Tag Archives: Marina Miller

The end of the semester is typically a mix of relief, exhaustion, and joy. Students who have worked hard all semester long are looking forward to a break and some rest, giddy with the promise of summer. It is a bittersweet moment for many faculty because while they are looking forward to the same things, they also have amazing students who they might not see in class or even on campus again. I am feeling mostly sad today because I am having my final meeting with my interns. Marina Miller has been so much fun to work with, to get to know this semester. She is a hard worker who pays attention to detail and always, always does her best. Even when she had assignments that were outside of her interests, beyond her comfort zone, she completed them with enthusiasm, precision, and professionalism. She set a high standard for next semester’s incoming interns.

Marina is graduating this semester, making the move from student to alumni. I hope you will join me in wishing her all the best. She will be missed, but we are certain she is moving on to good things.

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What brought you to CSU?

In all honesty, I came to CSU because NYU rejected me. However, I stayed at CSU because of the people. We have some of the nicest people on this campus (crazy preachers who come to The Plaza excluded). I also really like the balance of social activities and athletics and academics here. We know that our sports teams are great and we support them, but at the end of the day we are a school where academics are more important.

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

Originally I decided to major in English because I wanted to go to law school. While law is something I am still considering, I am considering writing as a career even more so. My love for writing has only grown since being an English major at CSU.

What are you reading, writing?

I am currently reading Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave him the Wrong Finger by Beth Harbison. I am currently writing one of my last blog posts for my personal blog. I have loved blogging for the past four years but with graduation coming up, the blog has run its course at this point. I will continue to blog but it will be a different theme with different content of course and serve a different purpose.

Favorite book or author?

I read too many novels to choose just one favorite. The authors I like are Beth Harbison, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot (not just The Princess Diaries, her grown up fiction too!) and Erin Duffy. I like fun reading and all these authors write fun, “girly” books that I can relate to.

Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you while at CSU?

So many teachers have helped and inspired me in these past four years. Kate Kiefer, Ellen Brinks (who finally taught me what a comma splice is), Carrie Lamanna, Sarah Sloane, Courtenay Daum (Political Science professor but still incredibly helpful) and of course Jill Salahub who said, “Thank God our plans don’t always work out” which is slowly becoming my mantra as I enter the real world.

How does it feel to be graduating? What are your plans?

Exciting, and absolutely terrifying. School has been such a huge part of my identity for so long that it’s a very strange feeling to just be finished with it. My plans are to take a week off and just sleep in and do whatever I want. And then I will probably get a job as a legal assistant to pay the bills while I try and find a writing job to support me.

What did you learn from your internship experience?

I learned the importance of proofreading, reading aloud and getting a second opinion on your writing. I also learned how to tailor your work to the audience that would most be interested in the topic, even if you are not necessarily a part of your audience.

What advice do you have for other students doing an internship?

Enjoy your internship and make the most of it. Yes, it looks good on a resume but there is more to it than that. If you pay attention and take the constructive criticism into consideration beyond just your writing (or whatever the task may be), it will make you a better writer and that will shine on and off your resume. And go to more events. Even if you don’t have to write about them, go for the experience and the networking.

Why is it important to study the Humanities?

I think studying the Humanities gives a broader base of knowledge than going right into STEM classes. People call me “well-read” now, which is I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as but it is because of the Humanities classes I have taken. I wasn’t described in that way before I came to CSU. People will just ask me random questions now because they assume I know, and while most of the time I don’t know the answer, it does feel good to know that people think of me in that light.

What advice do you have for CSU English Department students?

Don’t get so bogged down on one text you can’t decipher or one class that you absolutely hate. When you can start to take classes that you are really interested in and you feel as though you will use the skills you’re learning in the real world, it will all work out. I hated my literary theory classes and I swore they were going to kill my GPA because I didn’t know what was going on, but I somehow got B’s in those classes and once I was finished with them, I got to take Writing Online and Writing and Style and I did amazing in those classes. Also, we all have at least one person in our lives that will either belittle the work we are doing or ask us what we are going to do with an English degree, instead of letting those negative comments get to you and make you question your decisions, use them as motivation.

When you aren’t in school or working, what do you do? What do you love? What are you obsessed with?

I love to bake. When I get really stressed out, I bake until I am able to calm down and handle the situation better. I also have a slight obsession with shoes so I go shoe shopping much more than I should.

Where can we expect to find you in five years?

In five years, I hope to be married and have one child. I know it sounds very stereotypical but I love kids and I want to make sure I have them in my life. However, I also want to have a successful career. At this point I can see two paths, one is writing – maybe I’ll get paid to blog at some point, who knows – and the other is law. Either way, where I end up will be a result of my English degree, and I know wherever I am will be fabulous!

Interested in this internship? We need two new interns for Fall 2015. Find out more: http://english.colostate.edu/news/english-department-communications-internship-submit-an-application/

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On April 7th, Dr. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl was the featured speaker at the most recent session of the CSU Writing Project Speaker Series on the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life. The National Writing Project Executive Director gave a talk titled “Education for Democracy in a Digital Age: A New Civic Agenda for Schools.” English Department Communications Intern Marina Miller attended this session of the Speaker Series and has this to share:

Coming into last week’s speaker series, I had heard a lot about the guest of honor. In the previous event she was described as a “true genius” and someone who knows “a lot about everything.” All I knew so far was that she was the Director of the National Writing Project, which is the group responsible for hosting these events. I had a feeling that she was kind of a big deal.


After her introduction, she told the audience that she was really just trying to be “a cool old lady” and that for tonight’s presentation she would be “throwing out some ideas.” She started by putting a complicated math problem on her slides. As soon as I saw it, I thought to myself, “Oh no, see I’m an English major. I don’t do such math problems.” After a couple of audience members gave their own responses to the answer of the problem and what the point of this example might be, Eidman-Aadahl told us that the problem represented the number of hours teachers spend engaging in the public school system: 56 billion.


She asked the group “What are we getting out of our schools?” We tend to measure the success of a school based on student achievement, but what Eidman-Aadahl believes is a better measurement is how much democratic achievement comes from our schools. “Are our schools actually giving us a better democracy?”

“Because argument is now being seen as writing, students around the nation are being asked to write about public policy,” Eidman-Aadahl stated. She handed out writing samples from anonymous students from state assessments who after they read a series of articles about the issues were asked to write about whether or not prisoners should be allowed to donate organs. This example was used to talk about the different perspectives that students bring to the table and how their experiences outside the classroom should factor in to our views of student achievement.

Dr. Eidman-Aadahl then described the concept of education as “possessive individualism.” She said that we are teaching students skills instead of teaching them to ask about their place in their communities. She pointed out that on most standardized tests, students are told to take a stand and defend it, but that doesn’t leave them any room to be unsure. In these standardized tests, there is no room for ambiguity.

She continued her talk by giving examples of how students have become involved in politics. Some are starting fan groups that advocate for certain issues, they are posting things on social media, and overall participating more in the democratic process than tends to be perceived. She ended with an idea that she learned in Mongolia; that school shouldn’t just teach skills to prepare for a job, but prepare students to be a part of the community and the collective democracy.


As I reflected on my time in the public school system, as these talks often make me do, I realized that we are taught to regurgitate certain facts and lay them out in a specific format, but that does not teach us how to think critically about the issues that our worlds might be facing. It was not until I took a high school government class that I really started to wonder how I might be affected by certain political issues and how I could make sure that my voice got heard. Maybe we need to talk about these things at a younger age so that by the time we can vote and can make a difference, we feel important; we feel like we have agency. If knowledge about our system of government was as commonplace as a five paragraph essay, maybe we would view student achievement, and democratic achievement a little bit differently.


The session was recorded, so even if you had to miss it, you can watch it here. 

More about this series: Throughout the spring semester we’ve been hosting nationally recognized literacies-based researchers and educators to discuss how literacy and youth civic participation intersect from varying, interdisciplinary perspectives. The speakers have presented their work and engaged in dialogue from 5:30-6:30, followed by a brief reception. These events are free and open to the public. All of the speakers present at the CSU campus in Clark A 205.

Up next: The final session in the series is Tuesday, May 5th. This session will be a Civic Literacy Panel made up of Colorado teachers and students.

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Lynn Shutters, Special Assistant Professor, Literature.
B.A., English, University of Virginia; M.A. and Ph.D., English, New York University.

Dr. Shutters teaches early literature and women and gender studies at CSU. Her academic interests include representations of love, sex, and marriage in medieval literature; representations of non-Western peoples in medieval literature; medievalism; and feminist and queer theory.


How would you describe your work in the English Department?

My main work is as a teacher – I offer a wide range of courses, including British Literature I, Shakespeare, medieval literature classes, Modern Women Writers, Literary Theory, and I’ve also offered a capstone titled “The Marriage Plot.”

My job also involves research, meaning that I publish in my research fields of medieval literature and gender studies. I just finished editing a book last semester entitled Teaching Medieval and Early Modern Encounters.

What brought you to CSU?

Actually, I’m half of an academic couple; my partner, Leif Sorensen, was hired in CSU’s English Department in 2009. After being long distance for 4 years and working in different states, we decided that CSU and Fort Collins were a good fit for us.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I really enjoy introducing students to older literature that they might not expect to find all that interesting – I taught a class on Medieval Women Writers in the Fall 2014 semester, and I think a lot of students were surprised to see how fascinating and thought-provoking medieval literature could be.

I also enjoy working with students on writing. Sometimes students think that they either are or aren’t good writers, and if they’re not, there’s not much to do about that. I encourage them to view writing as an attainable skill, not an innate ability, and I enjoy seeing their sense of accomplishment as their writing skills improve.

Why are the Humanities important?

I have a lot of opinions on this one, especially as a professor of early literature in an era when medieval studies is being cut from some curricula.

I firmly believe that in terms of teaching critical thinking skills and challenging students to imagine cultural and ethical situations that might differ from their own perspectives, nothing beats the humanities.

To draw from my own field, medieval studies, I ask students to consider how naturalized concepts like “race” and “gender” might have been constructed differently in the past and to then ponder the significance of those differences. Conversely, I ask students to see how present-day beliefs and social structures developed out of the past. For example, even though we imagine love and marriage to be really different in the Middle Ages (and in many ways, they were), Western formulations of love and marriage today are nonetheless deeply indebted to the medieval past. We’re sometimes a very present-minded culture, but I think that knowing where cultural ideas come from can help you figure out what you value in your own culture and what you might want to change.

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

I always really enjoyed studying literature, so for me it was something of a natural fit. In college, one of the things I really enjoyed about the English major is that I was challenged to actually formulate my own ideas and present those ideas in an interesting, thought-provoking way. Rote memorization wasn’t really part of my experience as an English major, and, as an English professor, I continue to emphasize critical thinking, ideas, and writing.

What had the greatest influence on your career path?

That’s hard to say. I would say that my parents’ attitude toward education and careers gave me the freedom to pursue a career that might not seem practical, like graduate studies in English and then a professorship. I had plenty of friends in college whose parents basically told them that they had to be pre-med. My parents were incredibly supportive of whatever I wanted to do, although they always emphasized that I needed to be aware of the consequences of my decisions. For example, academia is not a high-paying career, but that’s a trade-off that I was willing to make.

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

I’m trying to remember – I loved drawing and think that I imagined that I could be an artist when I was about 7. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a lawyer. My original plan starting college was to major in English as an undergrad and then go to law school, and plenty of my friends actually did that. However, I ended up continuing with English.

What special project are you working on right now?

A bunch – as an academic you usually have, or try to have, a few different projects going. I’m currently trying to finish an article on two medieval authors, Christine de Pizan and Boccaccio. It’s taken a while, because they’re French and Italian, respectively, so this research is a little further afield from my usual work on Middle English literature and authors like Chaucer.

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

That’s hard – I don’t know if I can identify one moment. I would say that I’m often surprised and impressed by how “game” my students are. I tend to throw a lot at students – lots of reading, complex critical articles. I remember teaching a critical reading last semester, for example, on the twelfth-century French poet Marie de France. The author of the reading assumed that his audience had all kinds of background knowledge that my students, as undergraduates, simply wouldn’t have. Yet the students were so game to discuss the reading anyways – those moments stick in my mind.


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

I love teaching a lot of things, but as mentioned above, I really enjoy teaching medieval literature, partially because it’s so strange and unpredictable given many students’ expectations of literature. I sometimes tell students, if you want weird crazy narratives and poetic forms, forget post-modern literature. Go medieval!


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

Take advantage of office hours. Many professors are open to working with students one-on-one, and that’s what office hours are for. Even if you feel like you’re a pretty good writer, if you talk to a professor in advance about a paper, you’ll probably do better on it as a result.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Another tough one – I guess I’d say to try to enjoy academia. There’s so much to enjoy about teaching and research, but it can also be overwhelming. When I made my to-do list for Spring Break – grade midterms, read for a graduate course, peer review an article, finish writing an article, get together proposals for a conference taking place next year, etc. etc., I felt my stomach clench. But I do what I do because I love it, and it’s important to remember that.

What or who inspires you?

Many people, but, for these questions, I’d say Carolyn Dinshaw and Mary Carruthers, the two amazing professors with whom I primarily worked in graduate school; Karina Attar a friend and colleague with whom I put together the volume of essays Teaching Medieval and Early Modern Cross-Cultural Encounters; and, while it may sound cheesy, many of my students. To be specific, right now I’m teaching a graduate course on medieval literature; none of the students have worked all that extensively in this field, and yet, as usual, I’m throwing a lot at them. They’re game, though! Even when some of our critical readings include quotations in languages they don’t know.

What accomplishments are you the most proud of?

For teaching, I’d say how well my Medieval Women Writers class went last semester. It was a tough, demanding course, but students did well and seemed to enjoy it.

For research, finishing the volume of essays Teaching Medieval and Early Modern Cross-Cultural Encounters, which just came out last December.


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

I’m in the process of finishing writing the article on Christine de Pizan and Boccaccio, mentioned above. I’m also writing a blog entry for “In the Middle,” a blog for medievalists/people interested in the Middle Ages. (Check it out at http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com) I’m reading for my courses – students might not believe this, but I always reread anything I’m teaching. So I’ve been immersed in Renaissance sonnets and Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, plus criticism on the latter. I’m also reading Haruki Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – it’s a nice change of pace from my usual reading lists. And I’m looking forward to starting Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel The Buried Giant.

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

To be honest, I tend to be a workaholic – I always tell my students, I need hobbies! I do enjoy cooking and baking, running, and playing poker with a weekly poker group. I also love popular culture and can watch almost any awful show on television. I find The Bachelor disturbing yet fascinating, and ditto for MTV’s The Challenge.

What don’t your colleagues know about you?

I really don’t know – I’m pretty straight forward, I think. Maybe they don’t know about my terrible sweet tooth – people often assume that I’m healthier than I am.

What is your favorite word and why?

I don’t really have one. I like odd words or phrases when they come up. In one of my classes last week, for example, we were discussing “Hieronymian hermeneutics.”

Which three people (living or dead) would you invite to dinner?

Now I feel like I’m being forced to participate in a first-day-of-class icebreaker (I guess I deserve it, for inflicting them on my students?) I’d probably say three close friends of mine from college/grad school who are spread all over the country. That’s probably not the most interesting answer, but it’s honest – one of the tough things about academia is that you end up going where the job is, which often means leaving close friends behind.

What’s one thing you dream of being able to accomplish in your tenure at Colorado State University?

I have a few ideas, but I’m afraid I’ll jinx them if I say, so I’ll let you know when/if they happen.

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On March 31st, Bud Hunt was the featured speaker at the most recent session of the CSU Writing Project Speaker Series on the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life. On his blog, Hunt said, “Earlier this week, I had the honor of giving a talk in the CSU Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life speaker series. With my time … I talked about some of our work around professional learning and agency, as well as some of my thinking on the essential actions/literacies/habits that should be in our schools. I probably tried to cram too much into a fast talk, but I think it got some thinking going, which was my goal in the first place.”

English Department Communications Intern Marina Miller attended this session of the CSU Writing Project Speaker Series on the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life and has this to share:


As soon as I heard Bud Hunt say tl;dr, I knew I was in for a technology filled presentation. After he explained to his audience that tl;dr stands for “too long, didn’t read,” I decided that he was probably attuned with young people in schools today, at least in terms of technological advances. I thought that maybe this could be a presentation that I could relate to.

He gave us the main topics for his presentation using six words: make, hack, play, platform, interface, and agency. Then I started to think, “Okay, those seem simple enough, I wonder what else is in store.”

Like all speaker series talks sponsored by the CSU Writing Project, we were asked to write down our answers to the following prompt: “What kind of society do you have in mind? What kind of school do you have in mind?”


Two English education students who sat in front of me turned around and invited me to discuss with them. One student said, “I’m not sure what kind of society I have in mind but my ideal school would be respectful, responsible, harmonious and accessible to everyone.” I told her that even though she didn’t know what kind of society she wanted to live in, what she described as the ideal school could also be seen as the ideal society.

Bud Hunt then said something along the lines of if you’re not out to improve the education system, then get out of the way for those who are. This led to the discussion of the current system and the attempts (or lack thereof) to improve the system. He told us that $8.38 billion has been spent on educational technology products in America. The goal of these ventures are generally to provide students with unique opportunities and to help them “direct their own learning.” It is his belief however, that most of the tools that are being used to implement these goals and shape schools are not actually providing unique opportunities for students, but rather just giving students the same activities and the same learning, and doing so in way that students don’t know that it is the same.

This issue was used to describe the word “agency.” He said that teachers should question why they’re doing the things that they’re told to do in order to have a sense of agency in their classrooms. In his experience, many teachers are just waiting to be told what to do in their own classrooms. We were then asked to discuss why we believed this was the case.

The same education student said that it was really frustrating to hear that, given her teaching philosophy. She said, “I understand that maybe when you’re first starting out, you need a little bit of guidance, but I don’t understand why you wouldn’t have agency once you’re beyond that.” We talked about the possibility of fear. People who push the boundaries often get cast aside and even punished in some cases. I also mentioned that it may be overwhelming to some who see the flaws in the system and want to change it but don’t necessarily know where to start.

The idea of change was next on the agenda. Hunt’s definition of “hack” was one that I really liked and had never thought about before his presentation. He said the “old school definition” of to hack was “to improve a system or program. For example, emoticons were supposed to be seen as a hack to traditional language.” It made me want to be a hacker of the systems that I have problems with.

The next few keywords were interrelated. Hunt said that we need to see classrooms as platforms. Platforms are the environment in which something happens, and it is important that we take into account the constraints and the facilities we may be working with within that platform. He defined “interface” as a system that exchanges information between other systems. In his analogy, the classroom is an interface between history and our current learning spaces. He urged the audience to redesign those spaces and reminded them that you can’t hack something that you don’t understand.

His suggestion to better understand the systems that you are involved in is to play, the last of his keywords. His definition of play also was not the traditional way of viewing play. Instead, Hunt defined play as “the ability to find freedom within constraints.” He explained that we need to dive in, be curious, explore, and most importantly have agency.

He concluded the talk with these thought provoking questions: “What are the reasons we can’t? How do we get around them? How are you going to make your school better?” These questions seemed to really pump up the audience and make everybody wonder, “What can I do to make systems better? How can I be a hacker if I dislike something?”

The session was recorded, so even if you had to miss it, you can watch it here. (The talk starts at nine minutes into the recording).

Bud Hunt also shared the slides from his presentation in his blog post, “Let’s Hack School: A Recent Talk at CSU.”

More about this series: Throughout the spring semester we’ll be hosting nationally recognized literacies-based researchers and educators to discuss how literacy and youth civic participation intersect from varying, interdisciplinary perspectives. The speakers will be presenting their work and engaging in dialogue from 5:30-6:30, followed by a brief reception. These events are free and open to the public. All of the speakers will be presenting at the CSU campus in Clark A 205.

Up next: The final session in the series is Tuesday, May 5th. This session will be a Civic Literacy Panel made up of Colorado teachers and students.

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English Department Communications Intern Marina Miller recently attended the second session of the CSU Writing Project Speaker Series on the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life and has this to share:

This session featured Dr. Ben Kirshner, Director of Community Based Learning and Research at University of Colorado. It felt a bit more relatable for someone in my position. During Dr. Kirshner’s introduction, I learned that he was an integral person during the closure of Manuel High School in the Denver Public School District. This topic was of interest to me as I was a student of Denver Public Schools until I was accepted to CSU. I remember when Manuel High School closed, and I was a freshman in high school when it reopened. This talk seemed like something I had a bit of background knowledge in so it piqued my interest.


The writing prompt for this discussion was similar to the prompt we engaged in at the last speaker series. This time we were asked to define “civic literacies.” We were not given much time to write our answers before we were asked as a group what definitions we came up with. One woman, a high school teacher who was on a leave of absence while at CSU, gave her definition: “Civic literacy is the ability to be an active participant and beneficiary of the democratic process.” An education student then said that civic literacy is “understanding social and civic topics.” Kirshner then went on to state that he believed “‘Good citizenship’ is morally agnostic because you could be a ‘good citizen’ and still do things that are morally unacceptable.”

He used this as an opener to discuss the research that he has done for his upcoming book. He and a graduate student observed one Denver high school for a year and asked them to talk about race relations in their school. He shared one essay from an English as a Second Language (ESL) class from that school. The prompt was: Describe your experiences with Cinco de Mayo. The student was a Mexican American and wrote about how going to school on Cinco de Mayo made her feel “powerless,” “worthless,” and “like nothing.” She explained that when she was with her family on that day, she felt good and proud because they had a reason to celebrate and come together as a family.

Kirshner shared this and explained that during his time observing this school, he noticed that the only time the students openly talked about race was outside of the classroom. It was talked about at the entrance of the school, in the hallways or rarely huddled around a teacher’s desk after the rest of the class had left. This made me think about my time at Thomas Jefferson High School and my experiences with race in Denver Public Schools.

I distinctly remember race coming into classroom conversations about three times. Each of those times took place in either an Advanced Placement class or an Honors class, which unfortunately were composed of mostly white students. I remember in my Honors English class sophomore year, when discussing Mark Twain, the topic of the “N” word came up, as it often does when reading Mark Twain. A white male in my class groaned and said “Do we really have to talk about this?” And the one black male in the class said, “Yeah, let’s talk about it.” The room went very quiet as many of the students just didn’t know what to say. Eventually he explained that the word is used now as a reclaiming word and that they feel powerful because it is a word that only they can say. While it was enlightening to get a different perspective on such a loaded word, the problem was that was only one opinion. My class made that one student a spokesperson for his entire race.

This talk really made me reflect on my time in Denver Public Schools. I have learned much more about race relations and diversity since being in college. Race wasn’t talked about much in the high school classroom, at least not the classrooms that I was in. The topic of race was tiptoed around in one of the most diverse high schools in the district. Why is that?

The question of “why” is essentially what Dr. Kirshner was asking during his talk. He discussed that schools need spaces for these critical discussions and that teachers should own their identity and use that to help them engage in these conversations with students. He showed his plan for how teachers can get the conversation started in their own classrooms.

Ben Kirshner slide

Kirshner briefly talked about his time in Cape Town, South Africa and the use of music as literacy in their fight for equal education. He explained that “music was the vehicle to claim legitimacy in the struggle” in South Africa. He showed a poster that said, “every generation has its struggle” which was the slogan of the fight for equal education. That simple sentence, “every generation has its struggle” is so powerful, it rings true for many. In some ways, my generation has the same struggle as generations long before us, equality and civil rights for all. As important as that battle and our struggle is, many around the world are struggling for much more, some even just for a voice in their world.

Ben Kirshner slide02

The session was recorded, so even if you had to miss it, you can watch it here:

More about this series: Throughout the spring semester we’ll be hosting nationally recognized literacies-based researchers and educators to discuss how literacy and youth civic participation intersect from varying, interdisciplinary perspectives. The speakers will be presenting their work and engaging in dialogue from 5:30-6:30, followed by a brief reception. These events are free and open to the public. All of the speakers will be presenting at the CSU campus in Clark A 205.

Up next: March 31st, Bud Hunt, CSU Alumnus & Instructional Technologist, St. Vrain Valley School District.

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English Department Communications Intern Marina Miller recently interviewed Professor Ellen Brinks about the Peace Corps Masters International program here in the English department at CSU and her upcoming Study Abroad trip to Zambia.


Katrina and her daughter Esther outside their small arts and crafts shop

You’re an advocate for the Peace Corps, how did that come about? If you were in the Peace Corps yourself, where did you go? What did you get out of it? 

I never was a Peace Corps volunteer, but I’ve met a number of Peace Corps volunteers and have learned about what a powerfully formative experience it had on their lives. Without wanting to overly simplify things, as far as international development programs go, the Peace Corps is one of the most ethical, and I have seen how the immersion and collaborative work within communities in developing countries gives volunteers both a sense of the bigger picture – a wider, global perspective – as well as a more nuanced, complex, and empathic understanding of cultural difference.

We have a Peace Corps Masters International program here in the English department at CSU, where a graduate student earns an MA with academic coursework and combines that with the standard 27-month, hands-on Peace Corps assignment. Our PCMI graduate students have had all kinds of opportunities opened to them as result of their PCMI degrees. One recent returnee has worked with the US Park Service on global climate change initiatives and the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History, in the acquisitions department. What cool jobs! So it’s absolutely not at all a stretch to advocate for this program; I love talking about it.

[Professor Brinks is the English department liaison for the Peace Corps Masters International program here at CSU. There are four departments that participate in the program at CSU, and English is one of them. Ellen advises interested English majors and graduate students on the program.]

Zambia Info Session Flyer

What got you interested in Zambia? What are some of the activities that you will be doing?

I got interested in Zambia by traveling there and working with schoolchildren on their reading skills. Kids there are not native English speakers, but English is the language of the school classrooms and curriculum, the language of the Zambian government, and it’s the ticket to greater economic opportunities as they mature. On the summer education abroad program I’ll be leading this coming May (so soon!), students will be working collaboratively in the community of Livingstone, Zambia, on community education and community health projects. They’ll chose the projects that they want to participate in, and they’ll work 8 hours a day, five days a week (with weekends off). Some will be working with teachers, some will be working teaching and tutoring students and adult learners, some will be helping construct classrooms, some will be teaching sports, some will be assisting in health clinics and doing home-health care, some will be teaching nutrition and HIV education. There are some other projects I’ve not mentioned, but this gives you a good idea of the diversity of initiatives the students will be a part of.

How many students will be with you? How did they get chosen for such an exciting trip?

Based on application numbers, I think we’ll have about 15-20 students traveling. Anyone can go who has a desire to go (and a GPA of 2.5 or higher). The program is run through the Education Abroad Office here at CSU, and they have a great support team there to help with the application process and with scholarship information.

Are there any special requirements that the students needed to complete to be eligible? For example, did they need special immunizations or medical records?

Besides the 2.5 GPA and getting all the application materials completed by February 15, the students will need to get a US passport and the required immunizations for travelling to Zambia (there are a few!). All the other costs (except personal spending money) are included in the cost of the program – airfare, all in-country meals and lodging and transportation, program costs, and weekend excursions.


Hippo family at Chobe National Park, Botswana (Ellen says, “we’ll go here on the Zambia summer trip!”)

What do you hope students get from the trip?

So many things! I hope that students feel empowered by the challenges of a trip like this – it’s not a tourist trip to Africa – and recognize how skilled and talented they are; I hope in their work with Zambians, they come to see them as co-partners, as aspiring citizens of country with great human resources, and not as needy recipients of Western aid; I hope they develop an appreciation for the beauty and cultural richness of Zambia; I hope they make new friends, become lifelong travelers, and become engaged, global citizens for life.


Animals at the watering hole in Etosha National Park, Namibia

While there, will you have an opportunity to see some of the beautiful sights that Zambia has to offer or will it be all work?

Yes, we’ve definitely designed the program so that students have time to explore some of the natural and cultural wonders of the area! There are many exceptional sites in this corner of the world. First and foremost, right next to the town of Livingstone, Zambia, are the world-famous Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Zambezi River falls into a rift that stretches more than a mile, and there’s an amazing National Park with lots of trails. If we’re lucky and there’s a full moon, we can visit the Park at night and see “lunar rainbows,” a rainbow effect created by the moonlight on the mist rising from the falls – it’s beautiful and eerie. Livingstone is also an adventure hub, and students can do whitewater rafting on the Zambezi, bungee jumping into the chasm, parasailing, and lots more.


Deadvleih petrified area, Namibia

We’ll also be traveling for one weekend to Chobe National Park in the neighboring country of Botswana. It’s only about 2 hours away, and we’ll be on a “camping safari” there: spending the nights in tents and touring the park/Chobe River by day to see wildlife. Chobe is one of the top three wildlife preserves in the whole continent of Africa, and students will see A LOT of animals there: hippos, crocs, zebra, elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards (if lucky), many species of antelope and gazelle, warthog, jackal, I could go on. It’s all right there, and students will be able to see these animals up close and take many photos.

There are some other great outings possible: to local food and crafts markets; to some local restaurants for traditional Zambian food; to a traditional village away from the town; to a big cat rehab sanctuary.

Ellen at the lion sanctuary (for orphaned and injured lions) in Livingstone, Zambia

Ellen at the lion sanctuary (for orphaned and injured lions) in Livingstone, Zambia

What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to thus far?

I once counted up how many countries I’d traveled to (it came to 42), and many of them are amazing and beautiful places. For me, though, my favorite places are the ones where I feel at home, as if I could live there for a long period of time and be happy because the culture is warm and inviting and stimulating. There are three places that come to mind: Greece; the Lake District in England; and Livingstone, Zambia.

Is there anything else you would like us to mention?

Students should feel free to contact me for information about the Zambia program or our Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) program: Ellen.Brinks@Colostate.edu

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English Department Communications Intern Marina Miller recently attended the first session of the CSU Writing Project Speaker Series on the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life and has this to share:

Attending the first of several events in the CSU Writing Project Speaker Series on the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life was my first assignment as a blogger for the English department. I had some idea that the audience would be mainly English Education majors or students who are already teaching, and while this event is not something I would have attended under other circumstances, I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming the group was.

The speakers on the night of January 27th were Danielle Filipiak and Nicole Mirra, who have both taught in urban areas like Detroit and Los Angeles. Their presentation was titled: “Creating Spaces Where Choices Can Be Made: Critical Literacy in 21st Century Classrooms.” The opening slide was a writing prompt that all audience members were asked to respond to, either using the phrase #CSULitCrit15 on Twitter, or a good old fashioned pen and paper. The question was “What is your working definition of critical literacies?”

Danielle Filipiak and Nicole Mirra

Danielle Filipiak and Nicole Mirra

After reading this I had a tiny moment of panic; I felt like I was just handed a pop quiz but I was the only one who was unprepared. I sat there blankly for a minute thinking seriously about writing “I have no idea,” and then decided that I should at least give it a shot. I thought back to my Literacy and Gender class and various other courses that seemed to help prepare me for this specific moment and came up with this answer: “Critical literacy means the ability to analyze the world around you and relate that back to your own story and create your own meaning and space within different literacies.”

Nicole Mirra

Nicole Mirra

I was feeling pretty confident with my answer until we were told to find a partner and share our definitions. I kept thinking “Man, I’m in a room with all teachers, they are going to give me a terrible grade on this writing prompt.” However, the girl I spoke to, who is student teaching this semester, seemed to agree with my answer and even mentioned that if she was given more time, her answer would have looked similar to mine.

Once we finished our conversation and the audience members re-grouped, Filipiak and Mirra asked if anyone was willing to share. (Again my shy freshman self came out and I avoided all eye contact and waited for someone else to raise their hand). A young man behind me raised his hand and said that in his group one of the answers to the prompt was “I have no idea,” I could feel the grin spread across my face. Suddenly I was not the only one who was unsure of themselves and their answer. I decided that maybe this presentation would not be so far out of my comfort zone after all.

One of my favorite quotes from the presentation came from Danielle Filipiak when she was explaining her purpose teaching critical literacy, to students who feel as though they don’t always have a voice in their world. She said, “I want my students to know the power in words. I want them to know that words can manipulate and I want to make sure that they are not manipulated themselves.”

When Nicole Mirra explained her focus when teaching critical literacy, she was very honest with the group. She spoke about how when she first became a teacher she wanted to pass on her love of books to her students and she hoped that books could help them figure out who they were, like they did for her. When she became a teacher, her outlook changed as soon as she met her students. She quickly determined that she wanted her students to use critical literacy skills to advocate for themselves and use their voice to take social action.

Danielle Filipiak

Danielle Filipiak

The whole night was filled with powerful quotes like these and pictures of student work that showed a glimpse into what these students were feeling every day and how that reflected in their daily school lives. The speakers both talked about how they had to learn not only to get the students to listen to each other, but to listen to their students and learn from them as well. The overall presentation made me think back to all the teachers I had in public schools in my life and to wonder which ones I failed to appreciate. While teaching is not a profession I have seriously considered entering, if I did I would try to think back to this presentation and apply it to my classroom.

Assistant Professor Antero Garcia also wrote about this session, in his post on dmlcentral, Defining a Participatory Critical Literacy. The session was also recorded, so even if you had to miss it, you can watch it here.

More about this series: Throughout the spring semester we’ll be hosting nationally recognized literacies-based researchers and educators to discuss how literacy and youth civic participation intersect from varying, interdisciplinary perspectives. The speakers will be presenting their work and engaging in dialogue from 5:30-6:30, followed by a brief reception. These events are free and open to the public. All of the speakers will be presenting at the CSU campus in Clark A 205.

Up next: February 17th, Dr. Ben Kirshner, Faculty Director, CU Engage: Center for Community-Based Learning and Research, “Literacies of Youth Activism: from Colorado to Cape Town.”

csuwp literacy series ben kirshnercompressed

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From English Department Communications Intern Marina Miller.

Dan Rice

Dan Rice

What’s your name? Your major?

Dan Rice. Communications Study major, English & Business minors.

How did you spend most of your time in Eddy Hall?

Doing homework, writing stories and writing for the Collegian, and of course, eating food. Those were my main goals there.

What’s it like working for the Collegian, do you like it?

I write for the opinion column, and I have a lot of strong views on things. I like to experience writing and getting paid to write. It forces you to write more, it’s helpful because otherwise it’s hard to get yourself to write. Most recently I wrote an article about mental disorders for The Collegian and one of the senior staff members said he wanted me to enter it into a contest.

What are you working on today?

This is my last semester and with my business minor, I want to start a publishing company and write my own novels. The genre will likely be mostly fantasy and fiction and literature. I did write a children’s book called “Four and the same.” It’s about four fish who are all different in terms of color, gender, etc. and how they initially think they’re different but later recognize that they have more commonalities than they do differences.

Favorite moment in Eddy Hall?

I really enjoyed watching “Citizen Cane” for a History of Film class which was in the big lecture hall in Eddy.

Favorite English class or teacher?

Zach Hutchins when he taught American Literature in Cultural Contexts: Love Letters.

Describe Eddy Hall in one word.

Destroyed… *chuckles* Well, renovated works I guess.

What’s your favorite book, poem, quote, lyric, genre? Who is your favorite author?

I’m still partial to JK Rowling; I’ve loved Harry Potter since I was 8 years old but I love the quote from Dumbledore: “It’s not what you are born, but what you grow to be.”

If you were to give advice to incoming CSU English majors, what would it be?

I’d say, “Be prepared to read a lot, but also have an open mind” because in most of my English classes there’s been some very eye-opening things that teachers have taught about life, not just about literature. So I think having an open mind about what you’re learning you’ll get a lot more about life more than just rhetoric, ethos, pathos, logos. College in general is more about how to live life rather than just do homework.

I think it’s been very interesting doing a business minor with a liberal arts major/minor. Don’t be afraid to follow multiple interests. Just follow your passions even if you don’t know how they’ll connect right now. Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Do what you want to do, and what you’re passionate about is what will probably be the best direction for you. I know when I was a freshmen I didn’t know what the hell I was I doing. I thought “I guess I’ll do something with books because I like to read.” *chuckles* I think that’s the best guidance I can give other than just don’t fool around.

What’s your biggest goal, priority right now?

To start my publishing company, write my novel, and is it too ambitious to say change the publishing industry? With my business I want to have an app that’s dedicated to my own work that would let you convert text to audio formats of a book whenever. So when you’re on the go, you can read and then keep listening as you go. Making books more mobile, not overpricing audio books and giving authors more for their work, and more creative control is what really means a lot to me. The concept of a book in digital format, there’s so much more you can do than just have blocks of text that don’t have much more of an advantage than physical text. Again, ambitious.

What are your thoughts on Twitter?

I post links to my article on Twitter because The Collegian likes me too. I don’t understand the benefit of the concept that everything has to be short, a set number of characters. To a degree, there’s poetry like Haikus that limit your syllables which I can appreciate, but I think Twitter limits communication. If you only have 140 characters to communicate, you may not be able to fully express your thoughts and I don’t see the advantage of that. I don’t passionately hate it, but I don’t really care for it.

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From Jill Salahub, English Department Communications Coordinator: “I am so happy to introduce the English Department’s Communications Interns for Spring 2015, Marina Miller and Kara Nosal. Just like the position description stated, these two are creative and enthusiastic CSU students with good communication and writing skills who are going to help us tell the story of the English Department. Some of the projects they are currently working on: profiles of faculty and students and alumni, a department history, articles about this semester’s reading and speaker series, and continuing our Humans of Eddy project (even as those Humans are temporarily out of Eddy). I can’t wait to see what this dynamic duo creates.”

From intern Marina Miller: “My name is Marina Miller, I am 22 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Since junior year of high school I wanted to be a lawyer, so every decision I have made since then, including becoming an English major has been in pursuit of that goal. However, since starting my own blog and taking as many writing courses as I have, I realized that writing is truly what gets me through the day and has helped me discover who I am. When I write I put my heart on the paper and hope that I inspire someone out there to do the same.

In my spare time I enjoy baking, shopping and attempting DIY projects. I have a white cat named Ninja and an absolute love for shoes, pink and glitter. I am very excited to begin work for the CSU English department blog.”

From intern Kara Nosal: “Kara Nosal is a Senior at CSU, majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Outside of class, you may find her tending to her houseplant collection, cooking, or dancing. Her favorite keyboard symbol (aside from the ever-popular ampersand) is the exclamation point. Yeah!”

Welcome, Marina and Kara!

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