“The Art of Attention and a Hope Education”: A Faculty Feature from Alex Mouw (’14)

Alex Mouw (’14)

During the spring of 2014, I’d walk into the south entrance of Lubbers Hall and pass the oil painting of President and Mrs. Lubbers playing a diligent game of chess. I’d round the corner onto the stairs and proceed to the second floor where a cross listed English and philosophy course on Existentialism met each Tuesday and Thursday.

It was this class that introduced me to the 20th century mystic Simone Weil, and one line of hers has remained in my memory ever since: “prayer consists of attention.” Weil wrote this as a defense of “school studies” broadly conceived. According to her, all subjects become inherently prayerful when given sincere attention, whether geometric problems, Yusef Komunyakaa’s poetry, or the history of the French Revolution. As a liberal arts student, I took this line as a mantra to remind myself that everything I was learning had inherent value.

Yet attention isn’t about wrinkling your brow in dogged frustration at an impossible homework assignment; instead, it’s about de-cluttering the mind, turning off the email notifications, making sure you are alone with a good novel, then letting that text soak its way into your consciousness. If this sounds fuzzy, I’ll remind you that Weil was a mystic.

What’s so special about a Hope education, and the English major in particular, is that it fosters two kinds of attention. The first we associate with that all-important skill: critical thinking. English majors are good workers in a variety of environments because they know how to pay attention, closely read whatever problem is at hand and find a solution. From English 113 to Literary Theory, English majors are trained in the art of paying attention. As previous alumni blog posts can attest (check out what Sara and Kian have to say), this training yields a more fruitful personal and professional life.

The second form is unique to a small institution like Hope: professors give their students the gift of close, sustained attention. Our student-professor ratio is 11:1, which is top-notch. But what does such a statistic mean in practice? When I was an English major, I could (and did) knock on any door on the third floor of Lubbers Hall with essay, application, or poem in hand, knowing that I’d receive wise and measured counsel. Never did I feel that I, the student, was pulling professors away from their “real work.” Instead, our work was a shared enterprise in earnest human inquiry. That gift has served me well professionally, but more importantly, it has made me a more attentive person. Now, as a faculty member, I try to carry on the tradition and offer all my students the same care that I was given.

As I planned an Introduction to Creative Writing course for this semester, I read a book by Donald Revell about how to write poetry. I figured I could pick up some new teaching ideas to guide students through a poetry unit. To my utter astonishment and joy, I got something much grander. In the opening paragraphs of The Art of Attention, Revell writes: “poetry is a form of attention.” What a marvelous gift of the liberal arts education (which doesn’t really end, even after graduation), to see Simone Weil and Donald Revell collaborate across nearly a century! I took his idea to heart as I planned the course. Since then, the students in my creative writing class have gained hours of experience attending to the world around them, harnessing that energy into strong writing, and then offering one another thoughtful feedback.

My experience with these two authors was facilitated by a Hope education, and it is emblematic of what the liberal arts can provide: Weil’s essay had been assigned to me, but years later I sought out Revell’s book for my own purposes and made an utterly unexpected connection. That connection, in turn, helped fuel my attention to others─in this case, English 253 students. This circular pattern of learning and sharing never needs to end, and it can get a jump start in the Hope English department.

I’m writing this at the end of the semester, and all the faculty members are positively giddy over the accomplishments of our students. So, a hearty congratulations to all those award winners who were honored at the department awards ceremony on April 17; to those participating in Honors Convocation on April 26; to those attending the Senior Dinner on May 3; and to those graduating on May 6. To all our students: we are proud of the diligent attention you gave to your studies this year, and we are eager to see where your learning carries you during and beyond your Hope career. You are always welcome in Lubbers Hall!

Hope College Academy of American Poets Prize 2018

About the Prize

The Hope College Academy of American Poets (AAP) Prize award is funded by the University and College Poetry Prize program of the AAP. The academy began the program in 1955 at 10 schools, and now sponsors nearly 200 annual prizes for poetry at colleges and universities nationwide. Poets honored through the program have included Mark Doty, Louise Gluck, Joy Harjo, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Sylvia Plath, Gjertrud Schnackenberg and Charles Wright. The winning poet receives $100.

Judged by Lauren Haldeman

Lauren Haldeman

Lauren Haldeman is the author of the poetry collections Instead of Dying (winner of the 2017 Colorado Prize for Poetry), Calenday (Rescue Press, 2014) and The Eccentricity is Zero (Digraph Press, 2014). She works as a web developer, web designer and editor during the daytime. She received her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and has been a finalist for the Walt Whitman award and National Poetry Series. She is also a mom and makes paintings.

Lauren Haldeman writes: “I loved reading all of these! I am really impressed with this quality of the work — there is so much talent here! It was hard to choose, but these are the two I kept coming back to, over and over.”

Winner: Amber Carnahan’s “Rooted”

Amber Carnahan

Lauren Haldeman writes: “Immediately this poem had me off-balance, engaged, interested. Within the first two lines, we are already moving from the wild and natural place of “bones bury roots” to the domestic and enclosed space of “in the body of my bed”. This initial action promises more angles, pivots and fresh viewpoints to come. The form alone carries the poem into higher realms, with slashed punctuation acting as indicative lines breaks, visual structure and pauses within the spill of consciousness. There are fantastic emotive turns in this work, hinging on singular words, such as “admiring the life // sprouting through the cracks // I am cracked,” while images such as “a kaleidoscope of nameless gravestones” thrill visually. Meanwhile, the subtle use of alliteration throughout the work ballast the poem in sound. Most of all, I love that we travel so far from the initial scene — the bed — outward to an interstate, to a graveyard, to cracks in a windshield, only to arrive back, finally at the end, to a snooze button on an alarm. This last image is wonderful: it is poetic, it is silly and it is human.”

Rooted

bones bury roots // in the body of my bed // head a rock refusing // to be lifted or even turned to face the window // displaying life in action // like the fry cook on his way to work // tracing the path of red bricks // and admiring the life sprouting // through the cracks // I am cracked // but not a violent shatter // that hints at spontaneity // but like a chip in the glass // of your car windshield // that time never provided // a chance to heal // fractures spread // until I am encompassed // by a kaleidoscope of nameless gravestones // my identity faded // past recognition // past grief // glass fragments intermingle // with the roots in my bed // I think about rising // before shifting the tide // of stagnance // from the window’s disapproving view // and hitting snooze.

 

Honorable Mention: Safia Hattab’s “The Aftermath Sestina”

Safia Hattab

Lauren Haldeman writes: “A sestina is a difficult endeavor, and not often successful. Yet the struggle to write a sestina sometimes reveals treasures of innovation, and in this poem they appear with a wonderful subtlety: in surprises like the switch from “flown” to “flu” within two stanzas, or the change of “tear” from noun to verb. I also enjoyed the odd images and newly-seen objects, such as “sugared wool” and “petals bleeding pollen into soil” that arise out of the quiet storm of this work. This is a rich poem, a poem that twists into and inside of itself; this is a poem that takes on a life of its own, through the demands of a rigid form, through its insistence on returning over and over to an obsessive question of ingrown desires.”

The Aftermath Sestina

The first time she bled,
tiny roses erupting from pieces
of broken glass, she flew,
like mama told her, to her safe place,
where crystalline tears
on cherubed cheeks stayed buried

in five year-old minds, buried
behind dollhouses that bled
candy floss’d sunshine, sugared tears
leaking from pieces
of puffy treats placed
by the honeyed God flown.

The second time she flew
to where her pain was buried,
a lotus bloomed in place
of the home, petals bleeding
pollen into soil, pieces
of yellow dust like golden tears

in vibrant green. No one told her tears
could grow, and as she flew
years later, she found only pieces
of cotton-candied buildings buried
under golden grass, encased by ivy bled
from crystalled seeds; no longer the place

she could hide, or the place
where houses grew from inked tears,
black from all the times she bled
crooked trails of rust, flown
over the graves of buried
worlds left behind, pieces

broken but intact. When she returns, pieces
of nostalgia still visible, she will place
another dilapidated shack over buried
remains, plant it with the tears
of a more mature sadness, festering like flu
until allowed to bleed

in buried houses with fruitless pieces,
bleed through sacred places and rotted sweet,
tear into sugared wool flown over cuckoo’s nest.

“To Reclaim Reading”: A Faculty Feature from Dana VanderLugt (’01)

Dana VanderLugt (’01) and her book-loving students

As an English teacher who races from my 8th grade classroom over to Hope to teach a late afternoon  composition class, I spend a lot of my time with young people in life’s messy middles: in the midst of adolescence, in the midst of the semester, in the midst of the academic year. When we’re swimming far from shore, it can be easy to lose sight of the mainland, to feel disoriented about what matters or where we’re heading.

Last semester, a quiet student, on her way out the door of our English 113 classroom for the final time, pulled me aside and asked: “Can you send me a list of books, maybe like some of the ones we read, that I could read next? This class reminded me that I like to read.”

In this mid-ish point in the semester, when our minds are on deadlines and to-do lists, when we’ve left behind the coziness of winter but are still waiting on the spring daffodils, an antidote may be remembering the joy that is reading, the beauty of words. We may deserve a gentle nudge to reclaim reading — not just as an academic pursuit, but as a comfort, a safe place, and a window to the world. Reading for the wonder of it.

While one of the strongest predictors of being a frequent, lifelong reader is a child who holds a strong belief that reading for fun is important, statistics show that reading enjoyment declines sharply after age eight, and that kids read for fun less and less as they get older, “with 45% of 17-year-old saying they read by choice only once or twice a year.” Author and teacher Penny Kittle describes a “calamitous drop-off in students’ reading after age 13 and a downward trend in voluntary reading by youth at middle and high school levels over the past two decades.”

Mary Cassatt’s 1894 painting “The Pensive Reader”

In this March is Reading month, those of us engaged in the study and teaching of English can be reminded that we are more than task-masters; we are ambassadors of literature, called to spread the love of reading. In the middle of our syllabi and schedules, we can hold fast to the deep conviction that books matter and that words have the ability to change and challenge us. And that in the midst of overwhelming to-do lists, what we might actually need most is to plunge into a good book.

Maybe one of my former middle school students can speak to this better than I can. In his end-of-the-year reflection, he wrote:  “Throughout 8th grade, I’ve learned many different things about my reading, but one main thing is actually caring about the story and theme. When I used to read, I did it just for the grade. Now, when I read books like the Harry Potter series, I actually pay notice to the characters’ emotions, the plot, and the relationship between people. Doing this gives me a larger respect for characters and stories. My newfound respect of stories actually makes reading a nice thing to do in my spare time, so I actually do plan to buy some new books. It may sound pretty nerdy, but I plan to read over summer vacation.”

Thanks to this young man, I’m adding “Leave class as an admitted book nerd” to my list of objectives in every class, at every grade level. And I will cling to his words when I’m mired in the middle and doggy-paddling in the deep end.

March on and read for the joy of it, my friends!  

Alumni Feature from Sara Sanchez ’14

 

Sara Sanchez (’14)

Since graduating three and a half years ago, I have been called Ms. Sanchez, Sanchez, or Sanchi at Holland Christian high school, teaching Spanish Language Arts and Psychology for two of those. And in the middle of that two-year teaching stint, I was a full-time M.Ed student at Calvin College. My intended plan after earning my B.A. in Secondary English and Psychology education at Hope was to teach for five full years and then get my master’s, but something called an H-1B, which is not a type of pencil but a work visa, swept my carefully outlined five-year plan off the table.

“Tell me not, in mournful numbers, only 65,000 work visas are given each fiscal year” (slight variation on Longfellow’s opening line in his poem “A Psalm of Life”).

I was born in Honduras and came to Hope College as an international student. Sufjan Stevens (a musician and the English Department’s most illustrious alumnus, in my humble opinion) was my college recruiter, even though I have never met the guy.  But the important thing here is that I am not a U.S. citizen, which explains why I need a specific visa to continue to work in the United States. Let me give a quick primer on this immigration process: Each year there are 65,000 U.S. work visas granted. The problem is that almost every year more people apply than the number of visas awarded. For example, the first year I was not selected, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS ) received 233,000 applications.

Although I taught Spanish and Psychology, I always told my students that I was an English teacher at heart. The Spanish Immersion program allowed me to combine my language arts background and my mother tongue well, so I taught literary devices, narrative elements, and essay writing in Spanish. In the Psychology course, I tried to include appropriate poems whenever possible. I had to keep that English teacher alive and well. My English education degree equipped me with the skills to communicate with parents, create engaging lesson plans, and manage a classroom of twenty-five students. I felt confident in my ability to teach, but what I quickly realized is that this degree and the English department shape you in more expansive ways.

When my identity and role as Ms. Sanchez was stripped away, I began to feel unmoored and anchorless (thank you, Hope College, for this fitting symbol). Amidst the muddled circumstances, my English degree proved to be a balm. Terms like paradox and metaphor became life-lines. I sat at the feet of fiction and poetry, not looking to analyze them, but for the ambiguity and openness they granted. Desiring certainty and a clear path, I saw in poetry a lesson which I had to embrace and learn. In the words of the poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer:

You do not need to know what comes next.

There is always another storm, and you

cannot hang the tent out to dry before

it has gotten wet. You cannot shovel snow

that has yet to fall.

One of my favorite classes at Hope College was “Creative Writing for Teachers,” which I took as a grad student. I had always wanted to take it, but never had room in my schedule, and when I found out the course would transfer to my M.Ed, I did not hesitate–I was coming back to my alma mater. Led by the great Rob Kenagy, the class met in Lubbers 221, arguably the best classroom on campus, adorned with books and a green chalkboard. Through a multi-genre creative writing project, this course challenged me to wrestle with my identity as an immigrant and the relationship between language and belonging.

Undoubtedly, a Hope College education prepares you well for a multitude of jobs. In the English department, through rigor and practice, you learn the skills to excel. But where I think the department shines is in the caliber of professors. They have a way of emphasizing the importance of becoming through their own empathetic, caring, and scholarly teaching. I learned attentiveness from close readings in Prof. Burton’s class, was inspired by Doc Hemenway’s curious traveling spirit and humbled by Prof. Moreau’s hardworking devotion. English majors: be warned that you will become versatile, resilient, and compassionate human beings because of this education.

Now I am headed to Western Theological Seminary, where my English degree will surely be beneficial. And as I continue exploring the innate messiness of not entirely belonging to one place or the other, I will be eternally grateful to this place and its people for the expansiveness of mind and heart they gifted me.

A Multidisciplinary Student Group Presents at #SAMLA89: An Undergraduate Research Forum Experience

–Dr. Kendra R. Parker

The Undergraduate Research Panel, “Gender and Race: Beyond Art, Entertainment, and Fashion” at the 89th Annual South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA 89) Convention was the first undergraduate panel I singlehandedly organized and moderated. Twice before, at the College Language Association Convention in 2015 and 2016, I co-organized a cross-campus undergraduate panel with students from Hope College and Howard University. I wrote about the students’ CLA experience here.

Not only did I organize this SAMLA panel based on my CLA experiences, but I also organized this panel because I was a respondent for an Undergraduate Research Forum at SAMLA 88 in 2016. SAMLA 88 was the first time, to my knowledge, that the Undergraduate Research Forum was held, and I was pleased to know there would be one-on-one time to respond to each undergraduate panelist’s presentation individually, an addition I had not personally experienced at CLA. As the respondent, I addressed each presenter and their work directly, offering praise, suggestions, and questions.

I wanted my students to have a similar experience, and thus “Gender and Race: Beyond Art, Entertainment, and Fashion” emerged.

Left to Right: Nina D. Kay, Curissa Sutherland-Smith, Dr. Kendra R. Parker, and Nia Stringfellow are all smiles before the 10 AM session began.

The three participants, Nia Stringfellow (‘18), Nina D. Kay (‘19), and Curissa Sutherland-Smith (‘18), represent a multidisciplinary trio—Exercise Science and Dance; Women’s and Gender Studies, Art History, and Creative Writing; Psychology and American Ethnic Studies.

They spent part of their 2017 summer preparing for the conference, and they also spent 4 hours on a Saturday morning in October participating in a conference simulation. To make the practice session as “real” as possible, I invited students enrolled in my fall 2017 courses to attend and to offer feedback on each of the presentations. Two weeks later, we travelled to Atlanta, GA on Delta Airlines on Thursday, November 2, 2017, and they presented on Friday morning at 10 AM.

Nia Stringfellow’s presentation, “The Man Who Wore Red: A Contextual Analysis of Chicago-Based Artwork,” explored the life works of Allen Stringfellow (1923-2004), an African-American collage and water-color artist whose artwork captured the joyous gatherings of African-American people. Stringfellow focuses specifically on Allen’s use of the color red—noting it functioned prominently in his paintings that depicted baptisms, and that those paintings of black people emerged after he stopped passing as white, engaging in a sort of rebirth of his own.

Nina D. Kay’s presentation, “Contemporary Children’s Media: (Re) Shaping the Way Future Generations Understand Gender” – retitled “The Second Classroom of Children’s Media: A New Lesson Plan on Masculinity & The Achievement of Manhood” – carefully considered the animation of bodies in three American children’s cartoons: Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe. Kay’s close “reading” of specific episodes highlighted the ways gender roles, gender expectations, gender identity, and gender expression are depicted.

Left to Right: Curissa Sutherland-Smith, Nia Stringfellow, and Nina Kay are all smiles as they enjoy the terrifyingly steep escalator in the MARTA station.

Curissa Sutherland-Smith’s presentation, “From Church Hats to Head Wraps: Black Women’s Fashion as Activism,” informed attendees of how Black women in America pushed through boundaries and chains to formulate a new culture and political activism that remains present today through head wear, specifically in self and communal identity, embracement of forbears, and resisting stereotypes and self-imposed images.

These students’ projects provided thought-provoking analysis to a small, but engaged audience in Atlanta. Their participation in SAMLA 89 provided them an opportunity to partake in academic engagement on a national level with experts in the fields of women’s and gender studies, arts, humanities, and cultural studies.

Taking students to SAMLA 89 was more than just an exercise in mentorship, a chance to refine public presentation skills, and an opportunity to present research; it was an opportunity to expose students to a community of teacher-scholars and to the rigors—and rewards—of communal engagement with material.

SAMLA 90, November 2-4, 2018, will be held in Birmingham, Alabama. The conference theme is “Fighters from the Margins: Socio-Political Activists and Their Allies.”

I am grateful for the experience and opportunity to travel with students. Our trip to Atlanta to attend SAMLA 89 would not have been possible without the funding provided by the Department of English, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the Mellon Scholars Program, and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Many thanks to Dr. Ernest Cole, Dr. Carrie Bredow, Dr. Anne Heath, and Mrs. Vanessa Greene for their generosity and support of student research.

Alumni Interview with Kian Hashemi-Rad ’14

What are you doing now?

Kian Hashemi-Rad ’14

Right now, I’m one semester away from finishing my M.A. in Leadership in Student Affairs at the University of St. Thomas. I currently work as a graduate assistant at St. Thomas in the Department of Campus Life. I also have a few side hustles: I clean at a yoga studio and I work for Warby Parker as a Sales Advisor slingin’ specs.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

In addition to English, I majored in French and minored in Studio Art. After I decided to pursue English, my ability to write and communicate took a sharp turn for the better. All three academic areas overlap, but each one broadened my knowledge in a unique way. The nuance required to create art deepened my writing not only as a form of effective communication but also as an outlet of artistic creativity. Learning to give and receive criticism in my writing helped me articulate feedback to peers in different studio classes.

Since my time at Hope, I have carried with me all the practical tools the English department gave me: effective communication, quality writing, and critical thinking needed to understand complex issues. I remember certain classes making me a more thoughtful and empathetic human (shout out to Dr. Cole’s Modern Global Literature). I learned a lot more than sentence structure or how to write a good paper; I learned how to better understand my own self through the stories of others.

What advice would you give to current English majors or students considering an English major?

To current English majors: have faith that you will find meaningful and valuable work after graduation. I cannot count how many people questioned my academic choices as an undergrad. Research exists (no, I’m not citing sources here but it does) articulating the strengths of not only a liberal arts education, but specifically the humanities. I promise you your English major will not leave you less qualified for a job.

To prospective English majors: trust your gut and give it a shot. At a liberal arts institution, you have the freedom to experience different academic departments that students in comprehensive or major research-intensive universities do not. Core requirements are designed to send you out with a well-rounded education, and I cannot tell you how valuable that is.

I often refer to the humanities as offering “vocational prep” as opposed to “pre-professional prep” (the way a pre-med program might, for example). You will learn valuable skills needed for a wide-variety of fields and professions; transferrable skills are essential in the work force and being able to articulate them clearly and concisely will go a long way.

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

Some might vehemently disagree with me for this, but I firmly believe history will look back on J.K. Rowling’s writing the way we today look back at J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. There’s a Lewis quote that says “A good children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” (Again, I’m not citing but trust me). If I were to teach a course, I would use the Harry Potter books as the central texts while filling out a syllabus with other children’s authors as well.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

The first book that comes to mind is Silence by Shusaku Endo. Dr. Cole introduced this text in Modern Global Literature and it upended my world. Endo tells the story of a Portuguese missionary in the 17th century who travels to Japan to spread the Christian faith. The book (and Dr. Cole’s teaching) made me look inward, questioning my motivations both professionally and socially, which ultimately changed the course of my college education.

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.

 

Students in New York City

Our students have some fantastic experiences, both on-campus and off. We’ll be featuring some current student stories as well as highlighting past adventures that showcase awesome student experiences. This month, here’s a throwback from 2012:

Students in New York City!

The English Department often has students off-campus in New York City. In Spring of 2012 we had three! We asked them three questions; here’s what they had to say.Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 11.22.20 AM

Leigh Clouse:

  1. What’s the best part about studying in NYC?

The best part about studying in NYC is the fact that there is so much to do here. I can go out every day and do something totally different. There are so many possibilities and it’s exciting to be a part of that.

  1. What’s the worst part about studying in NYC?

The worst part about studying in NYC is how much everything costs. I knew city life would be expensive, but the prices still leave me flabbergasted sometimes. You get used to it though.

  1. Classes here are different because…

Classes here are different because there really are no classes! We had seminars once a week for the first few weeks, but other than that we just have our internships. There’s definitely a different feel to working 40 hours a week though, which takes some getting used to. Yet, it’s a great break from studying and homework!

  1. Something I get to do in NYC that I wouldn’t do in Holland is…

Something I get to do in NYC that I can’t do in Holland is hop on a subway and travel to wherever I want to go. There’s always something happening in NYC, which is not always true of Holland.

  1. And, finally, New York is…

And, finally, New York is absolutely spectacular! I am in love with this city and its people. There’s a good chance I will be back here after graduation.

Alex Brennan:

  1. What’s the best part about studying in NYC?

There are so many opportunities and experiences I would have never come across living in Holland this semester. I have found cool bookstores, seen great musicals, ran into famous people, and met some of the coolest people I know.

  1. What’s the worst part about studying in NYC?

The adjustment from going to school and having class to working a 40 hour internship was really difficult. I had to prepare myself for that change. Normally, I like to take naps around 2pm or 3pm, but I sadly I can’t here.

  1. Classes here are different because…

Classes here are different because… they aren’t really classes. The first half of the semester we have seminars, where we explore the arts within New York. My seminar went to concerts and a poetry reading; we got to explore the culture of New York, which was an eye opening experience.

  1. Something I get to do in NYC that I wouldn’t do in Holland is…

there are so many opportunities to see people and shows that you would never see in Holland. I have pretty consistently seen a Broadway musical every other week and it is not that expensive with student rush tickets either.

  1. And, finally, New York is…

And, finally, New York is… a world of adventure. There is always something to do, it just needs finding.

Melody Hughes:

  1. What’s the best part about studying in NYC?

The subways. Everything is fantastically accessible. And subways don’t have to stop for traffic lights.

  1. What’s the worst part about studying in NYC?

The subways. Waiting forever for trains in the winter, sweating in warm weather, playing sardines with strangers, falling on strangers when the train lurches forward, and realizing the train you need doesn’t run at night are less than delightful.

  1. Classes here are different because…

I’m interning full time at a small book publishing company so it’s quite different than class. I feel more like a working adult than a student, minus the paycheck of course.

  1. Something I get to do in NYC that I wouldn’t do in Holland is…

Walk to Starbucks. There’s something like 144 of them in Manhattan. No matter where you are, you only have a block or so before you run into another one.

  1. And, finally, New York is…

The best of times and the worst of times. There’s homelessness, pollution, garbage, decay, wastefulness, addictions, and masses of people working dead-end jobs. But beauty lives here too. Artistic enthusiasm, pigeons, street performers, glimmering lights, parks, museums, food carts, piers, and the Statue of Liberty are all woven into the complex fabric of New York City.