From (Under) The Chair’s Desk
Welcome to the undergraduate issue of Reading Matters, reporting on some of the exciting initiatives and successes of the last academic year. This issue gives some sense of the energy and engagement of the 840 declared English majors, just in time for the English Department Undergraduate Honors and Achievements Ceremony, coming up this Friday (May 8) at 3:30 p.m. in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol. Warm thanks to the undergraduate steering committee, Loren Glass, Jeff Porter, Anne Stapleton, Bonnie Sunstein, and Miriam Thaggert, for their hard work supporting all aspects of the undergraduate program, and special thanks to three folks for their leadership and dedication around all aspects of the undergraduate programs: Kate Torno, our tireless advisor, and the two visionary Directors of Undergraduate Studies of the year, Doris Witt and Blaine Greteman.
To read The Washington Post, Inside Higher Ed, or The New York Times over the past year you would think the entire millennial generation has turned away from English in order to build the next billion-dollar app (How about the new Über, for petsharing instead of ridesharing? We could call it “Röver”??!). But the halls of EPB tell another story, with weekly visits throughout the year by prospective students and a fresh crop of graduates landing exciting jobs, going to great graduate programs, and beginning the next stage of their lives as readers, writers, and thinkers. I know we English folk can be deeply suspicious of statistics, but here’s one I like: 98% of the students in our recent outcome survey said the department helped them become better analytical and critical readers. As the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the brief but happy period of this Spring Semester, I will try, in the space below, to recognize as many highlights from the year possible – although it goes without saying that each member of our faculty, staff, and nearly one-thousand strong student body contributes to making this a great and energetic department.
Recruitment and Advising Matters
Much of the energy in EPB has been radiating directly from Kate Torno, and it is hard to believe that this has only been her first academic year as our Undergraduate Advisor. In addition to all the work the position normally entails, she has taken major initiatives to line up exciting internship opportunities for our undergraduates, including one at Prairie Lights, the University of Iowa Press, Little Village magazine, and many more. She has spearheaded recruitment efforts, including doing much of the hard labor of turning Gerber Lounge into a replica coffee shop for our big recruitment event this October, and she has also provided guidance and direction to our inaugural group of Undergraduate Ambassadors, Nathan Kooker, Christina Crowley, Catherine Shook, and Manuch Khoshnood.
By all accounts, they have been tremendously compelling representatives of our department, with English exceeding all expectations in attracting new students to campus next year (preliminary numbers show a 29% increase in students committing to study English at Iowa, compared to this time last year). This would clearly not have been possible without the help of everyone on our new committee for Publicity, Recruitment, Outreach, and Donor Support (PROD), headed up by Loren Glass, and our new Undergraduate Recruitment Committee, whose members regularly met with anxious prospective students, and in the case of Tom Simmons, even taught sample classes specially designed to show high school seniors what is so special about Iowa English.
Starting next year, many of those recruits will be students in our new LLC (Living Learning Community), which has been dubbed “Living Literature.”
Kate Torno, undergraduate advisor, writes: The English Department was chosen to be one of the first departments to prioritize outreach to prospective students visiting campus. This fledgling program was coordinated by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) and departmentally supervised out of my office. Campus visitors met face to face with me and either Lori Branch, Linda Bolton, Brooks Landon, Tom Simmons or substitutes Loren Glass and Phil Round. Our faculty proved that they are engaged and entertaining as well as truly interested in the undergraduate experience.
We soared above expectations in recruitment largely due to the participation of our hand-picked student ambassadors, who gave visiting students insight into life as an English major, tours of local bookstores, and spoke as panel members at large admissions events. We can be truly proud of the academic and extracurricular achievements of our majors. We congratulate Nathan and Manuch as they head off to graduate school and wish Catherine success in her playwriting and community outreach endeavors on the East Coast. This recruitment program will continue next year with the first large kick-off event on Saturday, October 3.
The other theme in the office this year was career planning. I have begun a serious campaign to have students searching for an internship or tangible experience to supplement their education during their junior year and to focus on their job search during their senior year. The English @ Work course is taught by the Director of Undergraduate Studies (Doris Witt and Blaine Greteman in 2014-2015) and will continue to be a cornerstone of career preparation in our department.
The biggest undergraduate news in EPB over the past year was the formation of the proposal for a new major in English and Creative Writing, which is currently awaiting approval by the Regents. This seems an appropriate place to mention that it simply wouldn’t have happened without the tireless work of Doris Witt, who had both the vision and the skill to guide the process every step of the way. Indeed it seems like the appropriate place to mention that she put in place most of the undergraduate excitements that detailed in this newsletter, including a fabulous new version of English @ Work, which we are now offering in its second iteration as a one-hour class. For the class, we had panels of guest speakers ranging from our own Hannah Rounds, Kate Torno, and John Compton, to Skyped-in speakers from Harvard. In a quick survey, students in the class almost universally report that the class helped them with the job and internship process (one student already had an internship lined up, and so threw off our 100% success rate in this regard).
Special thanks to Bonnie Sunstein and the other members of the nonfiction program who helped host the TWENTIETH set of undergraduate nonfiction readings for Writers Gone Public. That’s one reading per semester for the past ten years!
The English Society also continued to host a lively series of events, including a new “Literary Tea Party” that features a professor as a guest of honor and is surely nothing like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. This year’s officers are treasurer Ashley Stott, Secretary Allison Dunal, Service Chair Deirdre Heneghan, Writing Chair Christine Ewert, Social Chair Heidi Stofer, and Academic Chair Zhiyun (Mary) Ma.
Honors Program Matters
Director Miriam Thaggert writes: Thirteen students completed honors theses this year. The topics ranged from science fiction creative writing projects to an examination of “fallen language” in Paradise Lost. Thank you to those faculty members who devoted their time to honors students and guided their projects to completion (Bluford Adams, Jennifer Buckley, Mary Lou Emery, Blaine Greteman, Brooks Landon, Horace Porter, Jeff Porter, Maryann Rasmussen, Tom Simmons, Claire Sponsler, Harry Stecopoulos, and Jon Wilcox). Thanks also to those faculty who provided feedback as second readers (Barbara Eckstein, Eric Gidal, Miriam Gilbert, Loren Glass, Megan Gogerty, Brooks Landon, Addie Leak, Peter Nazareth, Judith Pascoe, Jeff Porter, Laura Rigal, Tom Simmons, Alvin Snider, and Dave Wittenberg). Strong interest in the honors program has led to an extra honors thesis workshop and an extra honors seminar this fall semester.
Congratulations to our honors students on the completion of their theses:
Leslie Caton, “Say It: Decoding a Sexualized Life”
Virginia Davis, “Peace Like a River”
Anne Easker, “Ink”
Emily Erler, “The Spanish Queen: Literary Representations of Katherine of Aragon in Conversations with History”
Noah Haessler, “To Seek, To Find, and Not to Yield: Much Have I Seen and Known”
Kristine Hauser, “Gawain and Ragnelle: An Experiment in Adaptive Storytelling and Legendary Figures”
Kaitlyn Kampion, “Blood Rights”
Manuch (Alfredo) Khoshnood, “Into this Wild Abyss”: Fallen Language and Poetic Creation in Paradise Lost”
Keegan Lockhart, “Deconstructing the Terrific Battle Mentality”
Erin Marshall, “Remembering Wrong”
Em Syth, “Tell Me a Story, a Story of Slavery: A Transnational Look at Storytelling in Morrison, Machado and Allende”
Emma Van Dyke, “The Nobodies”
Natalie Vicchio, “Bye, Bye Blackbird”
Honors Society Matters
Co-sponsors Anne Stapleton and Miriam Thaggert write: This year, the Alpha Tau Iota chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, International English Honor Society, inducted 28 new students, for a total of 47 active members. Highlights for fall included a lively initiation dinner and an end-of-semester fundraiser/Literary Quiz Night at The Vine. On Quiz Night, teams supped, strategized, and vied against each other, students against faculty and faculty against the late hour (students won!). In March, Manuch Khoshnood, Hannah Leonard, and Natalie Vicchio attended the international Sigma Tau Delta convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they read their essays chosen by adjudicators months before. Their post-trip report thanks the Department of English for generous travel support and explains the significance of their experience, which, they say, was “extremely valuable in helping us to understand more about Sigma Tau Delta. We came home with exciting new ideas about running the chapter, some experience in presenting our work, and an amazing new group bond.” In other news, Kaycee Pancake was the first University of Iowa student to win one of the highly selective Sigma Tau Delta scholarships in a national competition. Thus, the 2014-2015 academic year has proven quite productive for our local chapter as students have increased chapter activity and continued to build a presence on campus.
With thanks to the ATI officers who served their fellow students so well this year: President Paul Hossenlopp, Membership Officer Em Syth, Secretary Natalie Vicchio, Alumni Liaison Alex Armonda, Publicity Officer Anne Easker, Treasurer Koll Johnson, and Historian Hannah Leonard. Please congratulate new and continuing officers for 2015-2016: President Miranda Pederson, Vice President Elli Ruen, Treasurer Koll Johnson, Secretary Meg King, Publicity Officer Alex Walgren, Membership Officer Nathan Woolard, and Historian Hannah Leonard.
Senior Achievement and Placement Matters:
This is only a small sampling, in no particular order, of the placement news about streaming in from our undergraduates. It is far from complete, but gives you a nice idea of the diverse set of students graduating from our department this year:
Alex Gaertner is applying for internships with literary agencies in NYC.
Sarah Goode has commissioned into the Army through the ROTC program, and will be a transportation officer stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington.
Rachel Gosch will spend the summer as a counselor at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp this summer, and will then be going to teach English at the University of Pau in France for a year.
Paul Hossenlopp has been accepted to the MFA program at Columbia College, Chicago.
Manuch Khoshnood has been accepted to the PhD program at the University of Texas, Austin.
Alyssa Lattner is going to law school at the University of Pennsylvania, and is happy to stay in touch and connect with students considering the same path next year.
Emily Levine has been accepted to a graduate program in Library Science at Boston University.
Keegan Lockhart is going to work in sales at American Marketing and Publishing.
Erin Marshall will be working as a Writer/Reporter at Becker's Healthcare in Chicago.
Sophia Meyer is heading to Prague to teach English.
Heidi Schleuder will be working full time this summer with people with mental disabilities, and is then considering teaching abroad.
Nicole Smiley will be doing student teaching next fall at a middle school in Illinois.
Emma Van Dyke has been selected to give the address at this year’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Commencement ceremony, and will be taking a technical writing internship, at Seattle Company Azima DLI, before applying to graduate schools.
Scholarship and Award Matters
And finally, a taste of Friday’s festivities. Lori Branch took charge of our biggest ever scholarship process this year, with nearly a hundred applicants. Congratulations to the following winners, who we will celebrate, along with all of our graduating seniors and their faculty mentors, this Friday from 3.30-5.00!
The Fairall Scholarship, for Iowa born and educated juniors or seniors with preference to students interested in literature from 1900 to the present:
The Margaret Leuz Einspahr Scholarship, recognizing excellent students who plan to pursue a career in teaching:
The Anderson Memorial Prize, for students with an interest in writing:
Sherry Simmons Loring Memorial Scholarship, recognizing students who have demonstrated their commitment to and pleasure in the life of the mind at the University of Iowa:
The Ruth Gulden Holsteen and Charles Sophus Holsteen Memorial Scholarship, for excellence in English:
The Darwin T. Turner Award, recognizing outstanding students who best combine Dr. Turner’s devotion to literature and scholarship with his exemplary qualities as teacher and leader:
The Louise P. Herring Scholarship, recognizing excellent students with a commitment to English studies as a preparation for life:
The Emily Wagner Memorial Scholarship, for an English major who demonstrates academic excellence and shares Emily’s love of literature:
The Maloney Family Scholarship, for a student of high academic achievement in the Department of English who wishes to pursue a career in science or medical writing:
The Golden Pledge Scholarship, for undergraduates from Iowa who demonstrate commitment to and excellence in English:
The Aicher/Nelson Scholarship, for students who intend to teach High School English:
Miriam Gilbert Shakespeare Prize, for the best essay on Shakespeare, renaissance literature, or drama and performance, in honor of Professor Gilbert, who taught Shakespeare at Iowa until 2013:
John C. McGalliard Prize, for the best essay on a topic from medieval literature, in honor of Professor McGalliard, who taught and wrote on Anglo Saxon poetry and literature until 1975:
The following English faculty and graduate students have been recognized by the Graduating Class of 2015, President Mason, Provost Butler, and Vice President Tom Rocklin as making a positive difference in University of Iowa student lives: Bluford Adams, Catina Bacote, Thomas Blake, Linda Bolton, Daniel Boscaljon, Lori Branch, Jennifer Buckley, John D'Agata, Brett DeFries, Kathleen Diffley, Jomil Ebro, Ed Folsom, Patricia Foster, Claire Fox, Loren Glass, Blaine Greteman, David Hamilton, Cheryl Herr, Lena Hill, Michael Hill, Adam Hooks, Mark Isham, Jackie Kleist, Marie Kruger, Brooks Landon, Kathy Lavezzo, Jennifer Loman, Peter Nazareth, Katherine Nesbit, Dylan Nice, Matt Owens, Horace Porter, Jeff Porter, MaryAnn Rasmussen, Rebecca Roma Stoll, Phil Round, Robyn Schiff, Tom Simmons, Sarah Smith, Alvin Snider, Claire Sponsler, Anne Stapleton, Harry Stecopoulos, Garrett Stewart, Stephen Sturgeon, Miriam Thaggert, Inara Verzemnieks, Stephen Voyce, Joshua Wheeler, Jon Wilcox, Doris Witt, and David Wittenberg. Recognition was published in The Daily Iowan on April 30, 2015.
Faculty Achievement Party, May 7, 5-6pm, Prairie Lights
Undergraduate Honors Celebrations. May 8 at 3:30pm. Senate Chamber, Old Capitol Museum.
90 Minutes of Performances about 6 Minutes of Music, May 9 at 7:30pm, Riverside Recital Hall