To teach is to learn twice.
I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my career at Mount Mary during the past nine years – with a particular focus on the last three years – in this reflection letter. During my time here, Mount Mary has transitioned from a college to university, adopted a new school structure, and has become a creative campus. While doing so, it has remained steadfast in its mission to educate women to transform the world. I am proud of my part in this process, and am excited for the changes and developments yet to come.
Below I reflect on my contributions to Mount Mary in the areas of teaching, service, administration (as department chair), and professional growth. Finally, I reflect on how all of these areas align to fulfill Mount Mary’s mission.
One of the things that I like best about working at Mount Mary University is the opportunity to teach students in an intimate, supportive environment. Prior to Mount Mary, I taught at a large, Big-10 university and at a community college. While I enjoyed teaching in those settings, I felt that my ability to instruct and guide students was limited to the time spent in the classroom. Typically, I would have students for one semester, then they would go about their ways and there was a good chance that I wouldn’t ever see them again, just because of the sheer size of the campus.
As a student once said to me, there’s something special about Mount Mary. It’s not unusual for me to have the same students in numerous classes – and if they join the Arches staff, I’ll spend hundreds of hours with them per semester. I am afforded the opportunity to really get to know students – their strengths, their weaknesses, their hopes and dreams. At department meetings, we talk about students as if they are our own children. We want the best for them. We are able to witness their growth first-hand, from the time they first step foot into the classroom to the day they exit the Bloechl Center, diploma in hand. And even long after they have graduated, I still keep in touch with many of my students, offering advice and support as they navigate the next phase of their lives.
As a faculty member at Mount Mary, I wear many hats: adviser, mentor, student advocate, committee member, department chair, internship supervisor, colleague. But first and foremost, I am a teacher. Most of my time and efforts are focused on fine-tuning and improving this role. In the last nine years, since I first started working at Mount Mary, I have come a long way, but I know I still have a long way to go. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my progress, and I hope to use your feedback to help me continue to grow as a teacher.
According to Joseph Joubert, “to teach is to learn twice.” To be an effective instructor, regardless of the discipline, it is crucial to “learn twice”; not only do you need to have an in-depth knowledge of the course material in order to effectively relay that knowledge to your students, but you need to be willing to learn from your students as well. I find that I am best as a teacher when I allow my students to “instruct” in the classroom as well. Each classroom has its own, unique atmosphere, and a responsive teacher is willing to alter his or her pedagogy in order to best address each classroom’s particular needs. I find this to be most true when I am teaching students in the newsroom.
While I am officially the adviser of Arches, the student magazine, my role in the newsroom goes far beyond advising. I like to joke that I run a small business, where every semester I hire a new batch of employees with little to no experience with any of the tasks they were hired to perform. In a few short weeks, I need to train the students the skills they’ll need to produce a professional publication: how to interview sources, write news/feature/sports/opinion stories, edit, utilize AP style (the style guide for media professionals), fact check, learn InDesign and PhotoShop, create a magazine layout, design infographics, take photos, edit photos, write captions, sell advertising space, design ads, communicate with customers/clients, and publicize the magazine. In addition to this, we maintain social media sites and the Arches website, which is updated weekly. It’s an incredible task, and I’m always amazed that we somehow manage to get a publication out every month. But the transformation that these students undergo in a single semester is truly astonishing. Some semesters are more successful than others, of course, but I am always proud of the great strides that students make.
In a course evaluation from a few years ago, a student wrote, “Arches is run like a corporation.” I take that as a compliment. In many ways, Arches is run like a corporation – it has to be. As “employees,” each and every student has a responsibility to the organization and to the college to produce a professional, newsworthy publication, and to get it out on time. I tell my students over and over again that in a course like Arches, their work affects each and every person in the newsroom, and each and every person on campus. If they are late submitting a draft, the consequences affect the entire organization. If they don’t show up to their scheduled layout session, then someone else has to pick up the slack. There are no missed deadlines – we have a scheduled date that we send the magazine to the printer, and if we don’t get it done on time, we’ll lose our spot in the print cycle.
Getting a 40-page magazine out on time is no small feat. I think that many students are surprised that we can’t simply alter the print date. Technically, Arches is a small corporation; the success of the newspaper depends on each and every student working together – there isn’t a single story, photo, graphic or layout that is done in isolation. Every story has an editor and goes through multiple revisions. Every layout is done collaboratively. Every student must learn how to work with other staff members, regardless of discrepancies in skill levels and personality conflicts. And most of all, every student must become a teacher. The editors help the new reporters learn story structure. Reporters help each other find sources (people to interview) and write leads (the beginning of a story). Designers share ideas and help each other master the intricacies of InDesign, our layout program. The business manager helps the designers and editors plan the layout based on her ad sales. The transfer of knowledge in the newsroom in multi-directional.
Many students have contacted me after they have graduated and said that more than any other course they had taken, Arches best prepared them for the “real world.” It gave them the opportunity to be published and experience what it’s like to effectively work in a group. Sometimes, I think it’s difficult for students to have a “big-picture” perspective on their futures. They focus on doing well in their individual courses, but fail to consider what they need to do to land their first interview. I oversee internships in our department, and develop and maintain relationships with local publishers and businesses. I often ask them what they are looking for in interns or future employees. Every single editor said he or she would not even consider hiring an applicant who does not have a published writing sample. They don’t want to read essays. They don’t want to read a narrative about why the student was born to be a writer or editor. They want evidence that the student had the foresight to actually work as a writer or editor before graduation. Arches gives them this opportunity.
In the newsroom, students are continually “learning twice” … and thrice, as they expound upon their skills when they enter the workforce. And I am continually learning from students. Every student, and every classroom, is different, and I must continually adjust my teaching methods to accommodate different types of learning. Some students prefer a lot of guidance, and it’s not uncommon for me to sit with students to review five or six drafts of a story before publication. (One student revised her story 80 times! It was a long process, but she ended up winning the Arches award for Best Feature Story, and her story was even reprinted in the Shepherd Express.) Some students prefer to work with fellow reporters and editors on the initial drafts. Some students need a lot of hand-holding; some students like to try to figure things out for themselves first. Some students learn best by reading instructions; some students prefer a hands-on approach. It is my job as an instructor and adviser to accommodate all of my students’ multifarious learning styles. And in the process, I am always surprised by how much I learn from my students.
Continuing to use Arches as an example, I have learned how to balance the business of advising a campus publication with the pleasure of working as a close-knit group. The students in Arches work hard, but they also share a lot of laughs. I cannot count how many times I’ve been brought to tears of laughter as we joked around while working late in the newsroom. While it’s important to work hard, it’s also important that students take pleasure in the work that they do.
I have also learned how to be a better communicator – a skill that I am continuing to improve upon. Arches is unique in that every single student in the classroom has a different “job.” Some students write, some edit, some design, etc. In a traditional classroom, you assign a project, and every student completes the same project. Not in Arches. Therefore, I can’t “teach to the assignment,” since every student is working on a different project and utilizing different skills. Therefore, I need to teach students the broad-based skills they’ll need to perform their jobs well, regardless of their level of experience. Traditional lectures don’t work in Arches. I’ve been challenged to find creative ways to teach and communicate, and more often than not, this involves hands-on teaching and learning.
For example, I’ll sit down with a student before she does an important interview and conduct a mock interview to help her fine-tune her questions and approach. Or, I’ll walk a designer through a series of questions to help her understand why a particular photo should be placed in a dominant position on the page – or why it shouldn’t. I’ll help students make important ethical decisions by raising the potential pros and cons of running a controversial story or image and its possible consequences. Recently, I implemented weekly editorial and design training sessions based on student feedback from course evaluations. Every week, we have specialized training sessions in reporting/editing and design/layout; students can choose which sessions best serve their needs, and session topics are based on student feedback and suggestions. These sessions typically occur during the lunch hour, so students can choose which sessions benefit them.
Arches has helped me learn how to establish an environment of respect and trust, so every student can feel free to share her thoughts or ideas without the fear of being judged. It has also taught me how to be flexible in the way I deliver information to students.
Because the schedules of the staff on Arches vary widely, I decided to develop a virtual newsroom. To meet this end, we use a project management site called Basecamp. It’s a place where students can meet outside of the classroom, at their convenience, to post drafts, edit stories, give and receive feedback, check on the status of a story or graphic, plan the layout, track time, post messages, assign and complete tasks, upload and download files, chat and more. The Arches site is a bit different that other online teaching sites in that every draft of a story is saved and archived, and students can compare two different versions of a document to see which changes have been made. This is especially useful during the editing process, as it allows a reporter to see the changes an editor has made and spot any accidental deletions or mistakes. The site will also save transcripts of every chat or teleconference session, so if I plan an online training session and a student can’t attend, she can simply log on when she has time and read the chat transcript or listen to the audio recording. I also use Google Docs, which links to Basecamp projects, to provide students with real-time feedback and editing.
There are also many other features that I won’t elaborate on. My point is that technology has enabled me to further my instruction outside of the classroom, so every student, regardless of her schedule, could become involved in the magazine planning process. I’m able to see who has done what work, and students are able to see where a project is in the schedule. One concern I had is that students might not be as connected because they don’t have as much face time; however, I found quite the opposite to be true. Students seem to enjoy the easy access to classroom resources, and many communicate more frequently – and more efficiently – than when they are sitting next to each other in the classroom.
Mount Mary students typically have very busy lives – many of my students go to school, work full-or part-time, and are raising families. My goal is to do everything I can to alleviate the challenge of juggling multiple responsibilities. As a teacher, I am firmly invested in their success, so I try to create an environment where the delivery of information is presented across multiple platforms. If you would like to learn more, I created a generic login and password, so you may view how we used Basecamp to produce the spring 2016 issue of Arches (view instructions at the bottom of the “Teaching Materials” page).
The great strides that Arches has made over the last nine years are evident in the numerous awards we have won. When I first came to Mount Mary, Arches was rated by the Associated Collegiate Press as a third-class publication (its lowest ranking); it is now rated a first-class publication with multiple marks of distinction. One contest judge recently commented that “Arches is a fine example of collegiate journalism with diverse coverage of campus events and international affairs that touch readers’ lives; well-crafted pages that display the work of talented students; and leadership that strives to inform, entertain and engage students on a meaningful level.” In addition, we were named a finalist for a Pacemaker Award for our website, www.archesnews.com (the Pacemaker is often referred to as the Pulitzer Prize of student journalism). I have listed the awards we have won through the years in the “Arches awards” section of my portfolio.
I am proud that Arches is now recognized at national conferences as one of the best student publications in the country. When we attend student conferences, people recognize us. We compete against large state schools with a paid staff several times our size, million dollar budgets, and fully paid staffs of 75+ students. Many universities can offer their leadership staff members full tuition remission; we can offer them pizza. But there we are, receiving national awards right alongside them. This speaks to the dedication and passion of our students, and the warm and caring culture at Mount Mary. Our current editor-in-chief said that “Arches is like her second home.” I love that our staff members find their place in the windowless room in the basement of Bergstrom Hall!
Most notably, students who served as staff members are getting great jobs, working in their field. Check out this “Where Are They Now?” poster that Linda Barrington recently made that highlights where our students are now working.
Although I am proud of the great strides that Arches has made, I have a number of goals for the future. I won’t reiterate the detailed course modifications I make to Arches each year, or my planned modifications for future years, as these are outlined in my annual faculty updates, which are included in this portfolio (see section V, “Plans for Next Year”). However, I would like to reflect broadly on areas of future growth as a media adviser. My goals are to:
- Place more focus on multimedia journalism, as this is the future of news. We do some of it, but not enough. This means re-thinking how we structure the print publication. (I don’t want to eliminate print – the students learn so much by collaborating on a print publication – but they also need to fine-tune their digital skills.)
- Help students have the courage to take risks and tackle tough issues, especially issues related to diversity. We have a diverse campus, but our stories don’t reflect that diversity, at least not to their full possibilities.
- Help students better understand public records and how they can access them to use as sources.
- Help students better understand how to understand and represent data (data journalism is a hot field right now).
- Motivate students to go beyond minimum expectations. This is perhaps the most difficult task. How do you teach ambition? Drive? Taking students to national conferences, where they can see the outstanding work of their peers, helps. My goal as an adviser is to help students see that their potential is as great as their ambition. I am constantly thinking about how I can give them the confidence they need to ask the right questions and the tools they need to become reporters who aren’t afraid to seek (and expose) the truth.
Professional/New Media Writing
Outside of Arches, my primary goals in teaching are to help my students become actively engaged in literature, develop analytical thinking skills and persuasively articulate their thoughts. In the past decade, I’ve taught a wide range of courses in new media writing, journalism, professional writing, and creative writing, working with students from diverse backgrounds. Regardless of their ethnicity, age or ideologies, I’ve come to realize that most students are surprised to learn that there is an audience for their ideas. In my experience, learning how to effectively and convincingly express their ideas is what challenges students most; most were trained to “borrow” ideas from others and support them with outside sources. In my courses, I encourage independent thinking while teaching students how to use sources – including interviews, course texts, film and various other media – to help them expound upon and develop their original ideas.
In order to actively engage students in the course material, I always dedicate time in the beginning of each semester to learn about the students’ interests and concerns, and throughout the semester develop exercises that connect their lives to the texts that we are studying. I also encourage students to open their minds to ideologies and cultures unlike their own, so that they may transcend their own lives to better understand others. To help them do this, I provide students with a wide range of models and perspectives to study. For example, in my creative writing courses, we study literature from a variety of time periods and cultures, from classic authors such as Hemingway to contemporary international authors such as Haruki Murakami and Chinua Achebe. I’ll also incorporate a variety of media, such as film, drama or podcasts, to help students understand how story is translated in a variety of mediums. By looking at a story from a variety of perspectives, students are able to better understand the complex ways that meaning is communicated through media. In addition, by analyzing film or media in relation to the original sources, students are able to examine how cultural material is made up of particular signs and symbols that can be interpreted and decoded, and how these representations may not be accurate depictions of a person or group, but artificial constructions that are shaped by the cultural environment in which we live.
Furthermore, I try to actively engage my students in coursework by demonstrating how the skills they are learning have a direct impact upon their lives – and the lives of those they care about. To meet this end, I try to incorporate service learning and a social justice theme into my assignments whenever appropriate. For example, in Intro to New Media Writing, students developed social media strategy plans for a social justice issue. They created an “action plan” that illustrated how they would use social media to benefit a social justice cause of their choosing. One student showed how she would use social media to raise funds for a local homeless shelter, for example; another described how social media could be used to combat bullying in Milwaukee area high schools.
I believe in being upfront and direct with my students. Students need to know the rules, guidelines and boundaries of the course from day one; in my courses, each individual assignment is reviewed thoroughly in class. I always follow lectures with handouts, including a “tips” sheet (detailed advice for each major writing assignment), so students have something concrete to refer to as they are writing. I also make sure to review key concepts in class every week. In my experience, students learn best through repetition, and in order to have thoughtful, intellectual discussions about the assigned readings, they need to feel comfortable and secure employing the course vocabulary.
After teaching several writing classes (and having taken several myself), I have come to realize that the best way to teach writing – whether it is professional, expository or creative writing – is to learn by example: through the careful study of established writers, and thoughtful critique of the work of one’s classmates and peers. When marking a student’s work or discussing it in class, I first tell the writer what is working well in the piece, then carefully discern its weaknesses. By doing so, beginning writers are more comfortable with the evaluation process and are more inclined to contribute in class and give constructive feedback to their classmates.
One of the most wonderful things about teaching any writing course is the intimacy that is developed among the students as they share and discuss their work. Beginning writers are very vulnerable, and by sharing their analytical or creative work with peers in a workshop or small group setting, they come to understand the difficulties that all writers struggle with and gradually become more confident. Most importantly, they learn how to read texts critically by reviewing the work of their peers. The thinking process that is developed when evaluating a classmate’s work – the meticulous dissection of structure, language, argument – is any writer’s most valuable tool for reading and revising his or her own work.
Revision is an important component of all of my writing courses. The hyper-environment of the modern-day world has bred a generation of students that expect immediate results. Becoming a better writer and more analytical thinker is never immediate; it is important to encourage students to constantly better their work while helping them understand that great improvement comes only with practice. I require revisions of major writing assignments in all of my writing courses and provide thorough and detailed comments on all work. In addition, I am a firm believer in individualized instruction; I make a point to meet with each of my students in a private conference at least twice during the semester and am available outside of class to meet with students who would like to further discuss their work or the course material.
You will notice that I try to be very explicit and detailed in my syllabi and assignment sheets. I am a firm believer in being very clear in telling students how I will grade and evaluate their work. I also think it is important that students know how they are doing grade-wise at any point during the semester. Therefore, I am fond of using a point system as a method of evaluation. For every assignment, students can earn a certain number of points, which translate to a letter grade. If a student ever questions her grade, she simply needs to add the points that she has earned so far and divide it by the total number of points for the class (or I can easily provide this to her). I also make sure students not only understand the subjects that will be covered in the class, but also each individual assignment – and how these assignments meet the overall objectives of the course, the English department and the University. A detailed class schedule helps to ensure that every student knows exactly what is expected of her, and when assignments are due.
I take my course evaluations and student feedback very seriously. In addition to the college course evaluations, I collect my own course evaluations twice during each semester: halfway through the course and at the end of the semester. I tailor these evaluations to each course, asking questions about specific assignments, the textbooks, etc. The midterm evaluations allow me to modify the course as necessary, and the end-of-semester evaluations allow me to ask targeted, specific questions that are not covered on the evaluations provided by the college. I included copies of the official college course evaluations in this portfolio and would be more than happy to provide copies of my personalized course evaluations should you desire them.
I frequently develop blogs for my courses, especially those courses where I teach media literacy skills. The blogs allow me to easily communicate with students online, share information, post learning tutorials and videos, and link to relevant course information. In the “Teaching Materials” section of this portfolio, I’ve included links to several of the blogs I created in my courses. The blogs are still live, so you are welcome to visit them.
While this portfolio demonstrates the subject matter of my courses and, hopefully, my methods of organization and level of detail, it does not necessarily give you an accurate picture of my approach. For example, if you were to observe one of my classes, you would notice that I encourage interactivity in the classroom with in-class discussions, writing exercises, peer review sessions and group work. Furthermore, I utilize a variety of media in the classroom to complement the course literature, including videos, podcasts, blogs and film. While writing is often a solitary art, learning how to be an effective writer requires not only careful analysis of published work, but also feedback and encouragement from your peers. Thus, peer review and workshopping is a critical component of all of my writing courses. My goal is to create a learning environment where new writers can feel comfortable, supported and challenged.
More than anything, becoming a good writer takes practice, and lots of it. I strive to create a supportive environment for students while motivating them to produce their best work. I usually devote at least 10 minutes of each class to writing exercises or small group exercises and I try to create a workshop or peer review environment that treats every student with equal respect and attention. In order to ensure that students have done the assigned reading and are prepared for class, I often assign several short response papers or mini-assignments so that they come to class prepared to discuss the readings in a focused, critical fashion. These shorter assignments help break the ice, as I will often have students share portions of them with the class in order to stimulate discussion. In addition, they prepare the students for the longer papers, where I expect more sustained and deep analyses of the texts.
I believe the role of a writing instructor is to be an enabler and supporter, and I encourage students to bring their own unique experiences and lives to the classroom. Thus, I am especially interested in assignments that help students explore their inner territories, histories and distinctive ideologies, which they can then shape into thoughtful, analytical articles, essays or fiction. Yet, I also encourage students to explore the imaginative landscape of those unlike themselves and transcend their own cultural time and space to better understand and portray others. To help them do this, I provide students with a diverse range of models to study and expose them to a wide variety of perspectives, helping them gain a stronger appreciation of the vibrant literary culture around them. Above all, I require extensive drafting and revision in all of the writing classes I teach, and remind students that becoming a good writer means that you learn by example, read with a critical eye and ear, and practice, practice, practice. They too must “learn twice” – from the instructor or text, and from each other as well.
Looking forward, there are several things that I would like to improve upon in the area of teaching. I realize that while I think I am doing many things well, teaching – like writing – is a process of revision. No two classes are the same, no two semesters, no two students. I am constantly revising my course assignments and syllabi based on feedback I receive from my students, and likewise, I continue to develop and fine-tune my teaching methods.
One thing that I constantly struggle with is managing the time that I devote to grading. Grading and commenting on writing assignments is inherently time-consuming, but I know that one of the things students value most about my courses is the amount and quality of feedback that I give to them. However, the length of time it takes to provide written feedback on an assignment means that it sometimes take a little longer than I’d like to return graded work. I’ve begun developing ways to simplify the grading process, while continuing to give quality feedback. I’ve created evaluation templates for students in Arches – a reporter form, editor form, designer form, etc. – with specific criteria that need to be met and a scale that corresponds to each criterion. Each student in Arches completes different tasks throughout the semester, depending on her role. The customized evaluation forms have made it much easier to review student work. In addition, within the past two years, I’ve required students to submit midterm and end-of-semester portfolios, where they select the work that they feel is the strongest to be graded. I’ve loved this change – instead of re-evaluating every single story that the student wrote or design that she created, I can focus on the pieces that she feels best represent her. Students appreciate the ability to write extra articles or eliminate stories from the portfolio that weren’t as strong as the others, for whatever reason.
In other classes, I’ve created grading sheets that utilize a point system where I can score the students on certain criteria. For example, if they are writing a news story, I’ll give them up to five points if they correctly attributed their sources. I’ll even include tips or a checklist for each criterion, so I’m not repeating the same comments on several student papers. Then, I’ll leave space for more broad-based, general comments. In addition, I’ve started embedding audio feedback into my responses. This works really well for layout assignments, and I’d like to try to use it for other assignments as well, such as multimedia pieces. This cut down on the time it took to review student work.
I’m also trying to get students more involved in the “grading” process by allocating more class time for workshop and peer review. In Arches, students review each other’s stories and often complete a revision before I even see it. In my new media and creative writing courses, I set aside time for writing workshops, where students have time to share their work and have a frank discussion about it. I’ve found these workshops helps students iron out major problems before the drafts even get to me, allowing me to spend more time on “deeper” issues within the texts.
In addition, I am incorporating peer mentoring in the classroom. Because I tend to over-prepare for class, I wonder if I also tend to over-instruct. I am deliberately carving more time out of each class for peer review, discussion and the sharing of ideas. For example, in Blogging for Writers, I assigned students peer review partners, and each week students met with their partners to discuss the progress of their blogs, review work, and share ideas. These discussions were enormously fruitful, and helped to keep students on task with deadlines and the development of their final projects.
Further, I’d like to continue to develop my technical skills, especially in relation to new media, Web 2.0 tools, and mobile journalism. The media landscape is rapidly evolving, and I feel that it is my responsibility as an instructor to keep up. There is a growing trend for corporations to utilize social media tools to expand their market reach, and today’s successful writer must be adept at using these tools for business. While they may tweet their friends about their relationship problems or what they ate for lunch on a daily basis, developing poignant messaging for a business is an entirely different skill. It’s important to have an understanding of audience and how language and tone changes to meet a particular audience’s needs.
In fall 2012, I implemented an iPad loaner program, which has enabled students in our Writing for New Media classes to have easy access to the technology needed to create effective multimedia pieces. Students in my Intro to New Media course used iPads to record podcasts, and students in my Writing for Print & Web course used them to create multimedia packages. The program has been very successful; students can now communicate with one another virtually outside of the classroom and collaborate on projects. We also purchased two iPad rigs, which allows us to use the iPads for mobile journalism purposes.
Because we are a creative campus, I am always thinking about how my teaching and assignments can encourage creative thinking while furthering the mission. For example, in Intro to New Media, students worked in groups and used design thinking to create podcasts to advocate for a social justice issue that they are passionate about. In Advanced Writing for New Media, students developed digital stories to help viewers better understand the unique narratives of their lives. Allowing students to educate others about a topic they were passionate about not only helped them improve their media skills, but also empowered them to understand that they can make a difference and impact the world in a meaningful way.
As an educator, I consider service to the university to be a privilege and learning opportunity. In the past nine years, I have served Mount Mary as its campus media adviser, and by serving on a variety of committees.
As the adviser of Arches, I am heavily involved in college service. Arches is unique in that it functions both as a class, where students can earn credit for participating on Arches, as well as a student organization, for which students can volunteer. While I might only have ten students enrolled on Arches for credit, there are approximately 20-25 students “working” for Arches at any given time, if you include the student volunteers. Arches is unique in that is falls under both “teaching” and “service.”
I give the student volunteers (who are part of Arches as a campus organization) the same time and attention that I give to the students who are earning credit. I train them on how to use our software, I teach them how to write a news story, I teach them editing techniques, I read multiple drafts, I give them endless feedback, and I formally evaluate their work and progress after each issue. I also train and supervise four work study students – the editor-in-chief, the business manager, the art director, and the website manager – for no additional compensation (monetary or credit-wise).
One of my goals during the last several years was to encourage students from a variety of majors to join Arches (not just English and graphic design majors); we now have staff members majoring in dietetics, justice, occupational therapy, business, fine art, communications and other majors. During the weeks that we are doing layout, it is not uncommon for me to spend 40-50 hours per week working on Arches-related activities alone. It is incredibly time-intensive, but it is also very rewarding. I am incredibly proud of the progress that Arches has made during the last nine years. A campus publication is an important historical document – it helps to preserve the rich and varied history of Mount Mary for future generations and a great way to connect with alums. But it is also an important outlet for students to express their voices. I am so grateful that the administrators at Mount Mary allow Arches to run independently, without the constraints of prior review. Students need to know the importance of free speech and it’s so important that they have an outlet for their voices to be heard. They need to know that they can make a difference, and that their words count and have impact. Giving them the opportunity to express themselves through Arches empowers them to use their voices to make a difference in their communities.
Arches also gives students an opportunity to be published. I’ve talked to many editors (I used to be one myself), and they have all said that they will not even consider hiring a student for an internship without a published writing sample. I tell students the easiest way to get published is by working on Arches. Many students lack the foresight to consider what they need to do to land a job – while it’s certainly important to get good grades, the truth is that the potential employer will care more about the quality of your published pieces than your GPA. I’ve had several students land great jobs and internships as a direct result of their experience working on Arches. Our most recent graduate, Brittany Seemuth, is now a reporter for Gannett. Nastassia Putz now publishes her own magazine, Fetch. And Lorie West is an editor for Reader’s Digest. These are just a few of the examples of students who have successful careers related to their work on Arches.
In the past three years, Arches has gone through several major print and web redesigns, and transitioned from a newspaper to a magazine. We’ve also made great strides in how we cover stories on the web, winning major national awards for our multimedia coverage. The Arches website gives students a little more flexibility, and it also widens the audience for Arches readers. Alumnae can simply go online to read Arches stories. Parents can see their kids’ names in print, and instantly forward the story to grandparents, friends and the like. Hopefully, the website will help spread the word about Mount Mary and generate more interest in the university.
In future years, I’d like to develop a scholarship fund for Arches. Arches now earns enough ad revenue to cover conference expenses and other costs, such as student awards. However, I’d like to establish a formal scholarship line for promising reporters or designers. Linda Barrington and I have been in contact with the Development office in an attempt to establish a donor line, and we’d like to reach out to local businesses and organizations to see if they would be willing to sponsor Arches scholarships or conference attendance. I think this will help to attract students to Arches and generate more publicity.
I’ve been working hard to build excitement in the newsroom. In addition to our annual writing, layout and photography awards, Aches has a monthly “Excellence Award” program, where students who have made a significant contribution to Arches can earn a modest Barnes & Noble gift card and a special awards certificate. These have been a big hit in the newsroom, and are a small way to recognize students who have put forth extra effort or helped out another staff member. I plan on continuing this incentive program next year, and hope to develop additional reward opportunities (not necessarily monetary) that will hopefully help to motivate students to produce their best work.
Committee Work, fall 2013- spring 2016
Below is a brief outline of committee work during the past three years:
- During the 2013-2014 academic year, I was elected to the Promotion & Tenure Committee as an alternate, and I am pleased that I will be a full member of the committee beginning fall 2016.
- During the 2015-2015 and 2015-2016 academic years, I was appointed to the Curriculum Committee. While on this committee, I reviewed numerous proposals for new programs, including the new nursing completion program and food sciences degree. In addition, I created fillable PDF forms for adding or modifying core designations.
- Beginning fall 2015, I was appointed to the Innovative Technology in Education Committee (ITEC). I also served on ITEC’s Distance Learning subcommittee. During this past year, I worked with fellow committee members to review the University’s distance learning procedures and protocol, as well as make recommendations for how to best prepare faculty who teach online courses, including a timeline and procedure for online course proposals.
While juggling teaching, college service, and a busy 18-year-old, 6-year-old, and 3-year-old leaves me little free time, I do my best to allocate some time to serve the community as well. I volunteer for our local high school’s parent-led arts organization and have serves as a marketing coordinator for the Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, Ill.
Most recently, I have served as a volunteer reading instructor for Hawthorn District 73 in Vernon Hills, Ill. In the future, I’d like to become even more actively involved in community service. I’ve always wanted to start a local writer’s group, where I could use my creative writing experience to support and guide new writers. My graduate training is in creative writing, but so much of my teaching and service has been devoted to journalism. I’d love the opportunity to network with local writers and help them learn the skills to become better fiction writers or poets.
REFLECTION OF ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICE & ACCOMPLISHMENTS
In fall 2014, I assumed the role of Chair of the English Department. This has been an incredibly rewarding, albeit demanding, experience. I feel that I still have a lot to learn as department chair, but I am proud of my accomplishments so far. One of the greatest benefits of chairing the English department is that I have learned so much about our curriculum. I have also had the opportunity to take a deep look at our course offerings, and work with my colleagues to refresh the curriculum.
I am blessed to work with wonderful colleagues and a vibrant, talented department that is incredibly supportive of one another. In the past two years, we have accomplished so many things: we completed a successful search for a new faculty member (Dr. Debra Brenegan, who has been a wonderful addition to the department), we have done a complete revision of the curricula for the graduate and undergraduate programs, and we’ve proposed several new programs, including a 3+2 five-year BA/MA in English, an MFA in Creative and New Media Writing, and a minor in creative writing. Details of my accomplishments can be viewed in the “Department Chair – Highlights & Accomplishments” section of my portfolio, but I have included them here as well:
- Spearheaded the proposal of a 3+2 dual degree in English (proposal is currently under review by administration). The goal is to attract students to both the undergraduate and graduate programs.
- Assisted with the proposal of an MFA in Creative and New Media Writing (proposal is currently under review by administration). The MFA has the potential to immediately grow the program, as the interest in a terminal degree in creative writing is strong.
- Worked with English department faculty to propose a minor in creative writing (proposal is currently under review by administration).
- The department revised its entire graduate and undergraduate curricula in order to offer a greater variety of courses, increase class size, improve efficiencies and make the programs more attractive for majors and prospective students.
- The English department closely monitored class sizes and streamlined course offerings or reduced the number of sections offered in order to increase the average class size for our courses. In fall 2015, our average class size was 15, which has been established as the University’s benchmark for average class size. In spring 2016, the average class size was 14.
- The department worked closely with marketing to initiate efforts to market the Writing for New Media concentration, such as sending marketing materials to high schools with strong journalism programs and developing a social media presence.
- The department has worked hard to promote the Writing for New Media concentration by promoting it in the press and through various forms of media.
- The department is developing new blended or online courses, such as Advanced Writing for New Media (blended), Technical Writing (online), and Composition II (online).
- I revamped our undergraduate professional writing courses to include the digital writing, editing and design skills necessary to succeed in a variety of careers, and I will continue to modify courses to ensure market need is aligned with the skills developed in our courses.
- Led a search for an Assistant Professor of English with a focus on new media writing (position was retracted after search was completed).
- Participated in a search for an Assistant Professor of English with a focus on creative writing (we are fortunate that Dr. Debra Brenegan filled this position).
- Worked with the marketing department to develop promotional materials for the Writing for New Media program, such as this Writing for New Media Brochure.
- Developed flyers to publicize classes, such as this New Media Course Flyer.
- Worked with Townshend Communication to develop a story about the Writing for New Media program for its Major Mondays website. (I did not write the story, but I coordinated interviews, provided information, and edited drafts.) The story can be viewed here and was sent to more than 5,000 subscribers.
- Conducted new media training sessions for English department full-time and adjunct faculty.
Most significantly, I have been instrumental in revamping the English department curriculum, particularly at the undergraduate level. Beginning fall 2013, the English Department launched the Writing for New Media concentration in response to the industry’s demand for media-savvy writers. I cycled through our professional writing courses and redesigned the curriculum from scratch. We have the only new media writing program in the Milwaukee area. The revamped major has already attracted new students to the program, and hopefully will continue to result in increased enrollment.
In the future, I’d like to investigate the possibility of hosting a summer writers’ conference or one-day workshops at Mount Mary in order to serve the student body and generate publicity for the campus. While a graduate student at Indiana University, I was the assistant director of its summer writing conference, one of the oldest and most prestigious writing conferences in the country. Therefore, I have a lot of experience with coordinating a writing conference, and I think it could be an invaluable experience for students and generate publicity for the University. I would also like to investigate the possibility of offering one-day new media workshops that would be open to students or the community. Whenever I attend blogging conferences, participants are interested in our program, but most are not from the area. However, they expressed interest in attending short courses or weekend programs focused on blogging or new media instruction.
I know I still have a lot to learn as department chair. I can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of work required of my position; it can be incredibly difficult to juggle the demands of advising Arches, chairing a department, teaching, and maintaining an active professional development regimen, while maintaining some sort of work-life balance (does that exist?). I am a perfectionist by nature, and I know this sometimes results in me spending too much time on certain tasks, resulting in others to be neglected. I am always working on ways to better manage my time and communicate with my department.
I hope I am a strong advocate for my colleagues and am there for them when they need me. I am trying to maintain an open door policy, where my colleagues, in particular adjunct instructors, can come to me with questions and concerns. During the chaos of the semester, it is sometimes easy to get caught up in your own work, but I am making a consistent effort to be more forward-thinking and approachable.
In particular, I am trying to develop ways to help the part-time instructors feel like an integral part of our department. The size of the full-time English department has significantly shrunk in the past five years – we now only have four full-time faculty. As a result, our adjunct pool has increased in size. In order to help part-time faculty feel like a part of our team, we invite them to department meetings, events, etc. But it is often difficult to maintain consistent communication with them.
To help with this, I am developing an English Department blog; my hope is that this can develop into a central resource of information about our department and courses, can serve as a virtual communication tool, and can help our part-time faculty feel like an integral part of our department. In addition, last year I launched a series of new media training workshops for full-time and part-time faculty, so they can learn about how they can take advantage of our iPad loaner program and incorporate new media technology and skills into their courses. My hope is that these training sessions not only serve to keep our curriculum updated and fresh, but they also help create a sense of unity across the department. I hope that my colleagues feel supported and valued.
PROFESSIONAL & SCHOLARLY GROWTH
While teaching at Mount Mary, I continue to work as a professional writer in order to keep current in my field. I currently write and edit an employee newsletter and various financial publications for Fidelity National Financial, a Fortune 500 company. I also developed an iBook for them, which serves as an employee manual and resource guide, and wrote the copy for their website, www.fnf.com. In 2013, I became the Art Director of Chicago Baseball magazine – a magazine that my husband and I own – and I serve as the website manager of www.ChicagoBaseballMag.com.
Because I frequently teach blogging, I also wanted to keep my blogging skills fresh, so I started blogging for Little Lake County, a popular, hyperlocal parenting website serving Lake County, Illinois. A team of editors carefully reviews and selects story ideas, and reviews the blog posts for potential publication. The site is very popular in the region, with thousands of unique viewers per day.
In the nine years that I’ve been at Mount Mary, I’ve written more than 20 feature stories for West Suburban Living, a lifestyle magazine, in addition to numerous articles for other publications. These articles are carefully selected and reviewed by a panel of editors. One of my articles, “Connecting in and out of the classroom: Social media allows college teachers to create extended learning communities,” was especially significant in that it gave me an opportunity to learn how a variety of colleges are incorporating social media into many aspects of college life, including teaching, admissions, campus security and residence life. This article sparked by interest in new media and fueled my desire to revamp our English Professional Writing major to incorporate new media technologies.
My goal in working as a part-time professional writer isn’t to take time away from teaching. (Most of this work occurs during the summer months.) My responsibilities at Mount Mary have always been, and will continue to be, a priority. However, I firmly believe that in order to teach professional writing well, you must have experience working as a professional writer. Today’s work environment is in constant flux. New technologies are being introduced every day. The work environment and expectations for writers is constantly shifting in order to accommodate new forms of media. In order to prepare my students to be successful in the workforce, I must stay abreast of these new technologies and writing forms. For example, 20 years ago, blogging was virtually unheard of. Today, it is one of the most rapidly growing professions for writers.
I make a point to attend several national journalism, new media and creative writing conferences every year (all of which are detailed in my faculty updates), and have presented at national and regional conferences, such as BlogHer, the Associated Writing Programs annual conference, the Associated Collegiate Press Best of the Midwest Conference, and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s annual conference and trade show. I am also on the Board of Directors of the newly formed Wisconsin College Media Association, which works to enhance journalism education throughout the state of Wisconsin. I work with fellow board members to develop a college media track at the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s annual trade show and conference, and we support the Collegiate Better Newspaper Contest. Our ultimate goal is to cultivate a statewide network of student journalists and advisers, allowing for an inclusive, ongoing media conversation among student media groups.
I have several goals for my scholarly development over the next several years. I am currently working on a draft of a young adult novel. I’d like to devote more time to creative writing and hope to submit short stories to national literary journals for possible publication. I’m also in the process of writing a children’s picture book and am looking for an agent/publisher who specializes in this area.
I’d also like to continue my education about various forms of new media/social media. New tools are being developed all the time (SnapChat, anyone?), and I feel that it is my responsibility to keep up. I’d like to develop a blog focused on new media pedagogy, and I’d like to expand my publishing reach by submitting articles to national magazines. I will continue to work as the art director and website manager for Chicago Baseball Magazine, which has been an enormously educational experience. Finally, I am working on developing an online flash fiction website, and hope to launch this within the next year.
My goal is to dedicate more time to scholarly and creative work in the coming years, without taking time away from teaching and administration, which is my first priority. I’ve had a novel brewing for several years now – I want to bring it to life! I imagine that finding time will continue to be a challenge.
FULFILLING THE MISSION
In my teaching, service and professional development, I always have Mount Mary’s mission in mind. The mission – helping women to transform the world – drives every syllabus I develop, every lecture I prepare, and every article I write. My goal is to use education to help our students develop into responsible citizens, committed employees and compassionate community members. My hope is that our students, upon graduating from Mount Mary, will not only be better prepared in a professional sense, but they will have also embraced the deep sense of social justice that is at the heart of Mount Mary’s mission.
Here are just a few of the ways that I embed Mount Mary’s mission into my teaching, service, and professional development:
- During Arches planning sessions, I encourage students to choose stories that adhere to Mount Mary’s mission. While as a matter of principle I do not censor stories, we have frequent discussions about whether particularly controversial topics might not be in keeping with Mount Mary’s mission and values.
- I encourage Arches staff members to highlight the good work the college is doing across the campus, and to shed light on the departments and people that make Mount Mary special. To meet this need, we decided to publish a special edition every year called reMARK, which focuses on one particular topics and area of the University. We’ve already covered fashion, science, and food, and in winter 2016, we plan to publish an issue of reMARK highlighting the school of Art & Design.
- In all of my classes, I emphasize critical thinking. In my creative writing courses, students learn how to dissect and analyze each other’s work and provide constructive, critical feedback. In Arches, I provide detailed peer review sheets, helping students learn how to read critically and pinpoint mistakes, gaps or holes in each other’s stories. And in professional writing courses such as Intro to New Media Writing or Writing for Print & Web, students learn how to evaluate and analyze professional materials, such as websites, journal articles, or case studies, and use them to support their research.
- Whenever possible, I try to incorporate a service learning approach to my teaching. For example, in Technical Writing, students were asked to find a campus or community “problem” and research ways to “fix” the problem. The problem had to be real and of a small enough scale that it could be adequately researched within the time frame of the semester. One group researched ways to reduce print expenses by 25 percent at a local elementary school; another developed ways to reduce euthanasia rates at a local animal shelter; another explored ways to better educate Mount Mary students about healthy eating choices. Students enjoyed working on “real” problems and doing “real” research, and many sent their final reports and recommendations to their respective organizations for review and implementation.
- Whenever possible, I try to incorporate a social justice theme into my assignments. For example, in Intro to New Media Writing, students developed proposals to outline how they would use social media to call attention to a social justice cause they were passionate about.
- As an instructor and an adviser, I continually find myself going beyond the call of duty to help our most needy students. For example, one of our financially challenged students was worried about missing final exams because she no longer had bus fare to get to campus; I helped to secure the funds she needed through the college’s emergency fund so she was able to attend her exams, and thus worked with the appropriate faculty and staff members on campus to ensure she had housing and food during the semester breaks.
- I help place our students in internships that will give them the credentials and experience they need to secure employment upon graduation. For example, I helped Brittany Seemuth secure an internship through the Campbellsport News, where she worked for a summer full-time as a reporter. Brittany graduated in May 2016 and is now a full-time reporter for Gannett. Nastassia Putz secured an internship at Milwaukee Magazine, and she now publishes her own magazine, Fetch. Editor Howie Magner said the reason he hired her was because of the quality and variety of her work on Arches.
- I do my best to prepare students for employment post-graduation. For example, in our Capstone class, I brought in Howie Magner, former editor of Milwaukee Magazine, to conduct mock interviews with students. The students had to prepare job applications for a real job, and Howie reviewed the materials and acted as the potential employer. His interviews were tough. After the interview, we conducted “interview workshops,” where members of the class – along with Howie and I – critiqued students on their performance. While the students were extremely nervous about this, they all said they appreciated the frank and honest feedback.
- I strive to stay abreast of current technologies and trends, so I may better prepare our students for a highly competitive workforce. I also make a point to present at and attend technology conferences, maintain a solid publishing record, and form relationships with local employers in order to help our students secure internships and employment.
- Whenever possible, I volunteer my time and talents to help those in need. I am particularly active as a volunteer for a parent-led arts organization at our local high school and as a reading instructor for Hawthorn District 73.
I appreciate the opportunity to reflect upon my teaching, service and professional/scholarly development. A lot has happened during the last nine years – I started a fabulous new job at Mount Mary, I moved to a new home, I had two beautiful children (and am currently preparing to send my oldest child to college!), and I’ve grown enormously, both personally and professionally. I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for me, and to serving Mount Mary University and its students for years to come.