Monthly Archives: October 2010

Guest Post: alumnus Alex Wenning on finding a career within the university environment

About halfway through my master’s program in the Department of English at Ball State, I realized I didn’t want to pursue a Ph.D.—or a tenure-track faculty position.  I know—this conclusion is just about one of the worst realizations an English graduate student can have.  I was not passionate about teaching or research, but I did enjoy the higher education environment and knew that I wanted to pursue a career at a university.

So, I finished my M.A. in English in 2006, and I came to work at my undergraduate alma mater, Wright State University, located in Dayton, Ohio, in December of that same year.  I’ve held various academic advising jobs at the university since then, rising to my current position as the Associate Director of the University Honors Program.  At Wright State, the University Honors Program is a challenging, academic undergraduate program open to students of all majors; there are approximately 900 students enrolled in the program.

I do some pretty cool stuff in my job:

  • Advise honors students
  • Provide overall leadership for honors student development, from recruitment and orientation to graduation
  • Manage the competitive honors scholarship program for incoming, continuing, and transfer students
  • Develop the quarterly honors course schedule
  • Work with faculty and staff on special projects and programs
  • Administer the WSU National Scholarship Resource Center for students who apply for competitive and prestigious (inter)national awards
  • Attend meeting after meeting!
  • Talk on the phone a lot!
  • Read and write thousands of emails!

Secretly, I suppose, the last three bullets above are the favorite parts of what I do.  (Shhh—don’t tell my boss!)  And I’ve decided that my training in the English discipline has greatly enhanced my success as a member of the professional staff at Wright State.  Namely, it has increased my ability to:

  • Think broadly and creatively about solving a wide array of challenges
  • Fully research the history of any given topic, examine where we are currently, and envision what lies ahead
  • Take into context the interdisciplinary nature of higher education, including the connection between all fields of study
  • Interact, communicate, and work with a diverse population of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members

As I think about giving advice to current and former English students who are preparing to pursue programs of study, begin internships, or enter the job market, I offer this reflection from Friedrich Nietzsche:  “You have your way.  I have my way.  As for the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”  By the very nature of the English discipline, there are immeasurable career opportunities—all with varied and unique means to a countless number of ends.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my own career path, shaped, of course, by a love for the humanities.  If you’d like to contact me, please feel free to send me an email at alex.wenning@wright.edu.

Introducing the Minor in Professional Writing

Have you heard about the new Minor in Professional Writing?

If you haven’t yet, it’s likely that you’re about to hear a lot more in the coming weeks and months. No matter your major or concentration, the courses in the Professional Writing Minor can help you establish the kind of ethos that employers across industries crave: the ability to communicate effectively within and across media and contexts.

All it takes is 15 credits—just five courses—to demonstrate to employers, graduate schools, and even your parents (!) that studying English comes with practical, pragmatic, real-world applications. Serious skills that are seriously valued by potential employers.

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Launched in the Fall of 2010, the new Minor in Professional Writing is designed to prepare students from across disciplines in the genres, styles, and practices of communication essential to success in graduate school and industry. Moreover, with its strong focus on writing for Emerging Media environments, the Minor prepares students to work with the digital applications and platforms that dominate contemporary forms of work and play.

Best of all? You may already be on your way to getting a Minor in Professional Writing without even knowing it!

One of the first courses in the Minor is ENG 213, Introduction to Digital Literacies. You may have already taken this course, and it’s foundational to the Minor. ENG 213 is all about people acting with technologies, not the study of technology for technology’s sake. Students in 213 are immersed in writing for digital environments, producing content that’s designed for—and published on—the web.

ENG 231, Professional Writing, is also foundational. This course will teach you the primary genres and conventions of organizational writing and communication. 231 also positions students as researchers, and you’ll have the opportunity to do meaningful qualitative research in collaboration with other students on real world problems that matter. You’ll leave this course with the confidence to tackle a variety of common workplace problems.

We have a brand new course, ENG 329, on Editing and Style. This course will help you refine your writing for a variety of audiences and contexts, giving you not only the skills necessary to produce polished prose (and edit the prose of others), but the logic and rationale for doing so. Alternatively, students selected for ENG 489, the Practicum in Literary Editing and Publishing (working with The Broken Plate) may substitute that course for ENG 329.

For their fourth course, students have the option of choosing from ENG 335, Writing and Reading Public Discourse, or ENG 435, Issues in Rhetoric and Writing, a special topics course that changes each school year. Talk with your advisor about which course might be most appropriate for you.

Finally, the capstone experience for the Minor in Professional Writing is the brand new ENG 431: Rhetoric, Writing, and Emerging Media.

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This course extends the work of 213 and 231 (both are prerequisites; if you think you might want to take 431 in the Spring of 2011, talk with Dr. Beach as one or both of the prerequisites may be waived), putting into practice critical theories and approaches to the networked writing activities that support and drive emerging media applications. 431 is also designed to give Professional Writing Minors the freedom and agency to explore problems that matter to them, and that matter in the world, using the tools of the digitally literate to make an impact.

With a Minor in Professional Writing:

  • you’ll learn how to design and develop a variety of common documents;
  • you’ll learn the difference between HTML and CSS (hint: they go together like PB & J) and why they matter in professional communication;
  • you’ll explore applications like Photoshop and learn about why things like typography, lines, and grids matter to organizational image and identity;
  • you’ll look at coding as writing and writing as coding;
  • and you’ll gain a new, critical appreciation for the ways that social networks like Facebook and Twitter matter to professional organizations…

But most of all?

You’ll make cool things. You’ll be able to demonstrate the skills that employers value. You’ll have fun. And you’ll see new ways to make an impact on your world.

What are you waiting for?

Two readings tonight!

Tonight, Professor Mark Neely (also Director of Creative Writing) will be reading from his chapbook Four of a Kind in Bracken Library, room 104, at 7:30 p.m. Neely’s chapbook was named Winner of the 2009 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition.  The reading will be opened by guest student reader Jeremy Bauer, who was chosen from among a number of anonymous entrants. In the same fashion as the Bloof Books reading, undergraduate students submitted their work anonymously for a chance to open the reading, with the main-event writer/writers choosing the winner.

Adding another scoop to this sundae of a night, there is a student-organized reading tonight as well, starting at 9:30 p.m. at Be Here Now in the Village. If you are under 21 there is a $1 cover charge at the door. So, BSU, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to see what your professors are writing as well as your peers. It’s a good night for English lovers, so reward yourself and embrace it.

Guest Post: Professor Andrew Scott on The Writers’ Center of Indiana’s Annual Gathering of Writers

The Writers’ Center of Indiana, located in Indianapolis, was founded in 1979 with the mission “to nurture a writing community, to support established and emerging writers, to improve written and verbal communication, and to develop an audience for literature in Indiana.” One way WCI fulfills that mission is the annual Gathering of Writers, a day-long event that features writing classes, workshops, and discussions led by Indiana’s best writers.

This year’s keynote speaker is Indiana native Elizabeth Stuckey-French, author of The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Mermaids on the Moon, and The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. She is also the co-editor of the popular textbook, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, now in its eight edition. Stuckey-French will also lead one of the sessions, “From Auditions to Curtain Call: How to Cast Your Novel.”

Several universities in the state are represented on this year’s faculty, including Purdue, IU, Marian, DePauw, Notre Dame, IUPUI, U. of Indianapolis, and more. Ball State will make an especially strong showing, with three creative writing professors leading the way—Jill Christman (“(How) Can I Say This?: Approaching Creative Nonfiction With Craft and Courage”), Cathy Day (“The Big Thing: Moving from Story to Book”), and Michael Meyerhofer (“Stress and Syllables: Scansion as Craft in Poetry”).

The Gathering of Writers is a great way to meet published and emerging authors from around the state. Groups of university students have attended the event in recent years, which means it could also be a great opportunity for BSU English majors to meet their peers from other institutions.

Here is a sampling of some of the sessions listed in this year’s program:

  • · Eugene Gloria, “Poetry of Witness: Writing Political Poems”
  • · David Shumate, “The Prose Poem: Dreaming Inside the Box”
  • · Barbara Shoup, “Writing Young Adult Fiction”
  • · Tom Chiarella, “Profile Form and the Study of Character”
  • · Margaret-Love Denman, “Telling Time in Fiction”
  • · Terry Kirts, “Life at First Bite: Starting Your Food Memoir”
  • · Steve Tomasula, “Fun with Words, Or, The Art Whose Medium is Language”

A complete list of sessions, as well as that day’s schedule and faculty bios, can be found at the WCI website.

Students (with i.d.) get a 75% discount—registration is only $25.

Date: Saturday, October 23
Time: 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Where: Campus of Marian University, Indianapolis

For more information, check out the event’s website here.

Guest Post: Tyler Gobble on chapbooks, a DIY medium allowing a variety of options concerning publishing and creativity

You might be asking yourself two things: how in the world did they let you back on here, Tyler Gobble? And what in the world is a chapbook? I can’t really answer the first one, but the second one I’m gonna try.

Avoiding the long history of the chapbook, the way it developed, its historical purposes, etc., I’m going to focus on how the chapbook is used by indie writers, small presses, and even students, focusing on Ball State University.

First, a chapbook is a small print book with a low number of pages, often stapled-bound. Nowadays, the chapbook serves a wide range of purposes, from being a teaser for a forthcoming book to acting as a DIY thing for writers to use (often similar to how local bands use demos to make money and spread their name). With the popularization of ebooks, electronic chapbooks have also become popular in the form of pdfs and webpages. Essentially, chapbooks are a viable medium, I think, for writers as they are relatively inexpensive to produce, less difficult than full length books to create, and easily distributable.

Ball State University has its own realm of professors and students with chapbooks. Creative Writing faculty Sean Lovelace and Mark Neely have recently won chapbook contests for print chapbooks. Former students Shaun Gannon and Daniel Bailey each have their own echapbooks from independent publishers. As students, Gannon and Bailey also self-released their own print chapbooks. Current students Jeremy Bauer and Ryan Rader have also went the DIY route by seeing to their own chapbooks being published. Whether through a contest, a publisher, or self-published, I think it is pretty sweet to see these Ball State affiliated writers have their work published via the chapbook medium.

Now, I want to take a minute to talk to one of these cool dudes, Ryan Rader, about his chapbook.

Interview With Ryan

1.     Can you tell readers about your chapbook (how it came out, when it was released, the process, etc.)?

I wrote a group of poems for a class with Mark Neely, and once I had seen Dan Bailey’s amazing chapbook look at me deeply with great meaning I knew I wanted to do something just like it: simple, small, memorable. A co-worker of mine, Johanna Ofner, was a design major and offered to put together a print version of these poems. I edited them to add a pseudo-narrative and we printed off about seventy copies. I believe this was in 2007, but my memory is fuzzy.

2.     What kind of response did you receive about your chapbook and the poems in it?

Exceptionally positive, especially at such a young age (all of the poems were written when I was eighteen-twenty years old). A couple of the poems had been published in online journals before it was in print; this gave me the confidence to publish other poems myself. It is still the best personal project I have ever done, and I am proud of the results.

3.     What is your opinion on chapbooks as a medium for literary endeavors?

You know how all the cool kids buy their music on vinyl because they love the feel of it? How holding something antiquated and beautiful in their hands and actively moving through the print and the music all at once brings them closer to a pure form of expression? Chapbooks, and really any small press publication, are to publishing what vinyl is to the modern record industry. Definitely a niche market, but a devout one that appreciates a DIY approach combined with professional quality.

4.     What are some chapbooks that you have enjoyed (either print or online)?

Daniel Bailey’s chapbook was my original inspiration; I love every poem in it (“Underwater God” is a favorite). Shaun Gannon’s Casual Glory; or Macaulay Culkin does nothing is, simply, a hoot. Never has vomiting seemed so cool and poetic.

5.     Do you see a difference in productivity/quality/readership between online vs. print chapbooks? Press published vs. self-published?

Since the readership for poetry is criminally small, it seems like fighting over who’s getting more readers is like getting in a bidding war over acres in Antarctica. Quality? Always subjective, especially in the hyper-specialized world of poetry. I want personal exploration and juxtaposed, absurd imagery—others want their poetry tight as a snare drum and loaded with natural beauty. But we are, ultimately, on the same side: trying to get more readers. I think it takes conventional and unconventional means to reach that goal. It’s the same world to me; while I prefer to stick with print, because humanity is obsessed with the tangible, I know that both mediums working in tandem is crucial to the proliferation of new, good, exciting poems.

End.

Two members of last year’s In Print Festival, Matt Bell and Mary Miller, have had chapbooks released by presses. Bell’s first chapbook, How The Broken Lead The Blind, was published by Willow Wept Press in April of 2009, and his second, The Collectors, was published in May of 2009 by Caketrain after being a runner-up in their 2008 Chapbook Contest. Since both of these chapbooks have sold out, they are available as ebooks now. Matt also wrote Wolf Parts, a chapbook released by Keyhole Press last spring in anticipation of his first collection, How They Were Found, in which Wolf Parts and The Collectors appear. Mary Miller’s Less Shiny was released from Magic Helicopter Press in 2009 as a teaser for her first collection, Big World. These examples illustrate how up-and-coming authors can use contests and chapbooks to further push themselves towards full length collections and literary success.

Through websites, like Chapbook Review, small press competitions, and the continuing popularization of DIY art, chapbooks are a respectable medium in the literary world. I pick up a chapbook, and I am like, “HEY I CAN MAKE THAT.” Then, I open it up and there are these words like beautiful hellos and I shake my head at how wonderful all these words are. For me, chapbooks are accessible, awesome, fun, interesting, and useful because they are nice simple bundles of literary booyeah.

Guest post from alumnus Lindsey Jendraszak on careers in student affairs

A few years ago, my friends and I bought tickets to see the musical comedy Avenue Q. While it’s a very funny show, and we were laughing throughout, the biggest laugh for me probably came when one of the characters lamented in his opening song, “What can you do with a BA in English? What is my life going to be?” This is a question I asked of myself many times during my four years at Ball State. I remember my parents, family, and friends all asking me this question after I informed them of my major. My answer to them was always, “My professors say I can do anything I want with my degree. I’m not limiting myself; I’m opening myself up to a world of possibilities!” And while I told them that and thought it seemed like a nice sentiment, I honestly had no idea what I was going to do with myself after my four years in Robert Bell were up.

Fortunately, during my sophomore year at Ball State I took a detour into the Rinker Center for International Programs in the student center and wound up spending a semester studying abroad in Staffordshire, England. If you have a chance, stop in and explore your study abroad options—it was definitely the best thing I did as an undergraduate. I had a great time exploring England and most of Western Europe, and there’s nothing like studying British literature in England. English is a really easy major to study abroad with, so there’s no excuse!

Once I returned from studying abroad and exploring Europe, I found myself broke and in need of a job. I wound up finding a great job as a student advisor in the Center for International Programs. In that position, I was able to learn more about the study abroad field, and I really enjoyed helping other students find ways to work studying abroad into their college careers. As my remaining two years in college drew to a close, I found myself thinking more and more about a career in the study abroad field. After asking around, I determined the best way to pursue such a career was to continue on to graduate school and get my master’s degree in the higher education and student affairs field. Professionals in this field can go on to work with college students in a variety of professional jobs at the university level. In the winter of my senior year, I put my English major skills to good use writing essays and personal statements and taking the GRE. I applied and was accepted into Indiana University’s Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) program.

I was very happy with my choice to attend IU. I enjoyed my classes and learning from my fellow classmates, who all came from diverse academic backgrounds. Higher education, like other fields such as law, doesn’t really have a preferred undergraduate prerequisite, so English is as good a background as any to enter into the field. In fact, I probably had it a bit easier than many students in my cohort as I was already very accustomed to researching and writing extensively in an academic setting. I was never intimidated by the amount of reading required for my courses and had an easy time switching from writing for an English program to writing for higher education. The basic principles of good writing are the same, no matter what you’re writing about!

One of the prerequisites of IU’s program is that all students must hold a graduate assistantship during their two years there, with the aim of gaining real-world experience in the field while they’re in school.  My graduate assistantship (and others in the HESA program) covered 100% of tuition and paid a monthly stipend as well.  I was able to get an assistantship at University College, a part of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Students in the HESA program are able to take courses at either IUPUI or IU Bloomington, and I was lucky to get an internship at IUPUI. The campus and atmosphere there are really different from both Ball State and IU Bloomington, and I enjoyed working with the students on an urban campus. My internship had me working with students in need of academic assistance, and I coordinated a tutoring program for undergraduate students. I learned from my two years at IUPUI that while study abroad was definitely my passion in the higher education field, I was really satisfied working in any part of higher education as long as I could work with and assist students.

After graduating from IU two and a half years ago, I took a job working with the Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University. IFSA-Butler, as it’s known in the study abroad field, is a third-party study abroad provider affiliated with Butler University. What we do is assist students from all over the United States (even the occasional Ball State student!) in studying abroad at universities in several different countries. As a program advisor there, my specific duties include helping students apply to and prepare to study abroad at universities in Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. I love having the chance to work with students from all over the country, and of course I love when my job calls for me to go visit my university partners overseas to check up on the students as well! Each year I usually make one international trip and several domestic trips to universities here in the U.S. recruiting students to study abroad.

Although I never would have foreseen myself taking this route when I declared my major, I’m now thankful for the strong background in reading and writing my English degree has provided me. Since my students and university contacts are spread all over the world, the main way I communicate with them is via personal emails and electronic newsletters. Also, my job constantly calls for me to edit print materials sent to our students, parents and university partners. My background in English has given me a great resource as I am able to effectively and professionally communicate with everyone. While this may seem like a simple thing, I’ve learned pretty quickly in the professional world that it’s not a skill everyone possesses, and it has made me very effective at my job. When I used to tell my parents that an English major opened me up to a world of possibilities, I was mostly trying to placate them. However, now that I travel the world routinely, I suppose I was inadvertently telling them the truth!

Creative Writing Faculty Panel

Wednesday night, Writers Community hosted a panel featuring the Creative Writing faculty of Ball State. The panel included professors Mark Neely, Cathy Day, Jill Christman, Matt Mullins, and Sean Lovelace, and was designed to offer students the opportunity to tap into the professors’ intimate knowledge of the world of creative writing.

This was my experience.

As a senior Creative Writing major, I found this event incredibly insightful. As a fall 2011 MFA program hopeful, it couldn’t have come at a better time. While I have always found my professors here in the English Department more than willing to discuss creative writing areas such as publishing, reading and writing habits, and graduate schools, I haven’t always felt comfortable approaching them. It has more to do with my own personal feelings, thinking that they have more important things to do and that I’m cutting into their valuable personal time. If they stopped to talk to every student with a question maybe they wouldn’t have any time for their own life. They might miss out on picking their kids up from school and maybe the kids grow resentful. Before you know it, I’m responsible for Sally or Eddy jumping on a ship to Guam because they think their parents don’t love them. Then these professors I’ve bothered have to see their children on CNN, seven years later, fighting off plagues of cane toads and wildfires. Yes, these professors are probably glad their kids grew up heroes, but I’m sure all those holidays were so, so lonely. And their dogs just don’t wear the sweaters as well. Like I said, it isn’t the professors that keep me from asking them questions. It’s me. This panel proved remarkable in the way it answered every question that has been bothering me in a comfortable, inviting environment.

All the professors shared great wisdom concerning the publishing world, why they write, how they write, and most helpful to me at this point in my academic career, the skinny on MFA programs. I plan to graduate in May and attend grad school the following fall, which means right now I’m shopping for grad schools and need to be applying soon. The whole process feels intimidating. I’ve even been fortunate enough to have great help, but it was invaluable to hear advice from those who have done it themselves. One gold nugget I recorded was, “Go to grad school to polish your manuscript, not generate one.” That added a whole new angle on the subject for me.

The panel’s discussion on the world of publishing was of great personal help as well. As someone who is submitting to literary journals, it’s another process that appears as a walloping shadow, some nigh invisible force with a spooky disposition. At least at first. You get used to the process, like anything, but the faculty shared some personal stories that made a young writer like me, impatience and paranoia abound, feel okay about my present lack of publications. At one point, Professor Mark Neely stated, “I once received an acceptance from a publication two years after I submitted. I had forgotten I even submitted.” One basic message, it seemed, was to just roll with things; keep trying and don’t take things personal. I remember hearing a story about James Lee Burke who had a short story rejected over a hundred times, and after he was already a successful novelist. When someone finally picked up that story, it won a Pulitzer. It’s an anecdote that has always helped me, but I realized I had forgotten about it until the panel. It’s a constructive story to remember, as is Neely’s.

The Writers Community has been pretty outstanding with its events already this year, and there are still more to come. I’ve been saying this looks to be an exciting year for English at BSU, and I mean it. The panel exceeded my already high expectations, as did the Bloof Books 2010 Tour reading, and I know the rest of the events planned will too (for a list of these events, check out our interview with Tyler Gobble, president of Writer’s Community).

I’ve grown to love these events for how fun and helpful they’ve been. In high school, I really didn’t care to be involved with anything related to my school. College began the same way, but halfway through my sophomore year here at BSU, I started paying attention to what the English Department was doing. They’ve done amazing things, like allowing me the opportunity to not only be in the same room with a personal hero, but actually ask him questions about his art (Harvey Pekar, R.I.P.). Until I started paying attention to what the English Department was doing, I’ve never felt personally rewarded by an educational institution. Now I feel as if my college experience would have paled in comparison if I had attended any other university, and I might not even have the same goals I now hold so dear.

If anyone reading this is unsure whether or not to take an active interest in things like Writers Community, the class that produces The Broken Plate, or the readings and other events the department, I would say just go for it. Coming to BSU, I never expected to find a community. I didn’t expect to be filled with new passion for my chosen career path or that it would introduce me to a vast number of options I previously knew nothing about.

Yeah, it might sound corny, but the English Department slipped these magic high-tops on me when I wasn’t looking, and when I pump those purple buttons on the tongues they just explode with ghostly, divine energy. Not only do they zap multiple innocent bystanders but they fill me with great purpose. I never thought college would give me real direction or focus. Now, having direction feels pretty good.

Keep reading and watching, BSU.