Tag Archives: English Department

Meet Professor Allison Layfield!

The English Department would like to introduce you to Professor Allison Layfield

Layfield_Allison.jpg Professor Layfield sees the classroom as a time for brainstorming and collaboration. Her goal in the classroom is to get students to think and actively participate in class discussion. She also wants her students to think about the discussions at home and then write about their ideas on the subject.

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Stars to Steer By Presents Ethan Johnson: A Long Journey

Ball State University alum Ethan Johnson discusses his travels after graduation and his future aspirations as he looks to the journey ahead. He graduated from Ball State in 2013 with a BA in English Literature and Classical Cultures. 

In the spring semester of my freshman year at Ball State, I saw Avenue Q at Emens Auditorium. I laughed along with the other audience members at the opening song, wondering “What Do You Do with a BA in English?” thumbnail_ethan-headshotI was laughing at the puppets, but I was also laughing at myself: I knew in three short years I would be in that position myself.

I came into Ball State knowing I wanted to be an English major. I loved books, so why wouldn’t I major in literature? When I told people what I was studying, especially after I added my major in Classical Cultures, they would inevitably ask me, “So what do you plan on doing with that?”

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Come to the Stars to Steer By Lecture Series!

starstosteerbytalkThe Stars to Steer By Lecture Series was created in order to help students pursuing a Humanities Degree find their way after graduation. 

Calling all Humanities Majors! Do you feel worried that you won’t be able to find a career in your field? Are you tired of people telling you that your degree is useless? Have no fear, the “Stars to Steer By” lecture series is here! The Ball State University English Department wants you to know that there are many things you can do with a Humanities Major.

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Ace Howard: An English Major Working in the Software Field

Former English major Ace Howard describes his career in the software business. 

How would you describe your job?

I’m a technical writer for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company.

I would describe my job as the bridge between technical information and users. I sit down with subject matter experts (SMEs) and translate their high level of knowledge into terms that our audience can easily understand. Part of this process involves deciding which medium works best for the message (shout-out to Marshall McLuhan). My work could take the form of software documentation, white papers, case studies, social media, or blog posts. Because I have a background in web development, I’m also responsible for updating the company website.

Some of this stuff sounds complicated (it can be), but all the writing and problem solving makes the job a fun and rewarding experience.

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Summer Good News

Summer has been a busy time for Ball State faculty, students, and alumni alike! Read more to find out what these Ball State affiliates have been up to.

Prof. Katy Didden earned a fellowship to attend the prestigious Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Middlebury, VT. She will be co-facilitating a workshop with poet Alan Shapiro, giving a craft lecture on Marianne Moore and the Great Distance Poem, and giving a reading.

Dr. Paul Ranieri published a chapter titled “Standing the Test of Time: Liberal Education in a Jesuit Tradition” in Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies, edited by Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton, published early this summer by Fordham University Press.

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Guest Post: Kris Weaver on Creative Writing in the Community

At the beginning of the semester, I seriously considered dropping English 409. I found out it wasn’t like any ordinary English class I’d previously taken; this one would force me to take part in something bigger than myself. It wasn’t something I could just shuffle through, writing along the way, reading the material, and making the grade. For all my doubts in the beginning though, I’m really glad I stuck with it.

What scared me the most was the idea of meeting with a partner on five separate occasions, compiling meeting reports, and eventually writing something about that partner’s life for the rest of the world to read. In addition, I learned that my partner would have a disability. That knowledge left me feeling even more nervous than before: what if I accidentally said something offensive? Were there protocols I would need to know in order to work with this person? I had no idea what to expect.

Meeting my partner for the first time did a lot to put me at ease. Her disability was a mental one. She got confused sometimes, repeated herself a lot, and liked to talk, which ended up being a good thing. I met with her a total of six times and learned a lot about people like her by just being around her. She talked about her family and her friends, about her favorite television shows and books.

The goal of the class is to help give voice (in written form) to those who aren’t usually heard. For some of us in the class, this meant being partnered with kids from a local after-school tutoring center. For the rest of us, it meant pairing up with six women residing in a home in Muncie where they can live in their own social environment away from the normal pressures of the world.

I won’t presume to speak for those who were partnered with the kids at the tutoring center and their experiences. What I do know about my experience is that taking this class was rewarding in more ways than one. Not only does it teach writers to work collaboratively, but it helps the community form bonds that would normally be unattainable. This class accomplished its goal: people’s stories were told, and that’s all anyone really wants out of life—to know that they are heard.

Guest Post: Whittley Lewis on Her Transition to Law School

I’ve had a lot of exciting things happen in the last few months: I was accepted at three law schools, was offered scholarships to attend law school, and graduated with a degree in English from Ball State.  Yep, I’m an English major going into something other than teaching or publishing—the two occupations family and friends assume my major is good for.

My emphasis was in Rhetoric and Writing, which means I’ve learned how to analyze other people’s arguments to find their reasoning strategies, strengths, and weaknesses.  I chose the major because writing and research interest me, and I was hoping that someone at Ball State could show me how to make a career out of doing what I love.  As it turns out, my professors in the Rhetoric and Writing program and an advisor from the Career Services Office helped point me in the direction of law school.

I never thought I would want to be a lawyer because all I could imagine was defending criminals.  Criminal defense is a noble profession, but not exactly my cup of tea.  Then I did some research and found out that for every hour a lawyer spends in the courtroom, there are ten hours researching precedents and writing analyses and opinions.  There are also lawyers who don’t ever have to go into a courtroom, but whose job it is to do all of the background research for a judge.  Moral of the story: there is a lot you can do with a law degree and the basic skills required are the same ones you need as an English student.

When I realized this was a direction I could really enjoy, it was time to apply to law schools.

First, I had to take the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test).  Turns out, being an English major is a great advantage for taking that test.  It’s a six-hour test that involves five sections of questions: reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, an essay, and a random section of experimental questions.  We practice at least half of those every day as English majors.  Reading comprehension and essay writing are kind of second nature to us.

The Logical Reasoning section may sound a little scary, but the skills you need for that section are skills very familiar to English students too.  According to the LSAC.org (Law School Admissions Council), this section tests students’ “ability to determine main points of arguments,… ability to find relevant information within a text, [and] ability to analyze and evaluate arguments.” Hey, we can do that!  The only other skill tested in this section is the “ability to apply logic to abstract concepts,” so that was one thing I had to study.

You can also master the Analytical Reasoning section—which is also referred to as ‘logic games’—if you just learn to read what the question is actually asking.  Analytical reasoning on the LSAT is like advanced reading comprehension mixed with common sense and math skills.

To apply to law school I also had to fill out a common application and write a personal statement. These are pretty standard, but I can say that I felt confident that my paperwork would stand out.

My English degree helped me apply to law school, but I also believe that it will help make me a great lawyer.  I chose my major because I love language—there is a power to our words that people often don’t take the time to realize.  I am good at reading texts and analyzing them. In fact, I’m even one of those nerds who thinks research can be fascinating and enjoyable.  Now that I’m embarking on the next step, I’m picking my path for much the same reasons.  My love of language, passion for helping people, and background in English have shaped me into a clear communicator; someone who can analyze not only texts and speeches, but also situations; a researcher; and someone who understands the power of language.  So I head off to law school with all of these weapons in my arsenal.

I never thought I would end up here, but I am confident that I can succeed in my new field because I picked a major I loved in college and worked my tail off at it, and happened to acquire some pretty amazing professional skills along the way.

Department of English Awards Ceremony Winners

Last month the English Department honored undergraduate and graduate students at the annual Awards Ceremony with over $13,000 in scholarships/awards.  See the list of recipients below.

Leslie & Patrick Ballard Scholarship

Kaitlyn Thompson

Elizabeth Martin Scholarship

Jeremy Carnes            Collette Herald

Meredith Sims            Michele Weldy

Dr. Janet Ross English Studies Scholarship

Tiffany Ellis

Frances Mayhew Rippy Graduate Scholarship

Nathan Myers            Monica Robison

Voss English Research Award

Tara Dickerson          Stephen Jones

Carol Chalk Memorial Scholarship

Emma Baumann

Writing Center Tutor of the Year

Tyler Gobble

Matt Jones Creative Writing Scholarship

Elysia Smith

Barry Wright English Scholarship

Kelly Stacy

Department Honors in English and Academic Honors in Writing

Megan Byard            Phillip Call

Tyler Gobble             JD Mitchell

Madeline Witek

Outstanding Graduating Senior

Phillip Call

Congratulations to all our winners!

Low-Res, High Motivation: an interview with Jill Christman (Part Two) By Cathy Day

Read part one of the interview.

Just ten or fifteen years ago, there were hardly any low-res programs, but they’ve grown exponentially. 

Not just low-residency programs. According to AWP’s statistics, in 1975, there were 24 undergraduate minors, 3 undergraduate majors, and 15 MFA programs nationally, now those numbers are 347, 157, and 184, respectively. It’s staggering, and only the numbers b/w 2009-2010 begin to indicate that we might be reaching saturation, leveling off.

Okay, this is something I think about a lot: Do you think there are more writers today because there are more programs? Or do you think that there are just as many people who want to be writers, but they are simply more visible now, because there are more programs?

That’s a terrific question, Cathy. Ever since we scratched on cave walls, we humans have had the desire to tell our stories. The narrative drive is strong in most of us. Think about it.  How many times—say, at the summer wedding of a friend—have you revealed that you are a writer by profession to another veggie-skewer-nibbling guest who is something else by profession—let’s say he’s a surgeon. How many times have you heard, “Oh! I have a story to tell! I want to write a book, too!”

Once I had a surgeon tell me this during a procedure.

Well, maybe that surgeon at the appetizer table or in the procedure room does have a book in him. But the transition and translation between a book-in-the-head to a book-on-the-page is not a simple task. Turns out, writing is not so easy. Writing takes training (which is not to say MFA necessarily—this can be done on one’s own with great big stack of books), practice, and a whole heck of a lot of work. I have a writer friend who tells these non-writer writers: “That’s great!  Write a draft of your book and I will look at it.”

Wow. That’s a great idea—and awfully generous, too. Do you have any snappy responses of your own?

I have only on one occasion had the opportunity and accompanying chutzpah to reply to a doctor who informed me—at a book reception in Minnesota—that he was “thinking about taking a summer off soon” so that he could write that book he had in him. My reply? “Wonderful! I was thinking of taking a summer off soon to do some surgeries.”

[Cathy laughs ruefully.]

I’m sure this sounds way too flip, but my point is this: For people with lives in full-swing who feel that need to tell their stories, that requirement to write and be heard, low-residency programs are a terrific way to become part of a vibrant writing community.

Okay, here’s my last question. Why do this? Why teach in a low-res program? You already have two jobs: one, being a professor, mentor, and colleague, an employee of Ball State University, and two, being a writer, the self-employed proprietor of your own writing “business.” What are the advantages of taking on another job? Mind you, I’m asking because it seems like almost every writer-teacher I know teaches in a low-res program, and I’m considering doing it myself!

When you lay out all my jobs here in a single sentence, Cathy, it makes me want to lie down and cry—or, at least, rest, but seriously, I ask myself this same question frequently. So why don’t I quit? Those two weeks every summer are vital to my engagement in the art and profession of creative nonfiction writing. My colleagues in the program inspire me, and we spend those weeks in close proximity: if I didn’t see them every summer, I’d miss them terribly. A typical day at Ashland consists of a morning run with one of my colleagues, a 3-hour workshop with fantastic students, a community lunch (where the topics range from manipulating multiple points of view in an essay to whether it’s a good idea to have key lime pie for dessert at lunchtime), afternoon craft seminars (hosted by faculty as well as visiting writers—again, on topics ranging from dealing with difficult material to syntax and setting, always with an eye toward the relationship between poetry, creative nonfiction, and truth), some afternoon writing and rest, dinner together, and an evening reading. It’s summer camp designed exactly for people like us.

It’s good and important to recharge your batteries.

I’m fortunate to teach at Ball State where I also enjoy a community of dynamic, hard-working, innovative writers who take their teaching and writing seriously, but I think it’s important to stretch myself as a teacher and a writer by getting this injection of new ideas and pedagogies every summer.  In the past few years, the Ashland program has hosted writers such as Nathasha Tretheway, Floyd Skloot, Debra Marquart, Brenda Miller, Tobias Wolff, Scott Russell Sanders, Patricia Hampl, Richard Jackson, C.K. Williams, and Bill Kittredge—to name a few—and this means I’ve had the opportunity to introduce Trish Hampl’s reading from The Florist’s Daughter, I’ve eaten dinner with Floyd Skloot as he shared the impetus and structure for one of my favorite essays, and I’ve sat weeping in the audience as Richard Jackson read a new poem that blew my sandals off.  It’s just an amazing experience, and as long as my family can swing it, I’ll do what I can to remain in this generative, supportive, inspiring writing community.  I guess the advice for students and faculty alike here is:  find a program with people you want to spend time with.

Creative Writing Students Immerse Themselves in Cinema

The Cinema Entertainment Immersion, or CEI, is one of Ball State University’s fantastic immersive learning ventures. It combines students from the departments of English, Theater, and Telecommunications to produce professional-quality short films. As with all of BSU’s immersive learning projects, the main goal of the CEI is for the students to gain a unique and practical experience. The CEI allows students to perform the central roles of film production, with students from the English Department’s Advanced Screenwriting course writing the scripts, students from the Theater Department’s Acting for the Camera course auditioning for and acting in the major roles, and students from the Telecommunications Department directing and producing the films. Throughout the project, the students involved learn how each role in film production works together as part of a cohesive unit to create a quality finished product.

Here’s what screenwriting Professor Matt Mullins had to say about the English facet of CEI:

“I select the best short scripts from the Fall Semester of English 410 (Advanced Screenwriting), and sometimes a few from English 310, if there are strong screenwriters in my section of the intro course.  Overall, I usually end up choosing between 15 and 20 student scripts for consideration for the CEI. Then Dwandra Lampkin (Theater), Rod Smith (TCOM), and myself sit down and pick the top five or six.  Those six scripts are then cast with students from Dwandra’s course and put into production by Rod’s students over the Spring semester in the context of TCOM 487 (the CEI course).  The finished films are then showcased every April at the CEI Showcase in Pruis Hall.

I think that the quality of the films is steadily improving.  I’m specifically focusing Fall sections of 410 around the idea of what creates a compelling story and what is suitable for the CEI in terms of story type/genre (i.e., no epics or sci-fi or ‘high-concept’ scripts); setting (things we can realistically film with the facilities here at Ball State—which do include some use of green screen/CGI); and age of the characters (the principals need to be roughly college-aged so they can be cast from the theater class).”

Because they require a lot from the students who participate, these immersive learning programs can seem daunting at first.  However, because of the extra effort, students get more out of these educational experiences both personally and professionally.  Such programs provide students with unique learning opportunities, enabling them to realize abilities that will prove to be valuable to their careers both during and after college.