Alumni Feature from Kyle Bernaciak ’16

Officer Kyle Bernaciak, Chicago Police Department 006th District—Gresham

As I walked out of an English course, Irish Literature, in late March of my senior year at Hope, I scrolled through new emails on my phone. My heart nearly stopped on the second-floor landing of Lubbers Hall, as I received the news that I had been accepted into the Chicago Police Academy. I had been ordered to report the Monday following my graduation in May 2016. My relatively simple college student lifestyle was about to change. I was on the threshold of the so-called real world.

Fast forward six months, I’m patrolling a beat on Chicago’s Southside, particularly the Englewood neighborhood. It’s a community that doesn’t resemble me. Residents are almost entirely African-American, they have varied religious beliefs, and most individuals fall below the poverty line. This neighborhood leads the city in violent crimes, shootings, and homicides.

My partner and I just finished completing a police report for a young woman who was robbed at gunpoint while walking home from work. Now, we are maneuvering traffic on Marquette Avenue with our lights oscillating and the sirens blaring.  We’re responding to a call about a person with a gun, and the address of occurrence is within an enhanced violence zone.  It’s my first few weeks on the streets and, as you can imagine, I’ve got a cold sweat, and I can’t predict what is going to happen next. It turns out not to be a bonafide incident. We get back in our squad car, drive away, and get called over the radio to respond to a domestic battery incident a few blocks away. I think to myself how things have changed in only a few short months.

My transition from an English major with the intent to be a high school teacher to a Chicago police officer was a rather peculiar one. My father has been a Chicago firefighter since 1980. I guess you can say civil service is in my blood.  I didn’t want to settle after graduation.  I wanted to do something different. One of my favorite classes at Hope was “Race Matters,” taught by Dr. Stephen Hemenway. Analyzing race, diversity, and ethnicity was fascinating and eye-opening. We always had very valuable classroom discussions. The texts were intriguing.

Looking back, there is valuable advice that I want to pass on to Hope students deciding on their next steps after graduation.  Hope students, like me, need to grasp the valuable academic knowledge in their courses and immerse themselves in new cultures rich with diversity and elements of the unknown. They have to take the risks.  It will pay off.

Now, I’ve been a Chicago police officer for over a year and a half. I work in the Gresham neighborhood, also located on the Southside. I can confidently say that I utilize my Hope College English education multiple times throughout each tour of duty.  In the English Department, students are taught to be genuine communicators. Additionally, they have to analyze texts and present their ideas in a concise, yet persuading manner. On a daily basis, my duties as a police officer are enhanced by my English education background when I:

  • generate Case Incident Reports and Arrest Reports. These legal documents have a narrative component that requires the ability to articulate elements of the crime.  Poignant language and a clear narrative flow are essential to the overall effectiveness of the report.
  • communicate with citizens in various forms, whether in a call of service, a traffic stop, a narcotics investigation, or a community concern. Sometimes, I can be a friendly presence for kids to let them know I’m here to help.


Hope College allows students to individually flourish. They have endless opportunities to express their ideas and beliefs and to take stances on important issues. An English major from Hope will open so many doors of opportunity.  So embrace risks.  Explore various careers.  Make diverse connections.  Never doubt your intellectual ability. You’ve studied under professors like Hemenway, Moreau, Kenagy, Dykstra, Burton, Montaño, and Trembley— they’re the experts. Listen closely to their advice, because I guarantee it will pay off. If you happen to “fall” into a profession, stick to what you know best and rely on the skill set that you’ve perfected at Hope College.

Alumni Feature: Peter Derby, Class of 2005

Dear Reader,

One of my former professors asked me to write to you.  She suggested, in not so many words, you might like to know how having an English major at Hope College can influence your future.  Not knowing you personally, the next best thing I can do is write a letter to “past me”—the me that was once in your shoes, sitting in an English class at Hope wondering about my future.  I want to let my former self know what he’s up to now, 15 years later.

This morning you woke up and hopped on the subway in Brooklyn, NY. (That’s where you live.) You’re practicing a pitch on the train to Manhattan for your meeting at CNN’s New York headquarters with one of their senior producers, the Director of Technology for CNN Digital. You’ve known this producer for a few years, and today is important because you want him to hire you for a project. You’re telling him about a documentary series that follows people who move to destination cities – like New York, Paris, London – without a plan, risking luck and failure. You hope CNN’s digital studio or the NY Times digital studio might be interested in collaborating or buying it. Sounds promising, right?

So how can I prepare you for this morning far off into the future? Well, you certainly had no idea you’d take a career path that led to today. What is relevant for you to know is this:  these pitch meetings will require that you deliver concise thesis statements, and the better you get at writing thesis statements, the better you get at pitching ideas.  A lot of what you do in 2017 relies on what you learned about how to structure your thinking.

There are a lot of things you don’t know and won’t be able to prepare for with your career. Yeah, you’re thinking if I don’t know what I don’t know, what is the point? You don’t know it yet, but understanding the fundamentals of narrative structure and analysis of that structure will become more important as technology transforms how people communicate and make sense of their world.

Here’s another example. Last week you met a client. It was good to see him, but he had bad news. A colleague of his, a mutual acquaintance and a director of content strategy for a well-known startup, had been fired.  When asked why, he shook his head regretfully and said: “he just didn’t know how to structure his thinking and clearly lay out what his team needed to do.”

Back in 2005, it was not useful to try and figure out what your job title would be, especially since your path to this point was by no means linear.  There’s no Senior Vice President of English Thought Process as, say, an engineering major becomes a Senior Engineer.

So here are three useful things you realize about what you learned at Hope as an English major.

  1. It is valuable to learn how to ask questions. How do you arrive at a question and what is the premise? Can you simplify complex problems to essential points? Are you listening (or reading), or are you reacting?
  2. Once you’ve developed a point of view, a thesis (a.k.a. a pitch), do you know the best way to format/structure your point and increase its potential impact? Is there a better or quicker way to do this? In developing your point of view, follow the ideas you’re fascinated in because everything is needed quickly, and professionals know a safe boring story before you even tell it. (Just a heads up.)
  3. Are you open to learning new ways of communicating and developing new perspectives?

These aren’t things you thought about as an undergrad, but after you left, they did stay with you, because you’d been practicing the discipline of structuring your own thoughts and taking them seriously. You didn’t call it this, but that’s what happened. As your advisor once told you as you sat in his office, you should be able to construct a thesis and strong argument about the chair you’re sitting in. If you haven’t yet identified the skills you’re developing and enjoy practicing as an undergrad, I know a few professors who can help you. Somewhere between the skills you learn at school and the skills of your future career, there is an overlap.

After you get off that train in Manhattan, arrive at CNN, and deliver your pitch, your contact there is going to nod and tell you your project is interesting.  He is going to ask you how you feel about learning how to film, capture light, and frame shots. This will be a bit like putting together a puzzle, where you aren’t given all the pieces, but, hey, you’re an English major.  You know what you’re doing.


Alumni Feature: “Reading Against The Grain”

Sally Smits Masten, ’01

What are you doing now?

Currently, I am a Writing Center mentor at Western Governors University, an online nonprofit university that primarily serves adults going back to school for their undergraduate or graduate degrees.  I adore this work.  I feel really lucky to be part of it.  I get to work with dedicated students all over the U.S. who are working so hard to make life better for themselves and their families.  I get to help them gain confidence in their writing, which is just joyful work.  And I get to work with a wonderful bunch of colleagues and at a university that works hard to keep students at the center of all we do.

Second, but not least, I live in North Carolina, near the shore, with my marvelous husband, my ridiculous dog, and my grumpy cat.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

My Hope English education shaped me in every way, really.  My professors were then (and are now) some of the best people I’ve met.  They taught me to pay attention to detail, to think hard and revise my opinion based on a second look, another point of view, someone else’s comments.  They opened my eyes to whole new fields that I otherwise would have avoided (e.g., Milton, Pope!).  They continuously reminded me why I loved words and books and poems; they sustained that enthusiasm.  They taught me how to read against the grain–a skill I use every day.  Simultaneously, they helped me trust my own ideas and voice, which, despite my loudmouthiness now, was not something I was able to do at 18.

Perhaps most importantly, though, they taught me compassion.  They made me want to become a teacher, but beyond that, even now, they make me want to embody exactly the kind of respect, kindness, seriousness, and thoughtfulness with which they taught me.  My gratitude for those relationships is just boundless.

What advice would you give to English majors today?

Don’t listen to all the people who say, “What will you do with an English major?” Or, more sarcastically, “So, you plan to be a barista?”  English majors are valued and valuable for their insights, their ability to communicate those insights, their ability to carefully craft and interpret language.  I have many English major friends, of course, and we’ve ended up in many fields — publishing, business, law, education, healthcare, nonprofit work, etc. The important thing is to pursue what you love and know that there is a place for you and what you love in the world. It may be scary sometimes, but there is a place for you in the world.

If you could teach any English class, what would be the title?

Currently, since I live in North Carolina, since I studied 20th-century southern poetry for my dissertation, and since the debate over Confederate monuments has sprung up again recently, I would like to teach a course titled “Take It Down: Southern Poets Writing against Racism and Sexism.”  I’d have to do more research, but on the syllabus, I’d definitely include Anne Spencer, Jean Toomer, Eleanor Ross Taylor, Robert Penn Warren, and oh, so many more.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

Of all the questions…!  Paradise by Toni Morrison is maybe my all-time favorite novel.  Wilderness of Ladies, a poetry collection by Eleanor Ross Taylor, is a collection that just keeps revealing more brilliance each time I come back to it.  Any and all of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poems. And, for the joy of it, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, maybe the best (only?) children’s book about unionized cows ever.


Registration? Fear Not – English Department Has Your Back

Courses for Spring 2018

REGISTRATION! It strikes fear into the hearts of even the hardiest of students, but you, oh lovers of literature, have no worries.  Why?

Because the English department offers so many terrific courses, you can’t go wrong!  Check out these unique offerings in literature and creative writing for Spring 2018:

  • The Beatniks with Prof. Hemenway
  • Comics and Graphic Novels for Writers with Prof. Trembley
  • Ethnic American Young Adult Literature with Prof. Montaño
  • Novels of Adventure with Prof. Verduin
  • Novel Writing with Prof. Trembley
  • Vocational Discernment with Prof. Montaño
  • Science Writing with Prof. Montaño
  • Walt Whitman’s America with Prof. Pannapacker
  • Creative Writing in the Community with Prof. Childress
  • And MORE!

We’ve got courses on British writers, American writers, science writing, modern grammar, and other topics chosen just for you.  You can find descriptions of these and more HERE at our department website.

Let us know if you have any questions by stopping by our offices or writing us an email.  We’d love to hear from you and to see you in our classes!

EVENT: JRVWS Author, Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal

The second event of this year’s Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series is almost here! This Thursday, October 19, JRVWS will host multi-genre writer Paisley Rekdal. Rekdal is the author of two books of essays and five books of poetry and has had work featured in a number of noteworthy journals. Rekdal’s visit will include a question and answer session at 3:30pm in the Fried-Hemenway Auditorium of Martha Miller as well as a reading at 7:00pm in the John and Dede Howard Recital Hall of Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts.

In Paisley Rekdal’s most recent book of poetry, Imaginary Vessels, she explores feminism, violence, identity, and themes of containment, inviting readers to reflect on their own place in the world. When I first read Rekdal’s poetry, I was struck by her images, which are at once vibrant, graceful, and captivating: her “palace animals’ teeth” or the “fine chinks of spine/ unlocking perfectly/ from each other.” Rekdal’s poems range from traditional forms and rhyme schemes, to more genre-defying, narrative pieces. Nevertheless, each poem demonstrates an unmissable and intuitive understanding of shape and craft.

Rekdal’s work in other genres is no less compelling. In her latest non-fiction book, The Broken Country, Rekdal continues to explore violence, but also looks at cultural trauma and the specific experiences of Vietnamese immigrants.  Rekdal’s carefully chosen words were deeply moving and informative to me, though I had little previous exposure to her topics.  She gives a personal and human face to the trauma experienced as a result of war and immigration. Weaving personal reflections with the careful analysis of other stories and events, Rekdal’s prose provides a unique understanding of violence and immigrant identity.

Don’t miss your chance to connect with Rekdal this Thursday and hear her words come alive. In the mean time, you can also get your own copy of her books at the Hope College Bookstore or be thinking of questions to ask her at the Q&A.

This is also a good time to remind the Hope College community and the Holland community at large of the invaluable opportunity offered by JRVWS:  the chance to talk with and hear from publishing writers. Be sure to come out to this event and contact the director of the series, Susanna Childress, for more ways to get involved.

Dr. Susanna Childress enjoying JRVWS.

For more details about the event, check out the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series Website

— Grace Hulderman, JRVWS Student Intern

Alumni Feature: “Do What You Love”

Annette Bourland, Class of 1994

What are you doing now?
I am a Senior Vice President and Group Publisher for Zondervan, which is part of HarperCollins Global Publishing. I oversee the acquisitions, marketing, and publicity for Zondervan and Zonderkidz titles. We publish books, gift books, videos, Bibles, curriculum and digital products including audiobooks, ebooks, digital books, and apps.

How did your Hope English education shape you?
I was set to become a stockbroker or an accountant while pursuing my Business Administration degree. When I became a senior, my advisor informed me that I only needed four more credits to earn an English major, so he helped me locate an internship with a magazine publishing group near Hope’s campus. Through this experience, I realized my business focus along with my love for writing, editing, and being creative could be blended together in the world of publishing. If I had not been guided toward that internship, I may have had a long path of figuring out my career in light of the two loves: managing money and managing the books, actual books—not just accounting books!

What advice would you give to English majors today?
Absolutely do what you love and find ways to express that through your work. I loved books, so as a sophomore and junior, I worked at an ABA independent bookstore in Holland. I loved to write, so as a senior I wrote movie reviews, author bios, and short articles for newspapers and magazines. The internship I held at the magazine group allowed me to try many different areas of publishing (writing, design, finance, author relations, marketing, publicity, project management, etc.) and this allowed me to identify what tasks and responsibilities generated energy within me rather than zapping my energy and leaving me depleted.

Just a few weeks after I graduated from Hope, I asked the Career Placement office if I could hold informational interviews with Hope alums who had “edit” or “publish” in their titles. I landed fourteen phone interviews and from those calls, and I was able to schedule five entry-level job interviews in New York City. One alum who worked at Reader’s Digest recommended me for a job. I interviewed, I got my first job after college, and to this day I’ve never even met her in person. There are many Hope alums around the world who have a strong interest in helping others in any vocation. Be sure to tap into that network, even if it’s just to ask a few questions…including: “do you know of any entry-level job openings at your current employer?”

If you could teach any English class, what would be the title?
How to Have Fun Every Day at Work – OR – Just Because You Are an English Major Doesn’t Mean You Have to Be a Teacher—OR—English Majors Can Do Anything

Can you share a favorite book read recently or in college?
In college: Personal History by Katherine Graham – really well written and inspiring for women who want to change the world.

Recently: Solo by Kwame Alexander because I published it, and I want everyone to read it even if it is YA fiction.

Faculty Feature: Welcome to Dr. Christiana Salah, Assistant Professor of English

Victorian Steam Train, Strasburg Rail Road, Pennsylvania. Photo Credit: Christiana Salah

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

The number one thing?  Conversation. To me, there are few things in life more fun than discussing a good story. Maybe that’s because I grew up in a family of very, very talkative bookworms! I still talk to my sister and brother about books all the time, and—like a lot of people who teach—both of my parents worked in education. But when it comes to teaching at the college level, what’s most exciting to me is that students have incredible ideas of their own to shar—my duty as a teacher isn’t just to hand out knowledge, but to do my best to foster deep, interesting, enjoyable discussions.

What excites you about your scholarship?

Well, like I said, growing up I was always the kid with her nose in a book. At some point along the way I started reading classics, and I fell in love with the 19th century—Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc. In my scholarship, I’m motivated to understand what values, conventions, and shared experiences formed the perspective of writers like these. Different as their world was, so much of what they were dealing with applies to our own time. Reformers faced many of the same concerns—overcoming obstacles for women, bridging economic gaps, promoting social progress without losing a sense of shared identity—yet we rarely look back to this period for inspiration, or pitfalls to avoid. Instead we often see it as a simpler time, a time of black-and-white morality, which just isn’t correct. So my scholarship is mostly about making those connections and complexities visible.

Where are your favorite places to travel? Why?

I’ve spent time in England and Ireland, which was wonderful—getting to see the locations of some of my favorite books, soaking in gorgeous landscapes, and drinking as much tea as possible! But probably the most incredible trip I’ve taken was to New Zealand. A good friend lives there, so I was able to spend several weeks and tour both the North and South Islands. It’s a breathtaking place. Driving around you might find yourself among green sheep pastures that look like County Kerry, and an hour later be in a desert with snow-capped mountains. And of course, they have Hobbit holes there…

“Pancake Rocks” at Punakaiki, South Island, New Zealand. Photo Credit: Christiana Salah

As for my next trip—nothing planned, but I’d love the chance to see where my ancestors come from in Lebanon someday. That said, I grew up on the Massachusetts coast and my family is still there, so for the immediate future I’ll probably be traveling most to that area.

Do you have a favorite book or author?

Is that really a fair question to ask a literature professor? I couldn’t possibly pick one. I’ve mentioned some favorite Victorian writers already. I love Jane Eyre, I love David Copperfield. I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. Modern fiction rarely has the same magic for me, with a few exceptions, like A.S. Byatt’s incredible novel Possession. But when it comes to the 20th and 21st centuries, what I read most is children’s literature! If you stop by my office, it will quickly become evident that I love Rowling, Lewis, and Tolkien. I do scholarship on children’s fiction alongside my other research, because I’m in love with how vivid and fresh the field is. The people who write and study children’s literature have so much forward momentum—their passion for justice and improving the world constantly encourages me.

What appealed to you about Hope when you first considered working here?

A lot of things, but what comes to mind first is the value Hope places on uniting faith and intellectualism. As a life-long practicing Catholic, I love the idea of bringing the pursuit of spiritual truths together with rigorous critical thought to serve the goal of creating a more just and compassionate world. Teaching in an environment like this opens up cool possibilities…. For instance, my classes can dig deep into the motivations of Victorian writers whose social messages were profoundly informed by Christianity. And since Hope values understanding between diverse faith traditions, I’m excited about the wide variety of perspectives my students will bring to these conversations.

after the birth of the simple light

At the 2017 Pre-College Conference, Dr. Jesse Montaño shared his poem, “after the birth of the simple light,” which he wrote for the Hope College community. I encourage you to read this beautiful piece and reflect on the power of words.


Some Words For The Summer

A Flight for Time
By Dana Lamers VanderLugt

A friend once told me that if you really want to do something, first write down all the good excuses you’ve got not to do it. When it comes to writing, I’ve got a few:

● All the words have been said.

● I don’t have the right notebook or pen.

● People will think I’m a fake.

● People who didn’t like me in high school will say bad things about me.

● I can’t teach AND write.

● My kids keep interrupting me.

● It’s too late. I should be further along by now.

● I’ll wait until my kids are older.

● Nobody cares.

● I’m not that good.

● I’m tired.

● I’m hungry.

● I just got a text.

● I should check my email.

● I’ll look at Facebook instead.

● I’m way behind on laundry.

● I should grade papers or revise tomorrow’s lesson or brainstorm a new unit.

● I have nothing new to say.

● All the other writers have said it better.

● I’ll offend someone.

● I’m not spiritual enough.

● I don’t have time.

This month I said goodbye to another group of college writing students. And the last words I left them with were: “Find that thing — that thing you don’t think you have time for or that thing you loved but stopped doing when you were 11 or 12 because you didn’t think you were good enough, and make time for it.”

As usual, I was mostly saying words I need to hear. Giving reminders and passing along wisdom that good teachers and friends have shared with me.

Maybe a couple of my students were reminded that they do actually enjoy writing — but for others, writing is not the thing, but it’s something else: dancing, drawing, gardening, baking, yoga, reading — whatever. I tell them, just spend a little time on it, and maybe even release the temptation to think you need to be so good at it all the time. I read aloud this piece by Anne Lamott in which she urges us to find “half an hour of quiet time for yourself…unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour.” And then the students walk out the door to study for exams, and I head home to a house full of people who call me Mom, and the hard work begins — we have to figure it out. We have to fight for it.

Excuses are, of course, easiest when I’m busiest. It’s so much easier to blame my lack of writing on this family I have (who insist on eating several times a day), the boys’ baseball schedules (three boys playing baseball is no joke), the papers I need to grade (143 8th grade projects + 17 ten-page research papers), and the laundry I never put away (thank goodness for the door on that laundry room.) Oh, and that awful habit I’ve gotten into of checking all things on my phone — email, Instagram, Facebook — one last time before I go to bed.

But the reality is that I make time for what matters — and too often I find myself using my busyness as a not-so-clever form of procrastination. “I would, but first I need to…”

Just because something is good for me doesn’t mean it’s easy for me.

And this is especially true for writing. Red Smith said, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

The month of May is a perfect storm for calendars — little league, end-of-the-school-year this and that, deadlines, and, and…but if not now, when? There will always be calendars, always be excuses.

So, I’m committing — on this Saturday morning when I tiptoed out of bed to steal an hour before the rest of my house wakes up — to taking the advice I offered my students about fighting for time for the things that matter in the months ahead. I know summer is coming and the pace of our household will slow a bit, but other things will be there too, including excuses.

Congratulations to our award winners!


We’re SO PROUD of our English Department Award winners – many congratulations!






George Birkhoff English Prize: Rebecca L. Stanton

Erika Brubaker ’92 Award for Promising Achievement in the Study of Literature: Morgan S. Boer, Melanie G. Burkhardt, Kellyanne E. Fitzgerald, Theaphania A. Patterson, Hannah J. Pikaart, Shanley E. Smith, Madison T. Vererka, Brooke V. Wharton, Ryan T. Woodside

Williams Eerdmans Poetry Prize: Mitchell T. Van Acker

Williams Eerdmans Prose Prize: Elizabeth M. Ensink

Stephenson First-Year Writing Prize: Mitchel D. Achien’g

Sandrene Schutt Award for Proficiency in Literature: Ashley N. Bakker and Holly J. Wierenga

Erika Brubaker ’92 Awards for Proficiency in Literature: Gretchen Krause and Matthew J. Pelyhes

John D. Cox Award in Shakespeare Studies: Anne L. Oxendine

Clarence DeGraaf English Award: Robert D. Lampen and Cullen R. Smith

Stephen I. Hemenway Award for Promising Achievement in English Teaching: Aimee R. Hoffman and Emily M. Martin

Louis and Mary Jean Lotz Prize in Creative Writing: Elizabeth Ensink

Jennifer Young Award in Creative Writing and Literature: Katherine A. McMorris