Academic Success Coordinator (i.e. Academic Advisor) for English, Ethnic Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies in the College of Liberal Arts at CSU
MFA Creative Writing: Poetry, 2013
How did your major prepare you for the job, the life you have now?
My degree literally changed my life. In addition to my MFA, I also have an undergraduate degree (Union College, 2003) in English. After I graduated, I worked several jobs (including on a farm) before settling into a job in publishing. While publishing is often held as the ideal for an English major who doesn’t want to teach, I was an editor on Math textbooks…. and I hated it. I didn’t like the industry that I saw as taking advantage of students and not conducive to creativity.
When I came to CSU, I didn’t have a GTA. This was actually a good thing (despite the obvious lack of money) because it allowed me to grow a diverse set of skills and experiences. I appreciated a revival of an interest in publishing, on the literary side, because of Stephanie G’Schwind’s mentorship in the Colorado Review and through my role on the (now-named) Grey Rock Review. My experience with students in a one-on-one setting helped launch my interest in advising. I also earned more administrative skills working for the department and contacts in the Fort Collins community working for MouCo Cheese. And, of course, I was able to earn teaching skills and learn about more resources on the CSU campus by eventually teaching CO150 and E210. I use these skills daily in my job in advising!
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?
Failure has been a big part of my life and has helped to shape my greatest successes. I can give you a list of some accomplishments, but they mean nothing unless you acknowledge the rejection and often dark places from which they came. The first time I applied to MFA programs, for example, I was uniformly rejected. During that time, I also broke my hip and couldn’t run or ski and I hated my job. The next year, I adopted my sweet struggling kitten, Lily, re-applied with a more strategic approach and new poems. Because of this, I had a pretty good success acceptance rate to the extent that I had my choice of programs and pretty attractive financial aid scholarships and TA positions. Similarly, when I started submitting my book to presses for publication and contests, I got a lot of “reject plusses” (meaning, “close but no cigar”) and was about to give up before it finally found its home. The successes mean more when the depth from where they originated is acknowledged as an intrinsic part. It can be hard to work with extremely successful productive people and see their accomplishments roll in without judging yourself against that. Just know that everybody struggles, everybody has their own pace in life, and that’s okay. If things had come easily for me, my writing and my professional life wouldn’t be what it is.
What did you like about the English program? Why did you choose to study here?
The people: this is the short answer for both questions.
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?
Ben Findlay, Kaelyn Riley, Brittney Goss, Sarah Pieplow, Lauren Gullion, Nancy Henke, and Chris Klingbeil were all at my wedding in December, amongst others from the English Department. There were many who were missed (hi Jerrod, Mickey, Kir, to name a few….). We were family while we were here and I’m so happy to keep these people in my life. I recently met up with Mickey Kenney who was in town for FoCoMX and was able to catch up with him about his experiences teaching in a remote Alaskan village. Though we don’t see each other often, I still think of these folks as family.
I also still work in the English Department…. Happily I “have” to see many of my former professors regularly. I consider Patty Cowell’s (retired) class on Emily Dickinson, Debby Thompson’s nonfiction workshop, Sasha Steensen’s hybrid literature class, and ALL of Matthew, Dan, and Sasha’s workshops to have been absolutely necessary in shaping my work.
What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?
Despite being older than the average grad student when I came to CSU, I was pretty naïve about the whole process. Being older (and having worked a while) ended up being a huge asset as I decided on a program because I was able to visit my top choices of schools where I was accepted. At Boise State, Martin Corless-Smith gave me the advice that I give to my students all the time: Read what the professors are writing. I found that CSU was the perfect fit because the professors (Matthew, Sasha, and Dan at the time for the poetry department) were writing vastly different things, which extended into a workshop environment that was accepting of different styles and experimentation. They didn’t put us students into a box.
If you have a GTA…. Don’t spend too much time grading. Spend the time getting to know your students. They’re pretty cool and have lives outside of composition. Build your community with people in your genre and especially beyond. If you don’t have a GTA… that’s ok! You’ll have more time to make a community and explore beyond the halls of Eddy. I’m grateful that I had several jobs, from working at the Writing Center, to working as a (probably not great) assistant to the Creative Writing Director, to hocking delicious cheese for MouCo, to babysitting the kids of poetry professors. Everybody should use the opportunity to intern with Stephanie G’Schwind. Take a workshop outside of your genre, if you can.
For undergrads: EXPLORE. Explore the classes at CSU beyond English, find those connections, whether it’s in history or ethnic studies or geology or math use them in your questions and writing. Explore Fort Collins and the mountains beyond. Go on a study abroad if you can. Do what I wish I had done: get an internship. And, in all of these: don’t sell yourself short. It’s okay to fail as long as you’re trying.
What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?
Take advantage of the resources at CSU. Get off campus (hike around the reservoir, walk into Old Town). Read what your professors are writing. Keep in touch with your professors (and your advisor ) after you graduate. Let us know what you’re doing or what you’re struggling with.
What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote? OR, What are you currently reading, writing? OR, You have an hour to spend in a bookstore. What section do you make a beeline to?
I am a very slow reader. I also don’t continue reading things that don’t grab my attention. So this list is my list, depending on my mood, that I currently have in rotation. Also, I like to spy on booklists for English classes for my “to read” list!
Currently/Just finished reading:
Fiction: Pachinko (Min Jin Lee) [Oddly enough, I’m usually more likely to have more fiction on my list, but this book is significant in length.]
Nonfiction: The Collected Schizophrenias (Esme Weijun Wang), The Book of Delights (Ross Gay), Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls (T Kira Madden), Guidebook to Relative Strangers (Camille Dungy)
Poetry: Ghost Of (Diana Khoi Nguyen), All of it Singing (Linda Gregg), NOS (Aby Kaupang and Matthew Cooperman), Moon, Letters, Maps, Poems (Jennifer S. Cheng)
Next up: Lost Children Archive (Valeria Luiselli), Deep Creek (Pam Houston), The River (Peter Heller)
What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?
I grew up ski racing and wish I had the money to do that more often. I got ski one day in this year and it made my heart soar. That said, activity is key for me! I’ve gotten into road cycling and so I spend my spring and summer weekends trying to beat my strava PRs on Bingham Hill with my husband, Joe. I’ve cut back on running in recent years, but I still dream of breaking my PR of 1:40 in a half-marathon. I also love hiking, snowshoeing, and spending time with our two dogs Zayna and Bean & the new addition, kitten Frank. Frank and Bean have their own Instagram because they’re that adorable (https://www.instagram.com/frank_and_bean_/). Also, TV is awesome (don’t let anybody tell you otherwise) and the craft beer scene in Fort Collins could also qualify as a hobby for me! Subverting the patriarchy is a constant pursuit.