I see narrative awareness as a tool for empowering student agency and enhancing critical thinking. Therefore, I have three priorities in all of my courses:
1) to enable students to think critically about the narratives they create and encounter through critical reading;
2) to encourage diversity by incorporating texts authored by marginalized people including women, Native Americans, and African Americans;
3) to incorporate technology, the digital humanities, and community partnership projects into my courses in order to establish real-life applications for course content and skills.
I want my students to be intellectually curious, to think critically about the narratives they encounter, and to consider how narratives — from novels to research essays to business memos — reveal and shape cultural values.
Based on these goals, I foster experiential learning and work with community partners to give students real-world experience. In my business writing classes, I have worked with both the Purdue Veterans Success Center and the Carpenter Museum in Rehoboth, MA in order to create and advertise innovative programs that supplement these organizations’ missions. Both projects required students to communicate professionally, to practice problem solving, to research and compose documents in a variety of genres, and to present their work to the clients. Because we were working with a client, students had a great deal of freedom to choose topics to meet the learning outcomes and assignment criteria; for instance, while working with the museum, one group developed a series of “History on Tap” events featuring local breweries, while another group created the foundations for an internship to develop social media and enhance the museum’s online content. In the future, I look forward to partnering with campus organizations and libraries, as well as with local historical societies, museums and organizations, in order to create opportunities for students to engage in primary and secondary research, the digital humanities, public education, and their own professionalization, while also participating in service to the community.
During the fall 2018 semester, my introduction to literature students will draw on their reading of Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian novel Station Eleven to curate and present a Museum of Civilization documenting our culture and technology for future generations after a hypothetical apocalypse. The project challenges students to consider what would be lost in a future world without electricity, but also what they believe it is important that humanity remember and why. Further, they will face the challenge of explaining something to an audience completely unfamiliar with the item—for instance, how does one explain the purpose of a video game controller in a world without TV? Through this project, students will not only draw on the knowledge and skills they learn in class, they will apply them to the creation of a museum exhibit that can be viewed by their peers and the public. Thus, students will have to engage with a variety of genres and rhetorical situations, as they research their chosen objects, determine how best to display them, and compose appropriate material for info cards and a museum guidebook for public visitors. In this way, students not only develop their own analytical, communicative, and compositional abilities, they also engage with the community while promoting public awareness of the humanities.
In all of my courses, I include readings that challenge students to see the value of writing and reading with respect to their larger academic interests. One way I do this is by modelling successful strategies; in my freshman composition courses, I introduce students to a variety of critical reading strategies, including re-reading and annotating, and, after having read an essay while using those strategies, students have consistently reported that they find the ability to think critically about their readings unexpectedly beneficial. For example, after reading Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” one student realized that the drafting process is valuable to both writing and programming. In a journal entry he wrote,
“Not only did this article help me become a better writer, but also it unexpectedly made me a much better programmer. I realized how much programming and writing an essay had in common, when it comes to starting one. You read the problem/ prompt and just start coding/writing. Then you look over the code/writing and change the errors and try to make it as good as you can. I was so glad that I read ‘Shitty First Drafts’ because programming is something I want to do for the rest of my life and now because I read the article I have become so much better at it. This article also helped me realize how many things I have learned from reading.”
I don’t lecture about effective reading practices; instead, I enable students to experience the benefits of engaged reading as it applies to their studies.
In addition to challenging students to think and read critically, I am committed to including diverse texts in all of my courses. In this way, my research interests, particularly with respect to Native and female writers, intersect with my pedagogy. For instance, as a part of my introductory composition courses at Purdue University, students read a dystopian novel or short story and identified a critique that the text makes about a science, technology, or social issue. Then, they researched the real-world implications of that claim and made their own argument on topics such as artificial intelligence, human trafficking, income inequality, police surveillance, big data, or population control. To ensure that students were engaging with a variety of dystopian visions, I cultivated a diverse list of authors, assigning not only classic sci-fi writers like Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick, but also contemporary authors with a variety of perspectives including Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Emily St. John Mandel, Jennifer Egan, and Charles Yu. In addition, my research interests, particularly on Native and female writers, intersect with my teaching. As an early Americanist, I see the colonial period as inherently diverse, and resist teaching exceptionalist narratives that prioritize white, male voices. Indeed, I believe it is imperative to focus on how/why Native and African voices and experiences are included, excluded, or obscured in early American texts. By bringing my research methods into the classroom, I guide students to examine mediated accounts and recover diverse voices in American literature.
My commitment to diversity and equity is informed by my experience as a first-generation college student, but also by my overarching pedagogical goal of enabling student agency. During the Spring of 2016, I worked as an academic mentor to student athletes at Purdue. One of the students I worked with was an African-American student from Florida; in the first few weeks of the semester, he seemed very frustrated and was struggling with his coursework.
When I asked him what was bothering him, or what was different from his previous institution, one of the things he said was, “no one else in my class looks like me.” By including diverse authors in my classes and fostering diversity on campus, I strive to make sure students are represented in their place of learning so that future students will have a better, more inclusive, and more diverse academic experience.
Ultimately, my pedagogy is focused on creating opportunities for students to experience for themselves the value of an English or Liberal arts degree by challenging them to develop professional communication and writing skills through practical experiences, as well as encouraging them to think critically about how course content and themes connect with and challenge cultural narratives.