Tag Archives: Student Spotlight

Scott receiving his recent Creative & Performing Arts Scholarship Award for Creative Nonfiction

Scott Miller
English Major: Creative Writing

Besides your current classes, what else are you doing or have you done that we should know about? Awards? Special projects? Travel? Service work?

During my two years at CSU, I’ve received two Creative & Performing Arts Scholarship Awards, for Fiction and Creative Nonfiction. I’ve also been involved with Sigma Tau Delta, the honor society for English students. As far as travel goes, last summer I got to spend a week in Rocky Mountain National Park, and it’s always such an amazing and humbling experience to be in the middle of all of this rugged and beautiful terrain that is far, far older than any of the people who are exploring it.

What inspired you to get a degree in English? Why CSU? How did you choose your concentration?

I had actually initially intended to get a degree in psychology, and then biology while I was still in community college. I sort of bounced around between all these different choices before I discovered that my strengths really lay in writing, and at that point I had this moment where I thought, well, that sounds like I should major in English. I should say here that one of my professors at Front Range, Randy McCrain, really encouraged me to take this direction.

I picked CSU because it was an in-state school with a really excellent English faculty, and I have to say, I think it was the right choice. As far as my concentration goes, I enjoy writing fiction so creative writing felt like the only real option. I may have hesitated for a second or two first, though!

We are always trying to debunk the myth that the ONLY options for an English major are to become a writer, teacher, or work in publishing. What sort of possibility, potential do you see for yourself as an English major?

This is a hard question for me to answer, because I am a writer, and so I obviously would like to continue to write and try to get published after graduation. But I have an English major friend who has just gotten a job in insurance, and another friend who has worked in advertising for a while after getting an English degree. So I would say that, for the student who has an interest in the sorts of critical thinking and communication skills that you can obtain by majoring in English but doesn’t want to write or edit or teach, you aren’t locked down to those careers. You can pursue all sorts of careers and your skill set will remain relevant.

Scott considering an alternative viewpoint

Knowing what you do about it, how would you describe the CSU English department to someone?

It’s a diverse and interesting place, where you’ll encounter a number of different viewpoints and ideas from the students and faculty. The faculty are very supportive. Any time I’ve had a question or a problem, I’ve been able to get help. People are invested in your success as a student.

Why do you think the humanities are important?

There’s a big emphasis on STEM majors today, as we all know, and they’re all about empirical data and things that can be tested. The humanities are more about how you deal with that information, and the ethical and philosophical questions that can arise from how we use information, and how we deal with other people, also. English as it’s taught at CSU is an interesting way to see how that can work, because you’re taught how to analyze, and how to communicate effectively, and how to craft good arguments and use rhetoric effectively, and so on. In an era of fake news and alternative facts, the Humanities are more important, not less, because those skills can prompt you to ask, well, where did this story come from? Is there anything to support and corroborate this information? That’s crucial.

What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?

CSU has an amazing English faculty. There are so many excellent instructors here.

What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?

If you want to have a life at all, try not to get into a situation where you have to take five or more classes at once during a semester. That was not my best moment.

What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote? OR, What are you currently reading, writing?

Recently I read House of Houses by Pat Mora for a creative nonfiction class, and I thought it was excellent. It’s a magical realist memoir about a Latino family and I don’t want to ruin it for anybody. Just check it out. As far as writing, I just finished another revision on a short story. I try to write something every week, but with Finals and graduation coming up, I may need to take a break at some point. Or not. Sleep is for the weak, right?

Scott hiking the trail between Bear Lake and Nymph Lake at RMNP last summer

What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?

I’m out of shape and getting older, so last summer I picked up on hiking as a way to lose weight and exercise and actually enjoy how beautiful Colorado can be by being outside in it and not just looking out a window. The weather’s getting nice so I’m looking forward to getting out more. I also love watching movies and Imlisten to an awful lot of music. And of course I read a lot, too, which is a good thing for an English major.

Where will we find you in five years?

Hopefully by then I’ll have a career going and be able to support myself and my writing. I’m currently planning to apply to MFA programs in the Fall, and in five years I’d also like to have published a collection or a novel. We’ll see.

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Dakota Lewis
BA English: Writing Concentration
BS Business Administration: Marketing and Computer Information Systems Concentrations

What inspired you to get a degree in English?
My mom has a degree in English herself and taught it for a while, and my dad is a published writer. They instilled in my sister and me a strong love for reading and writing as we were growing up. Some of my earliest memories are of being read to by my dad (who always used different voices for all the characters), and I wrote my first story when I was about four. Throughout my life, I’ve recognized the power of words in how they can educate, inspire, change hearts and minds, and transport people to different times and places. With that kind of background, I always knew I would be pursuing something related to English when I got to college.

You are currently the English Language Tutor for the Global Village Learning Community and a teaching assistant for BUS 300. Tell us more about those experiences. What are you learning from them? How do your studies in English support you in this work?
I think my English major was one of my biggest assets in applying for these two jobs because it made it clear that I’m not only skilled in the language but also genuinely have a passion for it. For the Global Village Learning Community (a cultural learning community on campus in which domestic and international students live and take classes together), I work primarily with international students. I assist them with understanding prompts, generating responses, revising and editing work, and practicing speeches and presentations. It’s incredibly rewarding work because I get to help students during their transition to college and the U.S., and they often teach me a lot about their own cultures. I love hearing all the different stories my students have to tell. As a TA for BUS 300 (the business communication class all business majors are required to take), I get to help instruct my peers in more focused, technical styles of writing. I think this work has mostly helped me with interpersonal skills in finding the best ways to help students. My English major has helped me be knowledgeable and proficient in the skills I try to teach others in both jobs, and it certainly adds to my credibility.

Dakota with some of her coworkers


Knowing what you do about it, how would you describe the CSU English department to someone?

The CSU English department has the feel of a small liberal arts college despite being at a public university with thousands of students. The classes are small and personalized so that every single person can share their ideas and communicate directly with their professors. The department works hard to better students and provide us with numerous opportunities to learn and grow through internships, extracurricular activities, and chances to work collaboratively with peers. You really feel that you are valued as a student because it is clear that all the faculty are invested in your success, and many will go out of their way to mentor and support you.


Why do you think the humanities are important?
I think the humanities provide balance and beauty in a world that is increasingly all about STEM. Of course we need engineers, computer scientists, mathematicians, etc., but imagine how dull the world would be without poets, musicians, actors, and artists. Studying the humanities helps us connect to the best parts of the human experience, and they are crucial to expanding one’s worldview and thinking innovatively and creatively.

What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?
Don’t feel like you shouldn’t pursue what you are passionate about because it’s a “useless liberal art.” The value of your English education cannot be understated. The degree itself is a delight to obtain because the subjects taught are fascinating, exciting, and useful, and you will definitely come away feeling like you’ve learned a great deal. I’ve been told multiple times that my English degree will really help me stand out in the business world because communication skills, though often underestimated, are so crucial in that arena. Don’t make the same mistake of underestimating just how much an English education can benefit you. I recommend studying a wide range of subjects, but I would definitely say be true to yourself and study what you love.

What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?
Get involved in every way you can on campus. Look for ways you can use your English skills even in areas that might not seem so overt. Go see your professors during their office hours!

Dakota with some of her students

What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote? OR, What are you currently reading, writing?
I’m currently reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. It’s one of my boyfriend’s favorite books, and I love the fantasy genre in general. I especially enjoy Sanderson’s intricate, vivid descriptions and the imaginative way in which he designs the world of his books. As for writing, I’m currently working on a multimodal how-to guide for my CO 401 class which will analyze viral Facebook posts written by “regular” people, i.e., not celebrities of any kind. We’re investigating and commenting on relatively new fields of public writing and translating those findings into a user-friendly format. I love that even though my major is technically composition and rhetoric, I get to be creative with what I produce in my classes.

What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?
Reading has always been my very favorite hobby. I love to read everything from fantasy and science fiction to historical fiction and biography, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read the Harry Potter series at least 20 times. I also like to write, usually in prose, about the various topics that inspire me. Beyond that, I love spending times with friends, family, and animals. Unfortunately I’m a bit light on free time currently, so sleeping has become more of an interest of late!

Where will we find you in five years?
I have a lot of uncertainty about my future, but mostly because I believe I could do so many different things with the degrees I will earn in May 2018. For now, I’m not pursuing any one type of career. Instead, I hope to find a company with values and a work culture I greatly respect for which I can use my various skills in a creative capacity.

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~from Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub

Kaitlyn Phillips is an English major with a concentration in Education, and was one of our communications interns in Spring 2016. “I hope to one day be the kind of teacher that creates the same sense of community in her classroom that I’ve found here in the university’s English department.”

Even though she hasn’t even graduated yet, Kaitlyn fully embodies her commitment to education. In 2015, she joined Far Away Friends, an organization in northern Uganda, as a Development Intern, and has been working with them ever since. “Our mission is to extend quality education into Northern Uganda, and it has been amazing to take my passion for education across the globe.” Kaitlyn believes that education is every child’s best opportunity to better both their communities and themselves.

Kaitlyn was such a great intern, we wanted her to stay, come back and work with us for another semester, but at the same time she got promoted to Director for Development with Far Away Friends, (involved in one of their newest initiatives, OperationTeach), and needed to focus her efforts on that instead. This past summer, Kaitlyn shared some of her experiences working with teachers and students in Namasale, Uganda.

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Kaitlyn in Namasale, Uganda with one of Global Leaders Day and Boarding Primary School’s teachers

Recently I caught up with Kaitlyn. I asked her how things were going, and she told me that she was busy with school and still loving her work with Far Away Friends. She also told me that things were tough because they needed to hire two new teachers, and were working hard to find the funding. I asked her to send something for the blog, because we love to brag on the good work of our students and are so happy to share Kaitlyn’s enthusiasm for education. These are the kind of students we have in English, and we feel so lucky that sometimes we pinch ourselves just to make sure it’s real.


From Kaitlyn:

I believe in people. I believe in their ability to be kind and helpful. I believe in their willingness to cooperate and give. I believe that we all believe in something greater — bigger — than ourselves, and I believe we’re willing to put in serious work to be closer to that greater something.

It is this push toward that greater something that landed me with Far Away Friends, a nonprofit that partners with the international community to promote sustainable educational, economic, and social development. We work in Namasale, Uganda, a small sub-county in Eastern Africa full of people worth believing in, where we’ve spent the last two years investing in primary education by building Global Leaders Day and Boarding Primary School (GLP). Throughout my friendships with the organization’s founders, Jayme, Chris, and Collines, I have been able to observe their unwavering belief in people, in total strangers across the world that, over the last two years, has built a school, renewed a community, and imbued an ineffably bright spirit into fifteen full time staff members and almost one hundred students.

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GLP students taking exams

This belief in and love of people — all people, everywhere — that I learned by watching my amazing teammates work is also what pushed me to study English Education. Anyone who has ever been in a classroom knows that one teacher’s belief in one student can change both lives permanently and for the better, and the impact of that sustained belief in classrooms full of students year after year is something I couldn’t resist. There’s an incredible hope in the opportunity of education, one that fuels the work I do both as an educator and with Far Away Friends.

GLP student

GLP student

As an English major, this belief in people is fed by literature; to read about someone else’s experience is to learn to empathize with them, and it is this sustained empathic practice that allows me to do the work that I do in Namasale, Uganda. You cannot partner with a community if you do not understand them, and reading and writing has taught me to actively and empathically listen and learn.

As an English teacher, my belief in people is fed by engaging with passionate educators who include “believing in my students” in their job description. I have never met teachers who do just that better than those at Global Leaders Primary. They see themselves in their students, what they are, are not, and have always wanted to be, and with their spirit and actions consistently prove to their students that they believe they are capable of anything.

GLP Teachers

GLP Teachers

At Far Away Friends, we hire these teachers intentionally; we know that by hiring people who believe in people, we’re hiring teachers who believe in their students. We also hire teachers who are members of the community; only those who live and work alongside their students could know what it takes to both thrive within their community, and work hard to make it better. Finally, we know that believing in people inherently involves an immense amount of respect for them, and we show that respect to our teachers by guaranteeing them their right to a fair wage.

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This does not come without its challenges. We rely on about forty five people who donate monthly to make sure we can make that happen. Forty five people who don’t know our teachers, have never met our students, but believe fiercely in them — and us — anyway. Without these people all over the U.S. — without that core belief in people, connection, and something greater — we could not do the work that we do.

This year at GLP, we’re adding two brand new teachers to our full time staff; all of our P5 students have moved on to P6, and as they grow, so do we. While this growth is exciting, it also means we must, once again, get vulnerable, and lean on our core beliefs — that people are kind, willing to help, and always reaching for something greater.

GLP students

GLP students

My hope is that you’ll join me in these beliefs and sign up to support our teachers through our program OperationTeach, in which we ask people in our community (read: you) to be a part of the community in Namasale, and the extraordinary things that happen when we combine our tendency to reach for something greater with kindness and global connectivity.

To ensure a fair wage for our entire staff, we need to increase our monthly income by about $400 — that’s twenty people at twenty dollars per month — by the first week of February. As Director of Development, it is in part my responsibility to make that happen. In other words, it’s my job to believe in people — to believe that they will listen empathically, and invest in strangers across the world, simply because they believe in people, too.

I believe in people like you, and your willingness and ability to believe in people like me, and our teachers — teachers like Joshua, who lived in refugee camps as a young boy; Sebastian, who organizes dances, speeches, and debates for our students; and Judith, our head teacher, who works tirelessly to provide her staff with trainings and support.

Kaitlyn and Joshua grading papers

Kaitlyn and Joshua grading papers

I’m asking you to prove me right. Join OperationTeach, and invest in a community of people worth believing in. To become a sponsor with OperationTeach, go to: http://www.farawayfriendsglobal.com/operationteach/ To learn more about Far Away Friends, visit: farawayfriendsglobal.com


 

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Kaitlyn with one of the teachers at GLP

We wish Kaitlyn all the best in her work and studies, and look forward to more updates from her. If we can’t keep her here with us, we are at least comforted by the fact that she’ll go away (far away, friends — see what I did there?) and continue to do good work.

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Jessika O’Brien
English major, Creative Writing concentration

 

By the time English major Jessika O’Brien entered college at 24 years old, most of her friends had already finished their degrees. While they’d been in school, she’d spent five years in the Navy being educated in seamanship, electronics, and missile systems.

Jessika grew up in a “white-bread town in Northern Colorado” and the only diversity training she received in the Navy she describes this way,

These minimalist courses would explain that people from all walks of life had different skills and perspectives to contribute to whatever missions were at hand. The military saw no reason to go into detail about the unique cultures that every person came from, or what they were taught to understand or believe in, or why they felt the way they felt about America’s Eurocentric culture, or even that they felt anything at all. There was no encouragement to truly understand; merely tolerating one another was enough for the navy to maintain an efficient workforce as well as appear politically correct.

Because of where she grew up, the Navy was the first time Jessika had lived and worked with “non-white” people. In the Navy, while they worked efficiently together, she noticed “favoritism up and down the chain, and the clear sight of people of different races feeling most comfortable among those of their own race,” and “the military also taught me that men are superior to women.”

As one result of the type of language considered normal, women in the military are taught to compete with one another, not learn from one another. Most women in power were far crueler and demeaning to lower-ranking women than even the men were. I was taught to see us females as divided as much as I saw those of Filipino, African, and European heritage divided each from the other. Cultural and gender divisions stem from the same type of mentality that the war culture has between countries; we must fight to be on top, which follows that others must be beneath us. This regresses our society’s ability to work together to solve problems.

Sadly, for Jessika the military “had successfully crippled any naïve ideas I’d ever held for the unity of mankind.” And yet, even though this experience left her disappointed, Jessika isn’t without hope. She understands how change might happen, and where.

The only way to bring an end to these racist and sexist normalcies in our culture is through the education of our youth, who are impressionable and still establishing their ideas about reality. If we can imbue our students of America with the consistent insistence that all races, genders and peoples should all be regarded as equal to one another, studied equally as equal contributors to the annals of human history, then we can actually accomplish the promise that our Declaration of Independence vows to uphold. Given that educational institutions are responsible for raising several millions of Americans today, they have the power and ability to instill this very great concept of equality and bring races back together, bring women back together, and gradually alter the war culture that Americans are taught is necessary. Our tool is education, a more progressive education. Our medium is the university. We have the power. Educators in American have the most power of all.

Jessika’s proof comes from her own experience. After just three semesters at CSU,

I’ve had my brain blown open with realizations that the military did in fact reinforce racist and sexist beliefs, and I had taken these horrifying beliefs to heart without even realizing it. Through realization, I have been able to begin to strip away my bigotry and see the world through a new lens of sisterhood, brotherhood and a budding appreciation for those I had seen as “other.” I did not come to this cognitive revolution because my hometown had filled with racial diversity while I was gone. What flung me apart and accreted me back together was Colorado State University’s English program. Prerequisites such as British literature and introductory poetry had such a strong focus on highlighting centuries of oppression and setting women and African Americans as equal to white men, that I finally saw the truth again that all people are equal and must work together and be taught in unison to upheave ignorance.

In a paper written for a CO300: Writing Arguments course taught by Ashley Davies at CSU in the summer of 2016 (the same paper all previous quotes and excerpts were taken from), Jessika sums up her position this way,

English programs should evaluate their curriculums for signs of colonialism, and take affirmative action to teach poets and writers of varying nationalities, races, genders, sexualities and disabilities.

When budding students’ doors of perception are opened like mine have begun to open, they will learn lessons that will affect them for the rest of their lives, and English educators will be the ones responsible for altering the course of humanity into a society of creatures that can work together, and evolve beyond what we believe is possible. We know where the true power on earth lies; not in the military industrial complex, but in our classrooms.

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