Feature Stories

Scroll down for feature stories on a service learning opportunity that went to the dogs, past sabbaticals in ELC, ELC grad Andy Leonard’s digital initiative; Deborah Tannen and the Christina Kakava Linguistics Speaker Series; Fulbright scholar Peter Hawes; service learning in ENGL 399; and more!

Senior English Major Becomes a Filmmaker

Miranda Schnackenberg, ELC Class of 2017, was recently featured by UMW for her work in creating a Gothic film based on the 1872 novel Carmilla. The film was a project for an individual study with Dr. Antonio Barrenechea. The full story and link to her film are here!

Professor Pineda’s Class Fishes for Stories

One of Professor Jon Pineda‘s Fall 2016 creative writing classes, ENGL 313F: Ecoliterature, got some unusual training on Jefferson Square, casting for inspiration in a whole new way.  The full story is here.

Communication Class Serves Human’s Best Friend

In Dr. Jessy Ohl’s Small Group Communication course (COMM 206), students use the skills of democratic deliberation and consensus-building to make real-world improvements in the Fredericksburg community. “Democracy is much more than voting,” Dr. Ohl notes, “it is ultimately a way of communicating where understanding and collaboration hopefully lead to a better world.” In order to practice and apply the techniques of small group communication, the final project requires that students select a local non-profit organization and implement strategy for support.

In the Fall 2014 semester, after careful research and in-class deliberation, one class voted to partner with “Bully Paws,” a local non-profit dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and adoption of abandoned pit bulls. Dr. Ohl recalls, “all of the proposals were excellent, but the class was very impressed with the bully pawswork of Bully Paws, and really wanted to help these amazing animals.” After several meetings with the organization, students learned that a significant obstacle for Bully Paws was the public misconception that pit bulls are violent and dangerous. In the hopes of changing these attitudes, students made the ambitious choice of holding a benefit concert for Bully Paws on the UMW campus featuring musical acts, informational presentations, and, of course, adorable puppies.

To make sure the event was successful, students worked with Bully Paws to advertise the concert, schedule performances and guest speakers, gain approval from UMW administrators, set-up a booth for donations and future volunteers, decorate the UMW Underground, and allow students and community members a chance to interact with the dogs outside. Silvia Krieglstein, director of Bully Paws, praised the class for their efforts by stating, “The event was flawless and extremely well planned and executed. It was pure joy working with these talented students who were focused, accommodating to the needs of individuals, and easy to approach.” In the end, students raised several hundred dollars and helped spread awareness about Bully Paws and their mission. In addition to these achievements, Silvia thanks the students for providing something even more important—“This event had a huge emotional impact on everybody attending that evening. It proves how important it is to educate the public with facts and to stand as a community and offer a hand where it seems hopeless.” Thanks to the work of the students, former Bully Paws volunteers from as far as Atlanta, Georgia made the trip to Fredericksburg to share their stories and express the lasting impact of the organization on their lives.

Dr. Ohl could not be more proud of the UMW students and final outcome of the class project: “Every class project is a special undertaking, but these students really put it all on the line for Bully Paws. I think they were able to see that by working together they could accomplish something that would have been impossible individually.” For those students interested in strengthening community ties and advocating for social issues, consider enrolling in COMM 206, or many of the other offerings in Communication at UMW.


Life after UMW: Notes from the Alumni Career Panel

by Jeanne Converse


Nico Madden

On Friday, November 14, interested UMW students were joined by recent graduates in a panel discussion about life after graduation.  The panel members represented a wide range of wisdom and experience as they shared their stories and current life situations.  Because this event was specifically for ELC students, their advice is beneficial to all students in the department (especially seniors), and if you did not attend this event I urge you to continue reading for essential tips and advice to aid you in your job search or graduate school application process.

 The panel members, all ELC alumni, are presently working in successful jobs or enrolled in graduate school, and they had a lot of wisdom to share from their own experiences.  Katie Ortega, an English major who graduated in the summer of 2011, is currently the marketing director of the Spectrum Group, a large consulting firm.  Lindley Estes, a 2012 English graduate who focused on Creative Writing, is the education reporter for the Free Lance Star newspaper, and Nico Madden, who graduated in 2013 and wishes to be a professor in the future, is in George Mason’s Graduate Program focusing on literary studies.  Although their backgrounds, interests, and current situations are very different, it was surprising how much of their advice was universal.

The first issue they discussed was how their time at UMW (and specifically the English, Linguistic, and Communication Department) helped them to get where they are today.  One sentiment was echoed by all three: smaller, more personal classes were a huge asset to their current situations.

Lindley Estes

Lindley Estes

Katie and Lindley shared that the smaller classes– especially in the ELC Department– enabled them to get comfortable speaking in a group setting because they were often discussion based.  Both women shared how important this is because during the interview process and in the workplace it is important to be able to speak well and clearly.  As Katie stated, the small classes at UMW help you to become “confident that your opinions are important .. so that you can have a voice and you are remembered.”  Nico agreed that the smaller-sized classes were also good preparation for grad school, where the classes are also small.  The other aspects of UMW that the three panel members shared, as being beneficial to them in their lives after college, are the opportunity to take a wide range of classes, the ability to be involved in many extracurricular activities, and the training received from the ELC department in order to become good writers.  Critical thinking and time management are also priceless skills that the panel members learned while at UMW.

Katie Ortega

Katie Ortega

The next topic focused on suggestions from the panel members for students getting ready for the job/graduate school application process.  Katie started off this discussion by saying, “I wish you patience, luck, and humility.”  Both Katie and Lindley stressed that their current positions are partly due to luck, but it was because of their willingness to start at the bottom and work their way up.  One of the most important things to keep in mind when applying for jobs is that no job is beneath you.  It could be a stepping stone to something wonderful, but you may have to be humble enough to start at an entry level job and be happy with that job to excel in it.  Katie has actually interviewed new hires at her current company, and this is what she looks for: someone that is a hard worker, focused and goal oriented, teachable and willing to learn, and organized.  She said that it’s okay to be human and be nervous in interviews; in fact, it shows that you are not arrogant in thinking that you will automatically get the job.  She also shared a secret: the interviewer is probably nervous as well, because their credibility is on the line if they hire you, and you do not work out in the position.  Her most important word of advice: “Don’t be too good for the job.”  Lindley gave further input by talking about internships.  UMW offers so many opportunities, not only internships, but also working at The Bullet, Aubade, and the Writing Center, that will offer experience to build your resume.  Nico agreed with Lindley, and stated that graduate schools look for your involvement in programs such as those already mentioned, and added the necessity of publishing, attending conferences, and making presentations. Nico’s advice was to do anything you can do to increase academic knowledge and experience in the career path you hope to take.  Be open to any and all opportunities– the more experience you can attain the better your resume will be, whether searching for a job or an acceptance into graduate school.  Not only that, but all those experiences open new channels for networking, and getting your name out there is just as important as the experience.

This brought us to the topic of resumes, and the panel had some interesting advice to help with writing effective resumes and interviewing.  Here are their resume tips:

1. Keep it brief- no paragraphs or huge chunks of information.

2. Keep it bulleted and visually pleasing.

3. Don’t be cute!- no smiley faces or interesting fonts (no comic sans!); check the format because all resumes should look similar.

Once you get an interview, your appearance should show that  you want the job.  Bring any relevant paperwork; Lindley took an outstanding paper she wrote while at UMW to her interview with the Free Lance Star, and it was well received.  Bring your letters of recommendation, so if they ask you for them, you have them on hand.  Remember that the interview technically starts the minute you step out of your car, so treat everyone at the company with kindness and respect (don’t ignore them and play on your phone while you wait for your interview).  Do some research on the company and bring some of that with you; look over these notes while you wait.  This will give you enough information so that you can have a knowledgeable conversation with the interviewer and ask intelligent questions.  Send thank-you notes to your interviewer the day after your interview.  Not only does this show a great deal of courtesy, but it also reinforces who you are and is one more opportunity for them to see your name and remember you.  Also, follow up rejections.  Ask for suggestions and what would have helped you, or what you may have been missing.  This will aid your preparation for the next interview.

 To sum up the general message of the discussion, use all the opportunities that are available to you through UMW and the ELC department.  Independent studies, internships, conferences and opportunities for presentation (like the Kemp Symposium), The Writing Center, The Bullet, and Aubade are all excellent outlets for gaining experience and making important networking contacts.  Develop close relationships with your professors.  The better they know you the more detailed their recommendation letters will be, and they are also good sources for networking so keep those communications open.  Be patient and be persistent.  Life after UMW doesn’t have to be scary, and if you take advantage of your time here you may find that you are surprisingly prepared for whatever comes next.


Sabbatical: All Work or All Play?

by Jeanne Converse

On the day that courses were listed for the 2014 Spring semester, an audible groan could be heard throughout the ELC department.  As students we were eager to see what classes we would have to choose from, but the reveal was a bit of a disappointment to many of us.  So I asked in one of my classes, “What’s up with the courses for next semester?  It doesn’t seem like there is much of a selection and some of my favorite professors aren’t even teaching!”  The answer was somber: “They’ll be taking a sabbatical.”  Of course this was quickly followed by students echoing the sentiment, “I wish I could have a sabbatical.  A vacation would be nice!”  So I began to wonder just what exactly a sabbatical is.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a sabbatical is “a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research, etc.”  Upon further research, however, I found that in the world of academia the word has a more specific meaning, especially in teaching-focused schools like UMW.  The word “sabbatical” has its roots with the word “sabbath,” meaning a day of rest.  In Judeo-Christian tradition, it refers to the seventh day of creation- the day in which God rested.  For college professors, however, it is not a time of rest but a time of research, which may prove to be harder work than their day-to-day teaching life.

Every six years a college professor can apply for a sabbatical, which entitles them to one semester freed from their teaching duties with pay, or a whole year with half-pay.  This gives them much needed time to do research on a project for dissemination in their field, usually through presentation or publication.  As most people are aware, college professors are strongly encouraged (and in most cases required) to periodically have their work published, whether it be an article or a book.  These projects take a great deal of outside research, and at UMW, where professors carry a heavy teaching load of four courses per semester, there is simply not enough time to devote to studying and investigation.  This is where the perplexing sabbatical comes in: it grants the professor time to focus all their scholastic energy on their current project, hopefully resulting in publication.

In order for a professor at UMW to be granted a sabbatical, they must go through a difficult and lengthy application process every 6-7 years.  They must write an in-depth proposal explaining the project itself, why it is important in their field, and how the integrity of UMW’s academic programs will benefit.  The proposal itself must be well researched and thought out, and usually consists of ten or more pages.  These proposals are then submitted to the Provost, who grants sabbaticals as allowed by any financial and staffing constraints.

In the English, Linguistics, and Communications Department, four sabbaticals were given during the 2013-2014 school year.  The ELC students were correct in being surprised by this large number of professors taking sabbaticals, because there are usually only around twelve sabbatical leaves granted per year throughout the entire faculty of the university.  Dr. Kennedy is currently out, and in the spring semester Dr. Scanlon, Dr. Fallon, and Dr. Mathur will be out.  Although I could not get in touch with Dr. Kennedy, I was able to find out from the other three professors what they will be working on during their sabbaticals.  The projects they described are both impressive and overwhelming, which proves that the next six months will be no vacation for them.

Dr. Scanlon, Professor of English, will focus her research on the Modernist Journals Project, which is an online database of periodical literature from the early 20th century.  She had already proposed an in-depth study of the MJP during her leave, but after teaching an online modernism MJPclass last summer, which used the MJP as its primary source of material, she was surprised that the findings of the students often were not what she expected.  While she went into the course expecting to lead the students to certain ideas and conclusions, the students revealed things from the MJP that were unexpected.  This led Dr. Scanlon to want to delve deeper into the MJP database, and one of the goals of her sabbatical is total immersion, which is no easy feat considering the hundreds of magazines included in the database.  Dr. Scanlon wants to especially focus on the “poetess” of the modernist period, and explore those women that can be given that title– especially those that may be less popular today.  She will maintain a work blog to record her findings, and since this is a brand new work (there has been very little work done in mapping out the MJP), she is really hoping to make some ground-breaking discoveries.  Her last sabbatical resulted in a book which has just been signed for publication, and there is a good chance that her research during this sabbatical will be just as productive.

Dr. Fallon, Associate Professor of Linguistics, will be spending his sabbatical on the ambitious project of writing The Encyclopedia of Phonological phonemeDistinctive Features.  He will focus on phonemes, and especially their physical properties in the articulation in speech.  He plans to include approximately 200 entries in this encyclopedia, most of these requiring at least a page of explanation; some entries will be closer to 3,000 words.  Dr. Fallon lists his goals for this project as the following:

  • To write an introductory essay on distinctive features which provides the reader the necessary background to understand the encyclopedic entries
  • To provide a complete inventory of phonological features discussed in various major and minor works of phonology
  • To provide the historic background of each feature (who proposed it, when it was proposed)
  • To provide the arguments for each feature’s existence, in context, with concise linguistic examples where possible
  • To provide the reader with information whether the feature is still used and if so, by scholars within which traditions and which theoretical assumptions
  • To provide the reader a sense of whether there is consensus within the field on the status of certain features (e.g. whether it has been abandoned, is used by only a handful of scholars, or whether its existence is broadly accepted by most)
  • To provide a list of the key scholarly references pertaining to a given distinctive feature

It is obvious that this project is a huge undertaking.  He will not only be writing the encyclopedic entries, but will also include extra background information to make it accessible to a wide range of readers.

Associate Professor of English Dr. Mathur, during her sabbatical, will be continuing work on a book that she is in the process of writing. As she toldarden of faversham me, “During my sabbatical, I hope to complete the second chapter of an ongoing book project on the intersection of comedy, vagrancy, and popular protest on the early-modern stage. The chapter, which is tentatively entitled ‘Withholding Wealth, Extending Charity: Practicing Hospitality in Arden of Faversham,’ deals with an anonymous play, Arden of Faversham (1592), which is one of four domestic tragedies that were performed in the public playhouses of Renaissance England. Unlike the other tragedies of the period, which concentrated on aristocratic characters and political conflicts within the nation, domestic plays focused on social and sexual disorder within the ‘little kingdom’ of the home.”  Specifically, Dr. Mathur will concentrate on the social structures, social obligations, and relationships within the lives of the characters.

We will miss these professors next semester, but after learning about the work they plan to do it is clear that they will be making good use of their time.  They will not be spending their sabbaticals vacationing in Cancun– like most of us were imagining– but instead will probably be working harder than ever.  However, it will be a time that they can focus on their own studies and interests rather than worrying about students, so I guess in that way it is a bit of a break.  After focusing the past 6 ½ years on teaching and helping others, they definitely deserve some time to pursue their own work.  And hopefully, if their schedules allow, they can take a vacation and return to us refreshed for the  Fall 2014 semester!


Andy Leonard: Turning a Dream into a Reality

by Jeanne Converse

Andy Leonard, recent graduate of UMW’s English Department, is putting his education to good use.  He started with an idea that came to him during his time at UMW, and has turned that idea into a legitimate, incorporated business.  Along with a couple of friends, Andy designed an app for phones that will allow you to have your college ID digitally stored in your phone, and the app is called Campus IDeas.  This ingenious app is hopefully just a starting point for Andy; he has dreams of this single idea branching out to other areas that will change college students’ lives for the better.

Andy Leonard was just like all of us– a blissfully happy UMW student going through life on campus– when an idea sparked in him that was just too good to ignore.  Being aggravated, at times, by going to the gym and finding it too crowded, he wanted to devise a way to track the “busy-ness” of the gym so he could plan his time accordingly.  His thought was to be able to have an app that would allow students to see how many people were in the gym at any given time.  In thinking about this with a friend, he thought about the possibility of scanning a QR (quick response) code on college ID’s to serve as a check in and out, rather than the current system of pen and paper.  From this train of thought, Andy took a detour in examining the college IDs themselves.  Now that almost everything, even receipts from some stores, are all digital and smart phone compatible, why are college students still stuck carrying around plastic ID cards?  Let’s face it, ID cards are easy to lose, forget, or leave behind somewhere.  We’ve all done it.  But we can’t live without our phones and have them with us at (almost) all times.  So Andy and his friends changed direction and focused their attention on bringing college IDs to the 21st century.

campus IDeaAndy and his team worked tirelessly on this digital ID project and made it happen.  In June of 2013 they attended Startup Weekend Fredericksburg, a local event that allows young entrepreneurs to develop their business ideas and pitch them to a panel of judges.  Andy and his team received top honors to win this event.  Their success in the Startup Weekend was covered by Fredericksburg.com, a local internet news site, and also gained them automatic entrance into several more competitions for new businesses.  In the meantime, Andy has turned his idea into a full-fledged business, and is working with Germanna Community College in hopes to launch Campus IDeas there first.   Once his app starts to become available to students, the benefits will be vast.  Not only will it help on campus, for those times when we need our ID cards, but we’ll never have to worry about missing deals from area restaurants and stores that offer student discounts.  How many times have we been to Chipotle, where students get free drinks, but we forgot to bring our IDs?  Well, we can kiss those days good-bye, thanks to Andy and his great idea.

 I specifically asked Andy how UMW, and the ELC Department specifically, has helped him to bring his dreams to reality.  As Andy told me, “Everything we do is part of a larger body of work that contributes to our success down the road.  Mary Washington, and especially [English literature classes], really sort of helped me find myself, and in finding myself and growing as a person I was able to start being playful with ideas and exploring new things.”  His education in the ELC Department has been an asset to his business ventures because it has enabled him to think Andy's teamcritically and analytically about problems and, even more importantly, to act accordingly to make things happen.  Through the diverse readings in his English classes, he also has been exposed a little to the psychologies of all kinds of people, and that is beneficial because in business people are always involved.  Knowing how to relate and talk to people of all backgrounds and personalities is crucial.

 Although not necessarily earning him the big bucks yet, Andy hopes that soon his business will take off and realize its full potential.  The first phase in the project is to make the Campus IDea app widely available to students in colleges and universities throughout the state.  Next he may revisit his “crowded gym” problem and figure out a way to make digital sign-ins economically viable on campuses.  Then, who knows?  For Andy, the sky’s the limit.  In his first English class at UMW, American Romanticism, he learned that “You can do it; life is great; be inspired everyday.”  This is a motto that Andy has embraced wholeheartedly.  He can, and did, do it.  And if he continues to be inspired everyday, I can definitely see a great life in Andy’s future.


Christina Kakava Linguistics Speaker Series:

A Special Night for the ELC Department

by Jeanne Converse

Something truly wonderful is going to happen at UMW on Wednesday, October 23.  The ELC department is presenting the 2013 installment of the Christina Kakava Linguistics Speaker Series, and this is a special event for two main reasons: it honors the memory of beloved UMW professor Christina Kakava, and it features world renowned linguist Dr. Deborah Tannen.  Make sure to be at the Great Hall at 7:30 PM, because this is a night you don’t want to miss.

Dr. Kakava was born in Greece, where she studied and taught English and Greek.  She came to the United States to study linguistics at Georgetown University and graduated with her master’s degree in 1989 and a Ph.D. in 1993.  While at Georgetown, Dr. Kakava studied under ckakava_000linguist Deborah Tannen, who was also her dissertation advisor.  After that, in 1994, Dr. Kakava came to UMW to begin her career as a linguistics professor, teaching courses in sociolinguistics, cross-cultural communication, discourse analysis, and language and gender.  She immediately captured the hearts of her students and fellow coworkers with her lively personality and academically challenging teaching.  She was the recipient of many prestigious awards, published 20 scholarly articles, and spoke at several national and international linguistic conferences.  Christina Kakava lost her battle with cancer in February, 2010, and her loss is still deeply felt at UMW and by everyone who knew her.

Dr. Tannen–this year’s guest speaker–is not new to UMW’s Linguistic Speaker Series; in fact, she was the speaker at the inaugural conference in 2002.  She is not only a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, but she is also one of an elite group to hold the title of University Professor at Georgetown as well. She is best known for her book, You Just Don’t tannen bookUnderstand: Women and Men in Conversation, which was the #1 book on the New York Times best seller list for eight months; it stayed on the list for almost four years and has been translated into 31 languages.  This book was pivotal in making people aware of the gender differences in communication between men and women.  However, this mega-book is just the tip of the iceberg of Dr. Tannen’s achievements.  She is the author of over 20 books.  Many of her books are significantly relevant to everyone and everyday life, exploring the difficulties of communication among family members, between colleagues, and especially as impacted by gender.  Her newest book, You Were Always Mom’s Favorite!: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives, focuses on language within the relationship of sisters.

Dr. Tannen’s impressive success does not stop at her bounty of published books.  She has also made several guest appearances on television and radio programs.  She has appeared on The Colbert Report, Rachel Ray, The Early Show, Oprah, and 20/20, just to name a few.  She is alsotannen frequently featured on  NPR shows such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and The Diane Rehm Show, and has written articles for major newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Time, Newsweek, and The Harvard Business Review.  She also has published poems, short stories, personal essays, and even a play that was included in The Best American Short Plays 1993-1994.  If your head is spinning from the expansive achievements of Dr. Tannen, you are not alone.  This presentation is a great opportunity to hear this talented writer and speaker, and a chance to learn a little about language and how to improve communication in our lives.

This year is the first of the Linguistic Speaker Series since the loss of Dr. Kakava, but having her friend and colleague Dr. Deborah Tannen as the speaker ensures that it will be a meaningful night.  Both women have had a huge impact on the world of linguistics, and although the loss of Dr. Kakava is a great one, this series will help to keep her memory alive at UMW.  Did you know Dr. Kakava?  Have you read any of Dr. Tannen’s books?  If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then attendance at this series is imperative.  However, if you answered no, I would still strongly recommend this series because we all struggle with language and communication.  Join us in helping the ELC Department honor one of our own as we cultivate knowledge and understanding through language.


UMW Grad Peter Hawes Brings Literature to Life as He Teaches English in Nepal

by Jeanne Converse

Peter Hawes graduated from UMW’s English Department in 2012.  Being an English major, he immersed himself in faraway times and places while in school, but once he graduated he took this education to heart.  Thanks to a Fulbright scholarship, Peter is now living in one of those faraway places he read about; Peter Hawes’s days are like breathing chapters extracted straight from a book.

J:  How did you get involved in this program?

P:  I first heard about the Fulbright ETA program during a semester abroad in Central America. This study abroad program, called Carpe Diem Education, emphasized volunteer work, personal growth, environmental sustainability, and travel. Rather than taking courses at a university, we

Peter Hawes on right.. Photo courtesy of Jeanie Mullen.

Peter Hawes on right.. Photo courtesy of Jeanie Mullen.

traveled through Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras, occasionally carrying our backpacks through the mountains, scuba diving, digging trenches for pipes, teaching English, patrolling the beach for endangered sea turtles, etc. My program leader had recently completed a Fulbright ETA grant in Malaysia, and she encouraged me to think about applying. The study abroad experience was hugely transformational, and after graduation I wanted to spend a more significant amount of time living in a ‘developing’ country. Nepal is among the poorest in the world, with only irregular electricity, water shortages, and very few cities and roads. While ETA programs exist on every continent, Nepal’s program is somewhat unusual in that it includes rural placements and homestays– both priorities for me.

J:  What is it that you’ll be doing in Nepal?

P:  While the Fulbright ETA website emphasizes abstract goals like “promoting mutual

Peter Hawes back left. Photo courtesy of Yasmin Radbod.

Peter Hawes back left. Photo courtesy of Yasmin Radbod.

understanding,” my specific purpose in Nepal is to teach English in a rural public school. English is compulsory in the curriculum, and, sadly, learning this globalized language is one of the few ways for poor Nepalis to improve their economic condition. Unemployment is enormous (perhaps close to 50%, though I’m not certain), so many people emigrate for work. Furthermore, the public schools are very bad and have a high dropout rate. My own school, Shree Krishna Primary, serves mainly low-caste students whose families live on just a few dollars per day. I teach 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade, as well as a weekly English class for the teachers at the school.

My other duties include supporting the Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA) in teacher trainings and extra-curricular English classes.

J:  How has your English education from UMW affected you?

P: I think, perhaps, that reading so many novels and poems has given me some understanding of humanity’s common experience, and thereby a sense of empathy for people who are struggling with poverty. In particular, Dr. Scanlon’s course on Global Issues in Literature gave my thinking an international perspective. Furthermore, critical theory shaped my worldview greatly, and led me to the belief that intellectual abstractions are insufficient to comprehend reality. For me, the best way has been to put myself in new situations.

J:  Can you tell a funny story or anecdote from your time in Nepal?

P:  Humor can be essential in a place like this; for example, after a particularly serious trip to the bathroom, it’s not uncommon to find that the toilet can not flush. Likewise, an attempted shower can end badly if the water disappears after I have covered my entire body in soap.

Everything is shorter here — doorways, ceilings, buses, etc. — and, in slapstick fashion, I am constantly hitting my head. A neighbor’s house has a particularly low entrance, and, after hitting my head quite hard once, the whole family cringes in expectation as I carefully duck.

J:  Have there been any experiences that have changed your point of view?

Peter Hawes seated middle right. Photo courtesy of Annie Wendel.

Peter Hawes seated middle right. Photo courtesy of Annie Wendel.

P:  While I have long held romantic notions about living simply without modern technology, I suddenly find myself faced with an unromantic reality. A student in my 5th grade class recently collapsed inexplicably in school, and the teachers were unable to wake him. The school is connected by a very poor dirt road, and the only nearby vehicles were motorcycles. He was taken to a hospital, still unconscious, balanced on one of these; but the hospital itself is without reliable electricity and well-trained doctors. Many parts of Nepal are much more isolated, reachable only by walking in the mountains for two or three days. A simple illness can mean death in a place like that. In this case, the student recovered easily, but I am still shaken. Although technology can cause its own problems, I should be careful in my thinking; the beauty of isolated places comes at a high cost for the inhabitants.




Learning Unexpected Lessons in ENGL 399

by Jeanne Converse

Under the guidance of Dr. Lee, English majors are offered the opportunity to participate in ENGL 399, which is a service-oriented one-credit course that applies toward the experiential learning requirement.  Students choose to work in one of four venues: the Boys and Girls Club, Hazel Hill Homework Club, Bragg Hill Homework Club, or the Rappahannock Area Regional Adult Education group.  Their responsibilities range from helping elementary-aged school children with homework to helping adults in the ESL (English as a second language)  program prepare for their language test.  ENGL 399 is a unique program because unlike learning in the classroom, the students involved go into the Fredericksburg community to learn not only teaching techniques, but also other valuable life lessons as they help others of all ages.  UMW students in ENGL 399 are required to accumulate a minimum of 20 hours in their chosen locality, attend three meetings with the faculty sponsor (currently Dr. Lee), record their sessions in a journal, and write a final essay on the overall experience.  They are allowed to enroll in this course three times, earning three credits total in the major.

photo courtesy of bgcgw.org/photo-gallery. Web. 1 October, 2013.


One option for students taking ENGL 399 is to volunteer as an assistant in the Fredericksburg location of the Boys and Girls Club of America.  This is an after-school program offering children of all grades a safe and supervised environment in which to play with other children and work on homework.  These children come from a wide range of families and backgrounds, and some face significant challenges in their lives; it is often eye opening for the UMW students to see how others live.  Our participants have a wide range of duties in this program; they help with homework in all subjects and grade levels, and also supervise recess time in the gymnasium.  Because UMW students are allowed to be involved in such a variety of activities with these children they really grow to be a part of their lives, both academically and socially.  As Rita Daniel wrote in one of her journals, “I think it’s fascinating how the kids have a sense of sharing and community when they do activities together.”  As she helped the children learn their schoolwork, she was learning about the social community of children.

Hazel Hill and Bragg Hill are both housing complexes that provide a homework club for the children living there.  UMW students that choose this service location act as tutors, helping the children with homework and any academic concepts they find difficult.  Hazel Hill is classified as Section 8 housing, and often the families in both complexes are undergoing difficult financial times.  By acting as tutors, our students work with the same children week after week and are therefore able to really get to know them and develop relationships with them.  In observing these children, the tutors begin to genuinely care about them and are able to not only help them with their scholastic challenges, but also in other areas of their lives.  One UMW student, Michaela Godfrey, that worked at Hazel Hill was very concerned when one of the boys she worked with began to show a significant drop in his grades.  As she worked with him, she paid close attention to his attitudes and behaviors to see if there were symptoms of a bigger problem.  When she discovered him rubbing his eyes while reading and frequently blinking and staring at the pages, she immediately realized that he might need glasses.  Not only did this UMW student help this child with his homework, she possibly helped him solve a much larger problem that would affect him throughout his life.

photo courtesy of facebook.com/raraeorg/photos_stream. Web. 1 October, 2013

The final outlet for service is the Rappahannock Area Regional Adult Education program.  UMW students that choose this project serve as teaching assistants in adult ESL classes.  Many of the community participants are roughly the same age as the students, so again this is a very enlightening experience as our students are able to work with peers rather than younger children.  Most of the training in these classes takes place in the form of games and exercises.  The participants engage in role-playing activities revolving around real life experiences, such as pretending to be a waiter in a restaurant and then pretending to be a patron ordering food.  Worksheets focus on reading and writing English, but include important topics such as making appointments, understanding speed limits, and reading train boards.  The adults that participate in this program learn English coupled with knowledge and understanding of key societal issues.  Inversely, UMW students also learn a great deal through their experiences here.  They first and foremost learn how to teach English, but due to the diversity in the adults in the program they often have the chance to learn about cultures other than their own as they interact with these adults.  One heartwarming example was written in the journal of Annalise Riedel:

After class finished on Monday night, the Vietnamese woman thanked me for helping the class and gave me a pack of gum.  I was confused by this gesture at first, but Nancy later explained to me that it is a common part of the Vietnamese culture to give gifts as a sign of friendship.  I immediately felt the honor of receiving this woman’s humble gift and realized how lucky I was to be there…

Then Annalise wrote this after her last night of volunteering:

Pam, the lady from Vietnam, asked me to come to her car for a minute – she wanted to give me a parting gift.  At her car, she pulled out two pairs of Vietnamese sandals and insisted on putting them on my feet herself.  As I watched her adjust each sandal on my foot, I marveled once again on the generosity and warmth shown by not only Pam, but all of my students.  It is a feeling unlike any other to know that the actions you take to help a group of people are vastly appreciated and valued, and I sincerely hope I’ll have the chance to work with ESL students again someday.

Although UMW students sign up for ENGL 399 as a chance to teach others, they are usually the ones that end up learning the most.  They learn a little about teaching, of course, but more importantly they learn what it means to serve those in need.  They learn about how social and economic differences impact the lives of children.  They learn to get to know others and see past their immediate needs in order to recognize bigger problems that need attention.  They learn to be open to and embrace diversity.  But most importantly, they learn to look outside of themselves and give back.  The University of Mary Washington holds service as a foundational value and is proud that ENGL 399 encourages this value in English students.  The lesson of giving back starts in Fredericksburg, but as these UMW students branch out and continue their lives elsewhere, they will pay it forward and give back wherever they are.




Meet Professor Jon Pineda:  Bringing Cool to School

by Jeanne Converse

September 2013

It’s nice to be reminded that being an English major and being cool are not mutually exclusive.  Professor Jon Pineda is living proof of that, so the next time friends accuse you of being just a book geek (which, let’s face it, most of us English majors are) you an tell them about the cool new professor in UMW’s English Department.

What does Professor Pineda do in his spare time?  He skateboards with his son, of course.  Actually, he was a competitive street skater in his younger years.  That’s pretty cool, but it doesn’t stop there.  He also surfs.  He started surfing at VA Beach while living in Norfolk, VA, and from there took the sport further down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where his favorite spots were Rodanthe, Frisco, and Hatteras.

You might be thinking that skating and surfing are definitely cool, but don’t really cool people need to be in rock bands?  You can check that off the list, because Professor Pineda has also done that.  While attending JMU he was in a successful band called Johnny’s Heritage in which he sang and played the guitar.  In fact the band was so successful that it helped pay for his last two years of college, so successful that they played with The Smithereens and also with Dave Matthews Band.  Let me reiterate: this guy is cool.

But what really makes Professor Pineda cool is that he was an English major who now has four published books.  Although he started out at JMU in the Biology/PreMed program, he was so affected by the books he was reading in his literature classes that he switched to English.  He was drawn to the art of language and was especially fascinated with how it worked in novels.  In his last semester at JMU he focused on creative writing, followed by a summer writer’s workshop in Prague, and then went on to get his MFA at VCU.  Although his professors warned him of the difficulty of travelling down the road of an author, Professor Pineda eagerly accepted the challenge.  While at VCU the call for him to be an author became clear.  At that time he was focusing on poetry, and he hoped to work with his favorite poet, Larry Levis.  Unfortunately Mr. Levis passed away before he had the chance, but he was able to study under several other wonderful poets.

Author Photo-PinedaProfessor Pineda is a poet at heart, but has the ambition of a novelist.  His first two published books are collections of poetry: The Translator’s Diary and Birthmarks.  As he said in the interview, “poetry was the foundation that I wanted to build my writing career on” because the power of words is condensed and distilled in poetry like no other writing genre.  He spent six to seven years just studying and writing poetry; his primary focus was exploring language and words.  His first writing to ever be published was a short story, but it wasn’t until after this immersion and mastery of poetry that he felt the need to start writing books, which is no small task.  Whereas poetry gives brief images and feelings, a novel is all inclusive.  The novelist must take on the role of every character in the book, and as Professor Pineda described, “The moment you make that change in a line early in the novel it just reverberates.  You hope that it’s going to keep the water in the pool, but depending on how much of a splash you make it can send stuff out and then you’re dealing with all the of the chaos of that.  And that’s the part where it gets a little crazy.”  Despite the difficulty of writing prose, Professor Pineda is accomplished in that field.  Sleep in Me, a personal memoir about his sister, was published in 2009 and his first novel, Apology, was published in June of 2013.

When asked for some advice for future writers and English majors with dreams of being published one day, Professor Pineda answered, “There is no quick way.”  Our society is full of quick fixes and fast answers, but for writing it is a long journey usually filled with failure and rejection.  Professor Pineda credits his success to the people that told him “no” and “you can’t do this.”  The more he was rejected, the more determined he was to succeed.  He stresses that writing is a process that starts with the writer; consequently he or she is shaped and developed by the trials and experiences of the writing process.  For him, there are three essential traits of a good writer: a love of words, a sense of surprise in discovering the world, and experimentation.  Writers need to push things and try new approaches, and that is why he enjoys trying different genres, from poetry to memoirs to novels.  He hopes to try his hand at screenplays next.

Professor Pineda has achieved what many writers strive for, and he’s done it with style.  So, as English majors, we are allowed to be cool.  We can be into extreme sports and guitar distortion.  At the same time we can be book geeks and spend hours reading the dictionary (which Professor Pineda admitted to doing).  And if you dream of becoming a published writer one day, he can help you along that path.


Dr. Shumona Dasgupta:  Bringing the World to UMW

by Jeanne Converse

September 2013

Dr. Dasgupta, originally from India and a graduate from the University of Delhi, came to the United States to attend Graduate School at SUNY Stony Brook.  From there she has taught at many places, but we are lucky that she found her way to Fredericksburg and UMW. Her first teaching position was at Concordia University and following that she taught at Boston Conservatory, Penn State, St. Cloud State University, and Loyola University.  So what brings her to Fredericksburg?  Her candid answer was simple: “the weather.”  Of course there were other reasons too.  Having explored positions in other academic institutions, Dr. Dasgupta felt that the University of Mary Washington was a perfect fit for her.  A small school feel offering a prestigious education caught her attention, and the more she found out about UMW’s ELC Department, the more she liked it. shumona dasgupta But the weather was also definitely a factor.  Having lived in Minnesota for several years, and then New Orleans, she was looking for a place that was not too hot and not too cold.  So when she had an opportunity to teach at UMW, she gladly took it.  After meeting with her today, I’m glad she did too.

Dr. Dasgupta is now a full time Assistant Professor at UMW.  Her classes this semester include two sessions of ENGL 206- Global Issues in Literature, and also two sessions of ENGL 375- Post Colonial Literature.  In Post Colonial Literature she is focusing the class on recent trends, and in Global Issues she is presenting literature from several different non-western female writers.  Having taken Global Issues myself, I was curious about her curriculum.  Dr. Dasgupta told me that she is able to design the course, including the literature selection, any way she wants.  Her choice of texts takes into consideration the often high percentage of freshmen in that class, so she has purposely chosen not only interesting material but also shorter selections and mixed genres.  The students in her Global Issues class will be exploring the world through not only books but also poetry, letters, and memoirs from writers of a variety of places.  Her dream class would be teaching 20th Century South Asian Literature, and she is currently working on that course.  Her goal is to offer that class during the Spring semester.

Dr. Dasgupta’s love for teaching literature from across the world stems from her own love of travel and a desire to discover the world for herself.  Traveling is one of her favorite things to do when she is able.  I asked which destination has been her favorite and without hesitation the answer was “Greece.”  She is planning another trip there soon which will hopefully occur in the next couple of years.  Her extended family still lives in India, so she also travels there frequently, visiting every other year at least.  She is hoping that in the future she will be able to blend this love of travel into her classes by teaching some study abroad programs.  For her that would be the best of both worlds, studying the literature from a culture and experiencing that culture at the same time.  But again the weather is a factor.  No summer trips to India- it is definitely too hot.

When asked about hobbies and what she does in her spare time, Dr. Dasgupta replied, “I have no spare time!”  But hypothetically, if she did, she would fill it with reading.  Of course as an English professor she is already constantly engaged in that activity, not only for her courses at UMW but also in research of a book she is writing.  This project, which analyzes various fiction and films about the Partition of India and the atrocities that took place during that time, requires vast amounts of reading and other research. So between work, writing, research, and family Dr. Dasgupta doesn’t have free time to choose books and read for leisure.  But I did get one small confession out of her.  She does occasionally indulge in the guilty pleasure of reading Oprah’s magazine.

Meeting with Dr. Dasgupta was a little like being on a trip myself.  From her talk of India, interest in South Asian literature, fascination with contemporary British fiction, and enthusiasm for Chinese Opera, she brings a little of the world to those around her.  From this addition to our ELC Department, we will be the ones who benefit.