Tag Archives: Alumni Profiles

~From intern Katie Haggstrom

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The beginning of August means that fall classes start in less than three weeks. But there are still plenty of literary events happening around Fort Collins, both before and after school starts. From Fort Collins own Comic Con to a release party for English Professor Todd Mitchell’s new book, there are plenty of things to do between classes. Let us know if you’re going to a literary event not on our list! 

August 3 – Book Talk with Peter Maeck. Stop by Old Firehouse Books in downtown Fort Collins at 6pm. Visit the event page for more information. 

August 7 – Old Firehouse Books will host a book talk with Danya Kukafka. Kukafka, a Fort Collins native, will be discussing her new book Girl in Snow. The event starts at 6pm, visit the Facebook event page for more information.

August 17 – Summer Bike-In Cinema Series: “Get Out.” Bring your friends out to New Belgium Brewing from 6-10pm for a screening of the horror film “Get Out.” Tickets are $2 per person with proceeds going to Wolverine Farm Publishing. More information is listed on their event page

August 24 – FoCo Drink & Draw at the Wolverine Farm Letterpress from 5-7pm. The event invites people to “drink a few beers and draw a few pictures.” While some of you many see yourself only as writers, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your inner artist. Visit their event for more details. 

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August 25 – Our own English Professor Todd Mitchell will have a release party for his new book The Last Panther. Come help him celebrate at Everyday Joe’s Coffee House in downtown Fort Collins, starting at 5pm. The Facebook event page has more information. Read our Faculty/Alumni profile to learn more about Mitchell and his works.

August 26-27 – Fort Collins Comic Con. All tickets proceeds go toward the Poudre River Public Library District. Spend the weekend celebrating your favorite book fandoms. Visit the Comic Con website for ticket and event information. Visit their Facebook page to get a sneak peak of who’s attending. 

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~from intern Joyce Bohling

Last year, Gabe Martinez graduated from the CSU with his master’s degree in Rhetoric and Composition. Today, he works as Communications Specialist for the USDA AgLearn program. In this post, he shares some thoughts about his work and how the things he learned at CSU have stuck with him.

Gabe Martinez

Gabe Martinez

 

What is the USDA AgLearn program?

AgLearn provides all mandated training and coursework for USDA federal employees and contracted employees, which I believe is just under 130,000 people. AgLearn also acts as a system of record that digitally houses all employee training and coursework history. That is the key role AgLearn maintains, however we also provide outside training and coursework aimed at assisting professional and personal goals. So basically, we are a digital library and moodle.

What are your primary responsibilities as Communications Specialist?

My current tasks include preparing and executing a communications strategy to prepare all AgLearn users for a migration from our current learning management system to a new one later this year. I act as a conduit relaying information between my team and the USDA workforce.

How has your background in rhetoric and composition helped prepare you for the job?

Rhetoric encompasses all things communication and marketing, it just carries different terminology. Most importantly, rhetoric has shown me the importance of adaptability in my writing dependent on the audience. In rhetoric, we used terms like Kairos, where business calls it context marketing. The premise remains the same, reach people with relevant content, when they are most apt to engage in it.

What experiences as a student in the English department have been most helpful since graduating, professionally or otherwise?

This is where my education cannot be quantified, but has been influential in all segments of my life. The syllabi aspects of education carried a ton of weight in preparing me for the difficult intellectual lifting and focus needed to finish a task. However, the ‘soft’ skills I gained from being around the Rhet/Comp faculty taught me how to navigate various personalities in a respectful, generative, and progressive manner. I was fortunate to take a class with all faculty except Professor Tobi Jacobi, whom was fortunately my advisor. Therefore, allowing me access to everyone’s perspectives and personalities. As for experiences, it would be the office hours, meetings in BSB while Eddy was under construction, classes, Avo’s, and being around exceptional, humble, and talented people. That has challenged me to become a better person all around, professionally and personally.

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Do you have a funny or interesting memory from when you were a grad student that you’d like to share?

Well, it’s sort of funny now in hindsight. I was unable to access my CSU email the summer before I started in the Rhet/Comp program. I received some correspondence to my personal email, but not everything. Entirely my fault, causing me to miss some important info and our introduction meeting, which I think caused some concern. However, I was welcomed regardless.  

How would you respond to someone who says that English majors are unemployable, or that an English degree only prepares you to teach?

Wow, this is a loaded and insightful question. Not surprisingly, I have engaged in this conversation many times, often to no avail. The lack of avail is not from an inarticulate explanation, but instead from an audience inexperienced with the idea that education can be more than high-level vocational training. With that said, my academic experience did prepare me to teach. My colleagues that have focused on teaching are amply prepared to do so. Still, I have two English degrees, am not a teacher, and employed. The world is starving for English majors, yet they are unaware of this need. Besides being interesting, English majors offer an awareness of self, voice, and perspective, while being sensitive to corny and cliché content. Something all businesses and organizations need to focus on changing. I could go on and on why English majors are ideal in several roles outside of academia, but until we start marketing ourselves as capable and filling these spaces it will fall on deaf or already aware ears.    

What one piece of advice do you have for current CSU grad students?

Okay, I get a little uncomfortable giving advice. I can only speak from experience, and say that graduate school was one of the most transformative and generative experiences in my life. It is rare to meet exceptional people, yet in grad school you have constant access to this rarity. That is powerful, and I suggest grad students take as much advantage as possible of that opportunity.

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Steven Ray Parker
M.A. Literature, 2001
M.Ed. Educational Leadership, 2011

8th Grade English and Yearbook
English Department Chair
Science Olympiad Coach: Write It, Do It Team
Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School

Mentoring Advisory Board: Poudre School District

National Writing Project Fellow

 

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

Having an M.A. in Literature has tremendously prepared me for teaching the content that I do.  Core Knowledge schools are rigorous, and we read novels, nonfiction, and poetry that are above grade level.  I am able to approach literary works from a theoretical standpoint, without ever having to say, “Hey, kids!  Today we’re focusing on this passage from Twelfth Night through the lens of New Historicism.” Although I don’t discuss theory with 8th Graders, I incorporate it through my lessons and how we approach works of Literature.  I also gained an incredibly broad repertoire of works and themes from different periods due to the preparation for M.A. Comprehensive Exams.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)?

Many of my greatest accomplishments are centered around kids.  I’ve had students win scholarships because of their work.  I’ve had students speak at large events because of their work.  Whenever one of my students is successful, and they get to experience something outside the four walls of our classroom, I consider that to be an accomplishment that cannot be matched.  Personally, making the decision to return to school in 2009 to receive my M.Ed. and Teaching License was a major step for me in my life.  Now, I can’t imagine not being a teacher.

How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?

The seminars in the M.A. program were always collaborative.  Many of the projects that were presented in my classes were in groups.  Learning how to work with a peer, at a high level of trust and knowledge, very much informed how I approach teaching.  I also cannot overstress the tools of literary analysis I gained at CSU.  Literary theory informs everything I do.  Almost all of my professors in my grad seminars encouraged theoretical approaches.

What did you like about the English program?

I enjoyed everything about the M.A. program.  I even enjoyed taking the Poetry Comp and the Final Comprehensive Exams!  I met amazing people, students and professors, who made my time at CSU truly sublime.

Why did you choose to study here?

During my senior year at the University of North Texas, I had applied to various graduate programs around the country.  A few friends of mine had moved from Denton, TX to Fort Collins a year before.  They had begun Little Guys Movers in Denton and then looked around the country for a college town where they could do the same.  After they moved to Fort Collins, I visited a few times.  Like so many, I fell in love with Fort Collins.  I added CSU to my list of applications.  I was also drawn to the idea of attending a grad program that had a terminal Master’s degree.  I wasn’t sure, when I first began my applications, if I wanted to move past an M.A. to a Ph.D.

I was also drawn to CSU because of two particular professors.  I knew I wanted to focus on Modernist Poetry in my thesis.  I had read articles about Ezra Pound by Dr. Carol Cantrell, and I was impressed by the level of detail and literary theory that informed Dr. Cantrell’s work.  I had also read a book of poetry by Professor Laura Mullen.  Her poetry, her work with Gertrude Stein, Emily Dickinson, and feminist theory were instrumental in my decision to eventually write about Gertrude Stein and Queer Theory.

When you started graduate school, was eventually teaching at a middle school your goal?

I did not plan on teaching at all, much less at a middle school, when I began my M.A. program at CSU.  I started to consider applying to Ph.D. programs.  I also thought about finding a job in the field of arts administration.  During my second year, I worked closely with Professor Mary Crow, then Poet Laureate of Colorado, in initiating the state’s first Poetry in Motion project, which placed poetry and art placards inside Transfort buses. Running art and poetry contests, working as the liaison between CSU, Poudre School District, and the city of Fort Collins, and planning the celebration for selected poets and artists were all outstanding opportunities, and I became enamored with the possibility of working with artists.  In the ten years between receiving my M.A. and going back to school for my M.Ed. and Teaching Licensure, I worked in retail management.  During a time of personal change—a health scare and the loss of a dear friend to cancer—I decided to follow my heart.  I knew I wanted to work with kids.  I knew I wanted to bring my content knowledge of literature and literary theory to a classroom.  I knew I wanted to be a teacher who taught about being a citizen in our democracy, about fighting bias, about building self-esteem.  Little did I know that teaching was so much more than those things . . . and that it would become a mission, not just a job.

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Steven with two of his students, essay contest winners, at the recent MLK Day Celebration

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

There are too many “funny” stories that come to mind when I think of those years in the M.A. Program.  There is a house on Edwards Street that, for years, was rented out to English grad students.  There was a basement apartment in which I lived for a few years; the upstairs apartment had two bedrooms.  When I first moved in, Jill Darling and Laura Merrill (now Riehle-Merrill) lived upstairs.  While I was there, Trish (Klei) Barribeau and Nicole (Ashton) Harrison also lived upstairs.  It was a house where many English grad students gathered, both M.A. and M.F.A.  Many lively conversations and MANY late nights.

During my first year in the program, the original 90210 was coming to a close, after ten amazing years!  I remember mentioning in Dr. Sebek’s “Methods” course that I can no longer watch anything on television or film and not immediately evaluate it through a critical lens.  I knew I was in great company when my peers laughed (with me) when I mentioned that I was using Foucault to break down the systems in 90210.

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?

My advisor, Dr. Carol Cantrell, made an incredible impression on me.  Until she retired, she remained focused on current theory.  Her work with Modernist Poets informed much of what I did in my thesis.  Other professors that I looked to for guidance were Dr. Barb Sebek, Dr. Ellen Brinks, Dr. Sarah Sloane, and Dr. Paul Trembath.  I took three classes with Dr. Sebek.  We have remained close friends . . . almost twenty years of conversations, bowling, and hockey games.  Particular classes that I remember were Laura Mullen’s “Gertrude Stein, Emily Dickinson, and Feminist Theory,” Dr. Sebek’s “Early Modern Women Writers,” Dr. Brinks’ “19th Century British Literature – the Romantics and the Victorians,” and Mary Crow’s “Latin American Poetry.” I am still in contact with many of my fellow students who were in the program during that time.  Although most are scattered around the world, I do my best (as do they) to stay in touch.  We lost a dear friend in 2010, Kelly Jo (Cockburn) Feinberg, to cancer.  Since then, I would say many of my friendships have grown stronger.  I value any time that I’m able to see Sarah Dodson-Knight, Amanda (Gordon) Henkel, Amy Marshall Clark, and Eileen Munzo.

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

In many ways, the program is what you make it.  No one in my cohort was writing about queer theory.  I made myself that niche when I wanted to use Gertrude Stein’s poetry to bridge the gap between LGBTQIA Studies and Queer Theory.  Find professors who value what you do.  They’re there!  I’ve become friends with professors that are now at CSU that were not there in 2001.  The department is a rich place, flowing with innovative ideas and enthusiasm. Get involved!  Even if you are teaching CO150, take on an internship.  Explore Fort Collins.  Have themed dinner parties. Call everything a “panopticon.”

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

Do not limit yourself when thinking about life after CSU.  Keep your mind open.  I would have never thought that I’d be teaching middle school.  And, now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. And make sure you turn that GS-6 in on time (if that’s still a “thing”).

"My 8th Grade Team- 6 of the 8 are CSU grads."

“My 8th Grade Team- 6 of the 8 are CSU grads.”

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

I have been reading Simon Sinek’s books on leadership.  A colleague and I are creating a class for new teachers in Poudre School District that will, hopefully, assist them in getting through those first few years . . . years that can often bring disillusionment.  Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last are two of Sinek’s books that I believe any teacher, regardless of the age of their students, should read. I’m also reading Here I Am Jonathan Safran Foer and The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst.

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

During the school year, I have limited “free time.” I enjoy attending Colorado Eagles’ games.  If I have a chance to see live music in the venues around Northern Colorado, I am filled with glee. I look forward to board game nights and long dinner parties with friends.

Where will we find you in five years?

I will still be teaching.  I might be back in Texas, or I might be here in Poudre School District. The dreamer in me sees me teaching English in Cassis, France, my most favorite place in the world . . . a small fishing village on the Mediterranean with multi-hued houses and diving rocks.

 

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~from Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub

Disclaimer: I went to graduate school with Jessica Patterson. She’s my friend. We met at a time in our lives that feels like “just before” somehow, and it’s been such a joy to keep in touch, to be friends as we’ve both continued to unravel and come back together. She was and remains one of my favorite humans, a friend and a mentor. I’ve wanted to profile her on the blog for awhile, finally asked and she was generous enough to sit down and answer some questions for me. She had so much share, more than a post’s worth, but forgive me, kind and gentle readers — I couldn’t bear to leave any of it out.

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Jessica Patterson
Owner and Director of Root Center for Yoga & Sacred Studies in Colorado Springs
Director of the RootEducation (RootEd) 200-hour Apprenticeship & TT program
BA English (1999) and MA English: Communication Development (2004), Thesis: (Un)Becoming Human

 

I know that yoga is an important part of your life. How did you come to the practice? What has it meant to you?

I took my first yoga class my first semester of college in 1993. I had moved to Ithaca, NY to Cornell University, and it was an overwhelming time of change. There was a little yoga class offered as an extracurricular class, and I checked it out for the same reasons so many people are drawn initially to yoga: to reduce stress, gain flexibility, and shift things. My early practice was sporadic. I moved from NY back to CO, went to Michigan for a while (where I also took a class with a friend), lived in Peru for a stint, and then settled back in Fort Collins to complete my undergraduate work. I took classes pretty steadily from there, but it wasn’t until I was in graduate school (often commuting from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins) and working on my thesis that I began to rely more heavily on the accumulated benefits of my yoga practice.

My graduate research was a harrowing and stressful exploration of the world of non-human animal exploitation, so I was witnessing and taking in a lot of brutality. And then I would have these long drives up and down the I-25 corridor, past the factory farms and transport trucks that illustrated so painfully the invisibility of naturalized violence. The subject matter into which I was digging so deeply could leave a person feeling utterly helpless and disempowered. It is a daunting topic, and that was the first time I started to clarify how important it is not just to KNOW, but to empower someone with knowledge. So often, I would arrive home after a week of classes and research and I would just be wrecked….stressed out to the point that my throat would literally seize up and feel like I couldn’t swallow. So, I started practicing very diligently, making that time each day to help my body process what my mind was spinning around and around.  So that is where it all kind of started.

But my practice really became a life line when my father died very suddenly the fall after I had completed my graduate work and was teaching Composition at The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. On Thursday, Oct 21 2004, I was sitting in my office meeting with students and doing the usual schedule negotiations with my father via email to try and find time for us to talk. I suggested a date/time. He emailed back, “okey dokey,” and within 4 hours he would suffer a massive heart attack and die. It absolutely knocked my off my feet. Everything that had ever felt stable or grounded in me now felt shaky and fragile. Diffuse. I remember the shock of the days that followed and telling people I felt like I had no borders anymore. It was like the skin I was in had been shed and nothing was holding me together.

So, really, it was THAT experience, the experience of loss and the disruption of who I thought I was (or who I thought I was supposed to be) that plunged me more deeply into my practice of Yoga.

I tell students now that in loss and grief, time is often suspended, almost like we are tossed up into the air for a while. And in those moments, we can actually look around at our life and see it from a different perspective. To a certain extent, what UNmakes us can be the very thing that helps us recover a sense of ourselves that is less tenuous or performative. In other words, when the ground shakes beneath us, and we are tossed up into the air, we can sometimes decide how we want to land. In the months that followed, and eventually when my then husband and I decided to divorce and my beloved great dane was diagnosed with bone cancer, my daily practice was the one time I felt present and clear. It was this one tether to something steady and supportive. And the real power of that was the discovery that the steady ground was WITHIN, not without me. It wasn’t about gaining or attaining something. It was about being exquisitely present to something. Something messy and seemingly contradictory like grief and freedom. Or fear and courage. When you really come home to yourself, you find you are spacious enough to hold it all. I also think we find a kind of peaceful urgency; we tap that place in us that wants to live boldly NOW instead of living our days as mere means to an end. Yoga is largely about remembrance, the remembrance of who we really are (and the knowledge that that is enough), but it is often marketed and portrayed as a practice of performance. Through the practices of Yoga, we have the opportunity to show up for what IS (physically, emotionally, intellectually, energetically through the breath, and spiritually) and to cultivate a more intimate relationship with our lives. That demands presence, and THAT demands vulnerability and courage. So, in the wake of tremendous loss and transformation—death of a parent, divorce, death of my dog, moving, a scary crash of my endocrine system, and a major shift in careers—my practice became the one gossamer thread that stitched the wide unknown and seemingly eclectic spaces together.

Jessica and her dog, Peanut

Jessica and her dog, Peanut

This is why I write and teach so often about the real practice beginning in savasana, the corpse pose, the final resting pose of a practice. Most people commit themselves to a practice like Yoga when something major has fallen away. People come home to themselves when something has unraveled. The many mini deaths of our lives are often what teach us to live. The practices of yoga make those deaths explicit and can help us navigate the process of letting go and letting life in.

 

What made you decide to become certified to teach?

Well, that is the continuation of the story above, I suppose. Let’s just say I had ZERO interest in becoming a “yoga teacher” when I took my first training. I was grieving the death of my dad, and I had looked around at my life and decided I wasn’t living according to that inner compass, that passion. So, I had left my position at UCCS and began to cobble together more education. I had been doing some freelance work for some various animal advocacy groups, and because of that work I was often asked by people to give them advice on shifting into vegetarian or vegan diets. I decided to study nutrition in order to augment that work, and while pursuing those studies, I signed up for my first teacher training program. Long an intense student of life and academia, I was drawn to a training as a way of deepening my own understanding of and access to the practices that had become so helpful to me in a time of tremendous uprooting. So, I said what so many people say: “I am just doing this for me. I don’t want to teach.” I could go into all the details, but suffice to say I was given the great honor (and terror) of being asked to sub for my own teacher right after I completed my program. And within 2 years, I would be teaching full time. I went on very quickly to pursue my 300-hour training with my teachers David Life and Sharon Gannon, the co-founders of Jivamukti Yoga and whose interest in and support of my graduate work had been pivotal in my approach to the “why” and “how” of Yoga.

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While I pursued many trainings through many styles and lineages, with many well known and lesser known teachers, the fact is that I ended up teaching because I was asked to. That is a simple answer, but the implications are weighty. Teaching, to paraphrase Paulo Friere, should empower people to create change, not just indoctrinate or homogenize them. In my own trajectory, that has meant paying attention to how and where my work—my insights, experiences, and contributions—can be most meaningful and relevant. In the tradition of Yoga, the teacher is that which shines light on what is. It isn’t piggy banking ones “knowledge” or the franchising of others to reproduce or replicate oneself. Education should liberate both teacher and student. When we are asked to teach, we are asked to learn twice. Three times. Taking the seat of the teacher is a lot about facing our own inner critics and our insecurities and “who the hell am I to be here?” voices and not letting that eclipse what you can offer. When we are called forward to teach, we meet ourselves. And the choice is to perform as a teacher or to empower as one. So, I began teaching (reluctantly) when I was asked to by those who saw something in me that I had not yet embraced. I taught for a number of training programs in CO, but eventually I had some students ask me to create a program of my own. I was humbled and insecure, but I stepped forward. The RootEd program is going into its 7th season, and it is still the heart of my favorite work. Intense, honest, real.

I often say that the most reluctant teachers are often the best teachers. Our capacity to move into something as transformational as intensive Self Study (the real gist of a training program) without projecting onto our future selves who or what we think we will be allows us to be fully present to the experience. It allows us to revise so much of what we take as internal gospel, and it enables us to get very clear and honest about what form or forum into which we are called. My students hear me say this ALL the time, but we don’t need more instructors teaching asana (physical practices of yoga) in studios. We need yogis in the world AS yogis. We need yogis as surgeons and politicians, as teachers and parents, as business owners and artists.

The real goal of a Yoga teacher is to see the person before you as whole and enough, as is. And you focus on that and draw upon as many techniques as you can to basically say, “Remember?” I am also a Yoga Therapist, and that focus is all the more critical; we meet people as inherently whole and our task is to remember, which is different from the conventional medical (and consumer) model that there is something essentially broken  that needs to be fixed. A teacher doesn’t fix. A teacher reminds, calls forth, and supports what is already always whole and capable. The goal is to empower someone so that you render yourself obsolete. In the merchandised and commodified world of yoga-as-meme, teachers are too often models and actors, and the implicit (arguably explicit) message becomes “Look at me!” And that gets reinforced all the time by our culture of performance and competition, exacerbating and exploiting the feeling a person may have that they don’t have or are not enough.

But the essential job of a teacher of yoga, of guru (the force of illumination) is to say, gently, “look at YOU.” My teacher Mark Whitwell would remind us, “we should be falling down on our knees at the sight of one another.” That is the kind of reverence for and presence to one another, the kind of awe that is inspired by a practice (vs a performance) of yoga. We are inundated with messages all the time that exploit our sense of deficiency, seducing us into thinking our salvation is either in some future time (“when I get that salary or lose that weight or gain that attention”) or in the acquisition of something outside of us. The trick is, when you hang your sense of wholeness or center on something outside of you, it makes you even more vulnerable.

 

Two years ago, you opened your own yoga center, Root: Center for Yoga and Sacred Studies. Can you tell us more about that choice, that process?

It’s another long story, but the heart of it was that my own training program, RootEd needed a home that really embodied and fostered the spirit with which I teach . I had been traveling as a teacher, a gypsy of sorts, for a long time. I taught in others’ studios (from the very great to the very underbelly of the yoga world) and all over the world (including a summer residency in Taipei). I was ready to come home in the truest sense, and I was tired of renting other people’s spaces or being subject to someone else’s vision. I certainly didn’t think this town needed another asana-based studio. So, my goal wasn’t to open a space that was in competition with or a reproduction of what was already being offered. Again, I wanted my work, my contribution to be meaningful and relevant.

A quiet moment at Root: Center for Yoga and Sacred Studies

A quiet moment at Root: Center for Yoga and Sacred Studies

So I asked my longtime community of students and friends if opening a different kind of center would be something they would want. I wanted to be sure it would answer the cal for something that wasn’t being offered. The response was a resounding “yes.” But the truth is I had also just come through a devastating time in my own life that affected deeply my sense of myself as a teacher, with enough personal tragedy and trauma to have left me questioning whether or not I even wanted to teach anymore. Once again, I was at a crossroad between who I had been (as a teacher for 9 years at that point and as a woman) and who I was becoming. Part of me wanted to run away and start over, and part of me was ready to dig into my hometown and offer my community something different. Root was opened to be first and foremost a sanctuary for ALL bodies. You literally have to cross two thresholds to enter into the space, and it was built to nurture a feeling of being held. As is. The center is devoted to yoga as a conscious, embodied, spiritual practice (sadhana)—not just acrobatics in which you can check out and go on autopilot. The goal is to integrate what has been fragmented in belief, thought, speech, and action. And by “spiritual” we emphasize an embodied practice that connects you to something beyond your wavering thoughts and opinions. So, community (satsang) is central to our vision, as is service and scholarship. Rather than focus solely on asana, Root seeks to support the whole person, the whole practice, and the whole lifeline. My goal is help students tap something deep within, something unshakeable, from which they can resource themselves and recalibrate center when life knocks them around. If you can know center, and really find steady ground there, than your circumference can expand and shift and move.

Root Studio

Root: Center for Yoga and Sacred Studies

 

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

I tell you what, my background in English has been integral to the work I do in Yoga. I learned along the way through my education in English that we are always reading and writing the world—outwardly and inwardly (onto our own bodies and belief systems). I learned to question the assumptions we make about what is center and what is margin and how we naturalize and codify certain behaviors and beliefs as “normal,” and cease to see how we are conditioned and habituated to perceive the world the way we do. I learned to question what was considered “The Truth” about who we are and to ask why and how any particular narrative gets privileged above others and universalized as “the way it is.” I learned to distinguish between habits and nature, to question whether something is inevitable or just really masterfully ingrained. As a student of nonfiction writing, I learned to pay exquisite attention to the details. I learned to listen, watch, and feel into the subtle spaces where the real stories are held.

In so many ways, I feel like I am doing the same work in Yoga as I did as a student of English and Women’s Studies. Yoga is a technology comprised of specific techniques and practices that essentially ask, “Who are you, really?” The practices reveal the inner stories with which we have aligned and postured ourselves and our lives. Stories like “I am not enough” or “I am not safe” are more than cognitive lines we repeat; they have an associated breath pattern and a physicality, they have emotional resonance and a ripple effect on how we relate to others. Because Yoga attends to more than just our intellect, it can help us redress and rewrite what we experience as Truth free ourselves from the most seductive or convincing stories that inhibit us in this world. Thus Yoga is arguably a way of rewriting our embodied stories of deficiency, brokenness, seeking, etc. It is a way of helping us clarify and reclaim our identity and agency in a world that too often seeks to exploit or homogenize our sense of ourselves. The practices help us come into our senses and literally revise—see in a new way what is writ large–the story of who we are. This is why one of the series of retreats I lead (including Summer 2014 with John Calderazzo guest teaching!) are called Rewriting Embodied Myths: A (w)Rite of Passage.

So, I think I am basically doing the same work I did as an undergrad, a grad student, and a teacher of writing; I am challenging identity and seeking ways to empower a more conscious and kind sense of ourselves.

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What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)?

Hmm. I fall inwardly silent on this one. I am not sure I can speak to a great accomplishment, but I can say something about the little blessings in a day. When I see a new student or client suddenly grasp that who and what they are is enough, that makes everything worth it. When the woman who is convinced she needs to lose weight suddenly grasps that what she is really after is a sense of belonging and support, that is a great accomplishment. When the man who finally lets himself grieve openly realizes most of his physical pain was connected to holding it all together/in, that is a great accomplishment. I love what I do, but I am not terribly attached to it staying the same. Maybe my great accomplishment is adaptability.

 

How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?

Well, to add a bit to what I said earlier, I feel like my education in the English Department instilled in me a great capacity to see patterns and question hard lines in the sand. I can only help others identify where they are mired in old stories and habits because I have done that work myself, and everything I learned and explored at CSU helped me (in the words of Rilke) learn to live the questions. As much as my education frames and gives context to what and how I teach, it also informs who I am personally every day. I try to cultivate more awe and curiosity and let go of the need to have all the answers, and that began in my time there.

 

What did you like about the English program?

I loved my professors. I think across the board, as an undergrad and grad student there, I so appreciated the ways in which they inspired new thinking and new vision in me. Critical thinking became an emancipatory experience, freeing me from the resignation that things were necessarily or inevitably a particular way. And I think I found my own unique voice while there, and that voice was so supported and encouraged by great mentors in the program.

 

Why did you choose to study here?

As an undergrad, I basically chose CSU because I had hopped around schools and countries, and I was finally ready to just be in a place I loved. I was originally a double major Anthropology and English, but when I received a scholarship for my writing, I decided to just pursue English and the nonfiction writing I loved best. Once there, I loved it. After all the flitting around looking for the right program on paper, I found the right fit because I chose to prioritize my inner life and was met there by such stellar staff. The Women’s Studies program was also an essential part of my self discovery and focus as an undergrad and grad student. I returned to pursue my MA in 2002, because I wanted to focus on nonfiction writing and was delighted to be back.

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Do you have a favorite story from your time with the English Department? 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?

Wow. I have a few snippets. I had so many great teachers and friends there.

I remember my first writing workshop with John Calderazzo, and he handed back this lengthy thing I had written about my complex relationship with my father. He had circled one line and put a star next to it and wrote, “THIS is the story.” I will never forget that and how it taught me that we so often have to sort through a lot of surface stuff before we arrive at the real story.

Paul Trembath’s classes completely changed the course of my thinking and my work. In the words of Emily Dickinson, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” That was how I felt after those classes. Like something had been taken off and cleared out and I was able to see the poetry and dynamism of life in new ways.

As an undergrad, I was in the grad class for Virginia Woolf and wrote my first major paper on meaning being something that happens in the spaces between. I still pull that up online every now and then (The Matrix I think the online journal was called?), just to remind myself that this interest in how meaning is made has been a longtime passion!

I loved the early nonfiction workshops, before it became such a “thing.” I would be in class with 5 other people across such diverse life experiences rapping it out. It was so awesome to be with a firefighter, a single mom, and other nontraditional students whose insights and observations deepened all we did. Rebecca Skloot and I became friends and workshop mates at that time, and I have been so thrilled to watch her success with The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks.

I was told once by one professor that my mind works in constellations and cosmos. It was a great compliment and it was also her gentle warning that my thesis was spiraling out in too many directions! I am still like that. 🙂

 

Do you still keep in contact with your classmates or professors?

I am fortunate to still be in touch with a few, including John Calderazzo (with whom I led a retreat and hope to collaborate again)and my thesis chair and advisor Sarah Sloane (whose support of my work those two years was medicinal). I enjoy watching some of my dear friends and colleagues (like JILL!) across the ethers of social media.

 

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

It is a phenomenal program in which you can really find support for your passion, your voice, and your contribution to the world.

 

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

Let the inquiry unravel you, and enjoy the infinite possibilities that arise when you let go of the idea that you are supposed to know a darn thing. Pay attention to what you pay attention to and let that direct your focus in a meaningful way.

 

Since graduate school, you have continued to write, including some blogging. What does your writing process look like now? Do you consider your writing a practice like yoga, or part of your yoga practice? Can you tell us about the book you are working on?

Writing is absolutely a part of my practice as a yogi, just as I said yoga is a practice of writing and revision. Writing is a place for me to meet aspects of myself that might not have as much air time in my daily life, and it is a supreme practice of self study. When I write, and I mean really write, that small self drifts off and something else starts to speak up. In yoga, the practice is to become more firmly established in that truer/higher/primordial self that isn’t mere ego or opinion or aversion. Our “goal” is to think from, speak from, and act from that space more often, more naturally, with less effort. When I write, I often feel like that ancient part of me is speaking, and it can help reveal and revise the egoic chatter of my fears, insecurities, preferences, and biases. Writing is a way of clarifying how beautifully complex and tenuous we are.

I am a haphazard and erratic blogger, but I did create a blog named afer my thesis, (Un)Becoming Human. It’s a place I pull threads and muse about things related to my work and life. But yes, I am working on a book and have been for a while. Whilst I have had the great support and unwavering encouragement of an editor and publisher in NYC, I find that my process is often waylaid by the busyness of life. In some ways I think I am such a disciplined person, but my writing is entirely messy and unpredictable. When I write, I will write for hours and hours and forget to eat or drink water. But then I might not write for weeks on end. I am trying to dedicate one morning a week to writing, but I have learned over the years that I am someone who balks with too much structure. So, I use whatever is on hand, or Facebook, blogging, and other forums to jot down things as they come, and I have someone helping me cobble all that together for the book.

The book is essentially a compilation of essays that trace observations from my practice and teaching over all these years. It is an inquiry into what it is to embody and live the ideas of Yoga in a real world way. Not as the great sage, and not as a practical How To manual. Rather, it is an exploration, drawing from my personal and professional experiences, of what this stuff means in our ACTUAL day to day lives—lives of loss and grief, delight and discovery, heartbreak and injury, celebration and lamentation. Each chapter navigates a particular aspect of yogic practice by expanding and digging in deeper to the implications and possibilities there. For example, the first chapter is Savasana, the corpse pose, because (as I said earlier) it is usually when something heretofore stable has fallen away that we really come into our practice. And that chapter opens with the recounting of seeing my father’s corpse in the viewing prior to his cremation and knowing without a doubt that he was no longer there, though the form was. I explore what death is in small ways and what it evokes in us. Or there is a chapter on standing one leg balances that sifts through the various physical and symbolic effects of poses like “tree,” wherein we learn to recalibrate when what was once stable shifts. In that chapter I look at the actual amputation of my great dane, Peanut; divorce as amputation, and the loss of my father. While most of it is done, it still needs some fluffing and shaping, and I am notoriously slow to get things done. I need to be pushed! However, I do have to say, I have learned and changed so much over the years, and what I would have said 7 years ago is very different from what I say now. So, I truly believe that this time has been a necessary maturation process for me to articulate and share far more meaningful stuff. But, you know…there is a certain point when you see it’s perfectionism that is holding you back, and I am working to share more (thus my use of Facebook, etc) and learn to let it go.

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

I hike 5+ days a week. My time in the woods and my solitude are critical to my wellbeing and my work. I was raised a fairly feral kid, so I naturally gravitate to the wild for that sense of being lost and found. I love to travel in small and large circles, and of course I try to write whenever I have the time and space to settle in. These days, running a center and two training programs, meeting with clients and students, I seem to have woefully little “free” time, but I make it a point to take solitude and silence in wild places each week. My community of friends and family are amazing, so I spend a lot of time with my satsang—eating, laughing, celebrating life and sharing the sorrows.

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Molly Valenta
Cherry Creek School District
B.A. in English, Class of 2010

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Molly in her classroom at Campus Middle School

“I attribute much of my success to my writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills, which were honed during my time at CSU.”

Could you tell us more about the work you are doing now?

Last month, I left corporate America to pursue my passion for teaching. I am currently a Para Educator at Campus Middle School while I earn my teaching license with the Colorado Department of Education. This spring, I will be a fully licensed Secondary English teacher and teaching on my own in the fall. Currently, as a Para Educator, I assistant teach in classrooms throughout the school. I lead small groups, work one-on-one with behaviorally disordered students, and substitute teach on a regular basis.

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

I cannot thank CSU’s English program enough for my preparation and success in my endeavors since graduating. Upon gradation, I entered corporate America. I started in a position managing client relations at a small software company, specializing in SEC compliance and financial reporting. From there, I moved on to be a Corporate Trainer and Curriculum Designer for R.R. Donnelley, a Fortune 500 company. Throughout my six years in the corporate world, I attribute much of my success to my writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills, which were honed during my time at CSU. Professors like Dr. Reid and Dr. Veck taught me the importance of English and showed me its relevance and value. Furthermore, they instilled the confidence in me to find success with my English degree from CSU.

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?

Personally, my greatest accomplishment was realized last month when I finally found the courage to pursue my passion for teaching and make a major career change. Leaving a job that I knew so well, was very successful at, and that provided a very comfortable paycheck to pursue my dreams was scary. For years, I toyed with the idea of making a career change and becoming a teacher, but fear always stopped me in my tracks. Finally, after months of self-reflection, I just decided to dive in and overcome my fears. Since my first day of school on August 23rd, I have not looked back once! I am happier than I ever thought I could be–I get paid to do what I love! I will always remember Dr. Reid’s class, Writing in the Disciplines: Education, when I really knew that if I ever did teach, it would be English/Language Arts!

Professionally, my greatest accomplishment was entering the financial reporting world right after college, with very little knowledge of corporate finance, and learning the ropes quickly and successfully. Each day presented new challenges, but I always know I could fall back on my strengths: my speaking, writing, and critical thinking. As I mentioned earlier, I credit the CSU English Department with helping me develop these lifelong skills and that certainly led to success for me.

What did you like about the English program? Why did you choose to study here?

The sense of community in the English program was and still is amazing. That really makes a huge difference at a large school like CSU. Furthermore, as students, we were always given the autonomy to research and write about topics that personally interested us—I always really appreciated that, it made me feel valued and gave me confidence as a writer.

I chose to study at CSU because I had always loved the school and the campus. I am a Colorado native, and naturally did not want to leave our great state. CSU and Fort Collins always felt warm and welcoming to me. I look back fondly on my four years at CSU.

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

Overall, my favorite memory of the English Department is all the friendships I made. I still keep in touch with several former classmates via Facebook and it is neat to see where everyone is now!

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?

As I mentioned previously, Dr. Reid always stood out in my mind. Dr. Reid was always so patient with us and really cared about making sure we learned the material. She also challenged us to explore outside our comfort zone. I will never forget once having to read a graphic novel for her class. To be honest, I didn’t even know graphic novels existed until her class, let alone read one. Now, I have 7th grade students reading them!

I do still keep in touch with Dr. Reid, and I am thankful for that. She recently reached out to me via LinkedIn when she noticed my new job. Her simple LinkedIn message showing her continued support and interest in my success probably meant more to me than she realizes. It just goes to show how the CSU English Department community remains strong years after graduation!


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

English is one of the most valuable majors you can choose. Too often, I encounter professionals who lack strong writing and speaking skills, which instantly diminishes their credibility. If you want to be successful, you MUST be a strong writer, speaker, and critical thinker. The CSU English Department will strengthen all those skills and more.

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

Seek out the guidance of your professors. I know it can seem intimidating at first, especially as an underclassman, but it really will help you build great relationships. Looking back, I wish I had built more relationships with my professors like the relationship I built with Dr. Reid.


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?

The last novel I read was Dodgers by Bill Beverly. This coming of age story follows four teenage boys as they navigate gang life in South Central LA and end up on an eventful cross-country road trip as a gang initiation of sorts. Consequently, I have teamed up with a former English teacher to write curriculum for the novel. We recently sent our sample curriculum to the author and publisher and I hope to teach our curriculum next year to high school English students.

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

I love to explore Colorado with my husband and our two Labrador Retrievers. We try to get out to hike every weekend and we go camping often (we have the best secret spot in the Blue River National Forest). I also love to cook, spend time with my family and conquer DIY home improvement projects. Additionally, I sponsor the Student Council club at the middle school where I work, which I love!

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Blaine Smith

Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy Learning in Multilingual Settings

School of Education and Human Development, University of Miami

M.A. English Education, 2008

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

As an Assistant Professor at the University of Miami, my research focuses on the digital literacy practices of culturally and linguistically diverse adolescents. A main goal of my work is to develop instructional scaffolding that supports teachers with integrating technology in their classrooms. I also teach undergraduate and graduate courses focused on literacy studies and teaching English in secondary contexts.

The Master’s in English Education at CSU was excellent preparation for me to pursue a Ph.D. and become an Assistant Professor. Through the program, I gained a solid foundation of relevant theory and research in literacy studies and an understanding of English Education pedagogy for diverse learners. The program helped me to develop as a communicator, analytical thinker, and academic writer. In addition, my experience teaching College Composition for two years through a graduate assistantship prepared me for the teaching I do now.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)?

So far, I consider earning a Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, and Culture from Vanderbilt University in 2014 an accomplishment because it required a lot of work and time—but I loved doing it!

A more recent accomplishment for me was being awarded a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. This opportunity will allow for me to focus on a research project this year that takes place in a 10th grade English class in Miami. My study will examine how culturally and linguistically diverse students analyze literature through multiple modes (e.g., visuals, sound, text, and movement), and how the analytical skills they develop in their digital projects transfer to their academic writing. For example, students reading a novel, poetry, or non-fiction will create hypertexts that analyze important passages through digital links and related media. Multimodal projects like these (e.g., digital videos and soundscapes) will require students to comprehend complex texts, while hopefully also promoting creativity and engagement.

Why did you choose to study here? What did you like about the English program?

I’m from Bellvue (just outside of Fort Collins), and I really enjoyed my experience earning a B.A. in Technical Journalism at CSU. After I graduated, I worked in public relations for a while and realized that I wanted to pursue a Master’s in English Education and earn a teaching certificate. It was an easy choice for me to return to CSU and Fort Collins.

There is so much I liked about the English program! The faculty is excellent, and I found my classes to be challenging, interesting, and relevant. The entire department has a welcoming and collegial feel. There is also a supportive community among the graduate students.


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?

There are so many wonderful professors in the English department who made a lasting impression on me. I am particularly grateful for the mentorship I received from Dr. Louann Reid and Dr. Pam Coke, who cultivated my interests early on and supported me in pursuing a doctorate. Through their classes, I was introduced to the area of digital literacies and given the freedom to explore topics that piqued my interest. They both spent time to really help me strengthen my writing. I often still recall their advice when I write today. Pam and Louann were also instrumental during my Ph.D. application process—they helped me develop my application materials and networked for me. They’ve had a huge impact on my career.


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

There are so many avenues you can pursue with an English degree—from teaching English in different contexts, to literacy research, and creative writing (just to name a few!). In addition, English majors are well rounded and learn many valuable communication and analytical skills that transfer across all fields.

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

My advice for current CSU English graduate students is just to soak in the experience being surrounded by such smart, passionate, and creative faculty and peers. It’s also important to find time to relax and have fun during the program because I think having a balance in life makes you ultimately more productive.

If you think you might want to pursue a doctorate, this is a great time to explore different topics and gain valuable teaching experience. Don’t let the time or work it takes be a deterrent—go for it if that’s your goal!

What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote?

Since I’m working towards earning tenure, I am writing all of the time. I’ve recently published some research articles focused on multimodal composition in Computers & Education, Bilingual Research Journal, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, and Learning, Media, and Technology.

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

Miami is a fun city to explore. My husband and I love trying out new restaurants down here, going to concerts, and enjoying the beaches. While getting out and exploring new places is great, we often indulge in our guilty pleasure of marathoning shows too.

 

 

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Kathleen Willard

English Teacher and Poet

Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry, 2004

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Kathleen Willard’s poetry projects include a travelogue documenting a month long stay in India, an investigation of St. Francis of Assisi based on relics and art depicting his life, a series of sonnets to Mary Shelley, a mistranslation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis using an early 20th Century high school Latin workbook in addition to documenting her life in northern Colorado. One of her interests is using received forms—dictionary entries, tourist brochures, indexes, lists, newspaper articles, and fairy tales—as structures for her poems.

Her poetry has been influenced by travels to India, Italy, Turkey, Portugal and from growing up in a nomadic career military family.

She received a Masters of Arts in English from Middlebury College’s Breadloaf School of English and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Colorado State University.

Awards include a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to study in India, a National Endowment of Humanities Fellowship to study the New England Renaissance in Massachusetts, and an Arts Alive Fellowship to support her trip to Turkey.  She received a fellowship to travel and write in Lisbon, Portugal at the Disquiet International Literary Program and to be in residence at the Vermont Studio Center.

She has taught creative writing in public schools, colleges, prisons, and senior housing projects.

Read the interview below to learn more!

(The biographical information above from Colorado Poets Center)


Why did you choose to study at CSU?

I applied to the MFA Program and was accepted. I was thrilled as I had wanted an MFA in Poetry for years and knew that places at the table were limited. I returned to college after a several decade hiatus to work on my MFA in Creative Writing in Poetry. I was a public school teacher and have written poetry since my teens. I still have copies of my high school literary magazine where my first poems were published. From that moment on, I was intoxicated by the act of writing a poem. For years, I wanted to work on an advanced degree in writing, and the convergence of being accepted into the program and receiving a sabbatical from the Poudre School District set me on my desired course.

I wanted to fine tune and hone my craft. I wanted to join a circle of people who were serious about an art form that will never make them rich, that has a limited “market”, but felt compelled like I do, to confront the blank page and write a poem. I needed to get out of my quiet studio, my predictable workplace and moved to the next level of my craft. I wanted to be challenged and my work at CSU provided me with the opportunity to grow as a writer in ways not possible when writing solo.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?

Living the life of a poet and not giving up. Writing against impossible odds. One receives many “no’s” before one gets a “yes” as a writer of poetry. Because of my poems, I received a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to travel to India, a fellowship to the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal, received a fellowship to attend Vermont Studio Center, an artist colony, twice and have had many poetry adventures. Finally, a chapbook of my poetry, Cirque & Sky, was published this year and won the Middle Creek Publishing & Audio’s Fledge Poetry Contest.

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

Being an English major prepares one for many jobs and is a prerequisite to become a teacher. I worked in publishing and as a freelance writer, but my career was as a public school English teacher. I wanted to be a writing teacher that had first contact with developing, emerging writers and readers of literature. That first contact happens in 9th grade when students leap from YA Literature into classic literature.

I had a calling. I wanted to help students master Shakespeare and The Odyssey, both very difficult texts. I wanted to share my experience as a writer and help students develop confidence in crafting their ideas, honing their thinking and sharing their ideas with the world through writing. I was especially driven to be the teacher that helps students love poetry and they did come to love poetry as poetry is the language of adolescents.

A large banner with George Orwell quote was prominently displayed in the front of my classroom, “If you do not write well, you cannot think well. If you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you.” This was my quest—to help students think for themselves.


What advice do you have for prospective English students?

Follow your passion. Many people will question your choice to major in English. I tried very hard not be an English major, and studied Political Science. I took a course on Women and Literature and read 15 novels written by women and I was hooked. People undervalue a degree in English, but, it is one of the most flexible degrees on the planet. You can teach, work in publishing, work in marketing, work in politics, or run a business. As an English major, you are fine tuning analytical thinking and research skills, and mastering communication and writing skills, all highly valued workplace skills. When you study a novel deeply, you are also studying history, philosophy, culture, psychology, religion, and science, as characters in novels inhabit a unique time and space. When you write an essay, you are crafting a new idea and exploring new territory. Writing is a creative act, another valuable workplace skill. But, if you are like me, encountering a beautifully crafted poem or novel or short story or essay or sentence is reward enough to study literature.


Were there any faculty in the English Department that had a special impact on your writing life? 

When I became a student at CSU, I wanted to push myself as a citizen of the poetry world, and be involved with an engaged literary community. The professors at CSU have created a learning environment that fostered my journey.

My thesis advisor, Lauren Mullen, pushed me intellectually and helped me fine tune my craft with the precision of a sculptor. She pushed me to question everything I knew about poetry before entering the program and with her guidance I became a better critic of my work and the work of others. She radicalized my approach to my poetry. Mary Crow guided me on a journey into Surrealism and into work by international poets that I would have never read on my own and enriched my body of knowledge. Bill Tremblay continues to be interested in my work long past my graduation, as we are in an occasional writing group. John Calderazzo, even though I never took any of his classes, has always been curious about my writing and kind to me. John wrote a wonderful book jacket blurb for my first chapbook of poetry, Cirque & Sky. Dan Beachy-Quick, who arrived at CSU long after I graduated, also wrote a wonderful book blurb, proof positive CSU alums are forever connected to the MFA program.

What was your last piece of writing?

My last piece of writing is my current piece of writing. I am working on a project with the Denver’s Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and the American Museum of Western Art in Denver called Writing the West. I am currently revising three poems based on three paintings in the museum—Trapper at Fault, Looking at Trail, Desert Journey, and Corn Dancer. The poems will be published as a book and be part of a permanent installation at the museum. They are also making an audio recording of the writing in the project and the recording with be part of their audio tour for the collection.


Why is poetry important? What does it mean to or do for you, all of us?

Poetry connects people across all the artificial divides we have created. It speaks cross cultures and gender, beyond religion and politics and its speaks across the ages. Poets are keen observers of the world and poets have no tie to any marketplace or economy and therefore, we are truth tellers as we know we will never make a living producing our art. We are keen observers of the world around us. We write like investigative reporters as we write deep and close to the bone.


Who are some of your favorite poets?

Sappho, Emily Dickinson, Eavan Boland, W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney and Fernando Pessoa.

What is your writing process, practice like?

I write by hand on the largest art blank sketchbook paper I can buy. I write outside the lines and let the paper be a field I explore. I write by hand until I cannot write anymore on that subject. Then I go to the computer. And revise revise revise. It takes me a very long time to complete a poem.

I don’t have a fixed time to write, but am always thinking about the next poem or the current one so when I hit my desk, words explode.

How would you describe the poetry you write?

I am a lyric poet, but try to push the boundaries of the lyric into the 21st Century. Currently, I am writing pastorals praising the beauty of the Rocky Mountain West and anti-pastorals lyric poems about fracking, benzene spills, Superfund sites, toxic wastes from the decades of mining and pine bark beetle infestations. My chapbook Cirque & Sky deals with this material, but I am working on a book length manuscript on this issue.

What fuels, feeds your poetry?

Poems are everywhere. Always be open. One just has to listen. Get out in the world. Don’t isolate yourself in your studio. Writing a poem is a moveable feast. It can be done anywhere. Follow one’s obsessions—there are poems in there. Read. Read. Read. Read.

Go the opera. Art museums. Theatre. Antique shops. Get outdoors and walk or fly fish or hike. Learn the names of all the living creatures and plants in your region. Figure out a way to travel. As travel is destabilizing, and in destabilization, poems occur. I have traveled to India, Turkey, Portugal and the Azores—my short list. Each time I cross a new border, I am on alert. Can’t afford to travel across the globe? The West is also a foreign country—travel beyond the Front Range. It’s incredible.

What sort of legacy would you like your poetry, your life to leave?

I would like my poetic legacy to be about interconnectedness. We are connected to the planet and to each other. Williams Carlos Williams said poetry is about contact. When one reads a poem, he believed contact between reader and writer occurs and that is the purpose of all art. I hope my poems make contact with readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kevin Reilly Jensen

Colorado State Public Defender

BA Writing, 2013

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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.

 

 

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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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Jessi Hanson

University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public & International Affairs PhD Candidate and Teaching & Research Assistant

Playing to Live International Co-Founder/Technical Program Director

BA in English Education at CSU, 2003

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You have been doing such amazing, diverse work in the world. Can you tell us more about that?

I joined the Peace Corps after graduating CSU. While serving, I saw how much children face when afflicted by poverty and marginalized and at risk. I decided to pursue my masters in International Education Policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2006, so that I could work in international development helping improve education and child protection in developing countries. I lived and worked abroad for 9 years, particularly in the Dominican Republic and Liberia (post war and during the Ebola crisis). I have now worked nearly 14 years in this field, and have traveled to about 20 countries doing educational programming, like teacher training and literacy programs.

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Jessi with Ebola Survivors in Liberia

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

At CSU, I look many courses focused on literacy and reading acquisition in the Department of Education, alongside linguistic courses in the Department of English. I learned so much about how people (children and adults) learn, particularly a new language and the science behind reading. The joint program study helped me apply my knowledge to developing and supporting programs for adults and children who had little schooling and poor literacy acquisition. It was wonderful prep.


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?

One of my greatest accomplishments was helping design and implement advanced literacy training curriculum for Liberian youth who, due to the long civil war, never got to attend school and couldn’t read. The English Department’s courses on linguistics, poetry and adolescent literature helped me and my team develop a robust and engaging curriculum, where the Liberian students were not reading boring ‘A for Apple…B for Ball’, but instead singing their alphabet, reading simple but beautiful poetry and literature/stories that were relevant to their age development. We included classical poetry that is celebrated around the world, and even had them write their own stories. We taught them about proper grammar and writing, including how there is both formal and informal English, and they are all forms of self expression.


 

What did you like about the English program? Why did you choose to study here?

I am a native Coloradoan, so I wanted to study at CSU since I was a kid. I love literature and knew I would want to study English. I was blessed that the department at the time had incredible professors who inspired me, like Dr. Sebek, Dr. Garvey, and Dr. Robinson. They were so moved by literature and language, and that inspired me to continue free writing even on top of my job. I published my first novel a few years ago, In the Silence of the Sun. I am working on two more currently, including one about the lives of Ebola survivors. If it was not for professors like them, my motivation to write would not have been so great. Also, because of them, I am going after my second dream which is to be a professor. I am studying at the University of Pittsburgh, and can’t wait to teach students as they taught me.

In the Silence of the Sun Cover

Jessi’s novel In the Silence of the Sun

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

I miss getting to do literature as ‘life.’ Not all careers allow a ton of time for reading the classics and new exciting literature. Getting to read as a student, and read all the time, was actually one of my favorite memories at CSU.

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?

I have kept in contact with several professors since university. When I am in Colorado, I try to visit campus and grab a coffee with them. It is wonderful to keep long connections with such incredible mentors.

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

Take a variety of classes, and go beyond what is required to graduate. By taking a range of classes, you discover new literature that you never thought you would like. I learned that I loved Shakespeare, magical realism, and Hemingway.

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

I am working currently on a novel based the true stories of female Ebola survivors and their lives after discharge from Ebola Treatment Units. I spent the last year there working on the emergency, and had the humbling fortune to meet these incredible heroes. I am always reading, and carry a book in my bag or purse (never got into electronic reading…too old). Currently I am re-reading A Movable Feast.

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

In my free time I run and write. In a PhD, there is little free time, so when I can do both in a day, it is a really good day.

jessih

Where will we find you in five years?

Hopefully I will be a professor in a lecture room. Also, hopefully my organization, Playing to Live, will also be expanded to numerous countries which means reaching more children in need through play art therapy, which includes story time.

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Chris Hardy
Owner/Partner/Employing Broker
Elevations Real Estate, LLC
BA – English w/Education Certification 1987

Chris 1987

How did your major prepare you for the job, the life you have now?
Where to begin? At first, my plan was to teach and coach at the middle/high school grades, making a difference in the world one student at a time. This plan was modeled after several of my own high school teachers and coaches who critically influenced my personal development. It was a good plan. In retrospect, I think it was less a plan and more of a “plan-B”… you know, “Oh, you can always teach…”

What I discovered, is that with a bit of curiosity and a willingness to pursue emergent opportunities that piqued my interest, jobs and careers I never dreamed of being possible (let alone desirable) presented themselves. Communication skills (written and verbal), critical thinking skills, lesson planning, exposure to literature from the past and present, from women and minorities, to adolescents and eccentrics – my English degree curriculum and teacher certification program prepared me for a life in our tech-driven, multi-cultural, business-as-a-lifestyle global village.

I’ve been a general manager, a property manager, a general contractor, a builder, a real estate broker, a sales manager, a corporate trainer, a business coach, and entrepreneur. Seriously? Business Management? Sales…I mean, Business Development ? Corporate Trainer? Real Estate Broker? The 25 year-old-me would have said “Eww, no way” to each of those job titles. Nonetheless, each job allowed me to explore the world in ways I couldn’t have considered as an idealistic undergrad.

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 accomplishment overall? Easy! The relationship with and marriage to my wife, Pat (CSU, BS –Psychology, 1986). We met while attending CSU and working at the Aggie Theatre (when it was a movie theater). We would also see each other outside a common classroom in the Clark building. A true campus romance that 30 years later is still going strong!

From a professional standpoint, my greatest accomplishment is the role I play in our local and regional Realtor Association. A couple of years ago, at the urging of several colleagues, we started the Fort Collins Board of REALTORS Emerging Professional Series: The FCBR Academy. It is a 12-hour continuing education class designed to help new real estate licensees navigate their first years as a real estate broker. Nearly 200 have taken the course and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I also facilitate a number of other classes for REALTORS along the Front Range intended to improve professionalism in the industry. In the long run, “plan B” was inescapable. I love to teach and I feel like I am making a difference in the world one student at a time! Without my time in the English and Education departments – I may never have discovered my passion for teaching, presenting, and coaching.

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What did you like about the English program?
I loved the diversity of the curriculum: Dr. Mark’s Shakespeare; Pattie Cowell’s Women’s Literature; Dr. Zoellner’s Major Authors Course on Hemingway: Carol Mitchell’s Mythology Course; Dr. McBride’s Adolescent Literature; Steve Reid’s Teaching Writing; Neil Petrie’s 19th Century British Fiction; and even David Lindstrom’s Literary Criticism course continue to stand out in my memory as being elemental in the broadening of my life perspective and the critical role that words and language play in our day-to-day lives.

Why did you choose to study here?
CSU was a natural choice for me as I grew up nearby in Berthoud. Plus, family members attended in the past: father – James Hardy, aunt – Elizabeth Wolverton, and uncle – Van Wolverton).

Do you have a favorite or funny story from your time with the English Department? Or something you particularly miss?
I miss the immersive nature of studying literature. My post-academic life is so fractionalized. The opportunity to focus on a single work or the characteristics of a group of writers (like the modernists) seems like such a luxury now. I am a bit nostalgic for class time and the open discussions of the books we were reading and the themes the authors were exploring.

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?

Dr. William (Bill) McBride! Not only was he one of my most influential professors (adolescent literature, teaching writing) – he was my academic advisor, too. His personal interest in my success and development went well beyond the basic professional obligations of an instructor or assigned advisor. He made me feel worthy of pursuing a teaching credential and that I had real gifts to share with the world. His encouragement made all the difference for me in attaining a degree! I hold him as the model by which great teachers are measured! Dr. McBride (Bill) and I have gotten together for lunch on occasion and as our schedules allow. I try to tell him each time I see him what an impact his teaching and mentorship has had on my life.


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

Words matter. Language matters. Spelling matters. Writing matters!! Those who understand how language works can learn just about anything – can adapt to just about anything. Those who understand how language works can inspire, persuade, critique, applaud, compliment and complement! With an English degree, you are given access to history, philosophy, psychology, thoughtful analysis, creative and critical thinking. It gives you the foundation to truly do anything to which you set your mind.


What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?
Do whatever it takes to finish your degree program. Don’t worry about the path after school – many times, the path that has the most to offer isn’t visible until you’ve pursued a couple of dead ends. Consider broadly what your skills and talents as an English Major can offer – it isn’t just teaching. It isn’t just writing. It’s management, communication, marketing, sales, leadership, entrepreneurship. Read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and you’ll see what I’m talking about!

What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote? OR, What are you currently reading, writing?
Oddly, I’ve become an avid reader of non-fiction. I mentioned Daniel Pink – he’s terrific! I’m currently reading Charles Duhigg’s latest book on productivity, Smarter, Better, Faster. As a journalist for the New York Times, I find his writing concise and compelling. His previous book, The Power of Habit is also a favorite. I’m a sucker for a good Michael Connelly novel and since my birthday is 11-22-63, Stephen King’s book of the same title is mind-bendingly entertaining!

I write every day! Perhaps it isn’t the great American novel – but I love writing! Whether it is an email to a client explaining the process of buying a house – or a snarky Facebook post that generates laughs and comments, I love that command of the language gives me confidence and that a well-developed vocabulary is powerful in both written and oral formats. Even when I’m developing a power point presentation that is driven by images – the text that remains on the slide is the way-point that provides the listener navigation in the skills they are building.

What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?
I love to flyfish, travel, read, work with wood, do home improvement projects, and Pat and I still love the movies after all these years and go as often as we can.

Chris fishing hat

Where will we find you in five years?
I love this quote from Norman Maclean: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”  You will find me on the river – likely, on the Poudre, near my home just 7 miles up from Ted’s Place.

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