CSU English senior Natalia Sperry recounts studying abroad, collaborations with professional writers, department community

Natalia Sperry reading notebook
Natalia Sperry reviews class notes outside Willard O. Eddy Hall, CSU

Colorado State University senior Natalia Sperry (BA ’20 — Creative Writing) is one of the newest members of the country’s oldest honor society. She says the successes that helped her into Phi Beta Kappa were themselves championed by a common theme of her university career — community.

“To be invited into Phi Beta Kappa is reserved for the top 10 percent of students,” Sperry said. “I was honored but actually was unsure I could join because of fees at the time.”

She said that was when a group of her mentors within the CSU Department of English came together and found a way to pay the fees for her. The gesture was unexpected, Sperry said, but it was indicative of the support system she experienced while working hard to attain academic success in the department.

An experience abroad

In 2019, Sperry won the International Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship to participate In a study abroad program, which, with an additional English department scholarship, took her to Oxford University in England. There she experienced a month of hands-on education about the historic influences of Shakespeare.

“I also received a small Enrichment Award from the Honors program,” she said. “I know I wouldn’t have been able to study abroad without these institutional supports alongside my Gilman Award.”

“It was an incredible study opportunity, and to see live performances at the Globe and at Stratford theaters was just a dream,” she said. “That was really life changing and a highlight of my undergraduate experience.”

Natalia Sperry with Barbara Sebek at Oxford University courtyard
Natalia Sperry with English professor and mentor Barbara Sebek at Oxford University

Literature professor and author Barbara Sebek recounts finding herself at a loss while searching for the perfect snippet of Sperry’s work from the Oxford program, which Sebek hoped would perfectly encapsulate the young writer’s “stylistic flare.”

“But her blog posts set me afloat in a sea of choices,” Sebek said. “Virtually any chunk of her writing puts all this and more on dazzling display. It’s no surprise that Natalia wrote jaw-droppingly perceptive critical analyses for the study abroad course and for a subsequent regular semester course.”

Academic vigor

Sperry has continued a notable academic career, having garnered several 2020 English department awards and scholarships. Her accolades include an undergraduate Creative & Performing Arts Scholarship Award for creative writing in poetry — awarded for her poems “Ideal-l,” “to all my almost soulmates,” “in the café we visit to pretend that we’re artists” and “holywell grove.”

As a CSU Honors Program student this fall, Sperry continues work on her senior thesis — a hybrid lyric essay and poetry project alongside Creative Writing professor and author Harrison Candelaria Fletcher.

“I think it’s important for English students to know about the Honors Program, which can sometimes seem like a STEM or research-oriented program,” Sperry said. “It can allow for meaningful creative opportunities to work with professors one-on-one.”

Sperry also is one of three inaugural recipients of the English Department Legacy Scholarship, and she is winner of the department’s Sarah Sandra Collins Creative Writing Memorial Scholarship.

Natalia Sperry in a Collegian Newspaper meeting of the 2018-2019 editorial board
Natalia Sperry in a Collegian Newspaper meeting of the 2018-2019 editorial board

During her undergraduate career, Sperry served as a reporter and later editor of CSU’s Collegian Newspaper. She was editor of the undergraduate literary journal Greyrock Review, and she participated in the English department social interest groups like Inklings and Dead Poet Society.

“These groups all get you writing outside of the classroom,” she said. “It’s so fun.”

Support system

Sperry lauded the inclusive community of supportive fellow students she encountered at CSU, but she credits the personal connections she built with her professors and other mentors as major factors that bolstered her successes.

“Mostly I’ve been really fortunate to find supportive people in the department who empowered me and encouraged me to pursue things,” she said. “If I start listing professors who have encouraged me to try for all these different opportunities it will be just countless.”

Still, her mentors agree that each of Sperry’s accomplishments is a result of her talent and dedication to the discipline.

“These honors are a fitting testament to her talent, dedication and promise as a writer of essay, poetry and all forms in between,” Fletcher said. “I have found her to be among the most adventurous young writers I have had the pleasure of working with.”

Sperry was mutually complimentary.

“Well you have real pros setting that example for you as a CSU student,” she said. “In high school you think you’re going to come to college for this top-down learning from professor to student, but in the end, it’s all about collaboration and pursuing education collaboratively.”

Natalia Sperry Feature Portrait
Natalia Sperry