Author Archives: tnwicker

Department Dialogue: What Does Linguistics Mean to You?

Ball State University professors Mai Kuha, Mary Lou Vercellotti, Megumi Hamada, and Elizabeth M. Riddle share what role linguistics has played in their life and what it has grown to mean to them.

Mai Kuha

Languages have always had a central role in my life. Three languages were used regularly in my family when I was a child. In my teens, I tried to teach myself Arabic, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Old Norse, and Russian. I managed to get my hands on some books on linguistics somehow, even though no one I knew had ever heard of it.

I read about Washoe, the signing chimpanzee, who was about my age, and I came to regard her as a cousin I had never met. I read about the sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” which is obviously very pleasing but was not presented for its aesthetic value, but for the purpose of showing that meaning and structure can be considered separately: the sentence is structurally fine but odd meaningwise. I began to learn that observing the precise details of how people say what they say can allow us to reach startling insights, to shed light on the inner workings of the human mind. Having always been introspective, I found it satisfying and intriguing to see a path towards understanding cognition more deeply, in a rational, systematic, evidence-based way.

For many years, I communicated with no one about most of these ideas. As an undergraduate, I tried to do the responsible thing and got a degree in computer science. Ultimately, I had the courage to come to my senses, and one day found myself in Bloomington, meeting with Dr. Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig to kick off my graduate work in linguistics at Indiana University. I remember nothing of that meeting, except that my gaze kept straying to a hanging on her office wall. There was text on it, a poem. The last line was shockingly familiar: colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Keep on reading!

Jaelyn Winkle

Jaelyn (Saulmon) Winkle is a Fall 2013 graduate of Ball State University. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in English Education and an Honors College certification. Currently, she is a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher in Piqua, Ohio and resides in Vandalia, Ohio with her husband, a law student at the University of Dayton. Additionally, she is enrolled as a graduate student at Ball State University in the online Curriculum and Educational Technology program.

How did your degree in English lead to your current job?

My degree in English Education helped me to get my current job because it not only trained me to specifically teach Language Arts classes, but also preJaelynpared me to take risks, which ultimately allowed me to take on my current position as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher. My journey to my current position started in my student teaching experience at Monroe Central Jr./Sr. High School in Parker City. I was student teaching in two different classrooms: an 8th grade classroom and an 11th/12th grade classroom. During this time, one of the math teachers was getting ready to have a baby, and my principal approached me about taking a long-term substitute teaching position in this Algebra II classroom. I had no experience teaching math and really had no idea exactly how everything would work out, but I agreed to take on this position. Even though this was far outside of my training as an English major, I feel like the skills I picked up from the degree (communication, creativity, analysis) allowed me to take the risk and rise up to the occasion of teaching Algebra II.

As this long term substitute teaching position was nearing its end, I received another phone call from a principal back in my hometown school district in Winchester. He called to ask if I would take on a 4th grade long term substitute teaching position for 8 weeks. Once again, this was very much outside of my comfort zone, as the youngest group of students I had ever taught was 7th grade, but I decided to take the risk, thanks once again to the skills and abilities I picked up from my English degree.

Ultimately, having these experiences on my resume helped me greatly in the career searching process. When I interviewed for my current teaching position, I was able to show my versatility from these experiences and had a plethora of teaching strategies and student samples I could talk about and draw from, which ultimately helped me to land my current position as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher. I truly think that my experiences as an English major allowed for all of these things to happen. It is interesting, but I think that, because I was required to take classes in all areas of the English department:  literature, creative writing, rhetoric, and teaching English Language Arts, that I learned to be adaptable, which allowed me to take on these great experiences. 

Please describe a typical day for you right now.

A typical day for me usually starts around 7 a.m. I get to school and start organizing everything for the day. My kids start coming into the classroom around 7:30 a.m. I teach three sections of general level 7th grade Language Arts and a 30 minute Advisory period. During these sections of class, I am giving direct instruction to my students, facilitating small group work, conferencing with students, and helping students demonstrate mastery of the lesson’s objectives. I also have a 45 minute planning period in the middle of the day. During this time, I make contact with parents, plan for upcoming weeks, make copies and organize materials for upcoming lessons, and meet with my interdisciplinary team of teachers. After school, I usually organize for the next day, tidy up my room, and often have a committee meeting for Advisory, Collaborative Leadership, or for a particular student concern. Then, I drive home and work more on school things (typically creating differentiated student groups for the next day, grading, etc.) and work on things for my Ball State graduate classes. I am usually in bed by 10!  This routine definitely makes for long days, but it is a rewarding job!

You’ve talked about a time as a college student when you weren’t exactly sure whether you wanted to continue in the English Ed major. Can you talk a little more about that and how you worked through it? What advice do you have for teaching majors who are having second thoughts?

When I was just starting out in the program, the fall and spring semesters of my freshman year, I was a little hesitant about continuing my pursuit of an English Education degree. I was working in the Marketing and Management office at Ball State and really started considering a path toward a business degree. I am not sure what sparked this potential change…I think it was a combination of wanting to try something new just because everything was new during the start of my college experience, and knowing about the stresses of a career in teaching from my parents. Ultimately, though, as I began to get into the classroom more and more throughout the program, I knew that my passion was with working with kids, because, ultimately, teaching boils down to making an impact on the lives of kids each and every day. There is nothing like being in a classroom full of 13 year olds who are fully engaged in what you are teaching. You can feel the electricity in the room when students are really “getting it”, and that exact feeling is what motivates you to continue pushing forward each day. If you are a teaching major who is having second thoughts, try your hardest to get into a classroom so you can see what a day of teaching is really, truly like. We can read about how teaching works and teaching methodology as much as we’d like, but we cannot truly gain an understanding of the profession without firsthand experience.

You’re pursuing a graduate degree now. What do you hope to do with that degree in the long term?

Right now, I am pursuing a degree in Curriculum and Educational Technology through Ball State. My plans are to eventually get involved in leadership at the district level as a Curriculum Director, as I am really interested in curriculum development, data analysis, school improvement, and assessment for growth toward mastery. In the very distant future, I could see myself also getting involved potentially with educational policymaking on a larger scale.  

Any last general advice?

  • Get into the classroom as soon as possible! Volunteer, observe, substitute teach…do whatever you need to do to get your feet wet and experience the real life of a teacher. This will help you decide if teaching is truly for you!
  • Read professional texts on your own, not just because they are assigned reading for methods courses! This summer I read Dream Class by Michael Linsin and it really changed my ideas about classroom management and organization. Other good reads I’ve checked out recently are Unshakeable by Angela Watson and Assessment 3.0:  Throw Out Your Gradebook and Inspire Learning by Mark Barnes.
  • Form relationships with your peers: Right now, you are in classes with people who will become your teaching colleagues in districts all around Indiana and beyond. Form relationships now, because these people will be an invaluable resource to you down the road. I am still in touch with the people I went to classes with in the English Education program. We share lesson plans, discuss best practices, and serve as support systems for each other because we really understand each others’ struggles as beginning Language Arts teachers. Check out our Facebook group BSU Teaching English Language Arts…you will find tons of gems there!
  • TAKE YOUR LAMP UNIT SERIOUSLY. There is not a piece of advice I could give you that is more important during student teaching than to take your LAMP unit seriously. All parts of the LAMP unit (pre-assessment, data collection and analysis, standards based rubric construction, focused student groupings) are all aspects of what great teachers do regularly. It is not an arbitrary assignment or just a hoop to jump through to graduate and get your license. It is real world, real life, good teaching.

Alums, we want to hear what you’ve been up to. Visit our Class Notes page to fill us in, and we’ll feature your story in our alumni newsletter!

What Does Creative Writing Mean to You?

We’ve launched a new series that we’ve titled “Department Dialogue.” This series offers our professors a platform that they can use to discuss English-related topics that are of interest to both faculty and students alike. We continue the series with responses from the Creative Writing faculty, who have all answered the same question: what does creative writing mean to you? 

Professor Brian D. Morrison:

Creative writing, through both academic rigor and imagination, is a means of stronger thinking about the world and the self. Craft requires work, technique takes practice, and the imagination needs to be fed. The world requires us to continually participate. This is how writers live. Creative writing, to me, means struggle, but it’s always worth the effort.

Professor Jeff Frawley:

To me creative writing is so important for its sharing of voices, experiences, struggles, and sensibilities that have been largely shunned, discouraged, and marginalized by society. I love writing that gives voice to people others might wish to sweep under the rug. There is nothing like discovering an exciting new writer or piece of writing that uses language to activate worlds and dream-states in the reader’s mind, transporting readers and engaging them with complicated peoples, places, and lives that all deserve attention and empathy, even if that empathy arrives conflicted. I am excited that after years of reading and writing, I still constantly happen upon incredible new writers and their worlds, often without planning to. I love that passion for creative writing allows one to participate in an endless conversation about writing and writers, that it provides a never-ending treasure hunt, a little dirt-digging on one writer unearthing another writer who leads to another.

Professor Emily Jo Scalzo:

Creative writing is diversity unleashed, with different aesthetics and experiences and ideas released into the world in a beautiful cacophony. One of the things I love about creative writing is the sheer breadth of what can be accomplished, and how very subjective artistic taste can be. What speaks to one reader (or writer) may not speak to me, and vice versa. In creative writing, those differences are, and should be, celebrated.

Professor Sean Lovelace:

The value of creative writing is the synthesis of hyacinths and Velveeta, in your pantaloons, under your parasol, the sun all lollygagging past a banker’s (and all their ilk, lobbyists, lawyers, marsh rats, etc.) shiny forehead, pockets pulsing of credit cards and offal, as she wretches up our misery/economy, as the river flows by (not so unlike a rainbow-silk deerstalker buttoned with lovely puzzles, sealed in a whiskey soap bubble tied to the ears of a weather balloon flying in a hot wind against a chalky sky…), while bankers kneel and hurl and tear at their hairs (thin wispy, basically marionette strings, in my opinion), while the stock market lurches and leaps and topples…the river just strutting all Mick Jagger, all Patti Smith roaring along—and how much is the river worth, a river worth!—all Fyodor Dostoevsky on a bicycle, just dressed in the deepest purple suit, this crazy ragged suit (he’d lose it later in roulette and later win it back), just waving to you (if you’re a poet, sending telegrams to the soul [as Brautigan might mutter]) and to your kids (if they are imaginative; if they love rain and gum shaped as worms and beheading daisies for jewelry and the sound of tractors, and so on) and Dostoevsky just flipping off the bankers (who are again apologizing via the language of vomit) and Dostoevsky flipping off the business kids down at Hertz, down at Budget and Thrifty (indeed) and Enterprise (starship, my ass), in the white starchy shirts, just dying, man, just exploding inside, just hurling all over my rental contracts as the river laughs on all buttery, all oozing soul, turpitude and toady, solemn by the heron legs, the whirl of bass and bluegill, angular on a boulder (Gertrude Stein and Cindy Lauper picnicking [Pop-Tarts and Solo cups of sherry] yellow bikini on the boulders, waving, too, authentic, easy grin, whistling by now, and so on.), creaky little riverlets, foamy curls, a valedictory speech of lilies (as the bankers all plug their ears with mud; hemorrhage their hollow chests out; let’s liquidate something now!), river all tonsorial, all bravura, all scabby and muddy churl, all hyacinths and Velveeta (as I mention again, for emphasis I suppose), all wormy and squirmy, while the bankers squeal, while the bankers straight-lace all the way home, all the way down the road gurgling with vomit that is nothing but vomit and they can’t even see the vomit because they live it/are in it/are it, the vomit, but the creative writers can see (creative writers live with their eyes/lives not only open, but glowing/sucking on the healthy cheekbones and the cracked leg bones of the world…) the vomit just lustrous/polychromatic and fine, the bruises behind the makeup, banker, the sigh behind the salutation, the beetles beneath the green chemical lawn (the dotted line, etc.), and the creative folks, they skip and skop, they hop, they guffaw, they cry a little, a smidgen, the creative writers, because they gaze above and they gaze below and they want to gaze more closely/mostly/honestly and therefore they live their lives in such a way—in such a purposeful, sustaining, significant way—to do what they want to do, day leading on to way—to look, yes, to see. To actually see. That is the value of creative writing.

Professor Cathy Day:

In my career, I’ve taught in five different English departments and five different creative writing programs.

Let me tell you what’s unique about creative writing at Ball State.

We have a great curriculum.

  •      Most creative writing programs only offer courses in fiction and poetry. More are offering creative nonfiction. But very few programs teach screenwriting courses—but we do.
  •      Some undergraduate creative writing programs are like mini-MFA programs because you focus specifically in one genre. Our program doesn’t let you specialize like that. We want you to take classes in multiple genres, to stretch yourself, to learn how studying poetry can make you a better fiction writer, to learn how studying screenwriting can improve the scenes you write in creative nonfiction, etc.
  •      Some programs are nothing but workshops, but our program features classes like Creative Writing in the Community and Literary Editing and Publishing, which give you a taste of teaching, service learning, and publishing. 
  •      At Ball State, you take literature classes along with other English majors. Where I went to college, creative writing majors didn’t take classes with the literature majors. I took general education lit classes. And so when I went to graduate school and took grad lit courses, wowza, I really struggled. But at Ball State, creative writing majors take “real” lit classes.

We have a great community.

  •      I’ve never seen anything quite like The Writers’ Community anywhere else. It’s not a class. It’s a student-led, co-curricular club that makes an enormous impact on its members.
  •      Recently, I brought a friend to the Mark Irwin reading. She got her MFA at a very prestigious program, and she said, “God, I love how smart and genuine the students are.” I had to agree. I’ve taught in programs with far more competitive anxiety than camaraderie, where students were way too worried about how much they “mattered.” I’m glad our program isn’t like that.
  •      We bring great writers to campus who take the time to really talk with students. Some programs bring in “big name” writers who breeze in, breeze out. I say it’s much more inspiring for students to meet writers who’ve just published their first books, who might be just a few years farther along than the students in the audience.

We have an amazing faculty.

  •      See, at some schools, a particular aesthetic dominates. When that happens, when you’re only exposed to certain texts to model, you end up unconsciously imitating those texts. As if that’s the “right” way. But at Ball State, we have lots of different poets and writers, lots of different aesthetics so that you can figure out who you are as a writer—not who you think we want you to be.
  •      I really do believe that we do our best writing when we trust our readers. If we’re afraid they’ll eviscerate us, we hold back. We pull punches. Or we can’t write at all. Ball State’s faculty members create an environment where young writers feel comfortable taking risks—and that’s really important.

Personally, I think we have the best undergraduate creative writing program in the state of Indiana.

I tell people this all the time.

Alyssa Allyn

Alyssa Allyn is originally from Culver, Indiana, but is now a resident of Michigan. During her time at Ball State she majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Graphic Arts. She graduated in May 2014. Since graduating, she’s moved to Interlochen, Michigan and is now in her second year as a Hall Counselor. Her first year she looked after 37 teenage girls and 1 boy, and this year she looks after 17 teenage boys. 

  1. You’re working in Michigan at the Interlochen Arts Academy boarding high school as a Hall Counselor. Are you thinking about a career in Student Affairs or Residence Life? How has your degree helped you in the work that you do?

When I first started working at Interlochen, it was purely a transition job. I had never really thought of myself as someone who would work in Student Affairs, but the more time I spend with these students and the longer I stay at Interlochen, I can’t imagine not working in Student Affairs, especially here. I’ve always been a people person, and these past two years I’ve been able to let myself learn and grow into a more confident leadership role. I find myself passionate about what I get to do every day. I get to find different ways to make the experience at Interlochen better for our students, and catch a tiny snapshot of their lives as they pass through high school. I get to be that embarrassing “parent” at performances. It’s one of the hardest yet easiest jobs I’ve ever had. I’ve unexpectedly fallen in love with it. It doesn’t even feel like a job!

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Alyssa winter roving with her co-worker Liz.

My degree has helped in the following ways:

  • Writing grade reports about each of my 17 students 4 times a year (68 total). They all have to be individualized and different each time.
  • Editing and helping kids think through college applications/essays, scholarship essays, and class essays, poems, short stories
  • Writing/reading daily emails – more than I would care to count
  • Interacting with parents, other faculty, and staff via email daily
  • Teaching students how to write professional emails and have professional interactions by demonstration
  • Being in high level stress situations and needing to get my point across clear and concise
  • Connecting with them about reading their art in front of people and having people hear what they have to say

2. What does your typical day look like?

There’s no such thing as a typical day for me right now, but that would be nice. Most days, I don’t start work until 4:00pm because most nights I’m working until 12:00am and I’m not in bed until 1:30am. At 4:00pm, I most likely start a desk shift, which means answering parent phone calls, replying to emails, signing students off campus, and much more. Around 6:00pm I get off to grab dinner in the cafeteria where I’ll be able to see some of my kids, probably for the first time that day. Up next, if it’s Monday, I’ll do room inspections which is exactly what it sounds like–making sure that all 17 of my boys have cleaned their rooms that week. Most of the time I’m very proud. Then from 9:00pm-12:00am I will sit in the lobby and close my building for the night. It’s my favorite part of the day because this is when I get to see and talk to all of my kids. I get to hear how their days were, if they passed their tests, how their pre-screenings went, and everything in between. The lobby will close at 11:00pm and one of the students will come to clean it, they’ll all go to bed, and I will walk around checking lights out at 12:00am. If I’m lucky, no one needed to be taken to urgent care that day, then it’s off to bed to do something similar the next day.

3. Was there a particular class in the English major or a particular faculty member who influenced you?

I recently found the folder on my computer with all of my papers I’d written in college and got a good couple of laughs out of what I read through. After workshops, I had a couple of professors ask me, “Are you okay, is everything alright at home?” and I never really understood why. After re-reading my stuff I see: I wrote some dark things in college.

Among all of that, I found a paper for Rai Peterson’s ENG347. It was supposed to be a literary analysis, but somewhere along the lines I missed the mark. I read The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut and I had worked my butt off writing the paper because I was so in love with it (that book is now one of my favorites). When I got the grade back I was devastated. But long story short, even though I missed the mark, something in me was still unabashedly proud of that paper and the ideas and words I put into it. That’s something that I’ve carried with me since. I try to remind myself to be confident in my heart and gut everyday. Nearly failing that paper taught me that lesson, and Rai opened my eyes to the world of books in a whole other way. I’m forever thankful for that.

4. Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives? What advice do you have if they’d like to do something like what you’re doing now?

Someone told me last year, “Stop thinking about what you are going to do next and focus on how you can make where you are right now the best it can be for you, and everyone else around you.” This has been my silent reminder when I start to doubt myself and start to say, “But what about my degree?” I think it’s really important to know where you want to go, but you should be open to the way you’re going to get there. I’ve learned more about myself and who I want to be professionally and as a human being in general from working with teenagers these past two years. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s kind of amazing what you can learn and where you can learn it from when you’re not even expecting it! Just be open to all of it, every experience and interaction. It’s all significant, you just might not know it yet.


An Interview with Elisabeth Buck

Elisabeth Buck is a Teaching Assistant and PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. She was selected to receive the Doctoral Level Excellence in Teaching Award for 2015-2016 from Ball State. She has also been nominated for the Midwest Association of Graduate Schools (MAGS) Excellence in Teaching award.

  1. What classes have you taught?

I’ve taught several sections of ENG 103 and 104, and I helped co-teach English 605, which is the second semester teacher practicum course. This semester, I’m also teaching ENG 213, which is Introduction to Digital Literacies.


  1.  What’s been your favorite class?

I’ve really enjoyed all of my classes. Every semester is so different. My students are all so unique and they bring such cool things to the class, but in terms of content I think I’ve had two favorites. The first was when I was teaching in my master’s program and I got to teach a Disney-themed composition course. That was only my second semester teaching. It was great to have that as an experience, and I had so much fun! As for my other favorite, well, I’m really having a lot of fun teaching my 213 class. I’m teaching it on the theme of social media. We’ve had a lot of really cool conversations about social media and the significance of social media to contemporary communications. The students in that class have been awesome. I tell them all the time how much I’m going to miss them next semester.

  1. What are you currently researching?

I’m working on my dissertation right now. It’s about the intersections between digital literacies and writing center scholarship, so I’m really able to bring in my interest in digital technologies, but also my work with writing centers. I’ve had opportunities to interview scholars, I did a survey, and I did a lit review. I’m putting it all together right now and writing a conclusion for it, but my research sort of broadly surrounds social media and pop culture, digital literacies, and also writing program and writing center administration.

  1. How would you describe yourself as a teacher?  

I think when I first started teaching one of the goals I had for myself was that I really wanted to think back to the teachers I admired and the teachers who had a huge impact on my education. I try to think about the attributes they had that I want to emulate in my own classroom– things like being organized, understanding, and clear in terms of assignments, but I also go back and identify things that helped me as a student. I like to think of my classroom and my approach to teaching as trying to remember my days as a student, since I am a student, and to have those traits that I thought were really helpful. I think it’s something that, you know, the further you’ve been away from school, the more you start to forget about.

  1. Do you have a specific assignment or project that you particularly enjoy?

I try to have my students focus on how social media impacts the way information is received and distributed, and also how quickly that changes and how those changes can be really jarring at times. I had my students do a current event presentation. Basically they all signed up for a day in class when they’d present and then picked a current event, something that had happened within the past two weeks, to talk about what role social media played in amplifying or distributing that content. It was really interesting how quickly the topics shifted. At one point we’d be talking about the Starbucks red cup controversy, and then really serious things like The Million Man March or the republican debates that were going on. What I was trying to underscore is that this is the way we receive news on social media. You’ll find a really serious topic followed by something that’s totally frivolous. I really wanted students to think critically about how these things might not exist in the same capacity as they do without social media. That’s been an assignment I’ve really liked from this past semester.

  1. What do you love most about teaching?

It’s probably sort of a cliche answer to say “the students,” but I think that’s true. It’s kind of hard to describe when you’re a teacher and you see the work your students produce at the end of the semester. You feel so proud of them, especially if they’d expressed hesitancy at any point in the semester, and to be at that end point and be able to look at them and say, “You did it!” It’s been great to see some of the students I taught in my master’s program, some of them still keep in touch with me, and they’ll say, “I just got into a grad program!” Even now that I’ve been here for four years, seeing the students who were freshmen now seniors, it’s been so nice being able to know them and talk to them. As an instructor you’re so privileged to be a part of your students’ lives for however brief a time period. You get to meet so many people, and I really enjoy that aspect.

  1. Can you describe what you believe is your job or goal as a teacher?

I think my classes in general are really pop culture and media oriented. I do that because I really think it’s important for students to be able to think critically about the world around them and think critically about the things they’re constantly exposed to and sometimes barraged with, and to see those things as a really legitimate aspect of communication and discourse. I think, because college can be so scary, it’s really cool sometimes to come into a classroom and say, “We’re going to talk about Yik Yak today.” I think those things really matter and it’s important to have a critical framework to be able to think about these things that students are always going to have to confront. It matters a lot. The very first thing I had my students do this semester was switch names with each other and search for each other online, to sort of prove that your online identity matters. It’s kind of scary to hear what people can find out about you, so you need to work on being conscious of your digital identity. That’s why I frame my classes in that way, because I think that type of writing matters a lot and will matter a lot.

  1. What advice do you have for other teachers?

I think it’s always important to be true to yourself. Some advice that was given to me when I first started teaching was that I have to be really draconian and really strict and harsh or the students would walk all over me, but I don’t want to be that teacher. Everyone has a different style of teaching, and you can’t try to adopt someone else’s style and think it will work for you. It’s really helpful to identify the things you do well and the things you value, and to shape your classroom around that. Don’t just assume because someone else does something that it’ll work for you. The work of composition and writing especially are so context specific.

  1. What advice do you have for students?

I think I was so nervous to talk to my professors as an undergraduate that I missed out on a lot of opportunities to build relationships with my professors, so I do regret not reaching out more. I think I was nervous because I perceived a huge authority gap between students and professors, when now I think a lot of professors would’ve been really receptive to that. I would say take a chance and try to actually speak with your professors. Meet with them, because so many would be willing to help you and be really invested in your academic career. Sometimes you have to be the one to take the first step in forging that relationship.

  1. What has been the most enjoyable part of your time here at Ball State?

It was hard for me because I moved here from Nevada having a very vague conception of what the Midwest was. Now I’m in this position, four years later, where I can say that I am so happy I came. My dissertation chair, Dr. Grouling, and all the administrators here that I’ve worked with, as well as the people in my program, have become some of my best friends, so I think it’s hard to say something really specific. When I graduate in May I know I’m really going to miss it here. It’s really nice to be able to walk away from a place and know you’ll miss it, instead of leaving and saying good riddance. It’s hard for me to pick something specific because the whole experience has been so positive. I would not have received this award if not for the people who supported me in the process. 

11. What does this award mean to you?

In some ways it’s sort of a culmination of roughly four and a half years of teaching, and it’s one of those things where I feel I’ve grown so much as a teacher as well. It’s hard not to remember my very first day in the classroom, being nervous, and I remember my roommate at the time, when I was grading my first round of papers, took a picture of me just lying in all the papers looking so overwhelmed.

I know it’s cliche, but it really is such an honor, and I wouldn’t have gotten here if I didn’t have all these wonderful students. They’re awesome people. Teaching can be really hard at times and sometimes you have to be really vulnerable with your students, but it really has just been such a good experience that I’m really going to miss.

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis (Ph.D. 1999) is a successful fiction writer who taught for 14 years at the University of Montana-Western. She now lives and writes in Oregon, and is the author of over a dozen novels in the fantasy genre.

  1. You earned your PhD in 1999, correct? What was the title? Did you get your BA and MA with us, too? How did your degrees help you make the literary life you have now?

Correct. My diss title was “Models to the Universe”: Victorian Hegemony and the Construction of Feminine Identity, which, if you’re feeling terribly curious, can be read on my website. I obtained my BA at The University of California-Davis, and my MA at Iowa State University. I don’t know that the degrees as such are meaningful, but what I learned, now, that’s another story. I learned research, writing, revision, editing, critiquing, deepened my vocabulary, and I learned to really think and consider diana francisdetails. I also learned to work independently, and to create and follow a schedule in order to complete a long project. I learned to dig deeper, push harder, and that good enough wasn’t good enough. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without that experience.

  1. Please describe a typical day or week in your life now.

I’m not sure there’s such thing as a typical day or week. I’ve been writing about 2-3 books a year, plus some shorter stuff. That means at any given time, I’m drafting fiction. Layered over that is usually some element of another book–revisions, copy edits, proofs, proposals, for instance, not to mention all the other things that crop up like blogging, convention appearances, and so on. I try to write about ten thousand words a week on average, and I have two kids, so I have to be very disciplined so that I get everything done in the time I have. I always feel like there’s more to do than time to do it. It’s the best job ever.

  1.  Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

Follow your passion, persevere, and even though imposter syndrome is built into the creative and academic nature, believe in yourself. Stay disciplined. And remember that nobody cares about what you do as much as you do, and even the worst day in a job you love is better than the best day in one you hate. Also, don’t forget to read and live life and feed your soul. Last of all, protect the work. Don’t let outside stuff, be it emotional, mental, or physical, eat away at your art and your work.


In the latest installment of the “Good News” series, the Ball State English department highlights the accomplishments of our faculty and students.


Prof. Jackie Grutsch McKinney delivered the keynote address at the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing in Salt Lake City. Jackie is the current director of the Ball State Writing Center and has conducted extensive research on writing center labor and how technology has changed the functions of writing centers. The theme of NCPTW ’15 was (De)Center: Testing Assumptions about Peer Tutoring and Writing Centers. Congratulations, Jackie!

Prof. Michael Begnal had three poems published in the literary magazine The Pickled Body. One of these poems, “Paris of Appalachia,” was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize.

Matthias Raess gave a poster presentation of “Because formality: The conjunction-noun construction in online text corpora” with Kenneth Baclawski (UC Berkeley) and Justin Bland (Virginia Tech) at the joint annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America and the American Dialect Society, in Washington D.C.

Dr. Adrienne Bliss presented her paper entitled “Flipping/Flopping, Tech No and Techno” at the Lilly Conference: Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning in Austin, Texas.

Prof. Emily Scalzo published a haiku in the 2015 anthology of Element(ary) My Dear, through Kind of a Hurricane Press.

Dr. Frank Felsenstein‘s essay “‘If You Tickle Us, Do We Not Laugh?’: Stereotypes of Jews in English Graphic Humor of the Georgian Era” was published in No Laughing Matter: Visual Humor in Ideas of Race, Nationality, and Ethnicity

Dr. Mary Lou Vercellotti co-wrote a research paper with Dr. Nel de Jong of Amsterdam, Netherlands, entitled “Similar prompts may not be similar in the performance they elicit: Examining fluency, complexity, accuracy, and lexis in narratives from five picture prompts”. It will be published by Language Teaching Research and is currently available online ahead of print. Mary Lou also presented “Maximizing Students’ Interactions With An Expert” at the Lilly Conference on College Teaching at Miami University in Ohio.

Dr. Robert Habich has published “An ‘Extempore Adventurer’ in Italy: Emerson as International Tourist,” in a collection entitled A Power to Translate the World: New Essays on Emerson and International Culture.



What Does Rhetoric Mean to You?

We’ve launched a new series that we’ve titled “Department Dialogue.” This series offers our professors a platform that they can use to discuss English-related topics that are of interest to both faculty and students alike. We continue the series with responses from the Rhetoric & Writing faculty, who have all answered the same question: what does rhetoric mean to you? 

Professor Paul Ranieri:

So, first, I acknowledge that all communication involves what communication theorists call the communication triangle.  I would portray it as follows:  Imagine a triangle with a circle around it.  The points of the triangle stand for the key elements of all communication: I (the writer/speaker), It (the message), and You (the audience).  That triangle is surrounded by the Context of the message.  Those four elements are included in any human communication.  The relationship among those four elements is Rhetoric.  Any message in any medium or collection of media can be analyzed or planned by thinking through those four elements.

From another perspective, the ancient Greeks were interested in the human element of communication whereby human thoughts find outward expression in words.  That relationship was often called Logos.  So, in brief, Thinking→Words = Logos.  For the ancient Greeks putting one’s thoughts into words then necessitated that you act on those words, thus setting up the relationship, Thinking→Words→Actions.  That relationship defined one’s Ethos or Character, leading Aristotle to say that “character is almost, so to speak, the most authoritative form of persuasion.”

From both this modern communications and this ancient historical perspective comes my interest in Rhetoric: how it has been conceived, the way it is conceived, the way we use it, the way we abuse it, and the way we learn it.

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In the latest installment of our “Good News” series, the Ball State English Department highlights the accomplishments of our faculty and students.EBuck

Elisabeth Buck
, a Teaching Assistant
and PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition, has been selected to receive the Doctoral Level Excellence in Teaching Award for 2015-2016 from Ball State. She has also been nominated for the  Midwest Association of Graduate Schools (MAGS) Excellence in Teaching award. Congratulations, Elisabeth, on the award and nomination!

Prof. Lyn Jones
 received a Provost Immersive Learning Grant for her “Rethinking the Stories We Publish, Shelve, and Read” project for summer and fall 2016 semesters.

Prof. Adrienne Bliss
presented “Framing Prison Narratives: Confining the Voice” as part of the American Criminology and Penology panel at the 2015 Midwest Modern Language Association (MMLA) Convention in Columbus, Ohio.

Alicia Miller
 and Sara Isaacson, MA TESOL students, successfully presented their research project at Second Language Research Forum, in Atlanta, GA, in October 2015. The conference is a national-level, refereed conference in second language research. The project is based on Alicia’s term paper from a course, ENG 624 Foundations of Second Language Acquisition, she took in Spring 2015. Congratulations, Alicia and Sarah!

ND15-Cover-360.jpg_mediumProf. Katy Didden
presented a paper on Claudia Rankine’s Citizen at the Society for the Study of American Women Writer’s Conference. Didden also had poems accepted for publication by The Kenyon Review and Ecotone.

Prof. Cathy Day
 will be the Writer-in-Residence at Hanover College for the month of March. She will be living on campus, giving public talks, and meeting with students interested in novel-writing. Professor Day was also invited to UNC-Wilmington to be their annual honors spring speaker, and she made the Indianapolis Monthly’s list of Indiana’s current great novelists.

Profs. Debbie Mix, Pat Collier, and Emily Rutter attended the Modernist Studies Association Conference in Boston. At the Distinctly American Lyrics panel, Rutter presented “When ‘I’ Means ‘We’: Gwendolyn Bennett’s and Mae Cowdery’s ‘Heritage’ Poems” and Mix presented “‘We must both be here’: Lyric Poetry and Political Engagement.” Collier presented his own work as well as the award for Best Edition/Edited Collection. In addition to the awards work, Collier was also invited to attend a seminar called “Print Culture and Popularity.”

Alysia Sawchyn, a recently graduated M.A. student, had a nonfiction piece accepted for publication in a special ghost issue of Indiana Review. The issue will be published in May 2016. Sawchyn is currently working on her MFA in creative writing.

Ashley Ford, a regular contributor to ELLE magazine, recently published an essay titled On the Invisibility of Black Pain on Campus.

Abby Higgs had work published in November editions of Salon and The Rumpus. 
Undergraduate Luke Bell had poems accepted for publication by Outrageous Fortune magazine. Congratulations, Luke!

Prof. Peter Davis
recently had poems published in The Awl, Juked, Interrupture, Ampersand, Sixth Finch, Powder Keg, and Poet Lore. More poetry will be forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review and The Believer. Davis’s book TINA was also reviewed by Stephen Burt in Coldfront.

Profs. Carolyn MacKay
and Frank Trechsel published an article titled “Totonac-Tepehua Genetic Relationships” in Amerindia.

Prof. Jill Christman‘s
new essay “Going Back to Plum Island” appeared in this month’s edition of River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative. Editors have nominated the essay for a Pushcart Prize. Ball State community can access River Teeth through the Project Muse database in our library site.


Kelsey Englert

In 2014, Kelsey earned her M.A. in English with a creative writing focus from Ball State University. She is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in creative writing at West Virginia University.

Two graduate degrees in creative writing. Redundant, right?

The MFA is the terminal degree in the field, and will allow me to teach as a creative writing professor upon graduation. For me, the MA was just as important. My undergraduate degrees at Ball State were in landscape architecture and history. I had never taken a creative writing course, but I loved writing stories. I knew very little about MA and MFA degrees, so I applied to Ball State’s program because it is a great school.

I won’t pretend I started the MA with a clear plan for graduate studies, but here are four reasons why stumbling into Ball State’s MA in English kelsey_englert1turned out to be very fortunate for me:

  1. Having time to write is a gift. It is. In both my MA and MFA programs, I’ve had time to write, to mull, to experiment with my craft over and over while being fully funded.
  2.  Teaching is hard. The first two semesters I taught at Ball State, it took up a lot of time, both teaching courses and taking the accompanying pedagogy courses. However, each semester I became better at balancing teaching and writing. When I arrived at my MFA program, while many of my peers were panicking over their first times teaching, I was able to skip the pedagogy course, and spend much less time prepping lessons, both of which meant more time for writing. (See reason number one.)
  3. I knew I would apply to MFA programs for fiction, so when I started at Ball State, I wasn’t very interested in (read as: I was intimidated by) the creative nonfiction, poetry, and screenwriting courses. I quickly learned that writing in other genres made my fiction better. Substantially better. There aren’t many programs that encourage students to dabble in four genres. It was great to be in small classrooms where five to eight classmates and myself moved from genre to genre each semester, and experimented with our writing together. The five graduate professors encouraged us to take courses outside our specialty. There was no rivalry between genres.
  4. Finally, the creative writing professors in the program are positive, encouraging, and create healthy workshop atmospheres. As I applied to MFA programs, I received endless support and advice from them on schools, writing samples, and applications. Publication and professionalization lectures were covered in the classroom, and meetings were held to advise those interested in MFA or PhD programs. We even had someone from the Career Center speak to us about career opportunities for English majors. I felt supported by the community of creative writing professors at Ball State. They are the kind of good people that years later, I still feel proud to call my writing mentors.

Every year, thousands of great writers apply to a limited number of MFA programs. Acceptance rates are low, especially in fully-funded programs. My two years in Ball State’s MA program allowed me to drastically improve my writing, develop a writing sample, and gain a support system to help me get accepted to a competitive MFA program. My time at Ball State was positive and frankly, a lot of fun.