Large expanses of perfectly trimmed grass, gargantuan brick buildings with rust-colored roofs, and downtown streets lined with palm trees – one thing was for sure, Gabriella Corales was not in central Texas anymore. Corales, a first-generation college student from San Antonio, remembers her first day at Stanford as if it were a scene from a movie. As her classmates introduced themselves, one stated that his father worked at the Pentagon, another boasted that hers was a Harvard professor.
“And my dad,” Corales recalls, “is in prison.”
Unlike many of her Stanford cohorts, Corales grew up in poverty, and while having an incarcerated father put a strain on her, emotionally and academically, she never saw her relationship with her father as a hindrance. Looking back, Corales chooses to focus on her love for her father and the growth that came from that struggle: “It made me the person that I am today.”
Additionally, completing her undergraduate degree at Texas State had also prepared Corales to hold her own among the best of the best in education research. But when the pressures of balancing part-time teaching, developing a thesis, and clambering through mountains of homework consumed all of Corales’s free time and became too overwhelming, she would take a trip to the beach and watch the waves dance on the shore, her grandma’s words lingering in her mind: “You’re going to be someone in life, and education is your way out.”
Now, after earning her Masters in Education from Stanford, Corales teaches 11th grade American Literature at Impact Academy in Hayward, California, and she shares her success story with her students, many of whom are also first-generation students of color. This new role at Impact Academy has given her the freedom to create an innovative curriculum tailored to students from all backgrounds. Her goal: to train them to think critically about the pressing issues that our nation faces. Corales first realized the importance of critical thinking while she was at Texas State, where she pursued degrees in English and Communications.
During her first semester of college, Corales sought advice from a professor who has a passion for educating Chicano-American students, Dr. Jaime Mejía. She asked him which skills he thought were fundamental for high school students to succeed at the university level. He replied simply, “They need to know how to read. They need to know how to think, and they need to know how to write.” Corales puts this advice to use daily at Impact Academy.
One especially effective unit on activism, Corales’s favorite, employs all of these skills. Taught after her Civil Rights unit, in an effort to give students a picture of what fighting for a cause looks like, the activism unit allows students’ to use their individual passions to guide their learning. In an end-of-the-year project, students choose a research topic that influences their generation and is problematic in our society. Their final product – a video, speech, artwork, or any other medium the student finds effective – should propose a solution to reduce or bring an end to that issue. The school invites family, friends, and community members to hear the students present. In the past, these exhibitions have been moments of pride for Ms. Corales. One student courageously admitted to having been abused in childhood. Another confessed his struggle with an eating disorder and pleaded for his audience to reduce the stigma surrounding men with crippling body image issues. The topics are often personal, so students are excited to research, write, and present their solutions.
As this unit also demonstrates, Corales’s approach to American literature isn’t typical of most teachers. She tries to relate every iconic novel or literary movement to things that are still affecting adolescents today. Additionally, by featuring prominent authors of color in her curriculum, her largely Hispanic and African-American students see experiences similar to their own being discussed and hailed as important to American literature.
Corales recognizes that many teachers fear bringing sensitive issues into the classroom, but she doesn’t hesitate to teach students to think for themselves and understand complex problems in America. She understands that once students leave the classroom, they are immediately bombarded with news and social media sites, and they will need to be able to make informed opinions. “So, while we have [students] in our classrooms,” Corales reasons, “let’s prepare them to talk about it.”
Corales’s story, from San Antonio to Stanford, is a symbol of hope for her students. By sharing her experiences at Texas State and the $30,000 Rockefeller Fellowship award that allowed her to attend Stanford, she encourages students to set high goals for themselves and to take charge of their education, especially those who are first-generation or those whose families struggle to support them. Just as her grandmother taught her, she wants her students to believe that they too can overcome imperfect childhoods. “If I can get to this place in my life without being prepared,” Corales tells her students, “imagine how far you can go.”
By Sammi Yarto, English Minor
One day in 2003, Aaron Barker sat in the office of English Professor Tom Grimes, who leaned back in his chair, scratched the whiskers on his beard, and with a few words, changed the rest of Barker’s life.
“He encouraged me to take myself seriously, and take my education seriously,” Barker says of that conversation.
Like so many college freshman, Mr. Barker enrolled at Texas State unsure of what the future might hold. Up to this point, his academic career had been pretty average: he was smart, but he never pushed himself to succeed academically. After reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in high school, his curiosity for literature came knocking. This curiosity spurred him to write his own short stories and get his Bachelor’s in English with an emphasis in creative writing.
But the upfront conversation he had with Professor Grimes became the pivot point in Mr. Barker’s life. He went from a “knucklehead kid to somebody who really cared about what [he] was doing.”
This clarity, however, didn’t immediately cement a path for his future. As a newly-minted graduate, Barker was still wondering where his passion for literature might fit into the “real world.” By chance, he came across an LSAT prep book and realized that he already possessed the skills necessary for taking the test. He decided he had nothing to lose.
Barker scored well enough on the LSAT to earn a spot in the University of Texas School of Law, a program regularly rated in the top 15 in the nation, according to U.S. News and World. Many of his classmates came from Ivy League schools and spent their holidays in places Mr. Barker could only dream of visiting. He remembers thinking, “These kids from Harvard are going to destroy me!”
However, as the first year wore on, Mr. Barker found that his English background gave him a unique competitive advantage: all of those analytical literature papers taught him the critical problem-solving skills lawyers need to craft arguments and counter-arguments. That same advantage also helped Mr. Barker land a position with the Texas Law Review, the most highly regarded academic journal at UT. As an associate editor, Barker led the review’s web component, which involved contacting law professors from all over the country for their responses to published articles. Barker also won Outstanding Constitutional Law Note of the Year for his poignant paper that analyzed constitutional law and school integration.
Today, Mr. Barker practices corporate and securities law at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, an internationally recognized firm that specializes in technology. Corporate law examines how stakeholders interact with each other, while securities law handles the ownership of stocks and bonds. For Barker, this means working with tech companies and their investors to assist in negotiating high-stakes deals, while also crafting the contractual documents that ensure the agreements don’t end up in lawsuits.
Often, Barker acts as a mentor for tech start-ups, assisting them in navigating the intimidating world of corporate and securities law. “I’m helping these companies grow, acting as their advisor in a very close way,” Barker said.
Without the advice of his mentor, Professor Grimes, Mr. Barker might never have found this level of success. Now, Mr. Barker seeks to pay forward that simple act of kindness by working in local non-profits like the Texas Civil Rights Project, where he’s done various jobs, including reading prisoners’ mail to look for signs of systematic abuse. Mr. Barker also represents numerous charitable organizations on a pro bono basis.
In September, Mr. Barker joined the Liberal Arts Advisory Board at Texas State University, becoming both the newest and youngest member. The board meets twice a year to discuss the current financial status of the college. Board members also share their time and expertise as ambassadors for the College of Liberal Arts and by giving input to those in charge. This new position has Mr. Barker back at Texas State – this time not as a “knucklehead kid,” but as a distinguished graduate and a rising attorney.
When asked for a piece of advice he wishes to pass on to current and prospective English majors, Barker urges them to “Embrace [your] passion. Dive into it headfirst, and allow yourself to be everything that you can.”
By Sammi Yarto, English Minor
“The extraordinary has always been ordinary to me,” explained Tina Žigon, who earned her MA in Literature at Texas State a few years ago and recently completed her PhD at the University at Buffalo while also accepting a position as Assistant Professor at the American University of Kuwait. Indeed, Dr. Žigon’s journey from undergraduate student at the University of Maribor (Slovenia) to Assistant Professor in Kuwait is nothing but extraordinary.
In 2002, while pursuing her degree in English Language and Literature, Tina took an American Literature course with Texas State’s Professor of English, Steve Wilson, while he fulfilled his Fulbright assignment in Slovenia. One afternoon while they were having tea, Prof. Wilson encouraged her to apply for the MA program at Texas State University. Prof. Wilson explained that he saw in Tina not only an insightful student of literature but also a person who had the tenacity to excel at the sort of challenges faced by those who pursue graduate studies in countries other than their own. “I always knew I wanted to do something more than just get a BA, but until Steve said those words, it never occurred to me that studying in the U.S. was even an option,” said Dr. Žigon.
After working through the complicated process of applying to study in the U.S., obtaining a teaching assistantship in the English Department in spite of speaking English as a second language, and traveling half way around the world to a place she had never visited before, Tina proved Prof. Wilson’s intuition right by thriving in Texas State’s MA in Literature program. “When I moved to Texas, I immediately felt at home,” she said, recounting how she began her academic career as a Bobcat in 2003. After graduating with her MA, Dr. Žigon stayed at Texas State for three years as a Lecturer in the English Department, teaching and serving as Assistant to the Director of Lower-Division Studies.
This past April Dr. Žigon defended her PhD dissertation at the University at Buffalo by Skpye from Kuwait, where she had moved with her husband the previous fall. “I’ve always had the desire to study the understudied,” stated Dr. Žigon, “and my main study interests have always been women writers as well as feminist and gender theories.” Her dissertation focuses on poet kari edwards’ a day in the life of p., which was written without using gender pronouns such as “he” or “she,” as well as the poet’s unpublished manuscript. “I am very interested in language and how it can enforce gender norms,” said Dr. Žigon.
“Books and literature are the one constant in my life,” says Dr. Žigon. From a very young age she knew she was passionate about teaching and has shaped her academic career with that passion as the guiding principle: “this love of reading and teaching are the constants that came with me from Slovenia to Texas, then Texas to Buffalo, and now Buffalo to Kuwait.”
One thing that took some getting used to in Kuwait was “that things don't necessarily operate here on our idea of time…. Everything seems to move slower, “ stated Dr. Žigon, “but when you have to take care of something at the bank and you need to wait, they will serve you coffee or tea, and make your time there comfortable.“ To help her understand more of the culture, Dr. Žigon hopes to start learning Arabic, their official language, this summer. She also looks forward to teaching in the fall after having met some students at different university events over the past nine months. She states, “everybody here very much appreciates and even in a way reveres education…. It’s amazing.”
For Dr. Žigon, home is the place we make for ourselves: “Humans are the same fundamentally everywhere you go… although they may lead a different way of life and embody a different culture from your own. You can teach wherever you are and you can pick up a book and get lost in it wherever you are…. That’s what makes home to me.”
By Leeann Cardwell, International Studies major
Chances are, you probably have never thought that making a quilt could help you earn your PhD. Neither did Sonia Arellano. However, as she completes her dissertation for a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Arizona, she also will be assembling a quilt for the Migrant Quilt Project, a non-profit organization that gathers clothing left behind by migrants in the Tucson sector of the desert and uses them to create a quilt memorializing each person who died crossing the desert that year.
Sonia started her PhD program with an interest in the history of Mexican-Americans, which has only grown during her time in Tucson; the experience that comes from working to change anti-immigration legislation, teaching English to immigrants and refugees as a volunteer, and working at an immigrant intake center have caused her interests to develop into an analysis of the discourses about immigration. Her dissertation invokes the “larger immigrant conversation, looking at how we deem lives grievable or not grievable and therefore worth memorializing or not worth memorializing.”
Sonia earned her bachelors in Mass Communication and English from Texas State University in 2006. While at Texas State, Sonia took a Chicano literature class “that really changed a lot of (her) choices.” She also studied abroad in Spain while completing her bachelors; after graduation, she moved there for a year and a half. While abroad, Sonia decided that she wanted to pursue a Masters in Literature and returned to Texas State University. During this time, Sonia was asked to chair a panel discussion at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, an experience that allowed her to meet “a bunch of people interested in the same things as (she) was,” giving her encouragement to pursue her interests. She says it was at that point that she was convinced to apply to PhD programs in Rhetoric and Composition. Her current doctoral program is focused around cultural critique, meaning that her studies focus on the ways language is persuasive, as well as how things such as body movements or artifacts portray a particular message in literature.
In February, Sonia was featured on the Conference for College Composition and Communication Latin@ Caucus Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nctecccclatinocaucus.
By Leeann Cardwell, International Studies major
Shawn Reagan graduated from Texas State in 2010 as an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing-Poetry. “People still ask, ‘why did you study poetry?’ and I feel like there was no better way for me to experience and understand the world than through that medium. I studied English because I couldn’t find anything more valuable, so I figured I better not waste my time studying something else.” A few of his favorite classes in college were The Meaning of Life in Film with Dr. Jeff Gordon, his study abroad program to Ireland with Steve and Nancy Wilson, Philosophy of Education with JoAnn Carson, and The Beat Generation with Steve Wilson.
While finishing up his undergraduate degree, Mr. Reagan applied for and received an offer from the Peace Corps to be sent to Malawi one year after his graduation date. During his two-year assignment, he taught English in a rural secondary school, organized and ran a national education camp for 80 students and 20 teachers, and taught at the national teacher’s college. After returning to the States, Mr. Reagan went to work as a trainer for the Posse Foundation, a national non-profit organization that aims to select, prepare, and support students with diverse backgrounds to graduate from college in a “posse” of ten. Mr. Reagan travels across the country to three universities to support students by facilitating discussions that promote cohesion, leadership, cross-cultural dialogue, and academic success.
While Mr. Reagan’s post-grad endeavors may not be typical for an English major, he states that the degree prepared him to be “an excellent communicator; an adept listener; and empathetic to cultures, people, and places” he had not yet heard of. “I’d probably tell students who were considering studying English that, if they think there’s something to be found, then they should seek it out and follow that trail. Don’t undervalue yourself.”
By Leeann Cardwell, International Studies major
Entering into her fourth year of university teaching, Texas State graduate and former MA Literature student Dr. Moriah McCracken is the Director of First-Year Writing and Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at St. Edward’s University. Dr. McCracken was introduced to life in academia when she came to Texas State University as a transfer English major. She was hired to work for the Writing Center as a tutor, where she discovered a love for writing pedagogy and program administration. “So many of the students I worked with those first few years didn’t identify as writers—writing was this thing that alienated them from their thoughts and ideas—but our sessions gave us the time and space to talk about ideas and process without the constraints of grades and assessment.”
The hands-on work experience Dr. McCracken gained at the Texas State Writing Center working with Dr. Nancy Effinger Wilson (at that time, Director of the Writing Center) led her to meet Rebecca Jackson, Director of MA in Rhetoric and Composition, who introduced her to writing studies, history, and theory while also serving as her mentor. As Moriah worked on her degree, she focused her thesis on rhetoric and composition theory and the commentary practices of teaching assistants. Through these experiences, Moriah states that she not only learned “how to research a topic… but also how to revise (her) thinking and writing in light of what (she) was learning”- a method she shares with students in her classrooms today. After completing her undergraduate degree, Dr. McCracken went on to pursue an MA in Literature at Texas State, eventually earning a PhD from Texas Christian University.
In addition to teaching, Dr. McCracken is currently working on two collaborative scholarly projects. The first is an edited collection of articles describing how various college writing programs are helping students learn about writing rather than how to write. The second is a research project conducted by Dr. McCracken and Brittany Johnson, St. Edwards University Librarian and Texas State alumna, investigating whether the co-teaching of a topic, specifically incorporating conversation into scholarship and research, may improve student learning.
Dr. McCracken’s advice for students looking into or currently enrolled in the Texas State English program is simple: explore ideas deeply, ask questions, reflect and experiment with different possibilities, engage in the conversations you hear, and explore mentoring relationships with faculty. However, “most importantly, embrace the chance to think, write, and share with others.”
Originally from Sweden, Texas State alumna and former English major Anna Tenghamn, who now teaches English at Morton Ranch High School in Katy, Texas, notes that she “considered moving back to Sweden for college. I would have been able to study English there, but I fell in love with the Texas State campus when I tagged along on a friend’s college tour.”
While at Texas State, Tenghamn pursued and received a BA in English with a teaching certification. Following her graduation, Tenghamn added a supplemental ESL Certification to her résumé. She is now able to serve ESL students in her classes, and has quickly progressed to teaching Pre-AP English I, which she will do for the first time during the 2015-2016 academic year. “Being a student at Texas State impacted my career greatly,” Tenghamn said. She went on to explain that her ability to inspire and engage students in critical reading and deeper thought resulted from her experience as a student at Texas State. “It’s not about the right or wrong answer; learning through literature is about the process — as well as creativity and independent thinking.”
Beyond her current career as a teacher in Katy, Tenghamn’s experience at Texas State has also inspired her to pursue teaching abroad. She said she was inspired to teach abroad after she participated in the Texas State in Ireland program coordinated by English Department Associate Chair, Steve Wilson; and the Department’s Director of Lower Division Studies, Nancy Wilson. The Wilsons “challenged me to see literature from different perspectives,” Tenghamn explained. “It was an incredible experience.”
Tenghamn notes that having two years of teaching experience in America is not an uncommon requirement when it comes to teaching abroad. Her two years of experience are currently in progress at Morton Ranch. Tenghamn hopes to eventually teach English at an American international school, preferably in Europe, so she can be closer to her family in Sweden.
MFA Creative Writing in Fiction graduate — Scott Blackwood — has received widespread praise and recognition for his recently published novel, See How Small. The novel is a fictionalized account of the devastating rape and murder of four teenage girls working at a yogurt shop in Austin, Texas, in 1991. The point of view shifts from chapter to chapter as each character tries to cope with the loss, confusion, and fear that came as a result of such a traumatic event. A book review by NPR describes See How Small as, “brutal, necessary, and near perfect”; The New York Times listed it as an “Editors’ Choice”; and People included the book in its top choices for 2015. “There’s just been an outpouring of support for it,” Blackwood said. “They’ve singled it out and… that’s really rewarding.”
Blackwood graduated from the MFA Fiction program in 1997. “I started [the program] in 1992 [and] went a year while working fulltime and taking classes,” Blackwood explains. He left the program for about two years before going back. “[My return to the program] was largely due to Professor Debra Monroe,” Blackwood went on. “She’s incredibly positive and encouraging. She champions the people who do good work and also the ones that fall down a little —I was falling down quite a bit.” Blackwood was at the time a new father in the midst of a divorce and working as a fulltime high school teacher; while these factors weighed heavily on his ability to commit to the program, he was able to return and complete his degree with the encouragement and support of his peers and mentors. “There were people there and [Dr. Monroe] gathered them around and made them feel like they were a part of something bigger — you just have to find your people.”
Blackwood noted that his hardships as a student and as a writer have greatly impacted his abilities and his approach as a professor and as an author. “Hopefully I can give [students] some advice from having been a part of that community at Texas State; that was a life-changing thing for me,” Blackwood went on. Blackwood stressed that writing was not a “lone wolf experience.” He said that the “real experience” of writing requires some dependence on other writers and readers, and that this dependence “will go on forever.” In addition to finding that sense of community, Blackwood also believes such time in school is essential to an individual’s development as a writer. He explained that, for students, “[school] is your place to develop a vision for yourself as a writer. This is your time — that doesn’t come again. You’ve got to figure out how to make that [vision] before you leave that rarified world of academia.”
Blackwood currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on fiction at Southern Illinois University. He is in the early stages of developing and writing a book based on the war veteran’s character in See How Small. Blackwood said the book will be “more about mothers and sons… [and] war trauma — all of the mothers who have endured their kids leaving and coming back very changed — it’s an interesting and moving experience [and] I want to [explore] that.”
“I think I always loved the way you can make patterns with words,” Michelle Detorie explains. “I enjoyed nursery rhymes and songs, and I loved reading and being in my imagination, and language was a way to create and structure and sustain those engagements.”
This love of language and poetry certainly shines through in her first published poetry collection, After-Cave, recently released by Ahsahnta Press. A collection of abstract pieces, After-Cave explores feminine and feral nature through poems featuring a possibly human and possibly alive narrator. As Michelle explains, After-Cave offers an experimental narrative perspective: “My own adolescence and coming-of-age in South Carolina is also there. The main speaker in the book is a 15 year old girl who doesn’t know if she is human.”
While earning her MFA at Texas State University in 2004, Michelle focused on themes of gender, intersectionality, and animals. She also devoted time to researching ancient and medieval forms of divination, which she experimented with as a way to make poems. This inspired her thesis, titled “Myomancy,” which refers to a type of divination done by observing mice. These themes persist in After-Cave, which she describes as being inspired by “a decades-long engagement with feminism and feminist poetics, and a life-long fascination with animals and the natural world.”
Michelle, who notably held the Rose Fellowship while attending Texas State University, currently lives and teaches in Santa Barbara, California, at Santa Barbara City College. In addition to writing frequently, Michelle has also created a public art project called The Poetry Booth. Michelle describes The Poetry Booth as a “free, and mobile site-specific installation that works as both a display and workspace for experiencing and creating poems with the guidance of practiced poets and educators.” The booth, which provides a physical space with tables, chairs, and supplies, has traveled to several locations in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
Clare Barker is an Assistant Professor at Colorado Technical University Online. She is working on her PhD at the University of New Mexico under Dr. Anita Obermeier and Dr. Helen Damico. This upcoming fall, she will transfer to the University of Durham in the United Kingdom. Her dissertation will focus on mental health and stability in medieval mystics, saints, and visionaries.
For the past year, English graduate Evangelina Yanez has been working as an Academic Support Intern at Wayfinder Schools Camden (Maine) campus through a program supervised by AmeriCorps of Northern New England. The program is based on a nine-month accelerated graduation plan, with the potential to graduate eight students a year. During the day Evangelina assisted in classes including American Sign Language, reading, writing, radio, as well as a block called Real Life Skills. Monday through Wednesdays after academics, she and a residential overnight counselor would eat dinner with the students and oversee daily chores. They would then facilitate homework hour and use free time to connect with students on a more personal level. Evangelina was also in charge of heading service learning projects in the community, such as coordinating visits to the elder care home up the road and working at the community garden.
Dr. Joddy Murray has been invited to become an ACE Fellow by the American Council on Education. Dr. Murray received a master's degree from Texas State University.
*Is the Room,* the debut poetry collection from MFA poetry graduate Rosetta Ballew-Jennings, has just been published by Jaded Ibis Productions.
Elliott Brandsma was recently awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and is now studying Icelandic language and literature at the University of Iceland.
Dr. Pamela Buchanan Miller is a native of El Paso, Texas. After graduating from Southwest Texas State University with her M.A. in English in 1992, she moved to Mobile where she joined the University of Mobile’s Center for Adult Programs. She has served as Dean of the Center since 2008. Over the past 20 years, she has had the pleasure of working with more than a thousand adult students. She earned her Ph.D. in Instructional Development and Design from the University of Southern Alabama in 2009, where her research focused on characteristics of adult learners.
Click here to learn more about the Center for Adult Programs at the University of Mobile.