Spring 2024

The SDSU Rhetoric & Writing Studies Department Newsletter


Chair's Letter

2024 graduates

I am happy to begin this letter by congratulating the RWS Class of 2024: Congratulations graduates! The department recently honored our graduates on Friday, May 10, at our 10th RWS graduation ceremony for undergraduate students and our 20th ceremony for graduate students. We look forward to many such occasions to come.

As I look back on my first academic year as department chair, I want to thank the students, faculty, and staff who all contribute to a vibrant learning community in our department. I also want to say thank you to two faculty members who have retired this past academic year: Richard Boyd and Cali Linfor. Boyd joined the faculty at SDSU in 1996 and ended his participation in the early retirement program after December 2023. While Boyd taught many courses and took on many roles in the department during that time, his contributions to preparing graduate students to become teachers of writing in RWS 609 stand out to me. Linfor also joined the department in 1996 when she taught courses as a graduate student and then continued as a lecturer. Linfor taught numerous writing courses and also contributed to the efforts of the department and university to develop inclusive and equitable courses and programs. You can read more about Linfor’s work in the fall 2022 newsletter. 

This newsletter features two of our current students and now graduates, Richard Mattison and Mariel Geronimo. It also features two alumni of our undergraduate and graduate programs, Hannah Willis (B.A., 2017) and Matt Breece (M.A., 2015), and one current faculty member, Sydney Sullivan. We also say goodbye and thank you to our wonderful newsletter editors, Celia Fisher and Noelle Higgins, part of the graduating class of 2024. 

While the end of the academic year brings many goodbyes, it also brings many new opportunities as our newest graduates find their way as rhetors and writers and as we all continue to explore rhetoric as a form of expression and art. I wish our students, alumni, faculty, and staff well in those future opportunities and explorations.

Kathryn Valentine,
RWS Department Chair

Sydney SullivanRWS Writing Mentors
Sydney Sullivan

The RWS department takes pride in the many ways it supports writers on campus – this especially rings true for Sydney Sullivan, as she details her involvement in the Writing Mentors Program as well as her overall experience as part of the RWS faculty. After finishing her qualifying exams for her Ph.D. in education in April 2023, Sydney began working for the Rhetoric and Writing Studies department later that year. Sydney enthusiastically recalls her discovery of the program: “I have a Designated Emphasis in Writing Rhetoric and Composition Studies so when I saw there was a department specifically dedicated to ‘rhetoric’ I thought ‘How cool?!’ It’s something unique I don’t believe other programs have to offer, and in my short time here I have already seen how impactful it can be to have rhetoric at the center of a curriculum.” Since beginning her work at SDSU, Sullivan has loved teaching courses such as RWS 290, Business Writing, along with being involved in the Writing Mentors Program on campus. 

Sullivan is the co-coordinator for the Writing Mentors Program and she works alongside Lea Baker to ensure that the program is the best that it can be. Sullivan explains, “Together, we work to keep the program running smoothly and foster relationships between mentors, mentees, and instructors.” The Writing Mentors Program is “an embedded tutoring program that hires undergraduate and graduate students for our rhetoric and linguistic courses.” Through this program, students are able to grow in their writing and linguistic skills, and student workers are able to grow in their consulting and mentoring skills. When discussing the importance of the program, Sullivan says,  “I think the ‘collaborative’ component is what makes this program so special because students working together can be such a transformative experience as they’re working through their writing process. Kevin Roozen writes about how ‘writing is a social and rhetorical activity’ and I think this program truly embodies that.” 

For those looking to get involved in the Writing Mentors Program, Sullivan offers this invitation: “Come and talk to us! Lea Baker and I are always looking for eager undergraduates and graduate students who are interested in being a mentor. We hire people from all different majors and levels of experience, so please come talk to us or send us an email if you are interested.”

Matt Breece Alumni
Matt Breece 

Matt Breece, currently a lecturer in the Writing Program at UC Santa Barbara, describes how earning his M.A. in SDSU's RWS program played a large role in determining his current career path: “The M.A. program at SDSU helped prepare me for my Ph.D. program in rhetoric and writing at UT Austin. It not only prepared me for the application process, but it also prepared me for the type of advanced research and writing expected in a Ph.D. program.” After obtaining his Ph.D., Breece began work as a lecturer and reflects back on his time in the department fondly.

Thinking back on his time in the RWS department, Breece recalls the process of writing his thesis. “Writing my M.A. thesis was the first time I worked on a long, sustained writing and research project,” he says. “It definitely helped me become a better scholar, researcher, and writer. It also helped prepare me for writing my Ph.D. dissertation.” Not only did writing his thesis help him grow as a scholar, but so did the courses and professors that he interacted with. Breece mentions how his favorite course at SDSU was RWS 600, Reading Rhetorically, which was taught by Glen McClish. Breece says, “I really enjoyed practicing a variety of approaches to analyzing texts from evaluating arguments to examining rhetorical strategies to interpreting figures and tropes. It was a great introduction to the breadth and scope of rhetoric.” This foundational course, along with many others, helped Breece discover his passions in the field of writing – ultimately leading to a sense of newfound confidence for which  he thanks the department. 

Outside of the RWS department, Breece has worked on many interesting writing projects. When asked about one that sticks out in particular, he mentions that the most interesting writing project that he has worked on so far is an article he wrote for Philosophy and Rhetoric titled “Ethical Repetitions: Rhetorical Imitation and/as Algorithmic Judgment.” In this article, he compares classical imitation pedagogy with machine-learning algorithms to examine a rhetorical model for ethical inclusion. With his passions being sparked through the rhetorical foundations and teachings at SDSU, Breece was able to later on find a field that accompanied his interests. Though it is a lot of work, he concludes his interview with the following suggestion for current RWS students and/or those looking to be involved in RWS: “Learn as much as possible and enjoy yourself. The M.A. program is a fantastic opportunity, so get the most out of it.”

Hannah WillisAlumni 
Hannah Willis

As a graduate of the RWS B.A. program, Hannah Willis has smoothly transitioned into the workforce using several skills she once learned in the department here at SDSU. Currently, Willis is a senior marketing manager for RedMed, a medical device company where her specialty lies in their SaaS (software as a service) division – this provides “electronic health record software and other software solutions for facilities outside of the hospital.” Essentially, Willis generates leads through marketing campaigns. She also does content creation and explores a variety of channels for her campaigns, while simultaneously collaborating with a copywriter to ensure accuracy across the board. There are several overlaps in terms of tools she learned in RWS – some of which include a compelling argument, accurate messaging, and most importantly, making sure all of the above is catered to the right audience. 

Though it has been a couple years since her graduation, Willis remembers the program as always being small and intimate  – this is something that RWS prides itself on as it fosters close relationships with professors and fellow students. Additionally, she always “found the materials to be both interesting and relevant to [her] personal life.” Because of this, she was able to pick up on skills that she would later transfer to her career, and really learned how to understand people in general. For example, although Willis did not have any formal marketing education as her minor was in art, she used her RWS written communication skills to combine her major and minor in a way that was ideal for a career in marketing. She “started out as a marketing copywriter intern while attending SDSU and has worked up to the position [she] is now by using [her] experience and education.”

Willis is thrilled that she has been able to use her skills from RWS in her career today. When asked about her most interesting writing project, she replied that it is her current position that makes her happiest. Willis enjoys writing and working on the marketing campaigns the most as she loves being able to “start with an idea and bring it to life with copy and design, then evaluate the performance to really see what's resonating with our target audience.” Currently happy with where she is in her career and grateful to the department for introducing her to new skillsets, Willis also recognizes that finding a career that is meant for you will take time. Ending her interview with gratitude, Willis offers the following advice for current/future students: 

“Your professional career is not always linear. You don’t always stay with one company for a long time. Sometimes, you might have to jump from company to company until you find a position where you feel like you belong. Also, if you feel undervalued, you should listen to your gut and find another opportunity – despite how difficult it might be to leave. There is no such thing as rejection, only redirection.”

Mariel GeronimoGraduate Student
Mariel Geronimo

Current RWS graduate student, Mariel Geronimo describes her undergraduate education in philosophy as a beneficial gateway into the work she has been doing in the RWS department. She notes that “while philosophy and rhetoric are different, the ability to think abstractly and critically enabled [her] to understand the core foundations of rhetoric.” The intersection of her education in both philosophy and rhetoric is something that has defined her career not only as a student, but also when it comes to her professional plans for the future. After graduating with her B.A. in philosophy in 2020 and with the goal of eventually attending law school in mind, Geronimo was encouraged to pursue different graduate programs. Geronimo recalls applying “to the RWS M.A. program after seeing they offered a specialization in professional and technical writing.” Ultimately, she decided that earning her M.A. in rhetoric and writing studies was the right path for her, and has been preparing for law school ever since. 

Geronimo reflects on a few courses and professors that impacted her greatly throughout her RWS experience. “An inspirational course I took is RWS 504, Advanced Professional Writing, with Jenny Sheppard,” she says. “I enjoyed this class because it taught me the practical elements of rhetoric. We had the experience of working with a nonprofit organization to help them find ways to build their mission. The application of analysis, research, and persuasion to develop our ideas allowed me to understand what rhetoric is beyond the classroom; rhetoric gives us the opportunity to utilize what we have learned in the classroom to make a difference in our community. 

“My favorite course is RWS 601A with Glen McClish. What I enjoyed the most about this course was seeing the intersection between the texts from this class and law. The dense readings and the writing assignments in this class have elevated my persuasive skills which I know will be useful for law school. The writing assignments in this class taught me how to communicate my point effectively from the preparation and research I had to do.” 

When discussing her thesis, Geronimo was eager to describe the work that she has been doing. “For my thesis, I analyze three landmark United States Supreme Court cases –Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Lau v. Nichols, and Regents of the University of California v. Bakke – to evaluate kairos and narrative through the lens of racial discrimination in education. Her thesis work will directly inform her next step: attending law school in the fall. Although she has not yet decided where she will attend, Geronimo is grateful for the RWS department and for all of the support she has been given. She urges current students to “choose a career path that you are genuinely interested in and passionate about because your determination for it will outweigh the challenges that may come your way.”  

Richard MattisonUndergraduate Student
Richard Mattison

As a current senior in both rhetoric and writing studies and business administration, Richard Mattison could not be more grateful for his time here at SDSU as it has helped him “develop a comprehensive perspective on rhetoric,” and expand on skill sets that differ from a traditional English major. When asked about how he first discovered the RWS program, Mattison remembers feeling curious about a major that could so greatly differ from a typical English course; however, after taking his first class after transferring, he was hooked. Due to the wide range of coursework that RWS offers, Richard was able to pair his business administration major with courses in professional writing, business writing, and even writing for nonprofit organizations – something that he can see himself partaking in throughout his future as he enters the workforce. 

Though he has enjoyed many courses here at SDSU, the one that stands out most to him was RWS 543, Rhetoric of Visual Composing, with Jenny Sheppard. Not only was it “fascinating to learn about rhetoric in non-writing settings,” but “[he] had this class with all of [his] friends! [They] all grew closer in this class and had some good times. This combination made it an interesting, fun, and wholesome class to be a part of!” Additionally, pairing these visual skills with key concepts of rhetoric like tailoring your writing to certain audiences once again reminds Mattison that “there’s no one-size-fits all approach to writing. Each project is unique and requires time to consider the audience, goal, and overall objective. It often takes time and effort to conduct this step, but it will often be the difference between average work and excellent work that stands out from the rest.” Mattison has been able to experience this first hand through applying these skills in projects including academic writing, proposal writing, resume and cover letter writing, research projects, and even grant proposal writing – once again giving him confidence that he will continue to use these skills after graduation. 

With graduation coming up, he is equally thrilled yet filled with a sense of bittersweetness as he departs from SDSU. While he will miss his professors and classmates, he feels prepared to take on new challenges with his several career goals. Eventually, Mattison hopes to be a successful entrepreneur and “start businesses that have a positive impact on people and the planet.” Additionally, he mentions that no matter the type of business, “writing skills are critical when growing a company.” Though his goals are centered around the idea of entrepreneurship, he hopes to be able to explore the creative side of writing as well as he “loves the storytelling element of writing.” 

Mattison expresses his gratitude for everything the RWS program has taught him. Because of teachers and lessons learned along the way, he has been able to hold an internship with an international business organization for two years, developing both friendships and professional relationships, and overall learning how to apply his critical writing and communication skills in areas both in and out of the classroom. 

Celia Fisher and Noelle HigginsFarewell to our Editors
Celia Fisher and Noelle Higgins

As graduation approaches, Celia Fisher and Noelle Higgins reflect on their time as the rhetoric and writing studies newsletter editors. Since 2022, the pair have been able to edit five issues while continuing their full-time student status, involvements on campus, and even studying abroad for a semester. The following piece is their sincerest form of gratitude to the RWS department and San Diego State University as a whole. 

“The two of us were newly admitted to SDSU when we were hired for this role and had no idea what to expect after coming to college in a post-COVID era. We were both RWS majors looking for a way to become more involved in the department when we got an email asking for undergraduate students to apply for this newsletter position. Though we were equally timid, we both applied, and were surprised when we both got the role as we thought it would be a one person job. Little did we know that because Glen McClish chose to hire the both of us, we would gain invaluable experience in the field of writing, but also gain each other as best friends for life.

“Throughout the course of our time here at SDSU, we have been fortunate enough to learn how to greatly improve our composition skills, effectively analyze texts, and overall focus on bettering our journalistic expertise. Through not only the teachings of the RWS department, but because of the direct supervision of Glen McClish and KathrynValentine, we feel as though the development of our professional skill sets have directly correlated to how we were able to grow into ourselves as writers, students, and soon to be graduates. The two of us agree that if we were to see our freshman-year-selves right now, they would be incredibly proud. As two students who used to be scared to raise their hand in the classroom, we feel that RWS has given us the tools we needed to fully find our voices. 

“As we sit in the Love Library writing this as our final piece for the newsletter, a feeling of nostalgia has come over us. We feel so lucky to have had this position for so long, and to have enjoyed it enough to wish that we could keep writing even after graduation; however, we know that it will be in good hands for years to come. Thank you to every professor, faculty member, alumni, and fellow classmate that was a pleasure to interview and write about, and thank you to SDSU for constant encouragement and support. Farewell RWS and SDSU!”