March Student Spotlight: Courtney Turner

Courtney TurnerThis month, Academic Pursuits turns its spotlight on Courtney Turner, MA in Composition student. We thought it a good idea to have Courtney provide a part-time perspective of obtaining a Master’s degree in English. Read on to see why she decided to continue her education and how she juggles classes with her full-time job.

Q. What is your current position, and what are your primary responsibilities?

I am currently a caseworker for Oriana House, Inc, Electronic Monitoring Program. My job duties involve providing case management for adults and juveniles in the penal system. I mostly meet with people on the daily basis, and maintain an open dialogue with the referring court to ensure compliance with our program rules. On rare occasion, I install monitoring equipment, testify in court, prepare paperwork for audits and test equipment.

Q. Why did you decide to get a Master’s in English?

My undergraduate degree is in English and I enjoy both writing and reading. The long is, I thought it could help me in my current job duties, as a majority of my communication with courts, probation, etc. is done in written form. It was also my hope that I could engage in more creative work; whether in my current position or with something new.

Q. How will the degree help you in your current position?

In my current position, it will increase marketability. It will help me streamline my correspondences with the court and become more efficient.

Q. Why did you opt to go part-time instead of full-time?

The decision to go part-time instead of full-time was based on my work schedule and need to be accessible to the court and my clients during the day. I work long hours on most days, and I did not feel I would have been able to dedicate the time I desired to my studies or my job. I generally take two classes a semester, allowing myself time to complete all tasks without getting burned out.

Q. From beginning to end, how long will your Master’s take you to complete?

I started in Fall 2010 and will be finished in Spring 2013, so 2 1/2 years basically. No summer classes as of yet.

Q. What advice would you give someone who’s unsure whether s/he should go part-time or full-time?

I would suggest they evaluate their schedule and how furthering their education will affect other aspects of their lives. Because the classes require a high level of dedication and focus, any person considering pursing a Master's degree should be aware of how much they can handle.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Nope, not really. Thanks for the opportunity to express myself and how my academic career and professional career fit together. And also, to any perspective student, don't quit on your dreams or aspirations just because you cannot commit to going to school full-time.

Spotlight: Evan Chaloupka & Tabitha Martin

Evan Chaloupka and Tabitha MartinThis month, Academic Pursuits turns its spotlight on Evan Chaloupka and Tabitha Martin, graduate assistants working in the Law Writing Lab. Most students don’t realize the Department offers these positions, so we thought it a good idea to get some insight from these two on what it’s like and what they’ve learned along the way.

Q. What was the interview process like?
Tabitha- The interview itself was a little intimidating (for me at least), since I interviewed with five of the LARW (legal writing and research) professors—Nothing like having 10 eyes on you to make you nervous!

Evan- My interview process was a little less intimidating than Tabitha’s. I spoke with our supervisor over the phone and met in person with him and one other Legal Writing Professor.

Q. Did you need to have any prior knowledge of legal writing or how to edit it?
Tabitha- No, we didn’t need to have any previous knowledge of legal writing, and in fact they really don’t want us to; that’s the big reason that the tutors are from the English department and not the law school—we aren’t allowed to help the students with the “law” part of their writing, just the mechanics really. It’s easier to do that without even knowing the legal part! (I do have experience copy editing and proofreading, though, which may have helped.)

Q. Run us through a typical shift. What types of students come in, and what types of papers are you looking at? What are your duties?

Evan- We focus on legal briefs and memos, but I’ve seen just about anything law students might be writing: cover letters, law review articles, personal essays, etc. Our “business” is boom and bust. You can always tell when a memo is coming due because of a sudden influx of students (Likewise, you can easily tell when dead periods in the semester are).
Tabitha- We also hold about four workshops during the semester. We choose the topics, how to present them—like teaching a few classes—they usually cover areas that tend to trip up a lot of the students, like commas, concision, and editing strategies. We work with the professors, as well, to find out what kinds of problems they are seeing in the students’ writing.

Q. How might this be different than working in the Bierce writing lab? Obviously you're looking at a narrow subset of student papers, but what else might be different? Are you allowed to make corrections as you see fit, or only focus on what they ask you to look at?

Tabitha- We are really only looking at mechanics, of course, and really only a portion of the assignment. We try to get a feel for what the student is having trouble with and give them the tools to be able to see the trouble spots and work through them. By this time in their writing lives, most of them know if they tend to have trouble being concise, or with commas, or whatever. Most of the biggest problems at the beginning especially are just that they are still writing like undergraduates, for papers. Legal writing (at least how it taught here) is more concise, less wordy than we tend to be in papers for English or History, for example. Things like really complex sentences with lots of dependent clauses and “throat-clearing” phrases (like “There can be no doubt that…”) are discouraged, but it’s hard to see them in your own writing at first.

Q. What have you learned from this job?
Evan- I really have developed a deeper and understanding of discourse standards, how they function, and how the idea of universal, good, “Plain English” plays into them. I’ve also learned how to apply some of the ideas I was exposed to in comp classes to a unique and exciting group of students. It’s been challenging, but very rewarding, to transfer some of the theory from composition to a place like the law school. It’s not a stretch to see these two areas of the university on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of resources and prestige. So it’s very fun to see comp ideas translate and work well. Above all, I’ve learned that inadequate heating and cooling practices transcend all spheres of the University. With the help of my reliable bent paper-clip, I cool against the grain on a regular basis, subverting my oppressive A/C overlords who, at the likely urging of corporate interests, seek to make a quick, sweaty dime off of my seemingly complacent and complicit back. Please don’t tell the Panopticon.

Tabitha- That I don’t want to go to law school! Really, though, I find it interesting to see the changes that are taking place within the legal field in regards to writing. Lawyers are basically writers, and they are trying to learn not only all of the law background, but also how to write in this particular style that is the complete opposite of the stuff they read all day. It’s challenging; I found it so interesting that I wrote a paper about it last semester for Grammatical Structures. The other thing that I will say about being here is that while I really enjoy it, especially as a new grad student, it was that much more difficult to figure out how to “fit in” in the English department. I still feel odd in the GA office, for example, but everyone has been really nice and helpful. It’s just weird sometimes to have one foot in this world (the law library) and the other in Olin, at the opposite end of campus (we definitely get our exercise)!

December Student Spotlight: Fall 2011 Graduates

This month, we say goodbye to several of our brethren as they embark upon the journey to their careers. Rather than moving on without a backward glance, we asked them if they had any final thoughts they wanted to share with those of us left behind, and here is what a few of them had to say:

Q. Which professor inspired you the most?

Leon Markam - Dr. Egan. I believe his matter of fact approach to the state of the profession is refreshing and frank. He has a quirky sense of dry humor I appreciate as well as being a font of knowledge which he shares gladly to any and all that ask.

Maria Paxos - As an undergrad and grad at the University of Akron, English Department I would have to say Dr. Thomas Dukes. I just think he is one of those professors that changes not only your outlook on your college experience but most importantly the way you approach your everyday life.

Shane Fliger - This question was totally the hardest to answer, because (as Pollyanna as it sounds) every single professor I've had has inspired me in one way or another. I haven't gotten along with everyone, nor did I expect to; between conflicts of ideology and differing conceptualizations of the field, discussions and differences of opinion were only natural. That said, I've learned something about the nature of scholarship and the inner workings of the Academy from every graduate course I've been involved in.

Q. What was your most memorable moment?
Shane Fliger - My most memorable moment, bar none, was in the Milton seminar taught by Dr. Egan. We were all sitting in the Department's conference room, just catching up, when Egan walks in with a dead serious look on his face. He sits down and begins to introduce himself...and, face as straight as a poker ace, says "You may have heard I worship the Devil - this isn't true. I actually worship several." A few friends and I cracked up, but there was terror in quite a few eyes around that table. Everything I loved about grad school was summed up in that moment: totally irreverent humor, good friends, and demanding-yet-rewarding intellectual work.

Q. What is one piece of advice you want to leave behind?
Paula Iken - My advice is this: As you go through the program, value your fellow classmates. They are smart; you will learn much from them, and they will learn from you as well. If you are returning to school after many years away from it, hang in there! You know a lot more than you think you do.

Lindsey Render
- If I can offer one piece of advice, it would be to never be afraid to try something different. Now is the time to pursue your interests, many of which you may never have had the venue to do so before. Try something new, there will always be somebody who finds it as intriguing or full of opportunity as you do.

Maria Paxos - My advice would be to any incoming Graduate student. If you don’t think you have the time to do the assignments and or extra reading for your classes, think twice about continuing with the program.

Shane Fliger - One piece of advice...hrm..."Always knock twice on a professor's door before trying the knob. Some things can never be unseen." Seriously, I'd tell incoming grad students to push their own boundaries and not be worried about trying new things. Over my two years I found a growing interest for a scholarly area I wasn't sure could work or not, attended/presented/co-chaired at conferences despite my own nervousness, and made a ton of very cool contacts with people. This isn't undergrad; you're surrounded by people who share your geekiness, so just embrace it.

November Student Spotlight: Nick Sturm

Nick SturmNick Sturm is one of our students in the NEOMFA. He writes poems and word things that tangle your brainwaves and boom like a tuba in your heart. In addition to acting as associate editor for YesYes Books and finishing up his thesis here at the NEOMFA, he also curates monthly the biggest poetry party in Akron, the Big Big Mess Reading Series (we’ve mentioned it a lot here because it’s truly, truly exciting and grand). University of Akron graduate students Marlia Fontaine-Weisse and Kevin Kelsey asked Nick a few questions about the Big Big Mess, and they’ve granted us permission to re-post the interview here–some insights into how an event like this happens, operates, etc. Enjoy.


What is the Big Big Mess?

THE BIG BIG MESS is a contemporary poetry, fiction, and nonfiction reading series based in Akron, Ohio that brings nationally known poets and writers together with local students and writers in an attempt to consolidate as much of the energy and potential of the Northeast Ohio writing community as possible into one barroom. The goal is not only to provide a venue for well-known writers like Jason Bredle or Amelia Gray to read in Akron, but also to have the opportunity for our community of writers to meet and interact with the individuals we all look up to, both aesthetically and as editors, teachers, or publishers. Beyond that, I wanted the series to be a venue for people to develop a more direct connection with the small press industry that produces so much of the poetry and prose that MFA students are reading and excited by. An amazing list of small presses have been generous enough that every reading has been sponsored by a different nationally known small press, each of which donates free books to the series, in an attempt to hype the work of small presses while putting free awesome books, & other assorted treasures (like Ohio jigsaw puzzles), into the hands of awesome people.

What led to the formation of the Big Big Mess series / when did it start? What role did you have in its creation, and what is your job now?

Over the course of a few months early this year I became increasingly aware of a network of writer-run reading events hosted in bookstores, bars, and apartments all across the country. Really, I’d be on Facebook and see an event every week in Denver or Brooklyn always featuring all-star lists of young, exciting writers and one night in April I was just sitting around and was like, Wait, why can’t this happen in Akron? I immediately called Michael Goroff, a passionate, amazing fiction writer in the NEOMFA here at Akron, and ran the idea by him. He helped me right away to see into the specifics of the kind of event I was imagining and gave me the confidence to believe it would work. After that, I made the connection with Annabell’s Bar & Lounge (782 West Market Street in Highland Square) to host the readings in the basement bar, which has ended up being a perfect space. Then I had what I thought was the hard part in front of me: convincing writers I loved and had never met that coming to read in Akron for little to no money was worth it. But once I had the first reading set in May, everything started to fall into place at an incredible rate. By August I had the entire series booked through April. Looking back now it’s not that surprising that everyone was so willing to come read. Writers, especially younger writers or writers publishing with small presses, tend to be willing sacrifice a lot of “practical” concerns in support of their love for poetry and the community around it. THE BIG BIG MESS has been unbelievably lucky to host the writers who have been through in the last six months and I’m really honored to curate the series in support of those writers. I do everything from correspond with all the readers, make the fliers, write introductions, take them to dinner, buy drinks, to pulling out my couch for them to sleep on. It’s fun as all hell.

What does the submission/selection process involve for the Big Big Mess? Is it open mic with a few featured artists, or are only selected artists able to perform?  Can you give an example of what you look for when you pick people to read?

At first I considered making an open mic part of the plan, but then I decided against it pretty quick, so it’s only featured readers. I’ve felt bad the few times people have shown up after seeing a flier or hearing about it through word of mouth and are ready to read like it’s an open mic, but really I think it’s cool those people are showing up. It’s kind of this trick where you think you’re going to read some of your poems, but then there’s this person up there reading, like David Dodd Lee last month, who has published half a dozen books and made a career out of writing and publishing. It’s like showing up at a party thinking you’re going to play some Neutral Milk Hotel covers and when you get there Jeff Mangum is already playing. Regardless, the Upstart Crows, the creative writing section of the Literary Guild, hosts open mics regularly at Nervous Dog, Angel Falls, and Musica, so there’s plenty of space for everyone to read and be happy.

As far as how readers are selected, I’ll ask anyone whose work I’m psyched on. Like the series name, which is taken from the DEVO song “Big Big Mess,” I’m interested in some aesthetic wildness, a moving boldness, a carefully irreverent strangeness, anything that pushes and pulls and sings and is all wrong and electric in my heart. Now, there are a lot of writers who make me feel that way. The good and bad thing about that is that when I was getting everything rolling I asked a ton of people right away, so I filled up the whole schedule, which was amazing. But now, as I meet and read new people, I’m constantly wishing I could invent more months to host readings. Really, I wish there was a BIG BIG MESS every week. It would definitely live up to the messiness more. Obviously, in terms of asking people to read, there are geographic constraints, so it’s not easy for me to ask a poet in Portland to make a trip to Akron for a Friday night, but it’s been much easier to accommodate travel than one might expect.

What advice do you have for aspiring poets? Those who may want to perform?

THE BIG BIG MESS wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the dedicated, serious, fun loving, out-of-their-mind group of people who come to reading each month. So what’s the most important thing to think about, in my opinion, for an aspiring writer, is how to get involved in your own writing community, not to be passive. Hart Crane laments in his poem “Porphyro in Akron” that “in this town, poetry’s a / Bedroom occupation.” THE BIG BIG MESS is here to prove that wrong. The contemporary lit scene, like any arts community, isn’t supported by the dominate culture and media, and if it weren’t for independently run readings, the blood and guts work of small press and journals, and the willingness of aspiring writers to get the hell out of their bedrooms and participate, American literature would stall out permanently. THE BIG BIG MESS runs completely on the percentage of cash we receive from the bar after every reading. So far, that’s paid for gas money, drinks, and dinners for every writer who has visited. But if no one shows up, we run dry. The success of the series depends on your willingness to show up and have fun. It’s that simple.

Student Spotlight: Mike Krutel

By Marlia Fontaine-Weisse

Mike KrutelThis month’s featured student is Mike Krutel, MFA in Poetry candidate. His essay, “‘Resolved to play the jacks…to abuse your betters’: Social Insults and the Failure of The Knight of the Burning Pestle,” was one of only two by UA students selected for the 2011 Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference held at the Newberry Library. Below, he shares with us the benefit of going against the norm in student work.

This month’s featured student is Mike Krutel, MFA in Poetry candidate. His essay, “‘Resolved to play the jacks…to abuse your betters’: Social Insults and the Failure of The Knight of the Burning Pestle,” was one of only two by UA students selected for the 2011 Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference held at the Newberry Library. Below, he shares with us the benefit of going against the norm in student work.

Q. What inspired you to submit an abstract for the Newberry Conference last year?

Honestly, I never even gave a thought to trying to find a place to present a paper until Dr. Nunn brought it to my attention that there was a specific conference for Renaissance Studies. I took her Renaissance Drama Lit course in the fall of 2009, which as it happened gave me an entirely appropriate paper to submit to the conference. I thought, "Oh, cool, Chicago. I love going there," and sent my paper proposal in on a whim.

Q. What do you think made your essay stand out among the potential hundreds that were submitted?

That's a good question. I don't really know why. Maybe it was because my paper wasn't just another analysis of a Shakespeare, Jonson, or Marlowe play. My topic was directly applicable to social issues of the time during which the play took place, rather than just being about the play within itself. Also, it might have been some cosmic joke that the MFA student went to the Newberry instead of a Lit student.

Q. How did you come up with your paper topic? I vaguely remember why as it has been almost two years since. I do remember struggling to find something interesting enough for me to care to investigate and write about. Ultimately I may have chosen the play … because it was short lived, relatively unpopular in its time, and made penis jokes.

Q. Can you briefly explain the application process and what took place after your essay was accepted? The most consuming thing is writing a good abstract. This is what is ultimately chosen in the process, not the paper itself. I drafted quite a few times and worked with Dr. Nunn to get it all set right. Then after I was accepted, there were forms and correspondence with the event coordinators, but most of the work was involved in cutting my 15 page essay down to about 7. It was a pain trying to decide what was important enough to appear in the paper and yet still interesting enough that someone might pay attention while I read aloud. I guess that's important to note: YOU WILL READ ALOUD and should style the writing for that purpose.

Q. What are your future career goals, and do they include participating in more conferences? I don't know that any future goals will include the Newberry, seeing as how I am hopped up on poetry all the time. But yeah, I would like to participate in conferences in the future that deal more with poetry and/or creative writing in general. It would be one more way for me to force myself to focus on writing about something that I might easily study, put down, and move away from without the kind of structuring that paper writing forces you to do in such a specific way.

Student Spotlight: Lindsey Render & Shane Fliger

 By Marlia Fontaine-Weisse

Shane Fliger and Lindsey RenderThis month’s featured students are the soon-to-be-graduating Lindsey Render and Shane Fliger, MA in English Literature candidates. Their special sessions proposal, “Into the Digital: Video Games and English Studies,” was accepted by the Midwest Modern Language Association for its 53rd Annual Convention themed “Play…No, Seriously.” Here, they briefly share with us their inspiration and roles once accepted.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your session proposal?

Shane -- Dr. Nunn gave us the general information for M/MLA, especially considering our interests in video games in literary studies. Lindsey and I sat down and started brainstorming, and we realized we wanted to co-chair a panel that would represent the breadth of potential in studying video games.

Q. Why is it important to look at video games as literary texts?

Lindsey -- As life-long gamers, it quickly became apparent to us that games have just as much (if not more) literary merit as many books that we've studied over the course of our academic careers. Games deal with cultural and social issues that authors have been broaching for years, but in such a way that avoids being heavy-handed or preachy like a lot of the "classics" we continue to study. Games are art. Art reflects life. They are just screaming for some attention in the academic world.

Q. What do you think made your session stand out among the potential hundreds that were submitted?

Shane -- We worked very hard to ensure that our session would function as a launching point for a broad spectrum of ideas. Instead of focusing on one specific type of criticism, school of thought, or genre of game, we wanted our session to represent the potential worth of video games studies as a whole to the field of English Studies.

Q. What are your responsibilities now that you are co-chairing this session?

Lindsey -- Once our call for papers was posted, we had to sift through the abstract submissions and decide how and where they would fit into our session. After that, we just had to send out the acceptance emails and complete the session forms for the M/MLA organizers detailing the presenters and their papers. We are also responsible with keeping in contact with our participants and keeping them updated on any necessary information. Administrative work aside, the session should be pretty entertaining once we get to St. Louis.

Q. What essay are you contributing to your session?

Shane -- I will be presenting my essay, "Boys and Girls in the Sandbox: Gender and the Male Gaze in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV." In it, I discuss Grand Theft Auto IV through the lens of feminist film theory. Specifically, each of the love interests is discussed in terms of narrative and cultural impact. Interactive media in general, and GTA IV in particular, combines the male gaze with an editorial power that splinters the static male gaze into a more multi-faceted approach to female characters.

Lindsey -- I'm going to present my essay, “A New Literacy: The Positive Influence of Video Games on Community, Education, and Academia." I will discuss the overwhelming impact of video games on our society as a whole, from entertainment and social interaction, to education and academia.

Q. What are your future career goals, and do they include more video game analysis?

Lindsey -- As far as our future in the field, Shane and I have very similar goals. We both hope to teach and integrate games into our classrooms. We also intend to continue writing on the subject, and our copious and ever-growing experience with gaming continues to supply material. Shane is already publishing on the subject with the recent release of Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved with his essay, "Sandbox Confrontations." We hope to continue contributing to the discussion by organizing and contributing to more volumes around the subject. Dragon Age and English Studies, anyone?

Q. What words of advice/encouragement can you offer students who look to submit session proposals in the future?

Shane and Lindsey -- Go for it! Work hard, utilize your resources, and take chances. The organizers are looking for something original, so don't feel like you have to do the same old critical approach to the same old text.