Our department has an exceptionally strong creative writing program, and our major requirements encourage students to take courses in both the study of literature and creative writing (poetry, fiction, nonfiction).
What three words would you use to describe Lewis & Clark?
How do you describe the liberal arts?
I pursued both my undergraduate and graduate degrees at a large university, so—as for many of my students—Lewis & Clark really has been my introduction to the liberal arts. For me, the liberal arts are all about communication. To “communicate” means to converse, to talk, but it also means to connect; two rooms, for example, “communicate” with one another if they are connected by a corridor. What I love about the liberal arts model is how it constantly encourages communication across and between spaces—physical, intellectual, creative—that we might think of as being discrete. I see my students engaging in this kind of communication all the time, sometimes in very literal ways (running from a bio lab to the ceramics studio, for example!). More often, I see them doing it in their contributions to class discussion or in their writing, where they constantly make connections to material and ideas from other places. Their ability to move fluidly, and express themselves fluently, across disciplines is really remarkable.
What do you enjoy most about Lewis & Clark students?
I love so many things about our students. If I had to choose one thing I enjoy the most it’s the care that they show toward one another. I think all faculty want to work with students who are smart and curious, and L&C students are definitely those things. But at the end of the day, if my students were not kind—if they didn’t show compassion for each other, for me, and for their larger communities—I don’t think I’d enjoy teaching very much at all! So many of my best teaching memories are of us being together and just enjoying each other’s company. That mutual care is so crucial to creating an atmosphere conducive to real learning, and L&C students are naturals at it.
How does Lewis & Clark prepare students interested in your field to pursue a career and/or advanced studies after graduation?
The English major prepares students exceptionally well for graduate study in fields such as English (MA or PhD programs), creative writing, teaching, and law. Students interested in pursuing advanced studies in any of these areas will acquire a very strong foundation in both literature and writing. Our small class sizes furthermore give students ample opportunities to build close, sustained relationships with English faculty, which are essential to putting forward successful applications to graduate programs. All that said, the English major is not just for students who want to go to graduate school! I’ve had many students assure me, years after graduation, that their English major prepared them well for their future careers. The work they do in the major makes them perceptive readers, critical thinkers, and lucid, eloquent writers—all skills that seem to be increasingly rare and therefore in greater demand. But the English major also prepares students for future careers in less predictable ways. I’ve found, for example, that our students are exceptional listeners and mediators. Studying literature tunes their ears to the stuff that often goes unspoken, “the story behind the story,” and talking about it gives them practice navigating difficulty and complexity. In short, they are acute readers of people and situations, and they can communicate in sensitive, nuanced ways. Such skills are not easy to name or categorize, but they’re immediately recognizable to just about anyone and highly valued in all professions.
What sets your department or program apart from other small liberal arts colleges?
Our department has an exceptionally strong creative writing program, and our major requirements encourage students to take courses in both the study of literature and creative writing (poetry, fiction, nonfiction). While most faculty teach either literature courses or creative writing courses, we are very much one department, and encourage our students to think of the making of literature and the study of literary traditions as mutually animating activities. Another distinguishing feature of the English department is that we allow and encourage any student with junior- or senior-standing to take any of our literature courses, including upper-level classes. We think it’s wonderful to have students from other departments join our classes and enrich the conversation.
What brought you to L&C?
As mentioned above, I didn’t attend a small liberal arts college as an undergraduate, and it wasn’t until graduate school that I learned about the enormous difference between large, research-centered universities and colleges like L&C. Once I understood that difference, I knew that I had to be at a small college, where teaching is the most important thing that we do as faculty. L&C felt like the perfect place for me from the very beginning. It also helped that it’s on the West Coast, as I’m from California and have strong ties there. Like many students who visit our campus, I connected right away with everyone I met, and with the beauty of the place itself. It felt like home and it still does.
Share something you think your students would be surprised to learn about you.
I’m pretty energetic and talkative in class, so I think some of my students might be surprised to learn how anxious and shy I was as an undergrad, and even as a graduate student. I identify profoundly with students who find it difficult to participate in class discussion. I remember being SO nervous, and yet so eager to participate. It really was agonizing. I still feel that way in many professional settings, actually, but less so in class (thank goodness!). To all the shy students out there, I see you! Keep on trying. Finding your voice will make it all worth it.