Timothy Amidon, an assistant professor in the Department of English at Colorado State University, spent his summer (and much of his academic career!) researching the role of firefighter communication in preventing disasters and tragedies.

Tim has more than 15 years of experience in the fire service as a firefighter and officer with Westerly Fire Department in Rhode Island, a fire instructor with the Rhode Island Fire Academy, and a technician with Rhode Island Search and Rescue. He has devoted his academic research to understanding and improving firefighter communication.


According to Tim, about 100 firefighters die each year in the line of duty, and many more are seriously injured. Structural and equipment issues can play a role in these casualties, but communication problems are a factor that is often overlooked or misunderstood. If a firefighter is unable to correctly interpret fire behavior and communicate important information back to the rest of the team, for instance, the situation can quickly escalate to danger. Firefighters must learn how to use aural and radio literacy to rapidly process and prioritize communications in a high-stress environment.

Read the following interview with Tim, and check out this story from Source to learn more about his research!

What inspired you to get involved in firefighting? 

Well, my dad likes to say I became a firefighter because he read Margaret Wise Brown’s The Little Fireman to me too many times. But, growing up around a lot of folks in the service (my dad was in the Navy) probably had something to do with it. The exact reason is that when I was growing up, my best friends were a set of twins, and their dad, Steve (who was in the Coast Guard) was a volunteer in Westerly Fire Department in Westerly, Rhode Island. Growing up, Steve would occasionally bring us to the station where we’d play pool, wash dishes, and help the firefighters clean up after meetings. Sometimes he’d let us ride along in his truck to the alarms too, and we could sit in the truck and watch firefighters work. But, that ended up being pretty boring, mostly, because a lot of the alarms I remember going to as a teenager were false.

Anyways, when I was in high school a couple of the older guys that I surfed with and looked up to were lifeguards, so I started training to become a lifeguard so I could work at the beach with them when I turned 16. That first summer, I had a lot of opportunities to help people and I realized that being a first responder was something that I enjoyed: the first day I worked on the beach, for what it’s worth, a patron had a cardiac event, so I got indoctrinated into the reality of responding pretty quickly.

After two summers, I was 18, a senior in high school, and I wanted to help in other ways, too, so I asked Steve to sponsor me to join the fire department. I filled out an application, had a physical and a background check, went to an interview with leaders of the department, and, after being approved and taking an oath, they gave me a helmet, a set of gear, and a pager and said show up when that goes off. So, I did for 16 years, until I moved out here. While I was showing up over that period of time, I got super involved. I went to a lot of fire academy classes and earned a lot of certifications: tech-rescue disciplines like swift water, rope, and heavy rescue to rapid intervention and organizational certifications like fire officer, safety officer, fire instructor. After some time, I became a lieutenant, then, a captain for one of the engine companies in the department. Also, I began teaching firefighting at the RI State Fire Academy, the Union Fire District, as well as with the Tiverton Fire Department recruit academies. And, I joined RI Urban Search and Rescue and served with them for a couple of years.


Tim ventilating a roof at a residential structure fire in Westerly, Rhode Island

Did you have a particular experience that piqued your interest in the communication between firefighters?

Yes. Lots of experiences with communication, but really a big part of it for me is that communication is how firefighters understand that term. To me it’s literacy. I’m really, ultimately, a literacy researcher. And, as a digital rhetorician/computer and composition scholar, I understand literacy as a thing that has both multimodal and multimedia dimensions.

In graduate school, I read Beverly Sauer’s The Rhetoric of Risk, which is a study of the ways official discourse regarding risk in mining communities differs from the embodied literacies and practices that miners use to construct and communicate risk. As I read the body of research on rhetoric and risk communication, I came to understand that there really isn’t much other work that looks at the ways how other types of blue-collar workers, like firefighters, use embodied literacies–tactile, kinesthetic, aural, visual, gestural literacies–to construct and communicate knowledge in risk environments. That’s when I said, whoa, ok, I see that there is a huge gap in research here. We don’t know much about the ways that blue-collar workers like miners do literacy in workplace settings. Most workplace writing (literacy) studies are of engineers or software developers and things like that. And, so, I was like, hey, I think this subjectivity where I’m a rhetoric and literacy scholar and a firefighter might be related. Up to that point, I kind of just did those different things and didn’t see them as super related, so it was really Sauer’s work that pushed me to start pushing this connection as a researcher.

To answer your question, yeah, I do have first-hand experiences that relate to the time I spent serving my community that influence how I think about some of these things. Right now, I’m really interested in how firefighters learn the many tacit forms of literacy they use to construct knowledge in risk settings, and how we might teach those in more transparent/less tacit ways so that firefighters have access to the forms of literacy and knowledge-making practices that would help them work more safely when they are in risk environments. Things like reading smoke, for instance, is something that is difficult to teach, but it happens. I want to learn more about how those types of literacies are acquired by new members of this discourse community.

What does your research with firefighter communication involve? 

I’m working on a couple of projects related to fire fighting, but not actual wildland fire communications presently. One project is with a researcher and former wildland firefighter, Mike Caggiano, who knows a great deal about the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). I’ve been working with Mike on a project that was funded by the the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute. In that project, we’re trying to better understand if/how different homeowners, firefighters, and forest mitigation specialists understand/construct defensible space as a similar concept. Our preliminary data suggests that they are some pretty significant differences regarding the ways that defensible space is understood, rhetorically, by the stakeholders. For instance, we are seeing different definitions about what it is. Especially, regarding the aims of what it does, how it works, and if it is effective under various conditions (e.g., if firefighters respond; if it is a crown fire). Right now, we’re finishing up some of the coding and analysis of that project, and we’re hoping to finish writing the paper and submit it to a journal by December.

There are three projects that deal more with communication at the firefighter/fireground level that I’m working on right now, too. I have been working on a foundational article that sets out the preliminary methodological argument for why combining methods like (genre ecology modeling) from writing activity and genre research (WAGR) with multimodal and sensory ethnography (Sarah Pink’s work, also Brian McNely over at University at Kentucky) are useful for studying the types of literacies I’m interested in better understanding. I’m trying to get this one out by this fall.

I’m working on a different methodological project related to challenges of enacting participatory community based research in communities where you’re perceived as an insider with W. Michele Simmons. We’ll be presenting on this at SIGDOC in Washington, D.C. in September, and we’ll have a peer-reviewed paper on this in the upcoming SIGDOC Proceedings. We plan to start a larger study that expands on this preliminary work.

And, I’m working with an interdisciplinary PRECIP team (Elizabeth Williams, Kim Henry, and Tiffany Lipsey) and leaders from the training division of Poudre Fire Authority to refine and develop research methods that will enable us to better understand how ‘communications’ connect to safety in fireground practices. So, we’re really looking, primarily at structure fire settings, but I’d suspect that what we learn will have relevance for wildland firefighting, too.

Travis Garcia and his coworkers at Poudre Fire Authority Station 1. January 15, 2013

Travis Garcia and his coworkers at Poudre Fire Authority Station 1. (January 15, 2013) Tim is working with the training division of the Poudre Fire Authority to develop research methods to improve communications and safety. (Image from Source).

Have you ever witnessed a disaster that possibly could have been prevented by better communication between firefighters?

The communications failures associated with 9/11 and the Challenger explosion are very well documented in research. And, personally, yes, I’ve been on scenes were things went poorly due to poor “communications.” Communicating in risk environments is highly challenging for a number of reasons. One is that first responders are working in time sensitive contexts. Folks make decisions in seconds that have huge consequences for the emergency and the responders alike. It’s important to understand that, but I think as a researcher you have to really, really be cognizant of that to avoid coming off as a “Monday morning quarterback.” Folks make tough decisions–that often impact whether they and others will live– with little time to do so. That’s consequential.

Another is that the environments themselves impact the how responders make sense of information and communicate that information. There are issues of power, credibility, and trust that impact how decisions are made, but also the fact that firefighters often can’t hear, see, or talk well because they are working in gear and places that are loud or dark or where there is zero visibility. So, when I say, yes I’ve seen communications breakdowns or situations where these contributed to ‘disaster’, I mean it in the sense that literacy is a two way kind of thing. It’s about reading and writing. I’ve been in situations, personally as a firefighter and rescuer, where I didn’t have access to the types of literacies that would have enabled me to make effective decisions to mitigate my own risk as a worker. I’ve been on scenes where improved command and operations could have reduced the risks that myself and members of my engine company were exposed to.

In a lecture this past spring, you also mentioned “a culture of bravery” and some other problems within firefighting culture. Can you say more about some of these issues?

There is a mantle of ‘warrior’ ethos that firefighters often take up. They/we wear maltese crosses. It’s not just symbolism that we adorn to equipment or our shirts or hats, it’s an oath and creed that we live to: we are willing to give our life to help save another. I value anyone who takes that oath seriously very highly, and I don’t want to diminish the importance of that. That being said, there are times where folks need to tap out and they don’t. There is a culture where we won’t ask for help or admit that we don’t know something or show weakness because that’s not acceptable in a culture of bravery. That’s not good for learners, though. So, you need to have that culture of bravery because it helps you to do things you didn’t know you were capable of doing, but you also have to create a culture where it’s ok to be a learner.

It’s not just because you want to show you have less fear or because you want to be the hero or because you think you’re invincible. Risk decisions should be made carefully, but also quickly when necessary, in ways that allow for space for folks to say here’s what I’m not comfortable with. Maybe that happens after the event. But, there needs to be a space where folks that do this type of work can talk openly about why decisions weren’t always the best, and sometimes those spaces just don’t exist. And, there are a whole host of cultural reasons for that. Normative expectations of gender performance, for instance.


Tim answering questions about his research, Spring 2016. (Image from Source).

What might be the greater implications of your research? How could firefighting departments across the nation use your research to put better communication skills into practice?

As a writing teacher, the most basic one is that firefighters need to actually practice using the genres they use on firegrounds before they need to use them in a high risk setting. That seems like it should be a no-brainer, but plenty of firefighters nationally haven’t been trained in a practice or learning setting to actually give a size-up over the radio. They might be taught here’s what a size-up is. But, they have zero experience even in training settings performing that genre. That’s astounding to me.

Maydays. Every firefighter in the nation should be practicing how to call a mayday on the radio at least once a week. More widely, we need to treat and respect the ways that different types of workers do knowledge work. Literacy researcher Mike Rose says we have this binary associated with work and what it means culturally, where somehow we don’t view mechanical work as involving knowledge. And, that’s just wrong. Some of the smartest folks I know are firefighters. Geniuses. But, they’d be ridiculed if they wrote a sentence in first year comp. We need to do a hell of a better job of valuing literacy and not just school house literacies. There’s a lot of elitism that alienates folks in these types of professions that devalues and displaces their ways of knowledge making and communicating. We need to improve that.


Dr. Cory Holland, originally from Prescott, Arizona, came to CSU in 2013 after receiving her MA and PhD at UC Davis. She started teaching writing classes at INTO in 2013, but has also taught beginning level grammar, advanced listening and speaking, and many others. The class she teaches most regularly is an advanced research writing class for international students who are transitioning from INTO to graduate programs at CSU. She started teaching for the English Department in 2015 in the MA TESL/TEFL program. This fall she is scheduled to teach E320: Intro to the study of Language.

However, little do her colleagues or students know that Cory frequently partakes in cross-country motorcycle trips! Cory’s summer has been full of adventure, motorcycles, and camping! Read more about her experiences in the interview below.
Holland - Monument Valley

Dr. Cory Holland and her husband 🙂

This summer, you spent some time doing a motorcycle/camping trip. Where did you go and for how long? What inspired this trip? What was the most rewarding part of the trip? Were there any particularly difficult challenges you faced?

Motorcycle camping is something my husband and I have enjoyed for years. We used to have a Ural (two wheel drive Russian sidecar bike), which was great for off-road riding. Two of our longer trips on that bike were a winter trip through the Mojave Desert and also the ride from CA to CO when we moved. Last summer we got a regular street bike, which we made a luggage rack for and took on a 5000 mile, 2 week trip to Ohio (for a conference) and then down through the southwest. For all of these trips I was the passenger/navigator – either in the sidecar or on the back of the street bike. Learning to ride my own bike was the big change/challenge for the trip this summer.Good friends in California were getting married and we decided that their wedding was the perfect opportunity/excuse for another motorcycle camping trip. The plan was to ride two-up on the road bike we took on the trip last summer, however, an opportunity came up that changed that plan a bit. I took the MSF class that is offered at Front Range CC a couple of years ago and got my motorcycle license, but I’d been a bit tentative about getting out and riding. Then, about a week before we were planning to leave on our trip my husband discovered that a friend of his in SoCal was selling a bike that would be a good fit for me (I’m 5’7″ and a lot of bikes are too tall/heavy for me to be able to handle safely). So we camped our way out to CA as planned, then, after the wedding, headed down to SoCal to pick up the new bike.
Holland - learning to ride

Cory learning to ride!

This is where the adventure really got started! Up to this point my riding experience was pretty much all on dirt roads in and around Livermore and Red Feather Lakes – now I was going to attempt SoCal traffic on a bike that is significantly bigger and faster than anything I’d ever tried before. The first afternoon we went from Temecula  to Palm Desert on a twisty two lane highway over the San Jacinto mountain range. The traffic and twisties were a bit of a trial-by-fire, but one that went well. Palm Desert required air conditioning, so after our first hotel of the trip we rode up to Prescott to startle my parents a bit; they were expecting us on one bike, not two. After a quick family visit we headed home – up through Northern Arizona,  into Utah up past Moab, then into Colorado – north from Fruita to Rangely and Meeker, through the Medicine Bow NF in southern Wyoming, then south from Laramie. In total the trip was ~3000 miles, 1250 of which I rode on my own bike.

Holland - motorcycle camping (1)

In addition to your motorcycle trip, you’ve been working on a proposal to the National Science Foundation this summer. What has this research entailed? 

While on the motorcycle trip I submitted a collaborative research proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF). I’m working with Mary Kohn at Kansas State on a project looking at dialect variation and language change on the Great Plains. We want to document how people speak in rural areas basically between the Front Range and urban eastern Kansas (Kansas City, etc.). We also want to look at how the way people talk is changing and how those changes are affected by social factors – mostly social networks and how closely tied to urban areas people are. To do this we interview a number of people from a given community, then transcribe the interviews and analyze the recordings acoustically. We measure and plot each speaker’s vowels and then can look at how speakers differ and correlate those differences with social factors – age, gender, orientation towards a rural or urban lifestyle, etc. Several undergrads from the department are working with me this summer to start interviewing people in several Front Range cities. They’re doing a great job – as of this morning they have interviewed 18 people!

Is there anything else you’ve been up to this summer?

I live out of town a ways, up in the mountains, so one of my favorite things to do is to walk out my front door and go for a hike or a bike ride. I also like to cook – part of my plan for today is to make some ice cream. Another hobby is sewing – I make clothes and gear – I made several of my teaching dresses/skirts and the tent we use for backpacking/motorcycle camping. The tent is super light weight and pretty roomy for how well it packs. Oh, and of course, reading. 🙂
Holland - motorcycle camping (2)

Cory’s homemade tent!

Are you excited to go back to teaching this fall? What is your favorite thing about teaching? 

There are so many things I love about teaching, it’s hard to narrow this down. The primary thing, I think, is introducing students to language as an object of study, rather than simply a means of study. Giving students the tools to understand what language is and how it functions can enable them to be better writers, better communicators in general, and to recognize more clearly when language is being used in an attempt to manipulate them. I’m super excited to be teaching the Intro to the Study of Language class this Fall!

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Leslee Becker recommends Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy:

Two summers ago, I finally read Anna Karenina, the Richard Pevear/Larissa Voloanna kareninakhonsky translation. I loved the novel. The cover, though, is kitschy, like someone’s fervid dream about tubers and tumors. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Tolstoy’s novel? Faulkner called it the greatest novel ever.   Okay, it’s about adultery and agriculture, and it features sexually robust characters and others of a persuasion I call pious, fussy, and aggressively undermedicated. Everyone knows the opening line: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” After this, Tolstoy plunges into details about adultery and confusion in a particular household, where children are running around, and where the English governess of the feral kids quarrels with the housekeeper. The cook has already fled the premises. Oh, the horror, the horror! And then we see Prince Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky rolling his “full, well-tended body over on the springs of a sofa, as if wishing to fall asleep for a long time.”

I happen to love the stuff of Russian fiction, especially stories and novels that show lazy characters, pampered princes of postponement, like Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov, a man who’s terrified of leaving his bed and participating in the real world. Tolstoy’s characters dream a lot, but they do get out of bed to attend to business affairs and amorous affairs. By the way, I’m not wild about folks saying they love a novel because the characters are “relatable”; in fact, it would take an epic to describe why I love Tolstoy’s epic tale, so I’ll steal from Anna’s thoughts: “Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?”


significant objectsLisa Langstraat recommends Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary Things (Ed Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn.  Fantagraphics Books, 2012.)

Over a period of 5 years, the editors of this collection acquired hundreds of objects, all donated or purchased for under $5 at thrift shops, yard sales, and flea markets.  They then recruited writers, as various as William Gibson and Meg Cabot, to write brief stories/histories/profiles/memories that “attributed significance” to each of these seemingly insignificant objects.  But the experiment didn’t end there.  The editors then listed each object on eBay, posted the stories as the item description, and watched the items sell for 2,700% of their initial price.

The point of the experiment (still active at significantobjects.com) wasn’t about profit per se, but about value more generally:  how do we ascribe value to things and how do things add (or not) value to our lives?  The project intersects with recent research in cultural materialism and “thing theory,” and it engages all kinds of interesting questions about how narrative shapes meaning and how objects have agency separate from that which humans ascribe to them.  But I especially like the book because the stories are often hilarious and moving (who knew a meat thermometer could seal a romance, or that a cheeky “All American Necking Team” button could help a son understand his long-dead father?).  This is the kind of project and writing that collapses the academic and the popular, the theoretical and the visceral–all that.   Significant Objects isn’t just a empty celebration of stuff, nor is it a caveat about Mammon and conspicuous consumption.  It’s about the complexity of things now, in this moment, and  it’s about making sense of the objects that shape our identities and relationships. Great graphics and photos, too.


a hologram for the king

Sue Doe recommends Dave Eggers’ Hologram for the King. 

 Read the book and then, OK,  see the movie, though you should be prepared to be disappointed with the casting (and here I don’t mean Tom Hanks but the lack of Middle Eastern actors).  The book captures the decline of the U.S. as a superpower, personified in the form of protagonist Alan Clay. He’s a healthy white guy without any real justification for excuses, but his cancer as well as his broader malaise and his past success are just holograms.  Eventually, he finds love and a new home in the Kingdom, essentially outsourcing himself in order to find his relevance. On the way, Eggers provides some remarkable moments such as the scene early on when he describes the work of the professional stager, preparing Clay’s suburban house for sale.



ready player one

Nancy Henke recommends Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is set 30 years in the future when the energy crisis has wreaked havoc on the standard of living in the world.  Gas is so expensive it’s only available to the super rich and the suburbs of major cities have become massive, multi-story trailer parks with several families cramped into a single mobile home.  Since reality is harsh, many people turn to the virtual world of the Oasis for comfort, since there their avatars can live, fight, and explore in a world much more appealing than the real one.  But when the creator of the Oasis – a man obsessed with the 1980’s pop culture of his adolescence – dies, he decides to bequeath his billion-dollar fortune to whichever avatar can solve riddles that lead to three keys that open three gates.  Ultimately this book is an amusing sci-fi adventure story that’s rich with 1980’s nostalgia.  If you’re looking for thoughtful literary fiction, look elsewhere; this book is brain candy – pure and simple.
Winter's Tale

Zach Hutchins recommends Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

This book is just as cool as it sounds, a perfect summer read. I’ve never read anything quite like Winter’s Tale, but I’ll be reading it again soon. What I love is Helprin’s exquisite language. On several occasions I turned to whomever happened to be close by—my wife, my mother-in-law, a stranger—and told them to listen so that I could share a particularly scintillating sentence. I imagine that someone like Neil Gaiman was influenced by Helprin; their books certainly belong to a similar sub-genre of magical realism. If you love snowballs, or white horses, or New York City, or life itself, Winter’s Tale is the book for you.

And if, after you read it, you’d like to talk about Moby-Dick parallels, I’m dying to have that conversation with somebody.


bird relics

Dan Beachy-Quick recommends Bird Relics: Mourning and Vitalism in Thoreau by Branka Arsic 

Though I’m not sure it really qualifies as “summer reading” so much as reading one could do during the summer, the book I’ve been most deeply moved and challenged by in recent months is Branka Arsic’s Bird Relics: Mourning and Vitalism in Thoreau. Her approach to criticism is one I can believe in–not a species of judgment or critical-theoretical stance, but an effort at affirmation that seeks to read Thoreau according to his own concerns, to walk down the path he’s cleared, and say what can be seen. What is seen is astonishing reversal of the “common sense” Thoreau derided. Moving from the ancient world and its notion of “perpetual mourning” as a way to maintain a vital connection to the dead, to 19th century Vitalism and the wildly porous sense it gave Thoreau of the boundary between self and world, the book never fails to open up a wider sense of what work thinking is when thinking is also a form of life not circumscribed simply by or as thought.


Aparna Gollapudi Robot Dreams by Sara Varonrobot dreams

Robot Dreams is a nearly wordless graphic novel in which the friendship between the two protagonists – a dog and his robot – is portrayed powerfully without the use of dialog or textual narrative. The art of Varon’s novel might look deceptively simple, with cartoon-like figures, pastel tints, and minimal cross-hatching, but the story it tells is emotionally sophisticated and nuanced — funny, poignant, whimsical, and pragmatic by turns. A must read…or must view…well, a must.



Debby Thompson recommends Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George 

Lately I’ve been re-vjulie of the wolvesisiting books of my childhood, back when I read for the sheer pleasure of reading and the delight of discovery. In my current life as an English professor, I read critically for a living. That mode of reading I also value, but, when I’m immersed in it, it’s easy to lose track of that other kind of reading that cast its initial hold on me. In re-reading books that sparked my imagination as a child, I’m enjoying the dual poles of reading, feeling the pulls of both creative mystification and critical demystification.

Currently I’m re-reading Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves. This book, which I read eagerly when it was published in 1972, and which captured my childhood imagination, is now problematic to the critic in me for all kinds of reasons. Not least is the (white) author’s depiction of Eskimos as one with nature and at the same time—like much Arctic wildlife—as hopelessly doomed. Thirteen-year-old Julie, living among the wolves, plays the role of what some cultural critics have dubbed the “mystic Indian,” more primitive and more wise than mainstream inhabitants of the lower 48 states. I value my critical ability to see the problems with such depictions, but at the same time I value this book’s historical role in teaching children like me that wolves and other animals communicate and form complex social structures, that these creatures are inherently valuable, and that there were alternative approaches to the natural environment and its creatures than the one I was being raised in. As I re-read Julie of the Wolves, I’m learning how to be, simultaneously, both the questing child and the denaturalizing adult.


the girl with all the gifts

Sharon Grindle recommends The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

As with most dystopian science fiction, part of the fun of this novel is figuring out what exactly has gone wrong in the world–which I won’t spoil for you (though many reviews will, so be careful). Should you be familiar with the plot twist and are the sort to shy away from this particular flavor of dystopia, let me still encourage you to give this one a read. The first halfish of the novel is told through a child’s POV, one that is necessarily focused on what someone her age wants most in the world: acceptance and nurturing–and a little less on the bloody mechanics of survival in a harrowing post-apocalyptic world. As we find out why she isn’t being given that emotional support, we’re drawn into a cataclysm that’s more plausibly explained than most. I love a good humans-in-the-face-of-adversity read, and this one kept me thinking even after I finished.


Amanda the god of small thingsMemoli recommends The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

I re-read this about a year ago, which confirmed what I suspected (though couldn’t fully articulate) when I first encountered it as a teenager in my high school AP English class: there is something singularly special and magical about this book. Against the backdrop of encroaching modernity and a shifting caste system, the narrator Rahel travels back to her, now crumbling, childhood home in South India, upon discovering that her mute twin brother Estha has recently returned as well. The two of them, once inseparable, have not seen each other for 25 years. The rest of the story works to unravel the past and reveal the pivotal events that transpired long ago, which continue to mark their present lives. It’s a story about moments of unexpected joy, the transgression of boundaries, and the loss of innocence. What is most compelling about this book is the lyric nature of Roy’s prose which are both luxurious and insightful. I don’t think that I’ve ever come across a book that was so enjoyable to read from start to finish. I would definitely recommend it for a summer reading list!


inquiry and innovation in the classroom

Pam Coke recommends A. J. Juliani’s Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom 

  • “How often do we allow students to ‘find their talents’ in school?”
  • “Does homework actually prepare students for the real world?”
  • “What does the real world look like?”

These three questions and have been haunting me for months, and they are the exact questions A. J. Juliani, K-12 Technology Staff Developer at Wissahickon School District in Ambler, PA, tackles in his book Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom: Using 20% Time, Genius Hour, and PBL to Drive Student Success (Routledge, 2015, 152 pages). Juliani promises to connect inquiry and innovation through stories and examples from the field, and he delivers. He asserts, “When students are able to be curious, and to explore their interests and passions, innovative work happens” (p. xvii). This is why I sought out this book. I want to make curiosity a central part of my English Education courses, and Juliani is helping me learn how.

If you are looking for ways to actively involve your students in the curriculum, Juliani’s book is for you. He explains what 20% Time is, the concept of allowing students 20% of their learning time to pursue their passions, to learn about what they want to explore. While Google has become well renowned for how it uses 20% Time, Juliani does his homework, tracing the roots of this valuable practice back to Maria Montessori’s work in the early 20th century. What sets Juliani’s book apart, however, is how he walks the reader through how to apply 20% Time in your own classroom. He describes what 20% Time can look like for elementary students, secondary students, and teachers. He shares students’ sample passion projects that foster and showcase innovative thinking, including creating an anti-bullying campaign and making a video game on digital citizenship.

I am convinced that problem-based learning can have an impact on improving the teaching and learning that takes place in my English Education courses. Revising my teaching methods course for Fall 2016 is requiring some radical revision, not only in texts and assignments, but in in thinking and strategies.   Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom is a relatively easy read; I can read it any time, night or day, and take something away from it. However, it is also an extremely challenging read; it is challenging me to question how and why I do what I do in the classroom. That is what keeps me reading.

dalai lama

James Roller recommends the Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom: The Essential Teachings

Broken into brief vignettes, the reader receives ideas on developing contentment and joy, dealing with anger and emotion, and evoking personal transformations of mind and perspective. It is an experience that can be rewarding when read for very brief intervals of a minute or two, or as a part of longer moments of reading, thought, and meditation. Interestingly, even the ideas on difficult things like “Facing Death and Dying” translate easily to facing any reality of life that cannot be avoided or denied forever. More about reflecting upon one’s own interpretive process than upon any religious dogma, it can facilitate one’s pursuit of a happier, and more contemplative life.

(All images taken from Amazon.com)


fletchermugDr. Harrison Candelaria Fletcher is the author of Descanso For My Father: Fragments Of A Life, winner of the Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction and International Book Award for Best New Nonfiction, and Presentimiento: A Life In Dreams, selected by Dinty W. Moore from more than 200 entries as winner of the 2015 Autumn House Press Nonfiction Prize and selected as a Best Autobiography finalist in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards.

His work has appeared in many journals and anthologies including New Letters, Fourth Genre and Puerto del Sol as well as Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction and The Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction. His honors include the New Letters Literary Award, High Desert Journal Obsidian Prize, Sonora Review Essay Award, Pushcart Prize Special Mention and fellowships from the Arizona Poetry Center and Vermont Studio Center.

Dr. Harrison Candelaria Fletcher was also a former columnist and feature writer at newspapers throughout the West and a former professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts. We are happy to welcome him as a new faculty member to the English Department here at CSU!

Learn more about Dr. Harrison Candelaria Fletcher in the following interview below, and make sure to check out his class E370: American Literature in Cultural Contexts: Growing Up Latino(a) this fall. For more information on this class and the other classes we are offering this fall, see our courses page.

What brought you to CSU?  

I’m very much looking forward to joining the Creative Nonfiction Program at CSU. I’m constantly inspired by its many forms and mutations (literary journalism, memoir, collage, lyric essay, video essay) and I love being in the middle of it all. I’m excited by the future of CNF at CSU and the opportunity to work with Sarah, Debby, and the rest of the English Department aces. Can’t wait.

Also, as corny as it sounds, the sky. I’m a New Mexican native and I also lived in Colorado for fifteen years. The West is home. Landscape is very important to me and my work. I’m fascinated by place, identity, memory, culture and history and the interactions between them. Richmond VA is beautiful, but I missed the sky.

And let’s not forget the green chile.

Or beer.

What is your favorite thing to teach? 

Creative writing. I love exploring the power of story and intricacies of form, narrative, character, theme, structure, etc. The possibilities of story inspire me.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?

My favorite thing about teaching? Discovery. Every time I leave a classroom or a workshop, students have shown me something new.

How would you describe your teaching style, your philosophy?

Listening is important – a legacy of my columnist-feature writer days. I’m probably more of a facilitator than a lecturer – one of those people who believe in the bottom-up approach to writing and literature in which issues of craft, style, theory and context issues rise from the manuscript or book in hand rather than the lectern down. I work best during the give-and-take of discussion.


Harrison Candelaria Fletcher at the Lighthouse Writers Lit Festival in Denver

Are you working on any special projects right now?

A few: An essay collection exploring mixedness, a documentary poetry prospect, and a hybrid thing involving found visuals and documents, but I probably shouldn’t say more because I’m superstitious about jinxes in the initial stages.

When you’re not working or teaching what do you like to do?

Multiple choice (in no particular order):

Jump shots.


Found photos, found texts, found-objects things.

Netflix (currently “Peaky Blinders”).

Date nights with my wife.

Long walks where I can see the sky.

Pen and ink.

PS3 with the kids.



Couch with the cats.

Rolling Stone magazine.


What are you doing with your summer before you start teaching?

Packing. Packing. Packing.

Moving across country with cats.

Unpacking. Unpacking. Unpacking.

Appeasing cats.

(I also teach in the MFA Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, so I spent a good bit of time in Montpelier. I participated in the terrific Lighthouse Writers LitFest in Denver as well – see photo. Then more packing).

What is something about you that most people would be surprised to learn?

I could dunk a basketball (many moons ago). I’m also the proud recipient of the 2010 Green Chile Prize from the Chicano Arts and Humanities Council in Denver (for visual art).


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Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing Director Stephanie G'Schwind talks with an intern about a project, April 2013. Image by CSU Photography.

Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing Director Stephanie G’Schwind talks with an intern about a project, April 2013. Image by CSU Photography.

Congratulations to the Center for Literary Publishing (CLP) and the director Stephanie G’Schwind for receiving this prestigious honor!

Programs are awarded this designation because they have achieved great distinction and set a standard for excellence in research, teaching, and service that may serve as a model for programs throughout the institution and externally. Thus, the Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence (PRSE) designation will provide enhanced visibility and enable advocacy in the context of the larger research and training missions of CSU. An annual graduate fellowship allocation from the Graduate School will accompany the PRSE designation. Additional funds will be made available to PRSE-designated programs through an annual Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) competition mechanism.

Stephanie G’Schwind, the Center’s director and Editor in Chief of Colorado Review, applied for this honor, and we are very proud that her hard work and dedication to the Center have been recognized by CSU. Home of Colorado Review, the Colorado Prize for Poetry, the Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction, and the Mountain West Poetry Series, the Center for Literary Publishing’s mission is two-fold: to publish contemporary short fiction, poetry, and nonfiction and to offer graduate students the opportunities to learn about and participate in literary publishing through a professional internship. The Center was established in 1992 and is housed in the English Department at Colorado State University.

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Kaitlyn Phillips, an English major with a concentration in education and one of the Communications Interns for the English Department this past spring, has been involved with an organization in northern Uganda called Far Away Friends. She has been working with them as the Director for Development for about a year and has also been involved in one of their newest initiatives, Operation Teach. Below, she shares some of her experiences working with teachers and students in Namasale, Uganda this summer.



On the other side of the world in a rural district of Northern Uganda, there’s a pink building with a blue roof. Its rooms are lined with desks and handmade posters; there’s chalk dust on the blackboards and textbooks on the benches and bins full of cars and jump ropes and soccer balls. Early in the morning, students will show up in brown and white uniforms; they’ll walk down a red dirt path, smiling and joking with one another, and — at the sound of Madame Judith’s bell — they’ll begin class for the day.


This is Global Leaders Primary School in Namasale, Uganda. It is a project of Far Away Friends, a nonprofit focused on ending global education poverty by fostering global empathy in the next generation of leaders. I’ve had the great privilege of working with this organization for the past year, and the honor of traveling with a team to Uganda this summer to see the school and meet the students and teachers that make it the amazing place that it has become.

And it truly is an amazing place. When people care so much about a place and the people in it, the result is tremendous joy; I’ve never seen a place so tremendously joyful as Global Leaders. The students come to school early with smiles, and stay until our principal and co-founder, Collines Angwech, has to march them off the grounds. After lunch they skip rope and play soccer and are just genuinely and joyfully kids; during class they study under some of the most compassionate and determined teachers I’ve ever met.



One of my favorite moments of the trip was meeting and talking with one of these teachers, Teacher Joshua, a P2 (or second grade) teacher at Global Leaders. Joshua has lived in Northern Uganda his whole life; when he was only twelve, he was removed from his home and relocated to a displacement camp due to the violence caused by the LRA, a rebel group that terrorized communities in Northern Uganda for nearly 30 years. Despite this, he is genuinely joyful and welcoming and kind, and teaches his students with as much love and friendship that he extended to our team during our entire visit.


These are the moments of the trip I will never forget — the moments of genuine friendship. Like trying on glasses with Sara and Michella, or laughing with Apio Janella because we were taking way too many pictures, or dancing outside the school with all the kids, Jonathan and Smiri shuffling their feet and smiling at each other in their borrowed sunglasses.


And in the middle of it all realizing that this school exists not just for these kids, but because of them; without their fierce commitment to their own educations and the teachers’ genuine belief in Global Leaders and all its promises, none of this would be possible. None of these moments could ever have happened.

The people I have met here and the places I have been have changed my life. They welcomed me with open arms and let me learn and love and live with them.

I owe this place and these people everything that I am right now. I’m honored to call Namasale a home and the people I’ve lived with there a family.

I am working on paying them back for that.

Far Away Friends’ newest initiative is called Operation Teach. By providing a full or partial sponsorship for one of our teachers, you are ensuring that not only do our teachers receive a fair wage, but that Global Leaders continues to be the tremendously joyful place it is now, and that these kids continue with the education that will equip them to one day change the world.

To learn more about Operation Teach and become a part of the Global Leaders community, go to farawayfriendsglobal.com/operationteach.


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Kevin Reilly Jensen

Colorado State Public Defender

BA Writing, 2013


How did your major prepare you for the job, the life you have now?

Having an English degree with a writing concentration not only helped me get into law school and through it (as well as writing on to the Denver Law Review), it has also provided me with a solid foundation for my work in criminal defense. Reading and writing is the brunt of what I do every day, and my background enables me to effectively argue on behalf of my clients in court.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)? How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?

 My greatest accomplishments to date have to be the moments when I’ve been able to have a real impact on a client’s life for good. Being able to communicate with my clients has been key to any success I’ve had, and I have the English Department to thank for that.

Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department? Do you still keep in contact with your classmates or professors?

Professor Lisa Langstraat helped me beyond compare. Her course in Principles of Literary Criticism has shaped academic trajectory and worldview more than any other part of my formal education. Professor Langstraat agreed to be my academic advisor and helped me navigate the requirements of my undergraduate education so I could get to law school in four years, and she was my Honor’s Thesis advisor to boot. I am so grateful I was lucky enough to have such a wonderful educator willing to go to bat for me. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without her help, encouragement, and guidance.




I chose to study English because the program was flexible enough for me to tailor it to my needs. As a prospective attorney, I needed classes where I could practice storytelling, as well as classes that taught technical writing and even how to communicate with an online audience. I was able to choose a series of courses that would be truly useful to my future career trying to communicate difficult ideas and arguments in a succinct and accessible way.


Do you have a favorite or funny story from your time with the English Department? Or something you particularly miss?

I heard that smoking cigarettes is no longer allowed on campus – I’m going to miss seeing the beautiful panoply of introverted nonconformist artists in congregation sharing their thoughts and cigarettes outside Eddy.

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

Start a blog. Get a presence on every social media platform. Do it yesterday. Start writing. Who cares if it’s not perfect? Who cares if it’s not even good? You’ve got to start somewhere and you would be a fool not to use every tool at your disposal – particularly since you have so many free social media publication tools at your disposal! I maintained a blog full of political news and poetry, which enabled me to acquire a series of jobs, and even had a hand in my admission to law school. Write your own news articles, your own poems, your own prose – whatever it is you want to do eventually, start doing it now! Write, write, write, and then go ahead and write some more.

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

If you’re worried about finding gainful employment, what I did is I got a major in Business Administration, and was able to use that combination of writing and business to widen your business prospects. In doing so I have been fortunate enough to have worked in a variety of fields including communications, journalism, public relations, and for the offices of elected officials such as Congressman Jared Polis and Colorado Representative Dominick Moreno.

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

I recently reread “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, which struck me twice as hard this time around after working for the public defenders.

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

I’m politically active and enjoy golfing, snowboarding, attending Rapids’ soccer games, and sampling Colorado’s many fine small-business breweries.

Where will we find you in five years?

I plan to continue working for the Colorado State Public Defender system, and will hopefully have risen to a leadership position within my office.

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Last week (June 13th-21st), Dr. Tatiana Nekrasova-Beker served as the Project Director for a cultural exchange project, titled Territory Identity of Russia and America through the Eyes of Young Generations, carried out as a part of the 2015- 2016 Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The project was conducted in collaboration with the National Research Tomsk Polytechnic University in Russia. Dr. Anthony Becker also assisted in organizing this event and helped to co-host the Russian team during their stay in Fort Collins.

From June 13th through the 21st, students from both universities met for a weeklong seminar in Fort Collins, CO and began compiling information for an online encyclopedic dictionary (in English) of culturally significant places in Northern Colorado. They worked in international teams with 1-2 representatives from both universities.

To see their work so far, visit:  http://peertopeer.colostate.edu/

The second seminar will be held in Tomsk, Russia (August 4-15, 2016), and the students will do something similar, focusing on regions that reflect the uniqueness and significance of Tomsk and compiling information for an online encyclopedic dictionary of cultural places. Activities will include lectures, focus group discussions, visiting unique locations and places in the region, and working in international teams to develop and present their projects.


(From worldatlas.com)

Check out the following interviews with participants, Kiley Miller and Sarah van Nostrand:

Kiley Miller

Joint Master’s Student in Teaching English as a Foreign/Second Language and French, Spring 2018

What inspired you to apply for this program? 

After taking a class with Tatiana in the fall, I was really interested in getting to work with her on such an interesting project that appealed to so many of my interests: writing, travel, and making connections with different cultures. I love writing, and I kept a blog when I studied abroad as an undergraduate. I really enjoyed travel writing, and I haven’t written in a long time. I believe part of the project description mentioned writing a “place dictionary,” which seemed a lot like travel writing, so I was hooked from the start. As I learned more about the project, I really liked the idea of showing others around Colorado. I’ve been living here for almost a year and I’ve had several friends visit. I love showing them around, and getting to host a group of international students and show off my new hometown seemed like fun. Of course, the chance to go to Russia was also really appealing. Seeing a small town in Siberia through natives’ eyes and getting a chance to build friendships with people in a completely different part of the world was one of the biggest draws to the program for me.

What culturally-specific place did you choose to research in Colorado? Why did you choose this place? 

I proposed Estes Park, which sort of spilled over into Rocky Mountain National Park. When my family moved me out here last summer, we spent a few days in Estes and I fell in love with it. The drive from Fort Collins goes from sprawling plains to a crazy ascent following the Big Thompson, and the view of Estes nestled in the mountains when you finally crest the last hill always takes my breath away. I wanted to share this feeling with our Russian team, to show them the town of Estes, and for them to experience being in the mountains of Colorado. The Stanley Hotel was a big draw too. I love the spooky atmosphere and how the great white building contrasts the rest of the little mountain town down below.


Participants at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, outside of Estes.

What culturally-specific place will you be researching in Russia?

My partner, Andrei, chose the Museum of Slavic Mythology. I love mythology, but I realize I know nothing about Russian mythology! I was really excited to see what Andrei had chosen, and I’m looking forward to spending time in the number of museums the Russian team chose. Here, almost all of us chose outdoor locations and activities, which seems very “Colorado” to me. The Russian team chose a number of museums and famous houses, so I think the contrast here will be really interesting to see.

What was it like to collaborate internationally with students from Tomsk Polytechnic University? 

My partner and I started Skyping about a month before the team arrived here in the US. It was difficult at first, getting to know someone just online, but it was really interesting to have a common goal and to help prepare my partner to come to the US. On Skype, we talked about our locations, what we envisioned the article to look like, and just chatted. When the team actually arrived, it was bizarre to have a real life person to talk to! They were all so energetic and eager, and everyone asked great questions about the locations we visited and about American culture in general. The team was so friendly and they were really easy to get along with. When Andrei and I sat down to write about the Stanley Hotel, it was most interesting to see our two perspectives come together. I think we complemented each other really well, too. Andrei is more technologically inclined, which was really handy for the website building, and I was able to help more on the language and writing side of things.


The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Photo Credit: Miguel Vieira from Walnut Creek, CA, USA – Stanley Hotel in Estes ParkUploaded by xnatedawgx, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6959186

What was the most rewarding part of this experience so far? 

I feel like I’ve made a lot of new friends in a really short time. We’re working together on a big project, but in just the week the Russian team was here, I think we started to make some really strong bonds of friendship. I think that working toward a common goal made it easy to get acquainted and their enthusiasm for everything that we did was infectious. I think I was as inspired to be in Colorado as they were! It was great getting to spend more time with the American team too. A lot of us have classes together, but there are some students from other programs and having this unifying experience with the American team definitely helped us to bond too.

What are you looking forward to most when you travel to Tomsk, Russia?

I’m eager to meet back up with the Russian team and get to know them even better, and I think seeing their hometown through their eyes will be a great way to do that. They talked a little about Tomsk in comparison to what we saw and did here in Colorado, but talking about a place can never really do it justice, so I’m looking forward to experiencing the city firsthand. I’m really interested in seeing what sets Tomsk apart, in their eyes, and making those same comparisons that they made. I want to try the food, see the museums they have lined up, and even fumble around with a new currency. I love traveling to any and all new places, so just the prospect of traveling again is really exciting. Traveling with a purpose, coming together cross-culturally and solidifying these new friendships, makes the prospects that much more exciting.


Sarah van Nostrand

MA in Teaching English as a Foreign/Second Language, May 2017

Participant, Sarah van Nostrand on top of Arthur's Rock

Participant, Sarah van Nostrand on top of Arthur’s Rock

What inspired you to apply for this program? 

I was inspired to apply for this program because of the prospect of traveling to Siberia, a place that I could never have imagined I’d get to in this lifetime, and a place that I admittedly knew very little about. To be given the opportunity to travel across the world to meet and work with Russian university students, learn about Russian culture, and promote cross-cultural dialogue between our two countries is all incredibly inspiring, and made applying for this program an easy decision.

What culturally-specific place did you choose to research in Colorado? Why did you choose this place? 

For my project, I chose to research Arthur’s Rock in Lory State Park. Arthur’s Rock was one of the first hikes I went on when I moved to Fort Collins in the summer of 2014, and the foothills served as a welcome escape from a city that, at the time, I felt intimidated by. Two years later, hiking in the foothills has become a strong part of my Fort Collins identity and a big part of what I think makes this community so great. Colorado is no doubt a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, and Fort Collins in particular is known and celebrated for its numerous open spaces and quick and easy access to the outdoors. I could think of no other place that I’d rather share with our Russian teammates that better embodies what Fort Collins culture is all about than a Saturday morning stroll up Arthur’s Rock.

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Participants climbing up Arthur’s Rock

What was it like to collaborate internationally with students from Tomsk Polytechnic University? 

Collaborating with students from Tomsk Polytechnic University has been a wonderful experience so far, and I feel fortunate that I was able to spend a week working with them here in Fort Collins. Coming from a technical university, all of the Russian students are currently pursuing various advanced degrees in the hard sciences, including Physics and Chemistry. On the other hand, everyone on the American team is pursuing degrees through the English Department here at CSU, either in TEFL/TESL or Creative Writing. I thought the pairing between the tech-minded engineering students that approach their work very systematically and the more artistically-inclined and creatively-minded students was a nice blend of talent that resulted in a great final project.

sarah at bear lake

Sarah and her teammate Nastya (on the left) at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

What was the most rewarding part of this experience so far?

The most rewarding part of this experience so far has been taking our Russian cohorts to the different project sites in and around Fort Collins. Seeing the look of wonder on their faces when we arrived at a new location, whether it was the high alpine lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, plates of sizzling Cajun chicken tacos from Dam Good Tacos, or the view of the Horsetooth Reservoir from the top of Arthur’s Rock, I’m so thrilled that we could be the ones to introduce them to some of the best of what Fort Collins and Northern Colorado has to offer.

What are you looking forward to most when you travel to Tomsk, Russia? 

Of course I am looking forward to reuniting with my Russian cohort and exploring all that Tomsk has to offer, but I am most looking forward to the food! I’ve been googling piroshky recipes ever since I learned I was heading to Russia. Seriously, though, food is culture, and trying foods that are unique to an area is a great and tasty way to experience a new place, which is why it has become the one thing I look forward to most when I travel.


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