I've done a gluten free vanilla noel cake, a cheese and cracker Christmas tree board, and gluten free cookies: strawberry thumbprint and chocolate ginger. 

This week has been particularly festive. On the last day of finals Wade came down to IL, and we went to see John Legend in Chicago! If attending his concert isn't the highlight of my Christmas season I will be surprised. We saw A Legendary Christmas Tour at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It was a chilly, rainy night, but John Legend's singing was warm and rich-- I think like what butter would sound like. It was a wonderful night, and he sang both Christmas songs and a lot of his classics. 

This upcoming week we will attend Wade's holiday party and bring our gluten free version of Mary Berry's Bakewell Tart recipe for a tart competition (first attempt posted below). Here's hoping! My extended family will come into town this weekend and next week, and we will celebrate the holiday together. The new year will bring both a fresh start of a new semester as well as a trip abroad. For those reasons, I will plan to post my next blog mid February with an update on all stated events! 

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year! 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

A Little Late, A Little Short

Turns out, being a full time professor is a full time job! Lots of wonderful benefits come with that, but it also means less time to do blog writing, purchase flights for conferences, or work on revisions for publications. These things will all still get done, even if they come in a little later than initially planned-- much like this abbreviated blog post. Here's what's been going on this month:

1) I've loved the fall weather but now we are already into winter! The turning of the leaves, the freshness of the air, the first snowfall-- it all feels so magical.

2) I got the opportunity to help lead our annual fall women's retreat through Ridgeway Church. This year, we called it Bloom: Change Begins With Her. We had close to 50 women in attendance, and we got to host them and really enjoyed spending time together. We all were challenged to make change in our community by Marelene Sorenson, one of the founders of Zeteo Community Inc, a local organization working to fight human trafficking in Madison and provide support for women and children who are survivors of trafficking.

3) I also had the chance to go back to my MA alma mater, Illinois State University, at the beginning of this month. The current WPA, Dr. Joyce Walker, invited me and other past graduate students to come back for a one day retrospective event to talk about how we are using, adapting, and implementing the theory of Pedagogical Cultural Historical Activity Theory in our classrooms. My friend Laurenn York and I presented on the Initial Genre Assessment that we first developed while at ISU and that we both continue to use at our respective institutions. It's always really invigorating to attend these professional events, to see old colleagues and friends, and to hear about the interesting and innovative work that they are doing.

4) Work at Olivet has been busy and exciting! Two of my colleagues attended the PCHAT retrospective with me, so we've been having really cool conversations about the potential for our freshman writing program. I have been asked to lead a committee dedicated to reviewing that work and proposing pedagogical and theoretical shifts in our courses. I currently have a course load teaching about 83 students, which is a lot and definitely keeps me on my toes. I gave extra credit for students who dressed up for class on and around Halloween, and there were some great costumes! It made it really fun to go to class the week of Halloween.

5) On the home front, my husband and I have sold our home, so we are in the process of moving out all of our things and settling into a new (albeit, temporary) space. I miss my family when I'm away at work, but I'm looking forward to the upcoming breaks to get to see my husband every day and spend more time with my adorable pups. We've loved our home and are sad to leave it, but I am happy to know that a new family will now get to make memories there.

This blog post is my 50TH POST! Thanks for reading and for your support.