Category Archives: Uncategorized

Meet Our New Academic Advisor, Jennifer Wells

New #bsuenglish academic advisor Jennifer Wells earned her undergraduate degree from Ohio State in 1990. She was always interested in liberal arts, but started out as a film major before she chose to pursue an art history major. She has a passion for studying abroad that she hopes to share with her students. 

preview-chat-jennifer-wellsWhat are your office hours?

My office hours are Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. Occasionally, I have meetings on Wednesdays, so Wednesday mornings usually aren’t good. A lot of students schedule appointments. But if somebody walks in and I’m free, I am happy to see them.

What are you currently reading, if anything?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. You need to read that book! It’s a real story. And it’s about a woman who, back in the 50s, had ovarian cancer and the hospital took some cells from her. She eventually passed away, but her cancer cells grew like nothing they had ever seen. So they started using her cells to do experiments on and they’ve made all this medical progress just from her cells. And it talks about her family and how they didn’t know the hospital was doing this and it gets into a real medical-ethics murky area. Lacks’s cells are still alive. Her cells are still growing from the 50s. They just keep regenerating and regenerating and growing new cells.

What is a book that you think everyone should read?

I have a book that I love. It’s fiction. It’s very small, it’s a very quick read. But it’s called Rain by Kirsty Gunn. It was something I just picked up on a fluke at a bookstore. I read it and I was drawn right in. It was just something I completely related to (even though it takes place in New Zealand and I have no experience in New Zealand). I still felt like I was right there. It was about a twelve year old girl and her family.

What are the biggest mistakes that you notice students tending to make?

Probably the biggest one we see here is waiting too long to take the Writing Proficiency Exam or not even realizing that students have to take the exam. Another common mistake is that students wait too long to come see me before registration. So they’re waiting until the last minute and then they can’t get in. I think it’s a good idea just generally to check in with me. I want to know that you’re okay and things are going okay, even if it’s boring or you don’t really have anything to talk about. And it helps me to get to know the students.

Are you working on any projects at the moment?

Really, I’m still just learning. They want us to update the four year plans for students on DegreeWorks. So I’m kind of getting used to that. I have other advisors I talk to and we all help each other. I don’t really have other projects yet. I know we are going to be looking at doing some group advising  before summer and fall registration starts, so hopefully we’ll have some more information about that coming up soon.

What are some of your hobbies and interests?

I have always been interested in art. So, I do paint, I do a little bit of sculpture. And back home in Columbus, my family is involved with a scholarship at Ohio State. It involves making a gigantic cake shaped like Ohio Stadium. It’s about a 300-pound cake. My cousin started it as a dare one year. We’re still doing it 26 years later. I paint all the little figures we put in the stadium and around the stadium. It takes nine of us about a week (with people taking off work and everything). We’ve raised more the $150,000 for students and it goes straight into a scholarship fund.

What piece of advice would you offer your students?

Don’t be shy to ask for help. The one thing virtually every other former college student I ever talked to says, “I wish I would have taken advantage of the resources I had in college. Why didn’t I do that? I should in the writing center, I should have been in the math tutoring center. I should have been in all of that.”

Patrick Collier on "Everyday Life in Middletown"

In this interview, #bsuenglish professor Patrick Collier discusses his Virginia Ball Center seminar “Everyday Life in Middletown.”


What did the project entail?

These Virginia Ball seminars are semester-long projects where students get up to 15 credits for their participation, the teacher gets a fellowship, and that gets him or her out of teaching responsibility or any other responsibility on campus. The subject of the seminar was “Everyday Life in Middletown.” Middletown, I assume you know, is Muncie. There’s this history of Muncie being referred to as Middletown since the ’20s when the Lynds did their sociological study in Muncie and it became a national best-seller.

The idea of the seminar was that we would bring the theoretical tools of the study of everyday life to the study of Muncie, or Middletown. Everyday Life Studies is an interdisciplinary field that has been developing over the last couple of decades. … It studies the stuff that actually typically escapes notice in history and in other academic fields. Everyday life is the stuff that tends to go unrecorded. We do actually spend the vast majority of our waking lifetime being in everyday things but they aren’t the things that “make up our life stories.” The whole idea of Everyday Life Studies is to try to record what everyday life is like and analyze what everyday life is like. A big part of Everyday Life Studies has evolved into coming up with ways of studying it. … It’s been developing as an academic field over the last 20 years or so.

To put it in a nutshell, the Virginia Ball seminar really has three components: one is the theory of everyday life, the other is the whole Muncie/Middletown phenomenon, and the third is the products that we developed out of the seminar. One was this documentary film, and the other is this website that is kind of an archive of everyday life in Muncie as we perceived it. Roughly, we spent the first month of the class studying theory of everyday life. We spent the next four or five weeks doing a study where we recruited informants, people who live in town who were willing to record their everyday lives for us. They kept day diaries that they wrote once a week, sort of recording everything they did, and answered questionnaires that we sent them once a week asking them a bunch of questions about their everyday lives. The remainder of the semester we spent developing the website and finding ways of representing that data and finishing the film.

Continue reading

Adrienne Bliss on Working with Indiana Prisons

We interviewed #bsuenglish professor Adrienne Bliss about the volunteer work she has been doing with women’s prisons for the past five years.

AdrienneBliss.jpgCould you describe what you do?

I am a volunteer in … two ways: I started out with a program called Angels Wings. … They work with the nursery program, Wee Ones there at Indiana Women’s Prison. … It’s pretty innovative actually, and we do baby showers, we do baby’s first Christmas, baby’s first Easter, things like that. … And then on the education side, I both teach as a volunteer professor and I volunteer in the library.

How did you get started with this?

It’s a very convoluted story. … I was going to teach a class at the men’s prison in Michigan City and it took me a while to decide if I could do that, but I decided that I would. And then the semester that I was teaching there, my son died in a car accident. And of course the world fell apart, and I just thought oh you know just go away, but one of the things that stuck with me was the students I had. And it was just halfway through the semester they bought a sympathy card, and signed it and mailed it to me, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish in prison, and that just stuck with me. So I kinda dropped out of life for a couple years. Then four years ago, we had a faculty member, Liz Whiteacre, whose husband is a criminal justice professor—I told you it was convoluted—who does research with Wee Ones … and that’s when I started volunteering at Indiana Women’s prison.

What are some of the challenges that you find you come across there?

They are much more inquisitive, they are very well prepared, they have a lot of questions, and they have a lot of respect for education. … The biggest challenge, honest to God, is that they have no access to computers or internet at all.

How do research and [writing] papers work then?

They have to write the papers by hand. Some of them can get computers with word processing, but mostly they have to write by hand. For instance, what I did this semester in Lit Theory is they each had to choose a novel that they were going to write about and once they had, about halfway through the semester when they had narrowed down their topic, what I did was I went to Bracken Library and found four to five research articles around their ideas. And I just printed them on my allocation and took that in to them.

What does a typical day going to one prison … look like?

Well, if I’m teaching, I usually teach in the morning. They have count five times a day, so everything is worked around count. So, I teach from 7:30-10:30 and then they go back to the dorms for count, and at 10:30 I just go ahead and go down to the library and work for about an hour and a half there by myself, and when I say work, that is a very loose word. I’m a gofer. I shelve books and go through and organize and reorganize and try to neaten things up. I try to come up with some sort of displays. … I’m only there one day a week usually. But, I seem to be better with the alphabet than some of the people who shelve books, and I want the books to look attractive, so I think that once a week sorting out the shelves is a good thing.

Is there any experience that stands out to you as something that’s very rewarding?

It’s not rewarding. It’s not altruistic. I’m not being good or kind or any of that kind of stuff, and I can honestly say part of it is working with the women in prison has helped me get back into the world since my son died, so my feeling is that I get a lot from this, and it keeps me going. … I’m actually quite selfish in doing it. And they always thank you, and they are very appreciative, and I just say, “You don’t have to thank me, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

What are some other ways interested parties can help?

The library needs donations, but not textbooks, no textbooks, no more anthologies. We’ve got James Patterson coming out the ears, but I am looking for current books written since 2000, you know, things like lit theory, philosophy, a little better writing besides James Patterson and Nora Roberts. We’ve got Stephen King and Dean Koontz, the kind of standard people you would think a library would have that they would read, we’ve got that. But I’m always looking for different kinds of books for the library.

Where does this lead for the women in the program as far as academics? How does this work out for them?

Well, hopefully an associate’s, possibly a bachelor’s. Bachelor’s is the long term goal if we can get enough professors. President Obama has started a very small test program of putting Pell Grants back in the prisons and Holy Cross is trying and hoping that they’ll get some of that money because providing professors and books can be expensive for a lot of people like myself that volunteer. … The ultimate goal is to have an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree because these women, to be perfectly honest, are going to have an incredibly hard time getting any kind of job at all, and the degree helps them with critical thinking skills and provides some credentials.

Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about your experiences there that you think our readers might find interesting?

There are a couple things. I’m actually going Thursday night to what’s called the ICAN graduation, and that’s the Indiana Canine Assistance Network. There is a program in the prisons, in both Pendleton and the Indiana Women’s Prison, where they train service dogs and the dogs spend about the first year of their lives at Pendleton living with one of the male prisoners, getting basic skills and growing out of some of that puppy stuff. And then they come to the women’s prison and the women train them, and they become service dogs, and they’ve done service dogs for someone who’s deaf, someone with epilepsy, physical disabilities. This time, we’ve got a vet and one of his diagnoses is PTSD, and he’s getting a service dog. … And this is opening up new lines of research for me. I’ve written two conference papers and I’ve got a third one coming up around the topic of prison, and I’m working on a research proposal now to do some readership studies and it looks pretty good. That will involve me doing surveys and interviews, kind of ethnography with the women at Indiana Women’s Prison.

And what will that allow you to do?

Nothing. What I felt like is, I didn’t want to go in there and just be a do-gooder lady liberal, which is what I am. I felt like if I was going to do research and be in there, I needed to understand what this process is. How do these people wind up here? Very deliberately, and to a couple of staff people that I see pretty regularly, I let it be known that I’m doing this and why I’m doing it, so that they realize that I respect their position too because being a correctional officer is not an easy job or a desirable job, and there are a lot of jerks out there, and yes there are a lot of major problems with that, you know, what you’d expect, but it’s not as bad as Orange is the New Black, and Orange is the New Black comes nowhere close to approximating prison.

Yeah, I imagine you have a lot of opinions on that.

I’m glad it’s out there to raise awareness, because people don’t think about women’s prisons. Women only make up, at this point, 7% [of the] prison population, but they’re also the fastest growing group, so I think Orange is the New Black does a wonderful job of raising awareness. If you want to watch a good women’s prison show: [check out] Wentworth on Netflix. It’s Australian and it’s women’s prison down there, but anything that keeps the awareness out. … These people are coming back to our towns. They might not live right next to you, but they’re coming back, and if we keep treating them as sub-human and bad, then that’s what we’re going to get back. So, I’m just trying to go in and say, “You’re my student.” I don’t go in and say “You’re my offender.” “You’re my student, so what are we doing today?”


Storify: a window into #bsuenglish

It’s time to announce Tweet of the Week!

Congratulations Jeremy Flick, your tweet about Susan Herring’s lecture won. Come to RB 297 and claim your prize!

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 11.21.20 AM


About the weekly Storify

Every week, we make a Storify to archive who uses #bsuenglish to tell us about what they learn and what they do in the English Department. Check out our Storify for the week of 10/17/14.

We are going to take a break from posting the Weekly Digest to see if people like this better. Let us know what you prefer!

Faculty Spotlight: Kellie D. Weiss

To make the English department at Ball State more personable, these faculty spotlights will occasionally appear on the blog. I’m happy to inaugurate the faculty spotlight series with Kellie Weiss, visiting Assistant Professor of English:

First, if you could explain where you came from, in terms of your education. And what do you teach at Ball State?
I have a BA in English from Penn State and an MA in English from Duquesne University. I will finish my PhD in 20th Century American Literature from Howard University this July. Excited! At BSU I’ve taught 103, 104, 205, 210, 230, 491, and 493.

What do you enjoy most about English?
Originally, I wanted to be a lawyer. On my undergrad apps I wrote about how I would become a Supreme Court Justice who would be referred to as “the grandmother of the nation.” Yeah, I was reaching. When I realized that English offered all of the debate, reading, discussion, and open-mindedness that I liked and none of the defending murderers stuff that I didn’t, I decided to study literature.

What interests do you have outside of English and literature?
I love to play tennis when the weather’s nice. When it isn’t so nice, racquetball has been a good substitute. I also try to travel as much as possible. I can pack for a week-long trip in about 30 minutes.  I feel lucky, being the first in my family to graduate from college, to have been able to live in four states (PA, MD, CA, and IN) and two countries (US and the Netherlands).  Travel has afforded me the chance to see who I am in different environments and to learn more about what it means to be human.

What piece of advice would you recommend to English students both as they study on a collegiate level and for their life afterward?
Not surprising advice: read. No matter what your area of concentration, just read everything that you can get your hands on… books, newspapers, blogs, graffiti, whatever. Maybe surprising advice: read these articles before you decide to go to grad school:
Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go and So You Want to Go to Grad School?

If you could recommend that all English students read a particular book/poem/short story/essay/etc, what would you recommend and why?
I personally love Jean Toomer’s Cane.  The short stories at the beginning are realistic, irreducible, lyrical portraits of human beings.  To me they offer the best of what literature can be.  Aside from that, I’d recommend Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice.  When you’re faced with as much honesty as Cleaver gives you in that text, you can’t help but confront the foundations of your thinking.

Any last thoughts or comments? Or a good blog or website to “waste” time?
Learning while you “waste” time…
the Root
the podcasts for “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” from NPR
Current (check out the Max and Jason videos)
Just for fun: Photoshop Disasters and One Sentence.

English 435 and Blog Origins

According to Technorati, an online tracking system for blogs, 94 million Americans are blog readers while 22 million are bloggers themselves. The Wall Street Journal estimated that about two million Americans make some money from blogging and that over 450,000 Americans make a living from blogging. Newspaper, corporations, and universities all employ bloggers; bloggers are interviewed on national news programs. Blogs have moved from the margins to the mainstream.

During the Spring of 2010, the Department of English offered a special topics course within writing and rhetoric, “The Rhetorical Art of Blogging” taught by Dr. Jackie Grutsch-McKinney. Throughout the semester, the class explored a variety of topics relevant to blogging and the field of English:

  • the genre and poetics of blogs: what are the conventions, the affordances, and potential
  • blogging rhetoric: ethos and arguments
  • differences and similarities to print genres
  • technologies for composing and reading blogs
  • multimodality: composing with images, links, audio, video
  • the blog to book (to film) phenomenon
  • blogs of consequence: politically and personally
  • the blogging life and cultivating an online identity

The text for this course included Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything, Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture and Sarah Boxer’s Ultimate Blogs.

The course was intended as an opportunity to explore blogs, blogging and bloggers and the all-encompassing blogosphere. Throughout the semester, students enrolled in the class wrote essays discussing and analyzing the rhetoric of blogging, investigated the various blogging platforms (WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, etc.) and indicated tips and tricks to enhance a blog. All of this investigation in and exposure to the blogosphere climaxed with each student creating, launching and presenting a personal blog, including a report to discuss the choices made when creating the blog.

The BSU English blog is the culmination of what the class has learned during the semester. In addition to creating individual blogs, students in the class collaborated to launch this blog for the department. After the semester ends, the department has offered to continue the blog by hiring a paid intern to upkeep and manage the blog’s content.

[Posted by JD Mitchell]

We’ve All Been Through This

Stream-of-consciousness commentary on my relationship with writing

More often than not, I can’t just sit down and write. I have found that when it comes to writing and other hobbies, such as drawing, these activities are preceded with a lingering sense of dread, a coil of reluctance that slithers up from my stomach and wraps its tendrils around my wrists. Any attempts to thwart these attacks are met with fierce resistance; my fingers ache with illusory arthritis and my optic nerves throb with irritation, begging for rest.

My hands freeze over the smudged keys, and the little black line blinks inquisitively back at me. Well? It asks. Are you going to start? Shall I come back later? I seek out distractions; a forgotten assignment, a browse through the emails, a snack, a bathroom break — which all too often leads to the abortion of my Untitled Document.

Solitude and silence are often necessary for my mind to function unfettered, at least for a few minutes. I am easily distracted by sounds, especially voices. If I can write anything at all, it is short and disconnected. It has no beginning or end; it just is. A fragmented piece of a larger structure which my reeling mind has not the capacity to complete nor the strength to support.

Inspiration flits in and out of my room with the irregularity of a humming bird. There are abundantly pollinated minds elsewhere of much richer quality and flavor than mine. And then, at 4a.m., the buzz of tiny wings and a glowing spot in the darkness alights at the foot of my bed, insisting that I write. More often than not, I want to write but do not have the compulsion to do so. My mind is empty of all but the most mundane thoughts. The comfort of my room and even the most deadly of silences are not always enough to spur me on.

My greatest enemy is The What. Stopping me in my tracks, forcing me back, asking What are you going to write about? What do you want to say? Always giving me pause, stiffening my fingers and slowing my brain. So, we meet again. What will you do? Original ideas are impossible — maybe I’ll read a book or a magazine, watch a movie, stare out the window, crack my knuckles, listen to music, have a snack. If The What is my greatest enemy, The How is its sidekick, questioning my abilities and slyly demanding how I could possibly hope to record such vivid imaginings with words that will do them justice.

the ghost writer

How do the celebrated writers do it? Nudging and shepherding words around until they are right where they need to be — in a place where they were clearly meant to be all along? Words strung together with such precision and perfection that they couldn’t possibly be arranged in any other way?

Perhaps the discrepancy lies in the lack of distinction between my writer self and my “me” self. Or maybe it lies in the insecurities I harbor concerning whether I am, in fact, a writer, or merely an impostor. I often view writers as people who have established themselves as such to the rest of the world — who are published, experienced, and wise. I consider myself to be more of an apprentice; green, uncertain and stumbling over my words, struggling to build a sentence with the most aesthetically pleasing materials.

How do I separate myself from my writer self? If someone were to see me in my room, ferreting out words from my mind and typing them out onto the screen, would they not recognize me as the same person they spoke to earlier that day? Do I transform into a different person when I write? Everyone acts differently when adapting to various social situations, but is it possible to lead a double life?

I am quick to reject this theory, but upon further consideration, it seems plausible. When I write, I have more time to fashion out words and phrases into their most appealing and persuasive ensembles. My mouth is always one step ahead of my brain, resulting in rushed and awkward speech. I can converse as well as anyone, but who would want to listen to me talk for longer than what is deemed necessary for the trading of information? I am a much less confident person when I can hear the flaws in my voice and the words I choose without deliberation. Alone with my hands poised over the keyboard, the words are at my command and cannot come forth without thought. Unlike the spoken word, they can also be undone. Erased and replaced. As a writer, I have more control, and less chance of making an unalterable mistake.

– Katie Furlan

Book Review: Alice I have Been by Melanie Benjamin

The infatuation with Alice in Wonderland has been an everlasting wonder since the release of the book, written by Lewis Carroll, in 1865.  It became even more popular with the release of Disney’s animated film, but became a craze with the release of the 3D version of the film on March 5th, 2010.  However, not many people are aware of the true meaning behind this phenomenon.

Charles Dodgson, who went by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, met young Alice Liddell in 1856.  The mystery to the relationship between the two is still unsolved today.  The only proof available was from Dodgson’s diary, those of which he has ripped out from 1858 to 1862 (the time he spent with Alice).  Many critics believe there was some infatuation or sexual desire between Alice and Dodgson, but without the proof there is no claim.  However, many authors such as Katie Roiphe and Melanie Benjamin have created fictional histories about the relationship that are so authentic, which makes the stories seem absolutely real.

In Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been, she tells a convincing tale that the truth about Alice and Dodgson seems like it is in the pages of her book.  She includes factual people, places, and events, but includes them within a fictional story line.  Some of the real events include the day Alice and Dodgson take a boat ride, which is where Dodgson’s inspiration is embarked upon to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Another event that actually occurred was a controversial photograph taken of Alice by Dodgson.  The photograph is known as “Alice Liddell as a Beggar Girl,” which exposes Alice to be exposed and mature as a seven year old.  Whil most of the fictional plot is about Alice and Dodgson’s relationship, Benjamin creates such a remarkable piece that it feels like this is strictly a biographical story about the pair. 

Anyone who has read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or has seen any of the movies should read Alice I have Been.  You will gain a much better grasp of the meaning behind the stories and the films.  While some of it may be fictional, there is still a lot of truth behind the pages, and Melanie Benjamin writes in such a believable way it is impossible not to become lost in wonderland.

-Alyson Lammers

Writing Center Tutors Take on ECWCA

Ball State University was well-represented at the 2010 East Central Writing Center Association Conference in East Lansing, Michigan this April. Three undergraduate students (Tyler Gobble, Phil Call, and Neal Coleman) and two English graduate students (Emily Standridge and Dani Weber) who all work at the Writing Center presented papers at the conference.

In a panel presentation “Exploring the Writing Center’s Convergence with Social Capital,” Phil, Dani, and Emily explored the ways that social capital plays a role in writing center work. Tyler suggested in his presentation, “Creative Writers in the Writing Center,” that writing centers might pursue different paths to appeal more to creative writers. Neal presented on the effect, or lack of effect, that traditional advertising has on writing center services.

Ball State alum, Nikki Caswell (MA, Rhetoric and Composition) co-led a successful workshop on assessment at the conference. Writing Center Director Jackie Grutsch McKinney, also in attendance, was elected to Vice President of the organization.

Benefit Reading for Haiti is a Success

Students from the English Education Club and English faculty members Pam Hartman and Melissa Adams-Campbell organized a benefit reading for the victims of the Haiti earthquakes on April 5, 2010. The event, featured in the Daily News, asked for volunteer readers and pledges from the Ball State community. Together, they raised an impressive $235 in just two hours.