Fall 2023

The SDSU Rhetoric & Writing Studies Department Newsletter


Kathryn ValentineChair's Note

As I reflect on the stories of fall 2023 in this newsletter and on my first semester as department chair, I am reminded again of rhetoric and writing as discovery, as practices and products of coming to know the self, each other, and the larger communities in which we belong. I am also reminded again of how rhetoric is a means of coming to understand one’s voice as discussed by Emily Tablak and one’s dignity as talked about by Issac Castillo. In their discussions of the study and practice of writing pedagogy, I rediscover the shared values that many of us center in our teaching and learning such as the design of curriculum focused on meaningfulness as explored by Nathan Nugent and the attention to students’ vulnerability when they read and write in academic spaces as described by Chelsea Kerford. Last, I see rhetoric and writing as processes of discovery in the exploration of Caroyln Gubala and Kristen Fogle as they describe their journeys through academia, including revisiting old ideas in new contexts as with Carolyn, and across workplaces, including finding writing opportunities as with Kristen. 

I also reflect on my own process of discovery as the department thanked Glen McClish for his many years of service as chair and as I began in the role of chair in August 2023. I discovered that Glen continues to be a valuable colleague as he works for the department through the early retirement program and continues to offer guidance to me and others. As a sign of our change in positions, Glen now has my faculty office while I inhabit the chair’s office – and a beautiful view of San Diego. From this vantage point, I reflect on how rhetoric and writing happen on campus, and all the many people in our department who support such work, but also how and where rhetoric and writing may be happening beyond campus and the many ways our alumni and those in our communities engage in this work here in San Diego and beyond. I hope you enjoy reading about some of those ways here. 

Kathryn Valentine,
RWS Department Chair

Nathan NugentStudents
Nathan Nugent

Nathan Nugent is a current graduate student in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at SDSU. After earning his B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University, Nugent enthusiastically describes his experience discovering the RWS M.A. program: “I had been thinking about getting into a master’s program for a few years while I was teaching high school English between 2015–2022, but I knew I didn’t want to get an M.A. in education. The RWS program at SDSU came up on a Google search looking for M.A. writing programs in the CSU system, and I was directed to a one-page brochure for the program that looked very appealing with the emphasis on rhetoric very much in line with my interests. I also saw that there was a teaching of writing specialization pathway within the major along with an opportunity to work on a thesis option for graduation – while living in San Diego! It became my dream.” Nugent continues on to describe how much he has enjoyed his learning so far throughout the department, mentioning how inspiring it was to discover “how rhetorical study is rooted in such a rich teaching tradition stretching back to the ancient world.”

When discussing the most interesting writing project he has worked on so far, Nugent describes a paper he wrote during his first semester in the program. “I crafted a seminar paper for RWS 609, with Professor Richard Boyd titled ‘Consulting Student Leaders: Cogenerative Dialogue in Practice and Theory.’ In the piece, I use concepts from critical pedagogy to reflect on my experiences conferencing with high school students in ‘leader lunch’ meetings I created during and after the COVID era of online instruction.” He mentions that he would like to continue his research on this project based on his recent experiences as a TA for RWS 100 and 200 classes. Along with that, Nugent mentions the most inspirational course that he has interacted with so far as a graduate student. He states, “RWS 640, Research Methods with Professor Kathryn Valentine has been my favorite and most significant course in the M.A. program so far. I liked how we took the course in our second semester of the program to figure out what kind of research we wanted to explore. Professor Valentine’s course sequence also helped me think about how to apply concepts in qualitative research and rhetorical criticism, and my abilities as a writer grew by taking on new and challenging genres of composition.” Nugent explains how engaging the coursework is overall, and discusses the incredible community that is established in the department.

Nugent describes an especially notable moment during his time so far in the RWS department. “This past summer of 2023, I attended the Computers and Writing Conference, at UC Davis. At the event, I was able to present the preliminary ideas from my research proposal in RWS 640 at a roundtable with professors and fellow graduate students, and I got some meaningful feedback. I was also able to join Professor Edwards and Professor Jenny Sheppard, who were also in attendance, in sessions ranging from AI in writing instruction, digital tools in reading and scholarly writing production, and the ‘Wayfinding Project,’ a large-scale qualitative study on what college alumni remember most fondly about their writing experiences as undergraduates.” He mentions how fortunate he was to have been able to attend this conference and how much he learned from this experience. Along with that, Nugent works as the Graduate Teaching Assistant in the lower-division writing program. With this position, Nugent mentions that he has “had the honor of designing common curriculum that integrates the department’s new student learning outcome which includes a focus on “rhetorics of global and structurally marginalized communities.” 

As for his work as a graduate student and beyond, Nugent is currently working on his thesis. He states, “Drawing on the research methods I’ve practiced in RWS 512 and RWS 640, I am proposing a basic qualitative study for my thesis prospectus. The purpose of the research is to discover how teachers of first-year college writing courses design meaningful writing prompts. I’m most interested in using replicable interview methods to gather data on how teachers think about writing assignments, and hopefully I can arrive at a few pedagogical recommendations.” Nugent is incredibly passionate about his work within the department and describes each one of his experiences and opportunities with such gratitude. Lastly, Nugent mentions his aspirations for after he obtains his M.A. “I plan on pursuing full-time work as a lecturer in rhetoric and composition for at least two years to gain more experience teaching in higher education. I am also considering applying for Ph.D. programs later in my life, but at the moment, I want to keep working on writing projects for potential publication and doing as much as I can with students in the classroom.” 

Emily TablakStudent
Emily Tablak

Emily Tablak is a dedicated individual who is in her fourth year as an RWS major at San Diego State University. As the CAL representative for SPLICE, the journal of undergraduate scholarship, Emily mentions that her main role is to “work to recruit and convince people to submit their work. I also employ visual rhetoric skills since at the moment I am co-running the social media pages.” This, in combination with her involvement in the rhetoric and writing studies major, prepares her for a whole field of job opportunities by sharpening her writing skills. Though she is nearing the end of her time at SDSU, Emily is grateful that she has been able to “find confidence” in herself and her voice.

When asked about her involvement in the program, she mentions that a main reason for joining the department was because of a push from her RWS 200 professor who was impressed with her work. After doing so, she soon discovered that the reason rhetoric stood out to her was because “it felt much more personal. The projects I have created for my classes have been an amazing outlet for me. I think rhetoric gives students a way to voice opinions and talk about subjects they might not otherwise get the opportunity to discuss in other settings.”

Emily once again thanks the professors in the program as they are a critical part of why she stayed so involved in RWS. “They have been very supportive and are always eager to help,” she says. “The classrooms have always felt like safe spaces where students are allowed to voice opinions and concerns.” Due to the seminar style of a lot of RWS classes, creating a comfortable environment is something that the department has nearly perfected. 

An example of this is an upper division course, RWS 510: Rhetoric and Culture. Emily mentions that it “opened my eyes to so many different forms of rhetoric and even helped me find my own voice and the ways culture influenced my own forms of communication. This class made it very apparent that there are so many diverse ways of communicating with others, and we should embrace that everywhere, including the classroom.” She wishes that more people understood that RWS is “so much more than just a GenEd and has the potential (whether it is your major or minor) to build your communication skills.”

Not only has Emily found confidence in herself in class, but while doing so, she learned the value of effective communication in both social and professional settings. With this, she hopes that as she departs from SDSU, students give the unique program a chance and that they realize it is “so much more than just writing essays and learning about old Greek philosophers. This program is a way for students to discover their own voice and learn the ways to effectively communicate their opinions and beliefs.” 

Carolyn GubalaAlumni 
Carolyn Gubala

Currently working in the University Writing Program at the University of California Davis, Carolyn Gubala enthusiastically shares what her experience was like obtaining her M.A. from the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at San Diego State University. Gubala describes the original appeal of the RWS program for her when she first discovered it: “At the time, I was working full-time as a managing editor for a small publishing company in San Diego. Originally, I wanted to pursue an M.A. in RWS so that I could teach at the community college level; however, being engaged in graduate level discussions with classmates and professors inspired me to pursue a Ph.D.” Gubala goes on to explain the supportive and positively challenging nature of the program, describing her peers and the faculty she interacted with to have created a strong “sense of community” that has been “developed through meeting like-minded individuals.” She also says that her experience within the department set her up for success further on in her rhetorical studies. “My M.A. in RWS from SDSU provided a rich foundation in rhetoric and composition. I entered my Ph.D. program with a solid understanding of rhetorical theory, classical rhetoric, and teaching approaches.” 

When discussing her experience writing her thesis, Gubala mentions that she is revisiting this topic and expanding on her original work. “I wrote a thesis on using ancient rhetoric to teach professional writing. Looking back, I can see that I lacked enough experience in academia to properly articulate this argument. However, I have recently returned to the ideas behind this project. Specifically, I have recently started a project with a colleague that suggests using the progymnasmata and classical interpretation of imitation to teach writing instructors.” Gubala is incredibly passionate about her work, and looks forward to continuing her conversation on this topic that began within the department. 

Along with revisiting the ideas from her thesis, Gubala continues to further her research on many topics of conversation within the field. Specifically, she is currently working on a book about teaching the technical professional communication (TPC) service course with some colleagues. In regard to this course, Gubala states, “The service course refers to business writing, health science writing, and writing for engineers. Our goal is to improve pedagogical practices for teaching TPC service courses using student data, instructor feedback, and interviews with teaching faculty and program administrators. The quantitative and qualitative data collected will be analyzed to offer suggestions on improving pedagogical practices such as outcome integration, assignment design, and feedback.” 

At the University of California Davis, Gubala brilliantly implements her rhetorical pedagogical background into her work. When discussing her work, she states, “I primarily teach editing, business writing, technical writing, and advanced composition. As part of this position, I also have an administrative role where I serve as the assistant director of online writing instruction.” Gubala looks back at her time in the master’s program with fondness, and reflects positively on both the courses she took and the faculty in the department — encouraging students today to get involved and make the most of their time here. 

Kristen Fogle Alumni
Kristen Fogle 

Kristen Fogle is an alumna of the RWS master’s program who now focuses her time on being the executive director of the literary nonprofit, San Diego Writers, Ink. After graduating from SDSU, Fogle has focused on jobs in several different areas of expertise, though all still pertaining to composition. She has worked at Point Loma Nazarene University, Armed Services Arts Partnership, Wounded Warriors Project, La Jolla Playhouse, and Coronado School of the Arts. Fogle says, “At PLNU I am teaching undergrad writing and rhetoric and for the others I teach a variety of things — playwriting, creative writing, whatever type of writing someone wants me to teach!” Grateful for her time at SDSU, she reflects on the uniqueness of the RWS program as it “prepared me to teach at the college level and, maybe most importantly, instilled a confidence in me that I could work at a literary center.”

While enrolled at SDSU, Fogle was met with a number of opportunities to grow her career. One of which was when she served as the vice president of the Graduate Student Association. While she was helping others and offering resources to students alike, she found that she was making connections and finally excelling at something she was passionate about: teaching and tutoring. However, this path was not always on Fogle’s mind. Through a technical writing course she took, she scored an internship with Hewlett-Packard. While “HP was great in a lot of ways,” says Fogle, “I just didn’t enjoy technical writing. I stuck with it for three or four months, and despite that they offered to bump my pay, I just knew I needed a job that was a bit more creative. I’m proud of myself that I said no, simply having a good job is not enough for me.” Fogle mentions that this lesson of being able to “try new things, but don’t be afraid to call it quits if you don’t like what you’re doing,” was something that she learned in the RWS department, and it has stuck with her for years. 

Despite her love for writing in the professional world, Fogle also enjoys bringing rhetoric into her personal life. With a five-year-old at home, Fogle discusses how much the two enjoy reading together. “We also spend a great deal of time dissecting the characters, looking at symbolism… I ask a lot of questions. I guess the takeaway is, rhetoric will help you parent.” Fogle jokes at this remarking, “Perhaps I should make t-shirts!”

At the end of the day, Fogle couldn’t be more grateful for her time at SDSU as it has sharpened her career in ways she didn’t think possible. When asked about her personal philosophy on the importance of rhetoric, Fogle ends with the following statement:

“For me rhetoric offers a set of tools to peel away layers, peek behind the veil at something — a slogan, an essay, architecture — and make sense of it in a new, and richer, way. As a culture, with ‘truth’ being delivered faster than ever and often by way of an algorithm, I believe it’s crucial for us to take an active interest in to looking deeper into who is communicating what messages and why.”

Chelsea KerfordFaculty 
Chelsea Kerford

After starting out as a grad student in the RWS department here at SDSU, Chelsea Kerford began working as a lecturer in fall of 2017. Now, coming up on her seventh year of teaching, she reflects on her mother as an inspiration: “I used to go to class with her when I was little and watch her teach ESL.” This was a formative experience for Kerford, as it was something that she kept in mind while on her journey to find a career she loved; though at the time she was venturing into the field of publishing. After giving publishing a try and ultimately deciding it wasn’t for her, she was reminded of another possibility when a teaching opportunity “fell into her lap.” Before she knew it, a community college needed an instructor to teach a GE writing course, and just like that, Chelsea immersed herself in a field that was familiar from her childhood experiences with her mother.

During this experience though, she was faced with several challenges. She was instructing “non-traditional students, many of whom were recently incarcerated or formerly (or currently) houseless, and many of them were neurodiverse.” Kerford expresses her gratitude for this experience, but in the moment she remembers feeling overwhelmed as it was “a pretty difficult job for a new teacher.” However, this experience is what made her want to go back to get her master’s as she “fell in love with teaching.” 

Now, since Kerford found her passion, she is able to focus her research on something important to her: identity. Kerford explains that being biracial is something that has been both interesting and confusing for her. Because of this, she focuses on how to express vulnerability when it comes to writing as well as teaching. Another reason for continuing her studying and teaching of rhetoric was due to her realization that “there are so many pieces of everyday life that become easier and more accessible if you have at least a basic understanding of rhetoric/rhetorical principles.” 

While Kerford may love the subject that she teaches, she admits that the reason she has stuck around so long is because of the students. She talks about how getting to know their personalities while helping them improve their writing skills is not only rewarding, but also “makes [her] classes so much richer,” and that she is “constantly learning from them, which is so fun.” Seeing the students’ personalities shine was something reflected in her recent RWS 305W class. Kerford explains that because of the unique flexibility of the course, she got to see students’ creativity flourish. From assignments like blog posts via Adobe Express, students had the option to practice pragmatic rhetorical skills in addition to extensive creative freedom in a less formal environment. Overall, Kerford is always striving to better the education of her students, and hopes that she can allow them to feel comfortable in an academic environment that can be quite intimidating. 

Isaac CastilloStaff
Isaac Castillo 

Isaac Castillo has been working at San Diego State University since 2020 and has recently begun his position in the RWS department in 2023. “I have worked for SDSU in various capacities. Prior to this administrative position, I taught for General Studies, GEN S 100, the course that first-year students take. Before that I was a teaching associate for the philosophy department.” Although having no prior connection to RWS, Castillo brings a wonderful perspective on the administrative side of the department and the university in general. He states, “The best part of working at SDSU are the people and the culture. Usually people are understanding of circumstances, dilemmas, or even everyday errors. RWS is a large department with a lot of gears, levers, and people to push the gears and levers. I do not think most people outside (maybe) RWS understand how big this department is and how much ground there is to cover. Problems can come from any direction, but at least solutions can come from everyone as well. Thankfully there is a lot of support.” 

Castillo reflects on his time in the philosophy department, mentioning his biggest influence and mentor, Steve Barbone, who Castillo describes to have “taught [him] more than [he] could ever repay him.” Writing his thesis was an incredibly positive experience for Castillo as it was something he was so interested in. “My thesis was probably the only passion project I had,” Castillo says. “I wrote over 120 pages in the first draft, and it took forever to get it under 100 pages for the final draft (not including the bibliography). I wrote about David Hume and motivated cognition.” 

When discussing rhetoric and writing studies, Castillo describes his stance on the importance of rhetoric in an incredibly compelling way. “I think understanding how to persuade and using a specific skill set to do so is a necessary condition of living well in society,” he says. “If you cannot take a stance and use that stance to change people’s minds or at least their initial degree of vindication on some matter, then I would imagine that the world would seem like a difficult thing to engage with at times. Too often do people want to sell you on something, convince you about some matter, but so long as you can take that stand and agree/disagree and more importantly offer reasons for doing so, then you have something for yourself in terms of dignity and self-respect.” Castillo continues on by including a modern-day example of why rhetoric is important. “If you happen to watch ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’ you’ll know that Mark Cuban made the phrase ‘[…] and for those reasons, I’m out’ as actually an enthymematic moment. While we might think about the rhetoric of ‘Shark Tank,’ Cuban can teach us something about taking a stance and its use. What this shows us is that rhetoric is a multifaceted tool.” 

Castillo offers some valuable advice to current and prospective students. He states, “I wish I would have known to read more and learn who to ask to read the right things during my studies. Obviously, you can’t read everything. However, I wish I would have known what to prioritize.” 

Meet the Editors

Celia Fisher

Celia Fisher 

Celia Fisher is a fourth-year student majoring in rhetoric and writing studies. After working on the RWS newsletter for the past two years, she is incredibly thankful for her time in the department and the wonderful connections it has brought her. She hopes to continue with this style of writing after graduating this upcoming May, and hopes that the RWS newsletter will continue to thrive after she and her co-editor, Noelle Higgins, depart from SDSU. 

Noelle Higgins

Noelle Higgins 

Noelle Higgins is currently a fourth-year rhetoric and writing studies major. She has enjoyed her time in the department immensely over the past few years both as a student and student worker. The RWS department will always hold a special place in her heart, and she is especially grateful for the wonderful opportunities she has come across and the special friendships she has made along the way.