Interview

Professor Aimee Taylor and her Classes Explore Ball State’s History

This semester, #bsuenglish Professor Aimee Taylor developed and organized an alternative final project for her ENG 104 class that focuses on archival research of Ball State’s history. With it, she hopes to immerse her students in scholarly research and unravel ageless inspiration. She will also be attending a conference this May where she plans to shed light on this exemplary work she is witnessing from her first-year students.

Ball State University will soon be preview-full-keepin_it_100.jpgcelebrating its 100th anniversary, but one English class is already getting a head start. They are looking into the archives from 1917, the year the university’s land was purchased, to now. The professor behind this project is Aimee Taylor, who the English Department hired this past fall. She has experience with archival research at her alma mater, Bowling Green State University, and decided to apply this technique to her ENG 104: Composing Research course. For the course’s final project, students must compile research in their selected time period and connect their findings to the central question: “How has Ball State changed?”

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Tara Olivero: Teacher at Homestead High School and Writer at Book Riot

Tara Olivero is a teacher at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne and a contributing writer at Book Riot. She graduated from Ball State in 2014 with a degree in English Education. In this post, she discusses her job as a high school English teacher and how her time at #bsuenglish helped her find her passion for teaching.

How would you describe your job?

My main career will always be my teaching career – I’m in my third year of teaching in Fort Wayne at Homestead High School. As any other high school teacher knows, it’s an exhausting job but one that’s personally satisfying beyond all compare. I also have two side-gigs outside of teaching. I’m a contributor at Book Riot, which I really love because it gives me a platform for my own writing. And my “purely for fun” job is that I work at an Escape Room in Fort Wayne on the weekends; I also write blog posts for the Escape Room’s website.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

I usually try to get to school between 6 and 6:30, so I can set up all the documents I need and make copies for students who have laptop issues. That’s when I don’t oversleep, of course. I teach five classes of freshman high school English, where we do the standard reading/writing you’d expect. I also teach one class of juniors and seniors in Film Literature, Tara Oliverowhich is essentially how to write thoughtful and critical analysis of films. After school, I’m usually still there until 4 or 5, either running one of the clubs I sponsor (including the school’s Creative Writing Club) or helping the theatre department with costuming. At the end of the day, I’ll finally head home to grade papers, work on my current Book Riot pieces, or pet my cat.

How did your English major affect your career path?

I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have the teaching position I have today without an English major. One of the strengths I bring to the table in terms of serving my students IS my English content knowledge. While I’m always trying to work on improving my teaching strategies, inclusion of technology, etc., I know I never have to worry that I’m not hitting at the heart of the books we read in my classes and the structure and content of the essays my students write.

When I was student teaching, I was overwhelmed with the experience, too. I didn’t realize how stressful it would be until I was already in it, but I knew that I wanted to teach English more than anything. I was armed with so much knowledge from my English classes, and I knew how painful it was to be in non-English classes at Ball State and see that writing was something that plenty of other students desperately needed to work on. All of that made me want to teach English even more. Reading comprehension, critical analysis, and the ability to put that comprehension and analysis into words are some of the most important skills high school students need to master, so I’m honored to have a part in that now.

What skills did you pick up in your major that have proved useful in your job?

The English Department did a bang-up job helping me hone my analytical writing skills. Until I started teaching Film Lit, I didn’t realize how helpful it was that I can actually write well. I’m able to show my students examples of my own analytical writing that they can use as models for specific tasks, which is nice.

The instruction I received in my writing classes also helped me hone my style and build my confidence in my own writing. The voice present in my writing and my passion for literature, both of which grew throughout my time as an undergraduate, helped me land a spot as a Book Riot contributor. For the longest time in college, I was a “quasi” book blogger; I ran a YA book blog but didn’t interact much with the blogosphere because I was intimidated. I feel like I can run with that crowd now and not feel inadequate, which is partially because all of the Book Riot people are lovely individuals and partly because I know I’m now a decent writer when I put in the time and care about what I’m writing.

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?

The young adult literature class impacted both the way I teach English, especially the way I run the student-chosen summer reading activities in class in the fall, and my experience writing for Book Riot as a critical reader of YA fiction. The ideas that were covered in that class – how to talk about tough subject material, how to tie in relevant current events, etc. – were more helpful than I could have anticipated. I also know that the entire education program, but specifically the English education classes, helped prepare me for how to design the best reading and writing lessons that I can.

What advice would you give current English majors?

If you’re trying to get onto a writing staff, be brave and apply when there are job openings, even if you think you won’t be good enough! You never know until you try. Write your passions and your voice will come through.

The Twittersphere is on fire right now, and Book Twitter is one of the greatest social platforms you can engage in. There is so much critical analysis happening in 140 characters, it’s madness. So find some authors, publishers, book bloggers, etc., to follow so you can get in on all of that action. It’ll also help you make connections that can further your own aspirations once you graduate.

Save all of your notes! I had to teach The Scarlet Letter my first year at Homestead, and I knew I had taken such great notes in Dr. Habich‘s class, but I tragically couldn’t ever find them.

Patrick Collier on “Everyday Life in Middletown”

In this interview, #bsuenglish professor Patrick Collier discusses his Virginia Ball Center seminar “Everyday Life in Middletown.”

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What did the project entail?

These Virginia Ball seminars are semester-long projects where students get up to 15 credits for their participation, the teacher gets a fellowship, and that gets him or her out of teaching responsibility or any other responsibility on campus. The subject of the seminar was “Everyday Life in Middletown.” Middletown, I assume you know, is Muncie. There’s this history of Muncie being referred to as Middletown since the ’20s when the Lynds did their sociological study in Muncie and it became a national best-seller.

The idea of the seminar was that we would bring the theoretical tools of the study of everyday life to the study of Muncie, or Middletown. Everyday Life Studies is an interdisciplinary field that has been developing over the last couple of decades. … It studies the stuff that actually typically escapes notice in history and in other academic fields. Everyday life is the stuff that tends to go unrecorded. We do actually spend the vast majority of our waking lifetime being in everyday things but they aren’t the things that “make up our life stories.” The whole idea of Everyday Life Studies is to try to record what everyday life is like and analyze what everyday life is like. A big part of Everyday Life Studies has evolved into coming up with ways of studying it. … It’s been developing as an academic field over the last 20 years or so.

To put it in a nutshell, the Virginia Ball seminar really has three components: one is the theory of everyday life, the other is the whole Muncie/Middletown phenomenon, and the third is the products that we developed out of the seminar. One was this documentary film, and the other is this website that is kind of an archive of everyday life in Muncie as we perceived it. Roughly, we spent the first month of the class studying theory of everyday life. We spent the next four or five weeks doing a study where we recruited informants, people who live in town who were willing to record their everyday lives for us. They kept day diaries that they wrote once a week, sort of recording everything they did, and answered questionnaires that we sent them once a week asking them a bunch of questions about their everyday lives. The remainder of the semester we spent developing the website and finding ways of representing that data and finishing the film.

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Adrienne Bliss on Working with Indiana Prisons

We interviewed #bsuenglish professor Adrienne Bliss about the volunteer work she has been doing with women’s prisons for the past five years.

AdrienneBliss.jpgCould you describe what you do?

I am a volunteer in … two ways: I started out with a program called Angels Wings. … They work with the nursery program, Wee Ones there at Indiana Women’s Prison. … It’s pretty innovative actually, and we do baby showers, we do baby’s first Christmas, baby’s first Easter, things like that. … And then on the education side, I both teach as a volunteer professor and I volunteer in the library.

How did you get started with this?

It’s a very convoluted story. … I was going to teach a class at the men’s prison in Michigan City and it took me a while to decide if I could do that, but I decided that I would. And then the semester that I was teaching there, my son died in a car accident. And of course the world fell apart, and I just thought oh you know just go away, but one of the things that stuck with me was the students I had. And it was just halfway through the semester they bought a sympathy card, and signed it and mailed it to me, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish in prison, and that just stuck with me. So I kinda dropped out of life for a couple years. Then four years ago, we had a faculty member, Liz Whiteacre, whose husband is a criminal justice professor—I told you it was convoluted—who does research with Wee Ones … and that’s when I started volunteering at Indiana Women’s prison.

What are some of the challenges that you find you come across there?

They are much more inquisitive, they are very well prepared, they have a lot of questions, and they have a lot of respect for education. … The biggest challenge, honest to God, is that they have no access to computers or internet at all.

How do research and [writing] papers work then?

They have to write the papers by hand. Some of them can get computers with word processing, but mostly they have to write by hand. For instance, what I did this semester in Lit Theory is they each had to choose a novel that they were going to write about and once they had, about halfway through the semester when they had narrowed down their topic, what I did was I went to Bracken Library and found four to five research articles around their ideas. And I just printed them on my allocation and took that in to them.

What does a typical day going to one prison … look like?

Well, if I’m teaching, I usually teach in the morning. They have count five times a day, so everything is worked around count. So, I teach from 7:30-10:30 and then they go back to the dorms for count, and at 10:30 I just go ahead and go down to the library and work for about an hour and a half there by myself, and when I say work, that is a very loose word. I’m a gofer. I shelve books and go through and organize and reorganize and try to neaten things up. I try to come up with some sort of displays. … I’m only there one day a week usually. But, I seem to be better with the alphabet than some of the people who shelve books, and I want the books to look attractive, so I think that once a week sorting out the shelves is a good thing.

Is there any experience that stands out to you as something that’s very rewarding?

It’s not rewarding. It’s not altruistic. I’m not being good or kind or any of that kind of stuff, and I can honestly say part of it is working with the women in prison has helped me get back into the world since my son died, so my feeling is that I get a lot from this, and it keeps me going. … I’m actually quite selfish in doing it. And they always thank you, and they are very appreciative, and I just say, “You don’t have to thank me, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

What are some other ways interested parties can help?

The library needs donations, but not textbooks, no textbooks, no more anthologies. We’ve got James Patterson coming out the ears, but I am looking for current books written since 2000, you know, things like lit theory, philosophy, a little better writing besides James Patterson and Nora Roberts. We’ve got Stephen King and Dean Koontz, the kind of standard people you would think a library would have that they would read, we’ve got that. But I’m always looking for different kinds of books for the library.

Where does this lead for the women in the program as far as academics? How does this work out for them?

Well, hopefully an associate’s, possibly a bachelor’s. Bachelor’s is the long term goal if we can get enough professors. President Obama has started a very small test program of putting Pell Grants back in the prisons and Holy Cross is trying and hoping that they’ll get some of that money because providing professors and books can be expensive for a lot of people like myself that volunteer. … The ultimate goal is to have an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree because these women, to be perfectly honest, are going to have an incredibly hard time getting any kind of job at all, and the degree helps them with critical thinking skills and provides some credentials.

Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about your experiences there that you think our readers might find interesting?

There are a couple things. I’m actually going Thursday night to what’s called the ICAN graduation, and that’s the Indiana Canine Assistance Network. There is a program in the prisons, in both Pendleton and the Indiana Women’s Prison, where they train service dogs and the dogs spend about the first year of their lives at Pendleton living with one of the male prisoners, getting basic skills and growing out of some of that puppy stuff. And then they come to the women’s prison and the women train them, and they become service dogs, and they’ve done service dogs for someone who’s deaf, someone with epilepsy, physical disabilities. This time, we’ve got a vet and one of his diagnoses is PTSD, and he’s getting a service dog. … And this is opening up new lines of research for me. I’ve written two conference papers and I’ve got a third one coming up around the topic of prison, and I’m working on a research proposal now to do some readership studies and it looks pretty good. That will involve me doing surveys and interviews, kind of ethnography with the women at Indiana Women’s Prison.

And what will that allow you to do?

Nothing. What I felt like is, I didn’t want to go in there and just be a do-gooder lady liberal, which is what I am. I felt like if I was going to do research and be in there, I needed to understand what this process is. How do these people wind up here? Very deliberately, and to a couple of staff people that I see pretty regularly, I let it be known that I’m doing this and why I’m doing it, so that they realize that I respect their position too because being a correctional officer is not an easy job or a desirable job, and there are a lot of jerks out there, and yes there are a lot of major problems with that, you know, what you’d expect, but it’s not as bad as Orange is the New Black, and Orange is the New Black comes nowhere close to approximating prison.

Yeah, I imagine you have a lot of opinions on that.

I’m glad it’s out there to raise awareness, because people don’t think about women’s prisons. Women only make up, at this point, 7% [of the] prison population, but they’re also the fastest growing group, so I think Orange is the New Black does a wonderful job of raising awareness. If you want to watch a good women’s prison show: [check out] Wentworth on Netflix. It’s Australian and it’s women’s prison down there, but anything that keeps the awareness out. … These people are coming back to our towns. They might not live right next to you, but they’re coming back, and if we keep treating them as sub-human and bad, then that’s what we’re going to get back. So, I’m just trying to go in and say, “You’re my student.” I don’t go in and say “You’re my offender.” “You’re my student, so what are we doing today?”