Faculty Profile: Nancy Henke

~from intern Joyce Bohling

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Nancy Henke with the Puget Sound in the background, along with a sculpture that’s part of the Seattle Art Museum.

Nancy Henke
Senior Teaching Faculty
MA English: Literature, 2010 (she’s also an English department alumna!)

What brought you to CSU?

I came to CSU in 2008 as a graduate student.  I had gotten offers from several different schools and I had narrowed my choices to either Georgetown and CSU.  I chose CSU for several reasons, one of them was because I really wanted to stay in the West and had heard Fort Collins was an amazing town (which of course it is!)

What made you want to stay?

During grad school I was a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) teaching CO150 and I absolutely loved it.  About halfway through my grad program I decided that after graduation I’d try to get a full-time teaching position with the English department and I was lucky enough to achieve that goal.  I started as a full-time instructor in Fall of 2010, teaching CO150, literature courses, and doing professional development with GTAs who were teaching composition.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I like the variety quite a lot.  I teach a variety of different classes (composition and several different literature courses), I work with graduate students – observing their CO150 classes and reviewing their grading and feedback on student papers, help develop CO150 curriculum, and help run the Composition Placement program.  Plus, teaching naturally lends itself to diversity in since I can always try out new assignments and readings.

Why are the Humanities important?

Wow! There are so many answers to that question.  I’d say that the two big things that come to mind are that the humanities help teach someone how to think.  They require productive thought: making connections, drawing conclusions, and thinking big.  And knowing how to think – how to puzzle through difficult questions – is a valuable skill for a lifetime.

What inspired you to pursue a degree in English, the Humanities?

When I was an undergraduate I changed my major four times. I started out thinking I’d major in Political Science, then switched to German, then Communication Studies, then History, then finally landed on English.  I ended up with English because I liked the intellectual challenge of literary studies. I still do, in fact.  I was constantly confronted with texts, old and new, that I found helped me think about the modern world in new ways.  I found that fascinating: that a text from the Early Modern period could help me see and understand the world I was living in.  I still love that about literature and try to get my students to think in those ways, too.

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Nancy Henke with her favorite non-fiction author, Bill Bryson, who visited campus last March.

What special project are you working on right now?

I imagine you mean work-related project, but all I can think about is the patio my husband and I are building in our backyard! We’re not really fans of grass (I hate watering it, my husband hates mowing it, and I’m allergic to it) so we’re ripping out grass in our backyard and putting in pavers/cobblestones.  It’s a ton of work.  My weekends have been occupied with that. A few weekends ago we moved seven tons of road base into our backyard, and pretty soon we’ll start laying out about 1500 pavers (!) to make the patio.  But it will look great when we’re done.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

It changed, as I imagine is true for most people.  I always liked school, so being a teacher was always on the list.  For quite a while I wanted to be an archaeologist, actually.  I love rocks and thought the idea of uncovering fossils was impossibly cool.  Even though I didn’t pursue that, I still love rocks and fossils.  I have rocks displayed all over my house.  And I have a pretty impressive rock collection (all of which I’ve found myself).

What moment in the classroom stands out to you as most memorable?

I think it was probably when I was an undergraduate, rather than since I’ve been an instructor.  My Shakespeare prof was talking about some play (I truly don’t remember which one) but somehow he started telling a story about how his best friend died in Vietnam.  It was a really gruesome death that I won’t recount here, but needless to say his friend was tortured and killed in the war.  He used that story as a way of demonstrating a larger point about humans’ inhumanity toward each other, and I never forgot it.  Funny that I’ve completely forgotten the text he was talking about, but the actual “big picture” point will probably stick with me forever.

What is your favorite thing to teach? Favorite thing about teaching?

I love different classes for different reasons.  I’m teaching E270 (Intro to American Lit) this semester and it’s one of my favorites.  I love seeing the changes in American literature over the past 400-ish years and making connections between American literature and American history.  I also really love E140 (The Study of Literature) since we explore so many genres in that class and it lends itself nicely to looking at pop culture and popular texts.  And CO150 was my first teaching love!  It was what got me hooked on teaching.

I think my favorite thing about teaching more generally is how much I learn as a teacher.  My guess is plenty of instructors say that, but it’s true.  I learn so many new things every semester and I can’t imagine a more satisfying career for me than one where I can learn something every single day.

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Nancy Henke at the top of Pike’s Peak.

What advice would you give to a student taking a class in the English department?

Visit your professors’ office hours!  I can’t even count the number of times where I wished and hoped a student would come by my office for help.  And it’s a great way to get to know your professors’ interests – academic and otherwise.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

When I was a GTA, the Director of Composition at the time, Sarah Sloane, told all the GTAs advice she had received or read somewhere along the way.  It was something to the effect of, “The good news is that you can teach a terrible lesson and students may not really notice.  The bad news is you can teach a great lesson and students may not really notice.”  I think about that on tough teaching days (and try not to think about it on great teaching days).

What’s your favorite word?

Schnarchen.  It’s the German word for “to snore.”  When I teach E140, the Study of Literature class, it’s my go-to example of onomatopoeia.

What are you currently reading?

I’m about halfway through The Known World by Edward P. Jones.  I’ve been stuck at that point for a few weeks.  At certain points in the semester it seems that my reading consists mainly of readings for class and student papers, so my personal reading slows down a bit.

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Nancy Henke in Arches National Park.

What don’t your colleagues know about you?

Most people probably don’t know I’m a painter.  I started taking an acrylic painting class earlier this year and have just loved it.  I love arts and crafts in general, and for years my main crafty hobby was scrapbooking.  I still have a ton of scrapbook stuff and still do it once in a while, but now my focus is painting.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

In my whole life so far, one of my proudest accomplishments was when I was an undergraduate.  I was the commencement speaker at my college graduation.  That was pretty amazing. I got to give a speech to thousands of people, which was actually really fun.  It was one of my best days.

More recently, I’d say I was pretty proud last semester being a finalist for the Ann Gill Excellence in Teaching Award.  And this summer I was chosen to attend a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar at the University of Oklahoma where I studied westward expansion in the early American republic.  It was fascinating.

When you’re not working, what do you do?

In addition to painting and building patios, which I mentioned earlier, I’m also a runner.  I do races here and there, most recently the CSU Homecoming 5k, and I plan to do a half-marathon in the spring.  My husband and I like doing house projects, I love working in my vegetable garden in the spring and summer, reading (of course), and traveling when I can.  I’m visiting family in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving and spending some time in Washington, DC and northern Virginia after Christmas. I have a lot of international destinations on my wish list, but those are more expensive and take a lot more planning: Japan, India, England, Australia, New Zealand.

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Nancy Henke at Colfax Marathon Relay in 2015.

Anything else you want to add?

My husband and I were having a discussion the other day about if we got the chance to travel in time, but could only go forward in time OR back in time, which we would choose.  I would choose to go back in time to see what it was like to really live in some of the time periods I study (like going back to colonial America – any time in the 17th or 18th century – would be completely fascinating to me.  Though I’ll admit I would want to kind of be a spirit that could float around invisibly and just observe stuff but not have to interact with anyone or drink the water.)  He’d choose to go forward in time to see what happens to humanity.  I think it’s an intriguing question…you should add it to the list of questions you ask people when you interview them!

 

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