Nita Novianti

“Every day I walked to campus I had to pass the river, the beautiful river, wearing my hijab. In the summertime, people would be sunbathing in bikinis. And here I was, walking among them fully covered head-to-toe, but nobody said anything.” With these thoughts, Texas State Alumna Nita Novianti reflects on her time at Texas State as a graduate student in the MA Literature program, expressing that her memories are of the kindness and acceptance that have extended beyond her time in Flowers Hall. From her current home on the island of Tasmania, she says, “learning [at Texas State] gave [her] so many invaluable experiences,” and that even when she felt like “an alien in the fields of bikinis,” she was reminded of how welcome she was.

Before walking her kids to school on an April morning earlier this year, Novianti relayed these fond and powerful memories from her experience studying at Texas State, while her children laughed and played behind her. She had been awake since the early hours of the morning, completing work on her Ph.D. in Education with a focus on teaching critical literacy through fairytales. Studying at the University of Tasmania, Novianti explains that the roles she balances each day — “a Ph.D. student, a mother to two children, a wife, a daughter, a lecturer for [her] University in Indonesia, and also a translator,” embody the global journey she has taken through her study of literatures in English.

After earning an undergraduate English degree from the Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (Indonesia University of Education) (her home country), she enrolled in Texas State’s graduate MA Literature program after being awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to support her studies. Her time at Texas State was her first time abroad, so choosing the right program to enroll in for her 2-year Fulbright Scholarship was important. Of her first experience corresponding with the English Department, Novianti fondly remembers that, after receiving a personal response – rather than an automated reply – to an email she sent asking about the program, she immediately thought, “I need to go there.”

Among the scholarly interests she explored at Texas State are postcolonialism and feminist literature, interests she attributes to her “background as a woman from a Southeast Asian country that was one of the colonized nations in Asia; I feel like this literature represents who I am.” She also notes the influence her children have had on her work, “I also love children’s literature, especially since I gave birth to my two beautiful children.” Initially, she says, children’s literature was not a topic she was particularly interested in, but “now [she is] in love with it.” Today, her interest in children’s literature is her main research focus for her current studies toward the Ph.D..

During her Master’s degree, she was able to explore her interests as well as investigate new ones. Realizing English literature was “even wider in scope than I thought,” she lists Chicanx and Native American literatures as examples of types of new texts she was exposed to at Texas State: “I thought [English Literature] was just, you know, canonized, white, male literature. I came to realize it is beyond that, so I felt enlightened in so many ways.” Expanding her exploration of English Literature with the Department’s faculty also brought useful challenges to the way she teaches, writes, and reads; she recalls in particular the support of several professors, including Steve Wilson, Robin Cohen, Nancy Wilson, Paul Cohen, Nancy Grayson, Daniel Lochman, and Rebecca Bell-Metereau.

Since graduating with her MA Literature degree in 2010, Novianti had the opportunity to discover a passion for teaching at the university level, using her graduate work to secure a Lecturer position at the Indonesia University of Education, where she was the first English Lecturer to hold an M.A. in literature. She notes, “many of the Lecturers graduated after studying English education, so I felt like it was a blessing.” She also works to share her passion for reading and the inspiration she gets from it by posting read-along videos to YouTube. Starting as an activity shared with her children, her videos allow her to share her storytelling and “the joy of reading” with as many people as she can. Maintaining the YouTube channel and her personal blog have since become some of her favorite hobbies.

Now living off the coast of the Australian mainland, she continues her global journey, as well as her study of literature: “It’s beautiful here…. I really like it. It kind of reminds me of Texas; the people are so bubbly here.” While maintaining her many roles, Novianti continues down the long road to her Ph.D. work, sharing that many of the skills she gained and experiences she had at Texas State were invaluable for success on the path she is now traveling.

 

–  Kennedy Farrell, English Major

Graham Oliver

After planning to move to Taiwan with his wife, Texas State alumnus Graham Oliver found a teaching position at an elite, private high school in the capital city, Taipei. Teaching English Literature and Writing to 8th, 9th, and 10th grade students since June of 2019, Oliver says he “[has] a lot of freedom over what [he] choose[s] to teach.” This freedom allows Oliver to assign one of his favorite books as an interesting text for his students, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, while conducting his courses with a similar rigor to American universities.

Oliver earned his MA in Rhetoric and Composition at Texas State in 2014, returning immediately after graduation to enroll in Texas State’s MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) program and earning an additional Master’s degree in 2017. His love of writing, craft, and structure persists through his previous work as a tutor at the Writing Center, a Texas State Lecturer, and now as a high school English and Writing teacher in Taiwan.

Of his time at Texas State supporting writers in the Writing Center as well as lecturing in literature and writing courses, he claims the teaching preparation he gained in the English Department is his most valuable knowledge for teaching abroad: “anyone in the Department would, at the drop of a hat, help you with any kind of situation that you are having.” This generosity guided him when he began teaching and prepared him to address a variety of needs in a classroom, enabling him to adapt to new situations that still challenge him today in Taiwan. He reflects that the one-on-one instruction in writing he carried out with students in the Writing Center at Texas State remains among his favorite methods for interaction with his Taiwanese students, although this semester, Oliver is challenged by teaching through a mask during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Part of a foreign teaching program, Oliver works alongside mainly American and Canadian teachers. A normal day involves interactions with a variety of students and pursuing a number of interests and creative projects on campus. Typically, he stops at Starbucks for a coffee; teaches his classes; and then steals away from the communal office housing more than twenty instructors, opting to complete his work free of distractions and in an empty classroom.

After school hours Oliver likes to take advantage of the walkable city streets, using the Taipei 101 tower as his guide towards Wuxing, his favorite neighborhood just outside downtown. The neighborhood features some of his favorite comforts abroad: a farmer’s market of fresh produce, vegetarian food, and a small park. One of his favorite activities is to explore unfamiliar areas of the city with his wife – “sometimes we pick a subway station to go to explore” – an adventure that has led them to some of the best food and sights of the city. In addition to wandering the streets of Taipei and teaching his courses, Oliver has been studying Chinese and trying to piece together the elements of the language: “trying to learn a new language has made me use a completely different part of my brain. It’s sort of like having a jigsaw puzzle that you go add a couple of pieces to each day.” Pleasantly surprised by some of the words he has learned, he lists a few favorites: “good is woman and child; bread is the word for flour combined with the word for package; popcorn is written as the characters for exploding, rice, and flower put together.”

Oliver also notes that another of his hobbies while in Taiwan is baking bread, an activity he picked up in graduate school. Amid the stress of completing his Master’s degrees and the uncertainties of teaching, neither of which offers concrete immediate results, baking bread was a stabilizing activity to manage stress; “with cooking you have a final product … there is an end that is exactly what you’ve hoped for.” Now living abroad and teaching in an entirely new environment, he still bakes, though he also enjoys reading and playing video games in his free time.

While his main priorities now are teaching and adapting to life abroad, Oliver still investigates video game narratives as a scholarly research interest. Among his published works are two essays, including a personal essay in the Harvard Educational Review (2013) on his experience as a sixteen-year-old high school drop-out; and a peer-reviewed essay on storytelling in video games, “Renegade or Paragon?: Categorizing Narrative Choice in Video Game Storylines”, published in Dialogue (2020).

 

-Kennedy Farrell, English Major

Christian Wallace

South of Texas State’s main campus, bands play nightly at the historic Cheatham Street Warehouse in front of a floor-to-ceiling, stage-lit Texas flag. Country classics, blues, original compositions, and local favorites such as George Strait’s hits, resonate within the honky-tonk – now preserved as a piece of local San Marcos culture. This lively musical hotspot draws students from the University as some of the visitors, musicians, and artists who fill the space. One of those students, now forever changed by his experience at Cheatham Street, is Texas State Alumnus and Texas Monthly writer Christian Wallace.

During his time at Texas State, while he completed his undergraduate degree in English, Wallace frequented the local Cheatham Street honky-tonk. Surprisingly, Wallace’s trips to Cheatham Street, where he embraced what he describes as a “vibrant community of artists,” influenced the subsequent thirteen years of his education and career. Cheatham Street was a place to explore and relax while attending classes at Texas State University, but the hangout also became a scholarly and journalistic interest for Wallace when he chose to focus his Honors thesis on the history of the establishment and local country music. During Wallace’s final years at Texas State, the location was in danger of being bulldozed before two Texas State professors purchased the space to prevent the destruction of this cultural hotspot – a potential loss that propelled Wallace’s research. Wallace completed his thesis, graduated from Texas State in 2007, and went on to earn a degree in Writing from the National University of Galway in Ireland. There, he explored Ireland’s culture through music, living with a group of artists and friends he made in this home-away-from-home. He began writing poetry to supplement his prose work, receiving acclaim and publishing several of his pieces in the States and Ireland. Wallace received a Pushcart nomination for a piece titled “Drought” that appeared in the Literati Quarterly and covered his experience working in a Texas oil field.

Today, Wallace is accomplishing a long-term goal of writing full-time for Texas Monthly. Having read the magazine his whole life, Wallace notes “[he] didn’t just want to write for a magazine, [he] wanted to write for Texas Monthly.” When Wallace returned to the States after graduate school, he realized to write for Texas Monthly he needed to secure an internship that would begin his career at the magazine. These internships, he found, were primarily awarded to students in exchange for course credit, so Wallace re-enrolled at his alma mater. Finding himself a student again, Wallace participated in the English department’s internship program, led by Internship Director Dan Price. This program allowed Wallace to pursue his Texas Monthly position, meeting only once every two weeks on campus to receive credit. Eventually, and because of his work as an intern, Wallace was able to advance to assistant editor in 2016.

His recent articles, achieving the most acclaim and exposure to date for his journalistic work, cover traditional Texas honky-tonks and their influence on the people who frequent them. Last year Wallace’s “Texas’s Greatest Honky-Tonk Hits,” was the cover article for Texas Monthly’s September issue. Facing away from the camera and leaning against a jukebox, Wallace himself is pictured on the cover of the magazine, selecting a song from the many Texas classics. This piece is currently a finalist for a National Magazine Award, which Wallace describes as “the Oscars of magazine writing.” He describes this project as symbolic of coming “full circle,” and returning to his academic interest in honky-tonks that started as a hobby while he studied at Texas State.

Currently, Wallace is creating episodes of a podcast that explores the West Texas oil boom and is titled “Boomtown.” Of all his projects, he claims this has been his most challenging. Wallace explains the thoughtful intention of scripting the pre-recorded show: if something needs to be changed “[he has] to go all the way back and re-record. It’s not like writing a story where [he] can just delete a word to change it.” This project has released episodes since December as weekly installments through Texas Monthly, showcasing Wallace as writer, reporter, and host.

As a journalist, his daily work may change from “reporting on a covered wagon in Houston, Texas” to “sitting in a basement listening to recorded archives,” as he prepares for and writes stories. Reflecting on the many hats he has worn in the time since completing his degree and achieving his dream of becoming a writer for Texas Monthly, Wallace recalls the resources he had at Texas State to help him reach his goals. Access to the Wittliff Collections, internship resources coordinated by the English Department, and professors available to offer advice are among the assets he valued most, seeing him through his time as a student and beyond.

 

– Kennedy Farrell, English Major

Tomás Q. Morín

Nov. 19th, 2019

Standing on East San Antonio Street and gazing across the lawn towards the Hays County Courthouse, an architect might realize that the building’s domes and coulomb-supported, peaked entrance are reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson’s neoclassical plantation house.A headshot of Tomàs Q Morín Walking the downtown streets, that same architect might notice the many arched windows patterned with painted brick that decorate the businesses lining the square. Poet and professor of creative writing Tomás Q. Morín, who earned his MFA in Creative Writing at Texas State and is the author of the recent collection Patient Zero, says that, through exploring the “history, style, technique, and the interaction of [these elements] in design and culture,” one uncovers stories hidden within the details. He encourages students and young authors to read as writers, “mov[ing] through a book the same way an architect moves through a city.” Moreover, he says these young writers must experiment with the forms and techniques they find in the texts they read.

Among the texts Morín admires for their enlightening takes on craft and storytelling is Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, a nonfiction text he taught over several semesters at Texas State during his time as a Senior Lecturer. This text was originally written in German, an acquired language for its Japanese-born author. Morín appreciated the complexities of an author writing creatively in a second language, a subject the text explores. Incorporating a similar method in his own poetry, he brings his knowledge of the Spanish language and the Latinx community from which he comes to his writing. In his debut collection of poetry, A Larger Country, Morín explored “other countries, whether they be real or countries of the mind.” The manuscript was selected for the prestigious American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize from over one thousand entries, with the book being named a runner-up for the Joyce Osterweil Award from PEN America, which recognizes important literary achievement by emerging authors. In addition to his two poetry collections, he also has published a translation of Pablo Neruda’s The Heights of Macchu Picchu.

Morín today finds inspiration for his work at a window-side desk in Lubbock, Texas, where he has a view of the green foliage around him. In this space many of his recent poems have taken form, though the city he writes from has changed in the years since his time at Texas State. These poems comprise his recently published collection, Patient Zero, whose title poem was prompted by the question “if ‘Love’ were a disease, who is patient zero?” In this collection Morín explains the poems are written from a “persona” that fits the poem’s subject, rather than Morín’s own point of view. By contrast, the political, emotional, and cultural issues that impact his life and the lives of his loved ones inform his upcoming collection, Machete. Father figures, mental health, toxic masculinity, and the intersections of nonfiction and poetry are featured themes and concepts in both Machete and the memoir Morín is currently writing. Reflecting on the year so far, comprised of writing, revising, teaching, and parenting, he says the poems in Machete and the material in his memoir “may be [his] most personal yet,” featuring his investigation of his own father figures as he begins his new role as a father himself.

Now a Visiting Writer-in-Residence at Texas Tech University, where he is currently teaching undergraduate nonfiction workshops, Morín has found that his reading and research for his classes support the memoir he is completing. These nonfiction courses and writing, while not the poetry Morín is most experienced with, have allowed him to explore a new writing medium. To describe this change, he says, “poetry is focused on a much smaller canvas,” and he is enjoying making broader strokes through nonfiction.

Of his time at Texas State, he remembers the people he worked with and studied alongside most fondly. “These are the people I call on my weekend phone calls,” he says, describing his hobby of calling old friends and having long conversations over the phone. He delights that he can send them a poem to critique in a pinch “or even call them to talk about basketball,” having found true friends in his academic peers at Texas State who continue to shape his writing as much as they shape his life.

-Kennedy Farrell, English Major

Chelsea Wunneburger

March 2019

 

Where modern architecture meets ancient neighborhoods, Master of Arts in Technical Communication alumna Chelsea Wunneburger witnessed the passage of time on her tour of Beijing. Wandering the city’s streets, she passed intricately ornamented doors and buildings painted in the lively red color that for the Chinese means luck. Later, she hiked the Great Wall of China, which was so steep at times that she had no choice but to hold on to a pole to continue climbing. The Forbidden City, formerly a palace complex barred to common people that now serves as a museum, was filled with beautiful buildings and lavish gardens. Many people dream of traveling the world, but Wunneburger took her dream of traveling to heights she never imagined for herself before she graduated from Texas State. Now she continues a years-long exploration of foreign cultures as she teaches English as a Second Language abroad.

In addition to her MATC degree, Ms. Wunneburger earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas State. While in graduate school, Wunneburger took her first trip outside the U.S. with the English Department’s Texas State in Ireland study abroad program. One place that struck her as particularly beautiful in Ireland was the town of Killarney, in Kerry County: “Hiking out there, being on the beach, the fresh sea air and the Atlantic Ocean meeting you, it was just so gorgeous.” On top of the beauty of Ireland’s terrain, Wunneburger discovered the connection between literature and place as she read the works of authors like James Joyce and then saw the reflection of the texts in contemporary Ireland. Her experiences on this trip were enough to convince her that she needed to continue traveling, but a love of travel isn’t the only thing Wunneburger gained while at Texas State University.

Wunneburger’s degrees lend themselves well to the teaching of English, especially since she teaches writing in the majority of her classes and her Technical Communication classes focused mainly on different types of writing. “The main reason why I studied technical writing was because it’s like an umbrella of different types of professions.” As a student in the Technical Communication Masters program, Wunneburger had the opportunity to learn about grant writing, medical writing, technical writing in multiculturalism, and writing centers – all of which played a role in preparing her to teach writing. With the variety of writing classes she took and the different perspectives on writing that she explored, Wunneburger felt prepared to teach writing, even without any previous teaching experience. In fact, even now Wunneburger works to improve and maintain her writing skills, as she is constantly refreshing herself and furthering her own understanding of English communication to better educate her students.

In August 2014, when Wunneburger was on her flight to Spain to begin living and teaching abroad, she was terrified and filled with anticipation all at once. Like any person might be, she was worried about how well she would be able to integrate into and navigate a new culture, but she also was excited to learn. Because she didn’t have any previous experience teaching, her first classroom was co-taught with a native Spanish teacher, and she originally intended to work in Spain for only one year. She instead co-taught for two years before moving to an English classroom of her own. While teaching in Spain, Wunneburger did her best to engage students through interesting activities, like speaking games and charades, and cultural exchange. Among her cultural exchange activities was one in which students were asked to cook a simple dish of their choosing, filming and describing the process in English for a grade. Among the dishes the students produced were paella and tortillas, traditional Spanish dishes, and one of Wunneburger’s students even brought tamales wrapped in banana leaves (as opposed to the corn husk tamales Wunneburger was familiar with in Texas). The ability of students to participate in an engaging activity and share the fruits of their labors was important to Wunneburger because it connected with the students more personally than typical book-based work. She answered their efforts by sharing foods from her own culture, including the Texas staple, Dr. Pepper, as well as English slang words that brought more life to the English language for her upper-level students.

As much as Wunneburger loved her job in Spain, after four years there she realized that she was becoming too settled. “I knew that I thrived in situations where I was uncomfortable.” With this in mind, Wunneburger moved to South Korea, where she continues to share her culture with her students. To celebrate the end of the most-recent term, they brought in traditional Korean dishes to eat while they did their lessons. Cultural exchange has been an important part of Wunneburger’s experience abroad, and so she strives to make it a part of her student’s experience in her English classrooms. On top of wanting to make the language accessible to students, she always wants to help them succeed by exposing them to one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. “Living overseas constantly reminds me that I am lucky to be a native English speaker.” Wunneburger is preparing students for the global arena that she has spent so much time exploring, confident that the English skills she teaches them will serve them well in the future.

When she completes her assignment in South Korea, Wunneburger hopes to return to the U.S. to visit her family for the first time since 2016. Despite the physical distance, she and her family remain emotionally close, even closer than when she was still living in the U.S. “Because of living abroad I’m more frequently in contact with my family.” Unable to see her family whenever she wants to, she has grown to appreciate the time that they do get to spend together even more and values their time talking over WhatsApp and Skype. She and her father remain particularly close, and he occasionally contacts her across multiple different messaging platforms just to say hi or tell her that he loves her. Though Wunneburger doesn’t intend to move back to the U.S anytime soon, she looks forward to seeing her family in person again and sharing with them the many remarkable moments she has enjoyed abroad since she departed Texas State all those years ago.
– Claryssa Luera, English major

Dr. Terri Leclerq

June 2018

Texas State alumna Dr. Terri Leclerq didn’t consider herself an activist when she heard about the torture techniques being taught inside the U.S. Army School of the Americas, but she felt compelled to do something about it. In 1998, she and her daughter flew to Fort Benning, Georgia to join four hundred and sixty-four other people to peacefully protest. “We filed in two by two, walked into an open army post, and were arrested for trespassing on a military installation,” says Dr. Leclerq. Sixteen of them, not including Dr. Leclerq or her daughter, were sentenced to six months in a federal penitentiary.

Letters from those imprisoned described inhumane conditions, including denied access to medication and punishment by being fed a diet of “green loaf,” a mix of vegetables and food scraps that met the minimum dietary requirements while being nearly inedible. When Dr. Leclerq, a professor of Legal Writing at UT in Austin, read these letters, she decided to write a Law Review article to expose these injustices. She spent years studying the Prison Litigation Reform Act and trying to understand the cases that litigated it. Upon its publication, she realized that people who taught Criminal Law already knew about the issues in prison litigation. Her article wasn’t helping those who needed it most.

To reach that ignored audience, she decided to cut her forty-page legal article down to a more accessible graphic novel. “I turned it into a graphic novel to teach the inmates. They’re the ones who needed to know this stuff,” she says. However, this decision posed a new challenge: Dr. Leclerq had little idea what a graphic novel was, let alone how to create one. Fueled by her conviction that she could change the world, one she realized during her time on the Student Senate while earning her undergraduate degree at Texas State, she set out on a decade-long project to create what would eventually become Prison Grievances.

First, she had to determine what exactly a graphic novel was, and then she enlisted the help of a student at LBJ to learn how to format one like a screenplay. After it was written, there was the issue of finding and paying an artist to do the artwork, and then a letterer to write letters in the speech and thought bubbles. When all of this was done, she discovered that publishers were uninterested in buying it, and so Dr. Leclerq also had to learn about self-publishing. Her friend offered to buy a copy for every prison library in Texas, and then the Texas Board of Criminal Justices had the book banned from prison libraries. “That was the lowest point, for me,” says Dr. Leclerq. “Their own authorities had helped me with the book.”

The finished product is a graphic novel titled Prison Grievances, a handbook for prisoners to navigate the grievance process. The novel follows a no-nonsense pro-bono lawyer named Mr. Dibs—an acronym for “don’t be stupid”—as he enters prisons to teach inmates about their rights while incarcerated. It also teaches them how to file grievances, which are complaints against unjust treatment of prisoners by the prison system; and warns against filing excessive or petty grievances. By doing this, it empowers inmates to have their problems properly addressed rather than overlooked due to a litigation error.

By offering this power, the novel has impacted many prisoners who have read and used it. In Dr. Leclerq’s office, there are plastic tubs crammed full of mail from inmates, and more mail comes in every day. Some of these people write to express their gratitude, while some write to express confusion as to why their grievance got rejected by the system. Dr. Leclerq replies to them, explaining what went wrong with their grievance. “Sometimes it’s too scattered,” says Dr. Leclerq. “And sometimes it’s a perfect grievance and they just got screwed.”

For the book, Dr. Leclerq has been awarded the 2018 Golden Pen Award, which honors those who make a significant advancement in Legal Writing. She is the first activist to win the award and hopes to represent fellow activists working in her field. Although her career has included many accolades and important publications, this one holds special significance. “We all need to do something about injustice,” she says. “This book was my attempt to do something.”

Moving forward, Dr. Leclerq has been asked by the Texas Juvenile Justice System to put together a book like Prison Grievances for children in the JJS. She’s excited that people understand “they need to change their approach to educating people who need it, to find a way to reach them without letting the legalese get in the way of the message.” She encourages everyone to use their voices to rectify injustices in the world, through whatever means available, to make a positive impact.

Dr. Terri Leclerq received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Texas State University and is a founder and active member of the Donor and Alumni Advisory Council for the Department of English at Texas State. The council works to create a bond between the English Department’s faculty, students, alumna, and donors. Dr. Leclerq offers insight into the legal community’s expectations for the English Department and its students.

 

— Gloria Russell, English major

Dr. Courtney Werner

January 2018

Dr. Courtney Werner grew up in a tight-knit family in a small town in the forests of Pennsylvania. During her undergraduate program at Moravian College, she worked at the school’s writing center. From this experience of helping people with their writing, she found her life’s work. After graduating, she decided to pursue advanced studies in the field in order to improve writing centers and make them more accessible to students and faculty. Her undergraduate advisor put Werner in touch with Dr. Rebecca Jackson at Texas State University, who was accumulating students for a new Masters in Rhetoric and Composition program that dealt with writing center theory. Intrigued by the possibility of studying writing centers at a graduate level, Werner decided to make the move from Pennsylvania to Texas She didn’t want to leave her family and her home, but she knew she needed to get out of her comfort zone if she wanted to fulfill her dreams.

The dramatic change in environment made Werner feel isolated at first. Separated by half a country from her family, Werner called her mother every day that first semester. When she returned for the second semester, though, she overcame her loneliness by introducing herself to her peers and bonded with fellow graduate students. After finding fellow classmates with similar interests, her sense of isolation and dependency decreased. “I learned that I could be an independent person,” Dr. Werner says.

With more confidence, Werner also rediscovered a love for computers and digital media while taking a class called “Computers and Writing.” She realized that she could combine her love of writing, her love of digital media, and her love of writing centers. To help hone her interests and skills into a thesis, she worked closely with Dr. Jackson. The two now have a close relationship, personally as well as academically. Dr. Jackson particularly noted Werner’s ability to “work in her field with compassion and heart.”

Werner graduated from the Master’s program and went on to Kent State University in Ohio for her PhD, where she worked as the Assistant Director of Digital Composition, helping faculty to integrate technology into their classrooms. In the meantime, she wrote her dissertation on how scholars and faculty in rhetoric and composition programs discuss new media. She realized that there isn’t a precise definition of “new media,” and as she says, “while there really isn’t anything new about it, we talk about new media in ‘new’ ways.” For example, where a web designer might focus on the form or layout of a website, Dr. Werner interprets design as a form of rhetoric. Specifically, a website with only videos conveys information differently than a website with only text. So, if a person goes to a writing center’s website and sees only videos, Dr. Werner asks, “what are they trying to convey to their audience with their layout?”

After spending time in her first teaching role post-PhD, Dr. Werner decided it was time to return to the East Coast to live closer to her parents. She found an ideal opportunity at Monmouth University, where Dr. Werner is now an assistant professor, teaching entry-level composition courses to incoming freshman as well as upper-level courses in digital media. In her composition courses, she teaches students the importance of writing for an audience. She also uses the different forms of writing, such as making and labeling charts, to challenge her student’s preconceptions of what it means to write. Dr. Werner argues that to write means to convey information, not just to adhere to certain written sentence structures. Although Monmouth is a private university, the interesting student population still offers insightful perspectives into the world of digital media.

For Dr. Werner, it all began when she decided to take a chance in moving from Pennsylvania to Texas. She had a lot to lose, but her choice ultimately paid off. Now, Dr. Werner has developed her passions and will continue to do great work in developing those different perspectives to help writing centers across the country.

 

–Gloria Russell, English major

Enkay Iguh

June 2017

Moving from Nigeria to the United States at nine years old, Texas State alumna Enkay (Kay) Iguh experienced intense culture shock. She found herself in a new place, surrounded by new people, and overwhelmed by the vast size of America. “There was so much of everything and so it took me a long time to feel like any of that was mine,” she says. Despite the dizzying change, there was a distinct feeling of optimism surrounding her new life. Kay describes that one of the biggest surprises was “the sense that you could be free to explore and be whatever you want to be—you’re told that everywhere, but nowhere did I fully believe it more than in America.”

From a young age, Kay enjoyed writing. However, she didn’t realize that writing could be her career until she reached Texas State.  Before she arrived as an undergraduate, she considered her writing to be personally fulfilling, but not necessarily a lifetime vocation. She largely credits her professors at Texas State for realizing her potential and pointing her in the right direction to pursue her writing professionally.

Her professors in the English Department often suggested she seek advice from other professors who could help her with individual projects as well as planning for her future. Their availability and encouragement greatly motivated Kay to write more seriously and find a clearer path for her future. Professors were also available to speak with her about her personal life, serving as mentors for her outside of the classroom. “There were so many people shuttling me along in a really nice way,” she says.

She is grateful in particular for the positive influence of Twister Mariquiss, her instructor in an undergraduate creative writing class. Mr. Marquiss remembers that Kay had enormous talent as a writer even as an undergraduate. “She was the best undergraduate writer whose work I ever had the privilege of reading,” he recounts, recalling her mastery of the English language and her “storytelling ability to transport readers outside of the American mainstream.”

Although she considered joining Texas State’s MFA program in creative writing, Kay decided to move yet again, from Texas to Brooklyn, to attend New York University’s MFA program. There, she found herself challenged immensely. “I felt like I was in class with the best writers and the best readers. It was an environment that made you want to be better,” she recalls. Kay learned quickly that it didn’t matter how talented or supported a student was—regardless of a person’s gifts, the only way to succeed, she says, is through grit and hard work. This hard work proved to be instrumental in winning a NYC Emerging Writer’s Grant, which provides a monetary reward as well as opportunities to meet with agents and mentors; and the Disquiet Literary Prize, for which her story “House Girl” was published in Guernica and for which she received a trip to Lisbon, Portugal to attend the Disquiet International Literary Program.

The complications of immigration are a large part of what drives “House Girl.” The story is one part of a novel-in-progress titled A Fine Thing. In this book, Kay hopes to discuss issues of immigration, identity, family, and the meaning of home. “The big question the book asks is what happens when a person leaves their home for somewhere else?” Growing up, she obsessively read stories about Jewish immigrants, realizing later that she loved them because she could relate to them as an immigrant herself.  Young immigrants and their children often feel disconnected from their culture and struggle to find a sense of identity. Kay hopes that her novel will resonate with people and provide the same connection that stories of immigration provided for her.

Kay currently teaches high-school students creative writing. She enjoys connecting with students, breaking down their barriers, and engaging them in new literature and writing to which they might be initially opposed. “Teaching is a way for me to connect with students and also to re-connect with the young student that I was. I think back to the great things my teachers did for me and try to share that with my students.”

And of course, she continues to write—for Kay, writing is a compulsion. “Writing is how I think. I express myself better on the page,” she says. She emphasizes reading as vital to the writing process, and personally enjoys experimenting with different styles. “It’s a balance of storytelling, recognition, and experimentation.” She draws inspiration from Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, and authors who have unique styles. She especially enjoys literature written by black women. She points out the importance of readers encountering a diversity of voices in literature.

As is true of many immigrants, Kay continues to feel connected to her former country, and she plans to do work for Nigeria in the future. “I have many dreams of what I want to do in Nigeria. I definitely want to give back to my Nigerian community there, whether it’s through education or promoting literacy.” For young writers who haven’t found their footing yet, Kay offers this advice: “Whatever the raw material is at your core that makes you want to write, protect that thing. Keep it pure. Don’t adulterate it with desires to be the most published or the most awarded.”

 

by Gloria Russell, English major

Gabriella Corales

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

Aaron Barker

December 2016A photo of Aaron Baker

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