The SDSU Rhetoric & Writing Studies Department Newsletter
As I peruse this issue of the RWS Newsletter, I am grateful for the many RWS students
and colleagues who have studied, taught, and pursued research in this department during
my decades here, from Professor Ann Johns, the first person I met when I interviewed for my job at SDSU, to Professors Linn Bekins and Cali Linfor, who entered the faculty the same year I began, to students such as Emma Bardin, Jenny Varichio, and Missy Watson, who earned master’s degrees with us before going on to do great work in a variety
of fields, to recent graduates such as John Berry, who earned his bachelor’s degree in May 2022 and has just launched his post-baccalaureate
career. And I’m proud of former students who, like René De los Santos, are now my teaching colleagues within the department. These specific rhetoricians,
all featured in this issue, demonstrate the rich array of perspectives, passions,
talents, and commitments that distinguish this department.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Cali Linfor started her career at San Diego State University by obtaining her MFA in poetry. “I am a poet by training and poets are, by nature, rhetorically interested in knowledge creation, how communication works, et cetera.” As a result, she found herself to be incredibly interested in rhetoric, and more specifically how rhetoric pertains to educational equity work. Early on in her career, Linfor got involved in community outreach work regarding local high schools. Her goal was to “allow students a smoother transition between their high schools and their future colleges or jobs,” which helped to inspire her work with educational equity.
“My field of interests really looked at structural inequities, especially how they manifested through literacy and also then developing an expertise in how to teach teachers to teach rhetoric. My role in the department has been a position of community liaison in a lot of ways — intersegmental partnering in terms of issues of rhetoric and teaching in pedagogy.”
Linfor describes how deeply she is interested in equity and making the RWS department more equitable. As a co-founder of the Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group, Linfor expresses that she sits on the RWS Diversity Committee and works to implement the department’s diversity plan. Linfor explains that she wrote a global rhetorics grant with her colleagues Karen Koss and Consuelo Salas, who are working to “shift the fundamental ideas of what we teach away from Eurocentric and Greek rhetorics into a global perspective of rhetorical concepts.”
Linfor explains how the department’s Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group began as a movement within the department when several members of the department decided that they “wanted a space to reckon with the policies and look at the department and [their] experiences through the lens of what it would mean to be anti-racist, equitable, and inclusive.” And that is exactly what they did. Linfor mentions how the field of rhetoric stems from a “normative understanding of the world, and since rhetoric is about communicative acts, it’s given power to those normatives and there’s a reckoning around that. At the same time, rhetoric is the key to opening [equity] up. And we can do so by honoring the communicative acts of our own communities.”
When it comes to the term “diversity,” Linfor expresses how it “really means to create a culture and change basic policies and paradigms to where all different ways of existence are valued as resources.” In fact, she expressed a dislike for the term in general. “Diversity tends to have to do with numbers, right? Meaning that one measure of a department’s diversity is the ability to quantify a range of membership in that department. Whether that’s from gender lines, or ability lines, or ethnic lines, or schools of thoughts lines, or class status lines. Those things as quantifiable measures are important, but I’m more interested in issues of equity.”
At present, Linfor is working on revising a book she wrote titled “I Animal.” The book aims to look at “what happens when we cut ourselves off from identifying as human animals. It’s an interesting book rhetorically because a lot of times poetry is seen as very inaccessible. If you’re reading electronically and you take the cursor, you can scroll over the words and it will connect to allusions I’m making.” Along with this project, as a professor of equity at SDSU, Linfor is especially interested in creating safe spaces, “celebrating the rhetorical traditions of people, and concentrating on futurity — what we call the elsewhere and the otherwise.”
Linfor shared some incredibly valuable and impactful advice for current students. “I think that staying intellectually curious, having specialized interests (in equity or whatever it is), and a passion about that is really important,” she says. “It’s also important to embrace the diversity of our field in terms of how we get here, and be joyous for however you arrived here, whether that's as a journalist or a technical writer. Because each one of those fields has enormous things to add to our discipline. Just like me as a poet. Everyone has room in this department.”
Professor Emerita Ann Johns is a renowned scholar in the field of applied linguistics. She began as a history major at Carleton College and has an M.A. in the teaching of history from the University of Chicago. Following her graduation, she experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when she moved with her family to Egypt, where she not only taught English and history, but also devoted herself to completing another M.A. in the teaching of English at the American University in Cairo. Johns spent time at yet another university, USC, where she was able to complete her Ph.D. and write her dissertation, titled “Cohesion in Written English.” Her early career life really took off when she moved to San Diego with her husband and founded the American Language Institute, enrolling roughly 1,000 students at the time along with 80 instructors and administrators. Clearly accomplished in her field, Johns places emphasis on “taking every opportunity you can to learn.”
One could argue that Johns is self-taught, as she talks about never having taken a teaching of writing course; which makes her accomplishments all the more impressive. She gives credit to “some of the great names in second language writing: John Swales, Ken Hyland, Vijay Bhatia, Chris Feak, and Chris Tardy” for mentoring her and allowing her to read their brilliant work, some of which inspired her to complete research with students from her classroom as participants. This prompted one of her questions in her best-known paper in Written Composition that deals with how “a Vietnamese-speaking SDSU student continued to fail our timed essay-writing exams but made ‘A’ grades on his short-answer tests in biology,” which led Johns to ask, “How could that be? Perhaps we should reconsider what we are teaching in academic writing classes.”
As an avid traveler with a goal of writing curricula for composition classes, Johns acknowledges how different academic writing is in different parts of the world, which is why during her Fulbrights in Lebanon and South Africa she specifically made a point to “develop courses for local college students.” In China, she worked with a “fine rhetorician, Rick Coe, in programs for experienced language teachers.”
Throughout her life, Johns has placed an emphasis on the value of being able to write and teach curricula. After some time, she decided to shift her main focus from strictly research to teaching. After being “promoted to full professor” and then retiring, Johns states that she is “free to write what [she] believe[s] is much more useful to teachers: a textbook based on genre theory.” She was incredibly passionate about writing this textbook, and when a colleague from the University of Delaware, Nigel Caplan, approached her with an idea to collaborate on the book, Johns was thrilled. “We worked together for more than five years on this book, agreeing on most points but disagreeing on others, writing, revising, and writing again, until we came up with the publishable volume, ‘Essential Actions for Academic Writing: A Genre-Based Approach’ (University of Michigan Press, 2021).” Johns mentions how much she learned from co-writing this text and credits Nigel Caplan as the “first author.” She has worked on and written three different volumes for Michigan.
Out of her numerous rhetorical accomplishments, Johns discusses that some of the most interesting projects that she has worked on took place in South Africa and Lebanon while she was a Fulbright scholar. While she was there, Johns was fortunate to be able to work “closely with local faculty and administrators and their students to produce academic English curricula that were appropriate for the context in which [they] were working.” She worked diligently on this project, as it “involved interviews with various stakeholders, analyses of student writing and university textbooks, testing materials, and LOTS of meetings,” while also making wonderful friendships along the way.
Johns offers some incredibly relevant advice for current students who are looking to further their education in the field of rhetoric and writing. She emphasizes the following:
- Take every opportunity to learn that you can. For example, your instructors are experts — ask them questions. Your fellow students have interesting lives. How can you work with them to gain knowledge and become better teachers and researchers? Become involved. Create communities.
- Despite its dangers (and they were present, even when we traveled), see the world. And, more importantly, live and work in different parts of this shrinking globe. Apply for a Fulbright, for example.
- Enjoy! My family and I (husband and three kids) had a wonderful time traveling, meeting people, expanding our horizons, studying the local languages, etc.
- And analyze texts from the genres in your worlds. It's fun.
Linn Bekins is a professor in the RWS department who has been at SDSU for 23 years. She is described by her students as “caring” and “approachable” and values her teaching style that is focused around her constant care for her students’ well being. She credits her student-centered pedagogy to two “wonderful mentors” at the University of Utah, Tom Huckin and Marueen Mathison, who also emphasized the importance of empirical research.
Coming from a non-academic family background, Bekins is a self-made learner who took opportunities into her own hands when building her academic career. Her love of learning, inquiring minds, change, and challenge were all factors in her decision to work with adult learners. Her core values are centered around analytical thinking, unquenchable curiosity, and highly interactive academia, which is why the courses she enjoys teaching the most are RWS 508W and 607: Scientific Writing and Writing Project Management, respectively.
Teaching these courses has allowed Bekins to engage with students of all interests. She values the interaction with the science-focused students, how to tie in rhetorical emphasis, as well as how to bring in a linguistic approach. She values the diversity in the course and how science and writing are combined flawlessly in an environment that encourages students not to limit themselves. As for RWS 607, Bekins’ primary role is to engage with students in the transition between academia to the professional world. She brings in speakers, as well as alumni who offer their insights on the world of writing which also contributes to her appreciation for the varied nature of the two topics.
If Bekins could go back in time, she would tell her younger self and those like her to “be surrounded by people that challenge you, be proactive in sharing, expanding, and co-creating knowledge, and learn how to apply what you are learning in the classroom to the world outside academia: you are learning the tools to enact the change you’d like to see in the world.” Bekins will follow her own advice as she continues to teach at SDSU while taking on new consulting experiences. She has recently been working with an international user/experience design group that works on the topic of gendered financial literacy in the workplace. Balancing her work life with her family/social life, Bekins is looking forward to spending time with her three sons, cooking her favorite Spanish tapas, and training for long distance stand up paddle board competitions.
René De los Santos
René De los Santos has spent much of his time at San Diego State University as a student and most recently, as a lecturer. He mentions that originally as an English student, he “stumbled into rhetoric” through a Rhetoric of Science course that he found to be “really different from what [he] had ever seen before — the questions that were being asked and the topics that were being addressed were just really mind-blowing for [him].” After taking this course, De los Santos found much inspiration to research rhetoric further through his master’s thesis which was the “Rhetoric of Standard Time” and for his Ph.D. studies.
De los Santos passionately describes his experience of writing his thesis, mentioning how he enjoyed how “it was this exploration and delve into history. People who have long ago died and yet, here they are right in front of you. They are speaking to you, they are speaking to somebody at the moment, and they are making cases for time.”
Through his research of the rhetoric of standard time from the 19th Century, De los Santos learned about the different cases and systems that were being made for standardized time. “I really wanted to understand the questions–how did we get there and how did we come to adopt these time systems that we now take for granted. It was fun for me because…I never really thought about the confluence of rhetoric and technology and science.” He mentions that the SDSU library publishes student’s theses and his thesis can be found in the bookstacks there.
During his time as a student, De los Santos found studying rhetoric to be incredibly beneficial and educational. “I think it's really the idea of being exposed to things that I had never really been exposed to before, especially the idea of rhetoric and how it functions and the dynamic aspects of it. We take a lot of things for granted and we don’t really think about it. What was really eye-opening for me was the idea that language and how we use images… can be a very powerful force in our society.” From his time as both a student and as a teacher, De los Santos was fortunate to have been able to establish his passions and incorporate them into his studies and courses. He mentions how he has loved being able to include his passion for history into rhetoric courses that he has taught and projects that he has worked on. De los Santos discussed how he incorporated both of these passions within his doctoral dissertation that he wrote about the Mexican ministry of finance, which covered “their rhetoric in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution.”
In terms of his more current research since obtaining his Ph.D., De los Santos has had many exciting projects and continues to have even more in store. He mentions the importance of Latin American rhetorics throughout his career and how he has spent much time bringing awareness to it. During one of the Rhetoric Society of America conferences a few years ago, he states that he was “able to get the first panel ever dedicated to Latin American rhetorics,” which is an incredibly huge accomplishment within the field. He has also spent time furthering a previous project on the “Dreamer” population returning to schools in Mexico. “The whole point of the project was to try to use data that we were getting about their educational needs and experiences to try to reevaluate the curriculum that the university has there.” With that previous project in mind, De los Santos is furthering his work by researching how the “dynamics of education is changing because of this influx of new immigrants” and how rhetoric plays a role in that. He and his colleagues are working toward creating a “broader… binational understanding of how education works.”
Reflecting on his time as a student, De los Santos expresses incredibly beneficial advice to current students. “It’s important to really understand the discipline that you are in, but also be open to what other disciplines offer you — what other lenses you can use to approach a certain topic” He explains how valuable it is to explore different worldviews and perspectives, because it holds us accountable and “keeps us honest.” De los Santos adds that with the perspective of both a student and a teacher, RWS at San Diego State University is an admirable program and especially notes the excellence of Glen McClish. “You can compare it to other programs, and I have, and I think Dr. McClish has done an excellent job… really creating a program that I believe has” been able to get “students prepared for whatever future that they desire to pursue.”
Emma Bardin is a science writing consultant who graduated from San Diego State University with her master's specializing in the teaching of writing in 2013. During her years at SDSU, Bardin was able to teach three semesters of RWS 100 and 200, which she recalls as the most iconic moment for her as she walked into Hepner Hall to teach her first class. Bardin describes how much getting her M.A. meant to her and how every opportunity has shaped her into being able to craft her career into what it is today. “My M.A. is why I have received every job since graduation, and it's why I was able to found my science writing business, Bardin Consulting,” states Emma. “Be open to new opportunities of how your M.A. can impact your professional trajectory. First I was a college professor. Next an English teacher for grades 9-12. Then I was a college counselor. And now I write all things science for biotech companies. The common thread: a rhetorician who can tailor content to a given audience and goal.”
One of the beautiful things about learning how to write professionally is being able to tailor the style of writing to the type of career you want. Bardin seems to have mastered this skill since switching trajectories in her path in life several times since graduating as she now writes “everything science.” From website copy to case studies, leadership bios, awards submissions, thought leadership articles, blogs, conference materials, press releases, and scripts for crowdfunding videos, Bardin has used her skills from the RWS department to leverage her rhetorical training to craft content for a variety of audiences.
Bardin recalls the most interesting project she worked on thus far was drafting a case study for the biotech company Metabolon. She was able to dig deep into scientific articles and find peer-reviewed journals in order to craft multiple case studies. However, because she was left on her own to do the research without much communication from a scientist to ask questions, she “had to leverage [her] rhetorical training to comb the article for key takeaways and then employ the domain-specific vocabulary (most of which [she] had not studied previously) to craft a case study for an audience of researchers.” Because of her foundations in rhetoric at SDSU and her ability to dissect the rhetorical situation, she was able to make what would normally be unfamiliar information to the public eye both comprehensive and compelling. She joyfully mentioned that “it’s projects like this where I get to be a full-fledged rhetorician that I enjoy most.”
From teaching, to college counseling, to scientific writing, Emma leaves us with the reminder that when looking at life through the lens of a rhetorician, it is important to remember that everyone perceives things differently. No matter what profession she is in, Bardin remembers to always reflect on a few key strategies when it comes to analyzing her next work: “take inventory of the rhetorical situation and draft content accordingly. Who is the audience, and what do they care about, what matters to them? What is the desired ethos of the author? And then draft the argument accordingly. So often writing falls short because we write for ourselves instead of the actual audience.”
Learn more at bardin-consulting.com.
As an undergraduate comparative literature major at SDSU, Melissa (Missy) Watson did not expect to fall in love with the field of rhetoric and writing studies the way that she did. After taking Professor Suzanne Bordelon’s Introduction to Composition Course, Missy was inspired to pursue her M.A. in rhetoric and writing studies. “Professor Bordelon’s curriculum had me sold, and her rigorous yet utterly supportive and thoughtful approach to teaching compelled me to want to study and perfect my own craft as a teacher. She told me about the M.A. in RWS and encouraged me to apply.” Watson quickly found her passion in RWS and credits the program and faculty with shaping her to be the “teacher, administrator, and researcher” that she is today.
“I recall fondly learning about and applying rhetorical analysis to research articles in Professor Glen McClish’s Reading & Writing Rhetorically course; contemplating “truth” in Professor Ellen Quandahl’s History of Rhetoric course; challenging notions of “otherness” and “right/wrong” binaries in Professor Richard Boyd’s Modern Rhetoric and Composition Studies course; and learning about and evaluating research methods in Professor Ornatowski’s Research Methods in Rhetoric and Writing Studies course. These courses were all so welcoming, meaningful, and intellectually stimulating to me. And I still have all my papers that I wrote for each of these classes!”
Watson mentions how incredibly thankful she is to have been able to work with Professor Ann Johns. “What an honor it was to work with such an influential scholar in the field of Second Language Writing. Professor Johns helped me to design and implement several case studies of multilingual scholars, to make connections with potential candidates to interview, and to complete a thesis I was proud of. I ended up presenting my findings at my first major academic conference and later publishing a version of the thesis as my first solo-authored publication.”
Watson also reminisces about her time studying and tutoring under Professor Michael Underwood. “This position allowed me to immerse myself in my studies, craft, and academic community at SDSU in ways I had never experienced. Indeed, as an undergraduate at SDSU, I struggled to build community and feel a sense of belonging being a transfer student new to the area and college. But because of Professor Underwood’s welcoming and collegial approach, I quickly made connections with him, with peers, and with undergraduate students.” Watson’s passion for both composition and research is evident throughout all of her educational and professional endeavors, especially when it comes to teaching.
“I can still recall vividly the very first day I taught composition at SDSU. The spring of 2008. The class was across the bridge over College Avenue, in what’s now called College Square. I opened the classroom door with my left hand, my heart pounding, as I was presented with what seemed at the time to be a sea of seated students. I saw only the back of their heads as I squeezed through a tight aisle toward the front of the class, my brand new fancy briefcase in my right hand. As I made my way and faced my students for the first time, I felt absolutely horrified that they’d know that instant that I had never done this before and didn’t quite know what the hell I was doing. This spring it’ll be 15 years since that first semester, and I can still remember some of their faces.”
Watson describes how the lessons she learned while in the RWS program have shaped her into the teacher and researcher that she is today. She mentions that while in the M.A. program, she learned “an invaluable lesson about embracing and facing your academic fears.” As a student, Watson found herself turning down teaching and tutoring opportunities — she would ignore calls looking for “tutors in the ESL composition sections” simply because she did not think it was for her. After pausing to reflect and think about why exactly she was turning down these opportunities, she realized it was because she was scared. Instead of shying away from it, she embraced her fears and volunteered to teach two ESL writing sections, ultimately falling in love with the field. “This moment of fearing unfamiliar territory, leaning into and exploring that feeling, and then facing it head on proved to be one of the most pivotal moments of my academic career.” Looking back on that period of time in her life where she was filled with both curiosity and uncertainty, Watson shares three pieces of advice:
- Rest assured that this program will prepare you well for your professional goals! I have heard over the years just how often students in M.A. programs gain exposure to a field’s content but not experience with its practices. The RWS M.A. program provides both and really sets graduates up to succeed in their professions.
- To all RWS students, not just those pursuing the teaching of writing specialization, I would recommend taking the RWS 796A: Teaching Internship course and, if possible, teaching a composition course or two. I get that teaching is not for everyone, but I also believe many professional writers would enjoy this gig. It’s so engaging and rewarding! I was the only student in my cohort to specialize in the teaching of writing, and I would have so enjoyed having more colleagues in RWS join me and help provide some mentorship to other graduate teachers coming from English.
- Consider getting a TESOL Certificate! I pursued this certificate and used the courses as my electives. It looks great on your resume, but more so, I’ve found the expertise I gained to have been incredibly useful to me as an instructor given that most students I work with are linguistically diverse.
Since completing her Ph.D. in composition and cultural rhetoric at Syracuse University, Watson has incorporated writing through her research and teaching in many ways. She is currently a tenured associate professor of English at the City College of New York, as well as a teacher of composition, and has many academic publications with “more than 15 articles in print and one edited collection, ‘Literacy and Learning in Times of Crisis.’” Watson expresses that she enjoys working with colleagues on publications — one example being an article explaining personal experiences from teachers who are pursuing “raciolinguistic justice.”
Currently, she is working on a “student handbook titled ‘Not Your Mom’s Handbook on Your Language and Writing,’ an edited collection on social justice approaches to addressing language in teaching college composition, and a book chapter on the connections between basic writing and translingual writing.”
John Berry Jr
As a recent SDSU graduate, John Berry Jr. has earned his bachelor’s degree in rhetoric and writing studies and is now pursuing a career in local and state government. He mentions that he wants to utilize the skill sets he learned in the RWS program and put them toward being able to “assist in the implementation and roll out of government programs and policies that will help my community. I hope to use my degree to create effective terminology and channels of communication between the government and its citizens.”
Thanks to the program he describes as “the only one of its type in the Cal State system,” Berry found that he was able to use this degree to pursue a number of job opportunities. From his growing interests in film and visual media, to campaign managing and political strategizing, Berry felt that rhetoric could prepare him for these careers, which require direct, precise, and intentional persuasion.
He recalls how “the term rhetoric also piqued [his] interest because at one point [he] only thought of it within the political realm and as a negative connotation”; however, “after reading the course list, [he] became drawn to the flexibility of the courses, from digital rhetoric to professional writing and editing.”
When asked about his favorite RWS course over the duration of his time at SDSU, he jokingly replied, “I can’t pick, that’s like picking a favorite kid!” Nonetheless, he made a point to mention how grateful he was for the smaller class sizes that created “riveting group discussions that [he] found very enlightening.” In addition to how useful he found the class structures to be, he reflects on the most useful skills he picked up from his professors — one being how he learned how to “separate [himself] from [his] writing,” and how “shifting perspectives helped [him] recontextualilze [his] own writing and refine [his] work.”
Berry’s advice to anyone looking to join the program is to not feel intimidated by the unfamiliar name: “the most exciting thing about the program is how approachable it is. I’ve never felt scared to reach out to a professor for help and from the start they were always helpful.” He adds that, “even if it’s not a major for you, the classes you take could help you figure out what you really want to pursue. Learning about Plato and Pepsi could make you realize you want to go into philosophy or business marketing.”
As a current senior instructional design consultant at UnitedHealthCare, Jenny Varrichio reflects on her time as a student in SDSU’s master’s program and is grateful that her degree has aided so much in her current field of work. Varrichio recalls stumbling upon the RWS curriculum and mentions that “it was exactly what I was hoping to find.” In terms of how the program helped her professionally, she specifically acknowledges how she learned to “write and communicate in a way that can be impactful and concise. I was able to apply my writing skills when I went back for my doctorate as well.” After graduating from SDSU in 2011, Varrichio did her doctoral work at Capella University.
Varrichio explains that throughout her time in the RWS master’s program, her perception of writing was constantly changing. Thanks to one of Glen McClish’s classes, she was able to learn about different approaches to writing. After an activity that included reading a piece by Daniel Chandler, she describes how “the article introduced different perspectives that individuals might have when approaching a writing project. Some tended to approach writing like a bricklayer. Others could approach writing like an oil painter. The characteristics did not bind one person to a specific strategy, but explored different perspectives and approaches that may be taken. It was a great read not only to use for self-reflection, but also to open my mind and learn more about how others may perceive and address something simple like writing and editing a prompt.”
Giving thanks to another instructor who she thought made an impact on her understanding of rhetoric, Varrichio recalls Cezar Ornatowski’s philosophy on how visual rhetoric is just as important as the written component alongside it. She mentions how “in his class we learned how to examine spaces, design, and things like propaganda to determine what rhetorical tools are being used. After the program, I went on to develop elearning materials and I am now using visual rhetoric in my courses all the time!” Not only was this course a standout in her memory during her time at SDSU, but it also was able to help her decide what to do with her career path.
Varrichio jokes that aside from “constant emails and instant messaging communications,” she consults on process documentation for the business and writes a lot of different learning materials. Outside of her main career, Varrichio serves as a board member for the Federal Government Distance Learning Association with her role being digital communication management. She designs and writes newsletters that go out multiple times a month. Most often promoting webinars, but sometimes including learning resources for those looking to enhance or strengthen their elearning approaches. Had Varrichio not discovered the RWS program, she might have not fallen down this rabbit hole of opportunities.
When asked about her most interesting project, she pokes fun at her writing saying that “while [her] dissertation was the most interesting project, the dissertation itself is super dry.” However, Varrichio speaks with great interest of the current work she is doing along with everything that went into her accomplishments. The preparation focused on qualitative studies that explore the experiences of instructional designers from around the world who employ formative assessment activities within game-based learning courses. She talks about how gauging the audience's intrinsic and extrinsic motivations was essential to the design of the game and how the learning elements that included a narrative of some sort was the most effective, allowing researchers like herself to peer into the process of learning through the lives of adult gamers.
Nonetheless, she reflects proudly on her work and chooses to focus on what the dissertation symbolized and how the action of completing it “represented a life milestone.” Jenny realizes that it was essentially a culmination of everything she learned in her writing career — from essays, technical papers, summaries, newsletter articles, job aids, etc., that made it worth every demand and time-consuming effort as in the end it was incredibly rewarding.
Grateful for her time at SDSU, advice Varrichio would like to pass to any other future and/or current M.A. students includes:
- Read everything.
- Support others.
- Work in time for peace and reflection — really think about how your learning materials are impacting you. You might learn more about yourself, your passions, what really inspires you and where you want to go next.
- Keep learning — seeking opportunities to learn does not have to stop when you finish the program. You finish this program as a professional writer and academic with more tools to use to keep building knowledge and skill. It would be silly to box up all these new tools you have and not use them just because you finished a degree. Enjoy what you have accomplished and have fun learning more!
Suzanne Bordelon published an essay in Rhetoric Review titled “Motherhood, Saliency and Flattening Effects: World War I and the ‘The Greatest Mother in the World’.” The essay aims to rhetorically analyze the “Greatest Mother in the World” poster created by Alonzo Earl Foringer, arguing “that the poster and magazine image deploys rhetorics of motherhood and saliency to foster ‘flattening effects’ that not only erase other maternal figures but also elevate ideologies of white supremacy.”
Bordelon’s essay titled “The 1931 Lemon Grove Case and Segregation Arguments: Learning from a Multilayer, Cross-Border Rhetorical Endeavor” was published in Rhetoric Society Quarterly. This piece examines the strategies that were utilized for the success of the Alvarez v. Lemon Grove case, while also commenting on the need for a multidimensional analysis for future cases like this.
In 2021, Suzanne Bordelon and her colleague Elizabethada A. Wright worked on the book chapter, “Crypto-Feminist Enthymemes in the Periodical Texts of Louise Clappe and Fanny Fern,” which focuses on both reform and activism seen in the nineteenth century. The chapter relates today’s social conflicts to those of the nineteenth century, allowing for a deeper understanding of the activism at the time.
Suzanne Bordelon, “Motherhood, Saliency, and Flattening Effects: World War I and the ‘The Greatest Mother in the World.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 41, no. 2, 2022.
Suzanne Bordelon, “The 1931 Lemon Grove Case and Segregation Arguments: Learning from a Multilayer, Cross-Border Rhetorical Endeavor.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 1, 2022, pp. 32–46.
Suzanne Bordelon and Elizabethada A. Wright, “Crypto-Feminist Enthymemes in the Periodical Texts of Louise Clappe and Fanny Fern.” Nineteenth-Century American Activist Rhetorics. Edited by Patricia Bizzell and Lisa Zimmerelli, MLA, 2021, pp. 265–276.
Recently, Dustin Edwards published the article “Critical infrastructure literacies and/as ways of relating in big data ecologies” in Computers and Composition. In the publication, Edwards focuses on the ethical issues regarding the infrastructural dynamics of big data storage. Using a cultural rhetorics lens, the article centers around practices focusing on how big data storage affects society.
Dustin Edwards, “Critical infrastructure literacies and/as ways of relating in big data ecologies.” Computers and Composition, vol. 61, no. 1, 2021.
RWS instructor and alumnus Jacob Hubbard was recently featured on ABC 10 News San Diego. Hubbard discusses the advantages of utilizing social media to develop certain skills that help him connect with his students. Taking neurodiversity into account when communicating with students is something that instructors should be aware of, and implementing the use of social media in the classroom can foster communication between those instructors and students on the autism spectrum and those that are not.
Congratulations to Ann Johns, RWS professor emerita, on her recent publication. John’s textbook, “Essential Actions” has been published by the University of Michigan Press. She focuses on educating all potential academic students and preparing them for a successful career in whatever field they choose. Featuring rhetoric, short readings, pedagogical practices, and other academic related assignments, she helps students grow their skills in all aspects of writing.
Ann Johns, “Essential Actions.” University of Michigan Press, 2022.
Congratulations to Anthony Lince, RWS lecturer, on his recent publication. Lince's article "Stepping Back to Step Forward: A Tribute to Mike Rose" has been published in the Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators. His detailed piece pays tribute to Mike Rose, an influential leader in academia, and how he was able to pave the way for his successful teaching career.
Anthony Lince, “Stepping Back to Step Forward: A Tribute to Mike Rose.” Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators, vol. 45, no. 2, 2022, pp. 81–84.
RWS graduate student Matthew Louie has published a piece in Praxis: A Writing Center Journal that investigates the subject of decolonizing writing centers and how it directly impacts the land of Indigenous people that we occupy. He discusses how we must be mindful of those around us and remember to take the steps necessary to respect people’s fight for sovereignty.
Matthew Louie, “Mindful Language-Use: Recognizing Indigenous Peoples when ‘Decolonizing Writing Centers’.” Axis Special Edition: Imagining the Decolonizing Writing Center: From Standard Edited English to Returning the Land, Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 2022.
Glen McClish’s publication titled “‘The very breath of life’: The Conversational Rhetoric of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South” brought out in the Journal for the History of Rhetoric, aims to dissect and analyze the conversational rhetoric found in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel “North and South.” McClish argues the importance of Gaskell’s work in relation to the field of rhetoric.
Congratulations to McClish for the recent publication of his chapter in “The Practice of Rhetoric [Poetics, Performance, Philosophy]: Essays in Honor of Jeffrey Walker.” This book seeks to “demonstrate the continued need to attend carefully to the cooperation of descriptive language and normative reality, conceptual vocabulary and material practice, public speech and moral self-shaping.”
In 2021, McClish published his essay “‘Gems of Negro Eloquence’: Memorializing the African American Rhetoric of the 1895 South Carolina Constitutional Covention” in New North Star: A Journal of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, which seeks to “investigate how collections of discursive texts produced by understudied marginalized figures can function as sophisticated sites of public memory, transforming stinging deliberative defeat into consolation, productive defiance, race pride, and dedication to a more egalitarian future.”
Glen McClish, “‘The very breath of life’: The Conversational Rhetoric of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South.” Journal for the History of Rhetoric, vol. 25, no. 3, 2022, pp. 279–302.
Glen McClish, “‘Gems of Negro Eloquence’: Memorializing the African American Rhetoric of the 1895 South Carolina Constitutional Convention.” New North Star: A Journal of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, vol. 3, 2021, pp. 29–44.
Glen McClish, “Exploring the Performed Argument: Teaching Poetry Rhetorically.” “The Practice of Rhetoric [Poetics, Performance, Philosophy]: Essays in Honor of Jeffrey Walker.” Edited by Debra Hawhee and Vessela Valiavitcharska, U of Alabama P, 2022, pp. 67–89.
Kellie Miller’s publication in the peer reviewed online journal Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies focuses on English literature and art, reflecting her studies on Victorian-era women writers. Her piece explores the way women of the time were confined to a specific writing style and explains how they should be able to push the boundaries of gender expectations.
Kellie Miller, “Representations of Identity and Agency in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette.” Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 2022.
Congratulations to Cezar Ornatowski, RWS professor emeritus, on his recent publication! Ornatowski’s article "Weaponized Rhetoric: Cognitive Struggle in the Contemporary Media Space" has been published in Contemporary Rhetorical Theories. He prefaces his piece by stating the significance of weaponized rhetoric and how it goes beyond traditional understanding. His piece analyzes rhetoric in politics, education, and its overall reputation.
Cezar Ornatowski, “Weaponized Rhetoric: Cognitive Struggle in the Contemporary Media Space.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theories, vol. 8, no. 4, 2022.
In her article “Pandemic Pedagogy: What We Learned from the Sudden Transition to Online Teaching and How it Can Help Us Prepare to Teach Writing in an Uncertain Future,” published in Composition Studies, Sheppard reports on her findings about the difficult transition to online teaching and learning during the pandemic. After conducting surveys with writing instructors, she discusses a number of difficulties experienced by those involved and offers pedagogical and professional advice for the future.
Jennifer Sheppard, “Pandemic Pedagogy: What We Learned from the Sudden Transition to Online Teaching and How it Can Help Us Prepare to Teach Writing in an Uncertain Future.” Composition Studies, vol. 49, no. 1, 2021, pp. 60–83.
In her recent publication “How the Ideology of Monolingualism Drives Us to Monolingual Interaction,” published in Community and Culture Forum, Professor Consuelo Salas and her colleagues discuss the need for inclusivity within the computing field. The piece examines the damaging effects of monolingualism in society and concludes “that more attention to bilingualism is needed to make Hispanics/Latinx feel welcome in the field.”
Manual Perez-Quiñones and Consuelo Salas, “How the Ideology of Monolingualism Drives Us to Monolingual Interaction.” Community and Culture Forum, ACM Interactions, vol. 28, no. 3, 2021.
Professor Kathryn Valentine has published “Listening to the Friction: An Exploration of a Tutor’s Listening to the Community and Academy” in Praxis: A Writing Center Journal from the University of Texas at Austin. Valentine shares her findings from a qualitative study she conducted on how tutors listen to what “haunts” writing center work and work in the academy.
Kathryn Valentine, "Listening to the Friction: An Exploration of a Tutor’s Listening to the Community and Academy." Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, vol. 19, no. 1, 2022.
Meet the Editors
Noelle Higgins is currently a third-year undergraduate Rhetoric and Writing Studies student. She will be studying abroad at the University of Kent in England in spring 2023.
Celia Fisher is currently a second-year undergraduate student majoring in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. She will be studying abroad at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland in spring 2023.
The SDSU Rhetoric & Writing Studies Department Newsletter
Letter from the Chair
In my “Letter from the Chair” for the Spring/Summer 2021 RWS Newsletter, I wrote, “The last three semesters have been unlike any I’ve experienced in my many decades of university life.” One year later, unprecedented experiences have continued unabated; we are still having to “rethink and refashion our most basic ways of being students, teachers, staff members, and administrators.” The roller coaster pandemic tears along its invisible track, surprising us with each rise and subsequent fall. Based on my reading of the department, we’re getting better and better at teaching under the uncertain conditions created by a plague with a mind of its own, although we all continue to worry about its effects, both long and short term, on our students. I have been so impressed by our instructors’ efforts to help students through their courses and am heartened by our students’ resilience and grit.
Our 2022 graduates, whom we honored at our department graduation celebration on May 13th (our first in-person graduation this decade), deserve special recognition for persevering to degree through four (and in many cases five) unsettling semesters. I list them here:
Bachelor’s Degree recipients: Erik Acosta, Lindsey Anderson, Kassandra Beltran, John Berry, Meghan Ellis, Noah Goldbloom, William Hale, Justin Kim, Fangchuan Liu, Chelsea Nunez-Tello, Agnes Szakacs (co-editor of this Newsletter issue!), and Summer Ycasas. (For more on Summer, see the spotlight, below.)
Master’s Degree recipients: Jennifer Davis, Nicole Golden (a former Newsletter co-editor!), Eirein Gaile Harn, Alicia Leon, Jennifer Lavasseur (Ponce), Daniel Rodriguez, and Anthony Toledo.
I’d like to take some space to honor three colleagues about to retire from RWS: Robin Avner, Carl Fielden, and Rhonne Goodman. Robin, whose dissertation work at Johns Hopkins University investigated the great nineteenth-century British novelist George Eliot, began teaching for RWS in 2005. Over the years, she has taught RWS 100, RWS 200, RWS 280, and RWS 305W. Her courses are distinguished by sophisticated critical inquiry. Robin has quietly and expertly gone about her work, diligently teaching decades of students how to both interrogate and produce a wide variety of texts.
Carl’s long career as a San Diego State writing instructor began with Academic Skills, the department that preceded RWS, in the 1980s. Since coming over to the new RWS Department in 1993, he has taught a wide range of classes, from developmental writing to the 500 level, and has held several important administrative positions, including assessment coordinator of the old developmental writing exam/portfolio and most recently WPA coordinator. One of our dedicated evening instructors, Carl comes to campus when most of us have called it a day. Over the years, he has acquired Master’s Degrees in Linguistics and Education, and has just completed a third in Rehabilitation Counseling, all from SDSU. (For more about Carl, see the spotlight, below.)
Having completed her Master’s Degree in English at SDSU, Rhonne joined us as a lecturer in 2001. Like Carl, she was a stalwart developmental writing instructor, but she has also taught the standard lower- and upper-division courses for us. Shouldering five classes per semester for many years, Rhonne has taught thousands of students to read, think, and write more effectively. Her teaching style has been distinguished by her unique brand of tough love, supportive but clearly structured and firm. Long a member of the department’s early bird club, Rhonne has roamed the halls when many of us are still waking up.
As I close this message—as well as my twenty-third year at SDSU and twentieth as your chair—I want to express my gratitude for Robin, Carl, Rhonne, and the many many colleagues and students I have had the opportunity to work beside, teach, and learn from. I wish all our readers a summer of good health, renewal, recreation, and reengagement.
Carl Fielden is a man of many skills. He earned his first degree in music and focused on music therapy, building from his plan, at the age of 10, to become a classical musician. While he was attending Ohio State University, he joined the ROTC program, and after he graduated, he was an infantry officer on active duty for three years. During his active years, he had the opportunity to go to Korea. There he became aware of not only the country, but of teaching English as a second language. After he left active duty, he sought and earned a master’s degree in linguistics and TESOL. This is when Fielden started to teach writing to non-native English speakers at SDSU and Cuyamaca College, in addition to teaching native English speakers at City College and UCSD. His turn to teaching was inspired by an excellent high school teacher who had a great influence on him. Through her, he gained a desire to teach composition and rhetoric–even though she warned him to never become an English teacher, while showing him her briefcase with 80 or more ungraded papers. Fielden took this as a dare. And he now calls himself “an accidental college and university instructor.”
Carl has been teaching writing at SDSU since 1985. While working on his graduate degree in linguistics, he taught his first class as a teaching assistant through the Academic Skills Center. This center was used for “teaching developmental courses in writing, reading, and mathematics” and was later integrated into the newly formed RWS Department in 1993. Fielden has also worked at what is now known as the Student Ability Success Center.
As part of his work, Carl has explored the integration of technology in the teaching of writing. In the last 10 years, he has focused on principles of universal design for learning, commonly known as UDL. In the future, he plans to conduct research on “designing inclusive, engaging environments that enhance the learning, retention, and graduation of students with disabilities” at Grossmont College.
Fielden understands that for many students writing can be an obstacle, sometimes even a traumatic one. In his teaching, he works to break down these barriers and “help students develop their own natural composing styles and practices” that they will be able to work with after graduating. Students know that Fielden wants what is best for them as many have written in their course evaluations that Fielden is approachable, encouraging, and that he cares deeply about them. He has also received a comment frequently: “Finally, a writing course that is useful!” In 2021, Fielden received the Teaching Excellence Award from the College of Arts and Letters. However, he sees his students’ successes as writers as an even greater reward: “I could have never planned a more satisfying career. I will miss teaching at SDSU very much.” Carl Fielden will be retiring in June of 2022.
We wish you the best of luck and a happy retirement! The RWS Department and the students of SDSU will miss you very much and thank you for your work!
The Landmark Lecture
Consuelo Salas offers her insight on the department’s annual research and pedagogy presentation
Dr. Consuelo Salas has just completed her second year as an assistant professor at San Diego State University, and she has very quickly made her mark on the RWS department. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Literature at the University of Texas at El Paso, she recalls that she took an introduction to Rhetoric and Writing Studies course and was then inspired to earn her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition Studies at UTEP. Since then, she has become extremely involved within the field of rhetoric.
In discussing the annual RWS Landmark Lecture, Salas eagerly explained that the lecture has been occurring since 2003 and it “invites prominent scholars in Rhetoric and Writing Studies to discuss research and pedagogy in this field.” The Landmark Lecture allows for those within the field of rhetoric who are doing “interesting and important work” to share their current research, which creates a strong learning environment for those who are in attendance.
When asked about her involvement in this year’s lecture, Salas explained that as members of the anti-racist working group within the department, she and Karen Koss began discussing Dr. April Baker-Bell’s book, Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy, released in 2020. Both Koss and Salas found Baker-Bell’s work to be incredibly inspiring and decided that they would like to not only read her work but try to bring her to speak at the annual Landmark Lecture. Through these efforts, Salas and Koss applied and were awarded three internal grants: a College of Arts and Letters Instructional Related Activities grant, a Dean’s Excellent Endowment Wendelmoot Memorial grant, and a Justice Equity and Inclusion mini grant. It was through the support of these grants that Salas and Koss were able to bring Dr. Baker-Bell to speak.
In the lecture itself, Salas explains that Dr. Baker-Bell “advocates for critical linguistic awareness of black language” and that her research is “pushing us, as writing instructors, to interrogate our own relationships with language and position ourselves as learners.” Dr. Baker-Bell’s work within her text, as well as in the Landmark Lecture, “works on educating us on what black language history is,” and it allows for the audience to ask the important questions “about the conditions of which it was created, how it has moved over the last centuries to now, and how we teach our writing classes today.” Salas mentions that this lecture inspired her to make tangible changes within her classroom. “I think that is maybe the key takeaway, that as an instructor, even though I already have my doctorate and I am already teaching, I still have room to continue to learn so that I can continue to be an effective instructor of writing.” If any readers are interested in learning more about these concepts, you can find an electronic copy of Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy in the SDSU library.
In regard to the lecture, Salas mentions that it was incredibly impactful to have Dr. Baker-Bell share the concepts that she discussed within her book. Salas expresses that the talk was very “informative and groundbreaking in that [Baker-Bell] is really talking about black language and giving us the ability to see how black language is already a part of culture, even though we did not previously have the framework to be able to name it as such.” Salas states that Dr. Baker Bell ended her lecture on a series of provocative questions, and she recalls a moment where she, as host of the meeting, was at a loss for words as she was just “sitting with what she was asking of [them].” The valuable lessons learned within the lecture served as great inspiration for the future of the RWS program as a whole.
In addition to the work bringing Dr. Baker-Bell, Salas explained that she and her colleagues were also awarded an NEH grant, “Creating Expansive Approaches to Teaching Writing in a Southern California Border Region.” As part of the work of this grant, more speakers will be invited to share with the SDSU community “their own research and how we might apply it to what we are already doing in our teaching of writing.”
In concluding the interview, Dr. Salas offers some incredibly valuable advice. She states that “if you are interested in the field of Rhetoric and Writing Studies, my advice would be to think about the idea that all groups around us have created communication practices which are already unfolding or already occurring, and to take a look at what those are for yourself, take a look at what those are for the communities that you are in, and then acknowledge that the field of rhetoric can continue to expand when you think about our own communication practices and those of our communities.” For current RWS students, Salas encourages students to reach out to their professors and let them know their career goals and interests and “for anybody else reading the newsletter” she would like to encourage them “to take a look at Dr. April Baker-Bell’s book.”
Lea Baker is a Creative Writing MFA alumna from SDSU. With a passion for writing, Lea has made her mark and journeyed through several different paths prior to becoming the co-coordinator of the RWS Writing Mentors Program. Baker first stepped foot in the field of rhetoric in January 2015, when she became a TA. She mentioned that this was a defining moment in discovering her love for teaching that has led her to her role as an embedded tutor—something she is exceptionally passionate about. Baker has “slowly worked [her] way into a full-time position at San Diego State through working with community colleges and private high schools,” which was an experience she described as a stepping stone for the teaching track she was looking to engage in.
The Writing Mentor Program is a chance for “students to become critical and reflective writers through an enriched collaborative experience.” Open to both undergraduate and graduate writing students, the Writing Mentor Program embeds students within a classroom so that they can be mentored by instructors and improve their pedagogy by working with students one-on-one. Baker mentions that the overall goal is to “have instructors and students all work together to learn communication skills, pedagogy skills and learn how to mentor as well as tutor—something everyone can benefit from.” She thinks of it as “the best job ever! You get paid to attend class and then you get paid to tutor people after!” Not only are you enriching your knowledge of writing, but you are also gaining in-person experience that cannot be taught elsewhere.
Despite her love for teaching, at one point in her career, Baker admits to being nervous about taking on such a big role as “[she] liked writing, but [she] didn’t necessarily like standing in front of a classroom.” However, Baker recalls, “This program gave me that confidence and it also got my foot in the door.” The embedded tutoring program at one of the San Diego Community Colleges was actually Baker’s first job after graduating, which assisted her into the position she has now. She describes the opportunity as benefiting both graduate students as well as undergraduate students who are looking for a way to start building their resume and gaining experience.
While discussing how hard it was to get a job somewhere that specializes in writing, Lea took another approach and spoke about how her time in the medical field actually aided in her work experience. “I worked at a physical therapy office because I struggled a lot to get hired at the local library, but I got accepted at a lot of medical facilities because they need people to do the documentation. I was assigned with a physical therapist and I would write what they were doing and check off lists because it all has to be noted. I think writing majors have a big advantage because no matter what field you go into you need to be able to express whatever you're doing to someone else.” The Writing Mentor Program allows for students to gain writing skills like this and teaches them how to apply them anywhere, which actively broadens the workplaces in which they can be accepted into.
Lea, like many other English majors, recalls being frequently asked if she was going to be a teacher because of the uncertainty of finding a job with the major. Her answer was the same every time: “No!” However, she speaks so positively of her experience and transition in becoming a core part of the embedded tutor program that now she “can’t imagine doing anything else.” She concludes, “Any student, whether they are graduate or undergraduate, can apply for this program. While it is very helpful for students who want to go into teaching, it isn't exclusively for that. We also have Econ majors who worked with us to be a mentor; essentially anyone who has passed an undergraduate college writing course can apply to be a mentor.”
Lea thanks SDSU for taking her under their wing and always encouraging her to push herself in her career. With countless pieces of advice given to her over the years, Lea hopes to give some tips back and urges those who may feel conflicted about the program to “just give it a try” as “everyone benefits from this.” Anyone interested can apply for this program.
Summer Ycasas has just completed her BA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. She first took RWS classes when she enrolled in first-year composition during her first semester at SDSU. However, at that time, she did not know there were more than just 100 and 200 level courses. Later, as Ycasas realized her linguistics major wasn’t a good fit for her, she thought back to those RWS classes: “I really enjoyed taking RWS 200 as a freshman and realized when I first thought about changing my major that I could be studying something I not only enjoy but excel at.” It was then that Ycasas enrolled in RWS 250 and began her path through the major with a focus on writing, about which she has always been passionate. After she graduates, Ycasas is planning to pursue work in technical and professional writing or editing. Given her love of writing, it’s not surprising that she says, “I enjoy practically every kind of genre of writing I’ve dabbled in during my time here at state.”
In thinking about her favorite RWS classes, Summer notes, “Any and every course that Jenny Sheppard has taught!” Those courses include RWS 250, 543, and 504. She is especially appreciative of the design skills she has learned as a part of studying both rhetoric and writing. These principles have made it easier for her to use and navigate her notes, essays, proposals and other projects. One thing Ycasas wished people and other students knew about the RWS Program is that it is more than just writing essays for classes. She acknowledges there is a lot of writing involved, of course, but also sees the major as engaging students in useful genres such writing reports, proposals, infographics and emails. Ycasas ends by saying, “The RWS program really lets you stretch your wings as a writer and shows you just how instrumental writing is in so many places.”
Mikayla Garcia is a current graduate student at San Diego State University and is earning her Master’s in English American Literature. However, she is also connected to the RWS Department as she states, “Essentially, I am very embedded in the RWS department!”—a perfect way to describe her work as an RWS mentor or embedded tutor. Garcia discovered the RWS program at SDSU through a friend of hers. Because the friend knew Garcia had a passion for teaching, she thought it would be a great fit for her. Garcia applied for the job and has been working as an RWS writing mentor through Fall 2021. In addition to working as a mentor, Garcia taught RWS 200 in Spring 2022 through the department's graduate teaching program.
Garcia earned her BA in Literature and Writing along with History as her minor from California State University San Marcos. Through her undergraduate studies, she obtained skills from the Literature and Writing Department that allowed her to have the opportunity to work and tutor for three years at CSUSM’s Writing Center. The students whom she tutored used skills similar to those taught in RWS courses. As for her time with RWS, Garcia thinks it is “great to be involved in a department dedicated to helping students better understand rhetoric and the writing process.”
Eirein Gaile Harn just completed the RWS MA program on the teaching track. She earned her undergraduate degree at SDSU, double majoring in Sustainability and RWS while serving as a writing mentor as well as the director of communications for the RWS student chapter of the Rhetoric Society of America. She has made a name for herself as a member of the lower-division writing program team, a graduate representative on the RWS council, RSA VP, as well as a teaching associate.
Despite all of her accomplishments and positions held at SDSU, when asked about her initial involvement in RWS, she mentions that it was a bit of a rocky start due to an unfortunate personal situation that put a damper on her relationship with writing. However, Harn was eventually able to rebuild that relationship when she took RWS 200 course during her first years at SDSU.
Thanks to a caring professor, Harn remembers her self-confidence as a writer finally beginning to blossom. While she still had moments of self doubt, sometimes questioning why he believed in her, she took his advice to consider further studying RWS. His kind words meant so much to her that she ultimately took a leap of faith and decided to pick it up as her second major.
When once again asked to make a decision furthering her education, Harn thanks Dr. McClish for being a deciding factor in joining the master’s program. With her focus on high school teaching during her undergraduate years, Harn was almost ready to go down that path had she not felt as if she needed more time to prepare. She remembers feeling like she “wasn’t ready to be done learning.” She then turned to Dr. McClish and was encouraged to take the graduate-level RWS 601 class to see how she felt about potential grad study. Harn mentions that it was a turning point for her and that she realized that “there was more to learn and do in the MA and [she’s] honestly so grateful for the opportunity.”
Moving forward with her work, Harn has decided to share some current research topics she is pursuing, the first being the study of names (onomastics). She mentions in her thesis titled “‘That Doesn't Strike Me As Filipino’: Navigating Names, Cultural Identity, and Rhetorical Onomastics” that she “called on the field of rhetoric to formally acknowledge rhetorical onomastics. There is so much scholarship around the significance of names in other fields, but I hope to shepherd those discussions into the field of rhetoric with a cultural/decolonial rhetorics lens.” Her second project is relating to her current job as a writing instructor that involves trauma-informed approaches to writing pedagogy. She is also “always looking for opportunities to visibilize Filipino and Filipino-American culture, and to share [her] experience as a Filipino person living in the United States.”
With regard to her future and applying everything she has learned here at SDSU, she hopes to continue teaching composition at the collegiate level. While reflecting on her journey, Harn humbly states, “I’ve had the opportunity to teach in the RWS department for three semesters during my MA, and it has been the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I love teaching writing and working with students, and I hope to do that for a very long time.”
Sarita Tanori is a former graduate student of the RWS program and is currently an RWS and Chicana and Chicano Studies lecturer here at SDSU. All of the classes that she teaches have a central focus on writing, with her CCS 200 course and her CCS 396W course also focusing on ethnic studies. She explains that she teaches more classic RWS classes as well. She notes that she is “constantly surrounded by writing, but in different facets which keeps [her] work fun and exciting.” Outside of her main teaching career, Tanori is a creative nonfiction writer, a genre and practice she describes as “a transformative tool for building a community and making space to heal.” She is dedicated to her own personal growth as a writer both in public and private as she continues to build upon her knowledge in the writing field.
As a longtime lover of writing, Tanori is glad that she found guidance at SDSU through the RWS program. The course offerings are so broad that they allowed her to experiment with subjects that she might have never learned she enjoyed—teaching being at the top of this list. She mentions—with a special shout out to a particularly exceptional lecturer, Jamie Madden—that it is because of the fantastic mentors, faculty, and staff within RWS that she was able to thrive and be guided in the field of academia that is not always so forgiving. A fear of hers was that because of “the westernized and white hegemonic framework applied to mainstream professionalism,” the professional world would feel depersonalized. However, thanks to the caring souls she met on her journey at SDSU, she never felt the pressure of trying to find her way in a professional environment.
Like many, Sarita was initially unfamiliar with how widely applicable rhetoric is when she first joined the RWS department. However, through the teachings of one of her favorite professors, Jenny Sheppard, she has come to recognize that “everything is rhetorical.” A couple of Tanori’s favorite courses while in the SDSU graduate program included History of Rhetoric with Dr. Glen McClish and Writing Center Practice Theory with Dr. Kathryn Valentine. While she was fascinated with the material from the History of Rhetoric course, describing it as “interesting and arduous,” it was the Writing Center course that particularly stood out to her and ultimately “helped define [my] pedagogy.” Tanori mentions that a major takeaway from the RWS department is that she has learned how to “analyze [her] decisions while navigating adulthood and a professional career.”
As Tanori looks back on her time before earning her MA, her work as a newly employed Teaching Assistant is what most fondly stands out in her memory. She recalls that this particular experience is what made her switch her focal point from professional writing to teaching—an experience she positively refers to as “a distinct adrenaline rush.” Tanori speaks about how this was a time of growth for her and how she relished in the opportunity to not only teach for the first time, but learn how to make mistakes in a forgiving environment. Her frequent feelings of understandable anxiety were mitigated through the bonds she made with fellow instructors who ranged from newbies like herself, to veteran instructors who graciously shared their words of wisdom. Sarita is grateful for this experience and thanks the community she built with these people that “made the experience easier, and helped me parse out and process all of the emotions that came with this first.”
While earning her MA, Tanori notes that her thesis was a very “challenging and rewarding” aspect of her experience in the RWS department. Sarita mentions how grateful she is for her thesis chair, Dr. Katheryn Valentine, and that she was a great support system for her as she was writing her thesis on emotions and vulnerability in rhetoric. Unfortunately, Tanori’s work on her thesis was stunted due to the start of the pandemic back in March of 2020. “The overwhelming grief of the pandemic made it difficult to write or think, so I took extra time in graduate school to focus on finishing my thesis,” states Sarita. However, all of the unknowns in the world during that time allowed Tanori to gain more patience when it came to her thesis, and ultimately “see [her] vision through and do [her] participants justice.”
When asked if she had any advice to give to younger students or anyone pursuing a career in the field of rhetorical writing, she humbly stated that while she thinks doesn’t have a whole lot of wisdom to share, she does believe that “you should always try to tie in your interests and hobbies into your rhetoric work.” Tanori expressed this core idea in a story dear to her heart about her most interesting writing project. Sarita explained her archival zine project that was based on her mother’s migration story from Sonora, Mexico. She expressed how important writing this piece was to her, and that she learned so much from her mother’s story. Tanori cherishes this writing project, which taught her “about the value of oral traditions and archiving the narratives of our loved ones,” and how rhetoric has the power to tie together universal cultural, personal, and educational values.
Erica Mosley is an undergraduate alumna of SDSU and is using her degree in rhetoric to switch over to the field of marketing as a manager and freelance communications consultant. She writes for multiple organizations’ social channels, manages email marketing, as well as websites. Mosley mentions that “an important lesson [she’s] learned from studying RWS that has helped [her] tremendously is knowing how to write in different contexts,” which luckily, she has gained plenty of experience in doing through her line of work.
Since completing the program, Mosley recalls another crucial lesson that stuck out to her: the importance of critical and analytical thinking.
She describes it as “by far the most helpful [skill] as [she’s] transitioned from being a writing tutor, to a career coach/program coordinator, to now a marketing manager.” She shouts out one of her favorite professors, Dr. Jenny Sheppard, for showing her how to think outside of the box in addition to challenging her in classes that she wouldn’t have normally taken. Mosley mentions that because of one of Dr. Sheppard’s courses, she was able to experiment in graphic design that ultimately led her to grasp the concepts that would lead her to her current job. She describes this favorite course of hers as “challenging . . . but extremely practical and useful.”
Professionally, Mosley is proudest of her work that included “writing 100 days worth of emails that would convince corporate executives to center racial equity at the core of their business strategies.” Mosley’s rich background in rhetoric aided in her ability to use the art of persuasion to her advantage. Personally, though, she hints that her proudest moment was her project that entailed a 15-page analysis on a single song by hit singer, SZA—an assignment she described as “daunting, but very rewarding.”
Looking back at her time here at SDSU, Erica has nothing but positive impressions to share. With gratitude towards the professors at the university as well as the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies, she reflects fondly on the connections she made in addition to the opportunities she had to follow her passions. When asked if she had any advice to give to current students, she confidently said to “trust your instincts and stand firm in your power. You’re gaining invaluable, applicable, and transferable skills in this program that can take you a long way.”
Matthew Gantos earned his BA in journalism and he has been working with the RWS Department since 2018. He says that the best part about working at SDSU is “working at SDSU.” He sees people enjoying their work and taking pride in what they do, specifically because it has value. Gantos views education as an “important pillar of our society.” In addition, he enjoys the beautiful campus he visits every day. Gantos noted that being able to earn his graduate degree while working at SDSU is the second best part; he is currently enrolled in the MFA program in television and film.
Gantos has been drawn to writing ever since he was young, especially when music was involved because he “liked listening to song lyrics and figuring out what they meant.” Later on, he would think critically about what made someone choose certain words and why they would choose that instead of something else. In addition to seeing rhetoric in songwriting, Gantos also sees it in screenwriting, because every film has an argument or message behind it.
Speaking of the challenges that come with trying to balance work, classes and life, Gantos is optimistic: “The university and our department staff are all incredibly accommodating when it comes to supporting further education.” Along these lines, something Gantos has observed working in RWS and wished he knew earlier as a student is how human instructors are. He mentions that especially with a department filled with writers, “you can find a group of well-spoken and intelligent people, that are also . . . just people.” Sometimes when he was an undergraduate student, Gantos viewed instructors as detached. However, after working with the department, it reminded him they are people who may be “accomplished and intimidating” at times, but at the “end of the day they are good people.”
Agnes graduated from SDSU with a Bachelor’s Degree in Rhetoric & Writing Studies in Fall 2021. During the fall semester, she interviewed subjects and wrote a number of the articles featured here
Noelle Higgins is currently a second-year undergraduate Rhetoric and Writing Studies student. She greatly enjoyed her time working on the Spring 2022 newsletter alongside her co-editor, Celia Fisher. Noelle is especially thankful for this opportunity to grow as a writer and to gain new and important perspectives from each of the interviewees.
Celia Fisher is currently a first-year undergraduate student majoring in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. After becoming a co-editor during the Spring semester of 2022, she worked on interviewing subjects, as well as writing, editing, and revising the newsletter alongside Noelle. Celia hopes to continue to practice writing in the future and gain more experience in the field of rhetoric. She thanks Dr. McClish for this opportunity and has sincerely enjoyed her time working for the department.
The SDSU Rhetoric & Writing Studies Department
Newsletter and Podcast
The Rhetorical Situation
Podcast Episodes 2-5
In the second installment of the Rhetorical Situation, a podcast by the Rhetoric and
Writing Studies department, you’re invited to hear from yet another chorus of voices
from RWS. In this series of 4 short episodes, co-editors Rachel Michelle Fernandes
and Nicole Golden interview a handful of individuals from the department, ranging
from students, faculty, and alumni to one of the first writing center tutors at SDSU.
Each episode features 1-2 individuals, but all their stories show the power of persistence
as they explain their unique paths to the department and handling continued working
and learning from home. Get ready to get personal, and rhetorical!
Letter from the Chair
A Nod of Appreciation from Dr. McClish
The last three semesters have been unlike any I’ve experienced in my many decades of university life. We have, in essence, been compelled to rethink and refashion our most basic ways of being students, teachers, staff members, and administrators. Now, finally, as the pandemic appears to wane at the University, in California, and in the nation, we are preparing to return—more or less—to our familiar ways of teaching, learning, and being together in the fall. While we know “this isn’t over,” we feel that we’re heading in a good direction and that better days are ahead.
To our 2021 graduates, you persevered during a time of great uncertainty and challenge. I know how difficult your final three semesters have been, and the sacrifices and hardships so many of you endured, yet you finished undeterred, and I want both to praise and thank you for doing so. Just as we’ve honored you with a degree, you’ve honored us by completing the journey with such determination. Class of 2021, we are proud of you. You are very special!
I’d like to take some space to honor two recent retirees from RWS, Hedda Fish and Bob Stein. Hedda’s legendary career as a San Diego State lecturer began with the English Department many years ago in 1979, before Rhetoric and Writing Studies existed. She came to the university after substantial careers as a legal secretary and a high school and community college teacher that predate the majority of the readers of this message. When RWS was born in 1993, she came over to the new unit as a writing teacher, and she has been with us ever since. She has also taught for Mesa College since 1967. Hedda has been well known as one of the early birds on campus, arriving with the sun and actually enjoying 8:00 AM classes. Her SDSU morning routine held steady throughout the many challenges she has faced and was interrupted only by the pandemic. We will miss Hedda’s inexhaustible energy, her pluck, her collegiality, and her cheerful presence in the classroom, the hallways, and the offices of RWS.
Bob’s time in the department began as a graduate student in our Master’s program. I vividly recall his early encounters with rhetoric in my RWS 600 class. His interest in the subject matter grew to a passion, as did his commitment to teaching rhetoric and writing. Bob worked as a TA, and after graduating in 2013, began teaching as a lecturer, which he has treasured as a second career. With a 28-year stint as an advertising executive behind him, Bob enjoys contextualizing rhetoric as a kind of marketing, and—alternatively—marketing as a kind of advertising, which has led to fascinating discussions about the relationship between the two. Given his years in the corporate world, he has been a natural in RWS 290 (Business Writing and Rhetoric), but his special love has been lower-division writing, the heart of the liberal arts tradition of education. We will miss Bob’s passion for teaching rhetoric and mentoring students, his willingness to ask hard questions, his gentle iconoclasm, and the slice of New York he has brought us Californians.
Finally, I note that although I will be functioning as chair the entire summer, I will be on sabbatical for the fall semester, hunkered down at home trying to write. In my absence, RWS you will be in the steady, kind hands of two of our longtime colleagues, Kathryn Valentine and Chris Werry. Everything will run smoothly—no doubt more smoothly—while I’m away.
Through this newsletter and accompanying podcast, I hope you enjoy learning more about the people who make our departmental mission possible, as well as our inspiring students and alumni.
Best wishes for a summer of renewal, recreation, and reengagement with the world beckoning all around us.
New Faculty Spotlight
Dr. Dustin Edwards
The Rhetoric and Writing Studies Department will be joined by Dustin Edwards beginning in Ffall 2021. Dr. Edwards specializes in professional writing but also engages in digital implications of rhetoric. Previously, Dr. Edwards served as an Assistant Professor and the Director of Graduate Programs in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida (UCF). There, he taught courses in digital writing, professional writing, as well as visual and material rhetorics. Remembering his virtual visit to campus and how often people mentioned that SDSU is big, Dr. Edwards joked, “Oh, that’s cute because we do have 70,000 students [at UCF].” Before joining us at San Diego State University (SDSU), he and his wife are managing arrangements for moving from Florida to San Diego. With miniature dachshund Poppy and a toddler in tow, they are in the process of figuring out whether to drive or fly across the country. Unfortunately, Poppy isn’t the best flyer, and she’s a bit overweight these days. Dr. Edwards quipped, “I’m blaming the pandemic—actually, the child just gives her whole slices of pizza.”
Dr. Edwards’ current research is culminating in a book project titled “Digital Damage and Rhetorical Invention at the End of Worlds” in which he explores digital rhetoric and its physical, human, and other intersections. Of his still-in-progress book, he says, “It really examines the environmental implications of digital technologies. And I look particularly at two different sites in the book—so, a Facebook Data Center in Los Lunas, New Mexico, and then another site in my hometown [Silver City, New Mexico], which is actually a copper mining town.” He investigates both the cloud’s environmental implications at the Facebook Data Center and the material infrastructure of the copper mine. Dr. Edwards shares how this work stands on the shoulders of cultural rhetorical scholars: “I’m so indebted to cultural rhetoric scholars, who have articulated story as a rigorous, and worthwhile, and important methodology for doing rhetorical work.” In the book, Dr. Edwards tries to tell stories of both locations in order to “make visceral connections to say what we’re doing online is not immaterial; it has environmental consequences, and we need to pay attention to those.” He added, “For me, telling these really personal and implicative stories related to these places just hopefully connects us in better ways to pay attention and be more alert.”
Interestingly, the intellectual path from his Master’s to his current work is anything but linear. After being accused of plagiarism in high school, Dr. Edwards struggled to understand why he “felt like a criminal” and where his negative feelings originated. So, he turned toward the rhetoric of plagiarism during his master’s program when conversations about plagiarism, authorship, and originality came up; eventually, he came to understand that all three make up a “complicated phenomenon.” For his M.A. thesis work, Dr. Edwards investigated online tutorials which presented methods for reducing plagiarism. “Typically [these tutorials] would place students like burning in hell if they plagiarized or behind bars . . . these [are] really terrible metaphors that don’t allow students any room to question, what is this thing called originality?” With this interest still in mind, Dr. Edwards planned to continue with similar work during his Ph.D., but he soon found himself drawn to circulation theory, the study of how things transform and move online. From there, the work of his dissertation followed activist hashtags as well as the affect or emotions that circulate online. “What I came to at the end of the dissertation was thinking through kind of different ways to think about circulation,” he reflected.
Through his dissertation work, Dr. Edwards realized there are four levels to circulation online. The textual level focuses on what actually circulates, the affective level delves into emotional implications, and an infrastructural level follows the process of circulation. But, Dr. Edwards began to realize that a data layer occurs simultaneously across the three other levels. He recalled reading Nicole Starosielski’s book The Undersea Network; her work pushed against the transient and immaterial assumptions of how information travels, underscoring the fact that undersea data cables circulate data for us—rather than “moving in the airways or something.” Importantly, Starosielski’s work encouraged Dr. Edwards to conceptualize digital damage: “there’s this huge environmental cost for circulating and storing data, and that growth just continues to happen.” This insight resulted in a mere footnote in his dissertation where he emphasized environmental issues with data circulation. He drove home a simple but sincere point that “we need to pay more attention.” It wasn’t until several years later that this footnote resulted in something bigger. Dr. Edwards said, “A couple years after I defended my dissertation, Facebook announced that they were building this sprawling data campus in New Mexico.” And so, with a personal connection drawing him in, Dr. Edwards began the work that has become one of two focal points for his book.
As he looks forward to teaching at SDSU, Dr. Edwards is excited about what both the institution and department value. On the institution, he stated, “Situated along the border, SDSU is a Hispanic serving institution. It seems like it’s putting a lot of effort and resources into being a more diverse, inclusive, anti-racist institution.” He continued, “There’s just so much value in being in a standalone department and the kinds of things that you can get done, the kinds of classes that you can offer, not having to fight for resources . . . and obviously, the opportunity to teach an [array] of courses.” This fall he will be teaching advanced writing strategies and professional writing both at the 500 level, but students can look forward to courses centered around the rhetoric of sustainability and writing in nonprofits in the future.
The Chamorro Activist and Teacher
Alum Desiree Ventura confronted coloniality State-side
Alumna Desiree Ventura journeyed from her Pacific Island home in Guam to San Diego and back, learning how to support her Chamorro community against the subtle but pervasive colonized mindset that Ventura herself had somewhat unknowingly internalized. A full-time teacher at Guam Community College for the last ten years, Professor Ventura’s first exposure to students from the continental U.S., “state-side” (as she and other islanders call it), occurred during her time attending San Diego State University starting in 2007.
“I’m from a village public school,” says Ventura, “and, when I enrolled at San Diego State, I felt wildly incapable.” She remembered transferring from Chaminade University in Hawaii to San Diego and beginning to realize that the way in which Pacific Islanders “operated was different.” She explained her goals behind finally visiting the States: “I was only in San Diego to pursue my graduate degree and the intention has always been to return home.”
Growing up in the indigenous community in Guam, Professor Ventura shared a bit about her role as a Chamorro woman and how she connected with her community differently following her time in San Diego. “In the Chamorro culture, the women have an obligation, especially from traditional families, to uphold and preserve Chamorro traditions, culture, and just to kind of safeguard our people,” she said. In fact, Professor Ventura experienced a sudden culture shock upon starting at San Diego: learning alongside stateside students who shared their opinions openly and disagree with their professors were unfamiliar ways to navigate the classroom because, Professor Ventura says, “when you grow up in a colony, criticizing, rejecting, or resisting is very frowned upon; it’s not part of [Chamorro] culture.” However, she is grateful for the patience that faculty provided her. “My time at San Diego State,” she said, “helped me view [Chamorro culture] from an angle that had me returning home, re-engaging in a more intense way.”
As she reflected more on her time in San Diego, Professor Ventura realized how important her short time away from Guam was for her growth. “I wasn’t at the same level of consciousness when I was living [in Guam] growing up, she said before revealing her most impactful takeaway from learning stateside: “I remember I had one classmate who looked at me one day and he said, ‘So how does it feel for you to be colonized?’” At the time, Professor Ventura did not consider herself a colonized body; she describes coming to terms with Guam’s colonization and figuring out how to push back as “a journey and self exploration” where she “found a lot of confidence and understanding” from her peers and faculty, especially Dr. Glen McClish and Dr. Suzanne Borderlon.
Upon returning to Guam in 2009 with her M.A. from San Diego State, Professor Ventura found “coming home was very dismantling in a lot of ways.” At the time, the Island was in the midst of planning to organize Marine troops from Okinawa to Guam. As she became deeply involved in efforts against these plans, she recalls, “It became really important for me to involve myself, get together with other Chamorros who ironically were returning home at the same time from getting their degrees,” to protect the threatened ancestral land. Professor Ventura reflected on the benefits of her colleagues returning to Guam: “I think it was the perfect time for all of us to come home because that led to a whole generation of community workers that have made big movements in terms of our progress here with not only the Department of Defense and military plans but with our political status.”
After her sudden transition into community activism using the knowledge she gained from being in the RWS program, Professor Ventura has continued to keep critical reflections and community engagement in the coursework she teaches and the curriculum she writes. She said, “One of the biggest things I have been involved in, especially in terms of teaching and cultural work and political work, is making sure that our students are exposed to resources in the classroom that include them, like reading Guam history written from a Chamorro and giving them versions of our story that are not written by outsiders.” She’s also responsible for two classroom Pacific Island readers and contributes to calls that seek to place Pacific stories in more classrooms.
The Renaissance Man
Alum Garrett Stack is an accomplished scholar turned parent
“Every person should get the chance to live in San Diego for two years. Period. End of sentence,” says former rhetoric and writing studies graduate student Professor Garrett Stack. Earnest but with a chuckle, he adds: “If every person on Earth got two years in San Diego, we'd be a happier humanity.” At Ferris State University, located in West Michigan, Professor Stack was recently promoted to associate professor. There, he teaches journalism, creative and technical writing, and composition. He is also a writer and researcher.
Professor Stack majored in journalism as an undergraduate student and worked for a small town newspaper during his senior year. But, writing “terrible stories about terrible parents and terrible crimes . . . it kind of beats on you and it wears you down,” he said. So, as his final semester started winding down, he sought out options besides staying in the position that he was beginning to dread. Luckily, he had a supportive mentor. After he spoke with her, Professor Stack learned about rhetoric. “She pitched it and it still kind of resonates,” he recalled. “It’s like if creative writing and journalism had a kid and then you studied the kid.” For young Stack, this sounded enticing: “I started looking at programs and I found San Diego.”
Reflecting on the organization required to teach several types of writing, Professor Stack firmly believes that “it’s all the same thing.” Although he described technical writing as “outward looking” and “user centric,” where the focus is on readability regardless of the topic, he said, “that’s also how you should teach composition, that’s also how you should teach journalism.” Chiefly, as a writer, “you should be thinking about your reader first, and last, and in the middle, and in everything that you do.” Thinking about feedback he often gives across all the courses he’s taught, Professor Stack shared, “the most common piece of criticism I have for anybody is ‘you wrote this for you, and not for anyone else.’” He quipped, “and, that’s fine if you’re writing a diary, but unless you’re writing a diary, you didn’t consider your audience.” To drive this point about the audience home for his students, he features workshopping in all his courses since he values how the process “reinforces that idea that you’re writing for other people.”
Outside of his coursework, Professor Stack also writes fiction, poetry, and environmental communication theory—the latter which is also his general research focus. He explains his niche within the intersection of environmental communication theory and rhetoric, probing into discourse analysis: “It’s a little bit of a mix between rhetoric and linguistics. You do close textual reading and oftentimes you work in some statistical analysis . . . how words are functioning across texts and within texts to do certain performative work.” His latest publication focused on the invasive species Asian Carp paired with the concept of spectacle; these carp can be seen jumping out of water. Imagine “columns of leaping fish, and they're thick in the air, they're huge.” Interestingly, Professor Stack and his research partner learned that although “there's no scientific consensus on their effect on the ecosystem . . . [Asian Carps] were able to skip the line” in terms of funding precisely because their spectacle brought attention to them.
Since Professor Stack and his wife welcomed twin boys in January 2020, however, his attention to research has thinned. Reflecting on life with newborn twins during a lengthy period of working from home, Professor Stack mentioned various ups and downs. “I got more time to spend with my newborns than probably most other fathers in history. At the same time, I got to spend so much time with my kids while trying to do my job,” he noted. He touches on his main takeaway: caring for children, among similar responsibilities, “forces you to . . . grow up” and “do time management in a real serious way.” He remembers balancing side jobs with teaching or other responsibilities in the past but recognizes how strict he must manage his time now around the needs of his tiny humans. He describes the kind of focus necessary while his twins nap: “Okay, you have two hours and there is no spend[ing] an hour of that clicking around on the internet. It’s like you have 120 minutes, and they all need to count for something. And, that is a different way than I've ever worked before.” Although he’s learned this useful skill and enjoyed the extra time with his family while working from home, he looks forward to returning to campus. Teaching online for the past year or so, he describes the experience with an unexpected analogy: “I feel like a DJ.” For Professor Stack, teaching on Zoom is “talking into a microphone” as he “spin[s] another tune” for his students, looking at the screens of names wondering, like the DJ scanning a crowd, “if his jokes land.”
Lecturer Emma Lee Whitworth creates community in the writing classroom
Self-titled adopted child of the RWS department, Emma Lee Whitworth has been with San Diego State University (SDSU) for over ten years but first appeared on campus as a student back in 2008. For several years, Emma Lee has been an RWS lecturer and coordinator of the RWS Writing Mentors Program (previously known as Writing Fellows). During her time with RWS, she also served as assistant scheduling coordinator, as well as worked on many different committees, including Writing Placement Assessment (WPA) and the RWS 105 Rhetoric of Written Argument Stretch series—summer courses open to students still working toward satisfying the SDSU Written Communication Assessment requirement. Currently, Emma Lee is also a digital outreach volunteer. She laughed lightly, “I kind of have a role in as much as I can.”
After revealing her tireless enjoyment of being involved, Emma Lee added, “I do like being a part of communities, especially communities of change.” In particular, she sees the work of the department as an exemplary space of positive change. Speaking of writing in particular, Emma Lee said, “I think there’s so much destigmatizing of the writing process that needs to happen because . . . people have this idea that they sit down at their computer, they have this blank, white screen staring at them, and then they’re supposed to just like vomit brilliance onto the page.” Emma Lee says that it’s all about humanizing the writing process and the classroom experience, too.
In 2011, Catherine returned to the U.S. and began a full-time teaching position at a small private elementary school in Orange County that utilized a classical approach to education using the progymnasmata method. Created by the ancient rhetoricians such as Aphthonius, the progymnasmata consists of a thoughtfully ordered pedagogical design that teaches writing and speaking through a series of increasingly complex exercises. For Catherine, the progymnasmata was mostly a mystery until she moved to San Diego to teach at another classical school; it was there that she truly understood the efficacy of the progymnasmata method. A colleague who had worked his way through the RWS Master Program himself showed Catherine the way: “He saw it from beginning to end, and he really actually saw how teaching it with fidelity through the whole program, it teaches everyone . . . the communication and writing skills they need to be effective communicators.” It was then that she sought to join SDSU’s RWS program.
After completing a B.A. in English at the University of Washington and studying Comparative Ethnic Studies at Washington State University, Emma Lee watched as her oldest brother pursued graduate school and began teaching. “He and I started talking about teaching a lot and kind of collaborating on what a good pedagogy would look like and, you know, having fun with lesson plans and stuff.” These casual but meaningful conversations ultimately led her toward realizing that she wanted to teach. “I started thinking about my experiences with instructors in college and thought I could do a better job than them.” She chuckled, “Or, you know, I was inspired by the people who did do a good job, too.” With an interest in ethnic studies, she said, “I kind of left college with this thirst for a more inclusive classroom experience.” So, like her brother, she sought a M.A. in English but “with the sole focus of teaching at the college level or the community college level,” Emma Lee specified. While at SDSU and pursuing her English degree, she discovered the RWS department and, importantly, an emphasis in RWS for her English degree. With her penchant for involvement, Emma Lee soon found herself working as both a Fellow and a TA for RWS. As she altered paths and turned toward rhetoric, she remembers, “I kind of just fell in love with the department.”
As her undergraduate studies’ location suggests, Emma Lee is a Washingtonian—an Eastern one at that. Emma Lee rarely finds that people recognize where she’s from in Washington, “a place called the Tri-Cities that no one’s heard of—except for the Kennewick Man and the Hanford power plant.” Her move from the northern to the southern West Coast wasn’t intended as the permanent move it’s become; she said frankly, “I never planned on staying in San Diego when I first moved down here.” She qualified this statement with a laugh and added, “Everything I say I’m never going to do; I ended up doing it.” One of those things included kids: “Having a child was never really on my to-do list. So, I haven’t like conceptualized my identity around it, you know, even still four years later.” Emma Lee and her husband—another thing Emma Lee convinced herself she wouldn’t do was marry—welcomed daughter Aria into the world about four years ago. She reflects on the joyous life she leads now, “Here I am living the dream!”
In 2014, Emma Lee and husband relocated from Ocean Beach to Santee, where they purchased a house on a cul-de-sac. The prices that a person pays in Ocean Beach versus elsewhere were part of their reasoning for moving, but Emma Lee cut herself off to say, “Let me blame my husband [for] this one. She explains that “he likes the finer things in life,” naming a few items such as air conditioning and a dishwasher. She joked, “I have to buy him nice things to keep him happy.” This move was quite timely as Aria entered the picture a few years later in 2017. In fact, that same year marked Emma Lee’s official role in RWS Writing Mentors Program. The program consists of successful student writers, both undergraduate and graduate, hired as embedded tutors in RWS and linguistics courses. These mentors provide additional support to their peers under guidance of the instructor. Emma Lee explained student writers’ roles, “We want to see ourselves as mentors to the students that we work with, but we also want to see ourselves being mentored by the instructor.”
Emma Lee shares wise words for undergraduate and graduate students alike: “[take] ownership and action in your education.” An education is “not just studying and, you know, doing well on tests,” she stressed. “It’s this active kind of metamorphosis process.” Although this might seem tough at first, Emma Lee thankfully has some additional advice. She said, “I’m a big supporter of ‘fake it till you make it’ . . . people say dress for the job that you want, not [for] the job that you have. I say . . . manifes[t] it somehow.”
The Rapper Gone Linguist
Hasan Autman changed careers at 35 and now he’s earning his Ph.D.
Current Ph.D. candidate Hasan Autman candidly stated, “Strangely enough, I got into linguistics ‘cause I was at a party, back when I was a rapper” chatting with a cute girl after his show at UC Santa Barbara. Hasan said, “I asked her what her major was. She said linguistics. And I said, ‘Mine too.’” Shockingly, he went on to eventually pursue a degree in linguistics—and remains in touch with her to this day, grateful that she introduced him to linguistics. Hasan “traveled the world as a rapper and did shows” for several decades before turning to school and teaching. Hasan has traveled to 28 countries in total but currently resides in Flagstaff, Arizona, while he attends Northern Arizona University (NAU). He sees his academic career in linguistics as distinctly translatable to his work with language while a rapper.
Yet another unforeseen person led Hasan toward one his greatest passions: comics. Hasan has been a huge comic book fan since he was about six years old thanks to, funny enough, a childhood bully. Hasan put it simply, “You couldn’t be a nerd in the hood back then.” Hasan revealed a shocking twist to bully Ed’s request to come to his house, “Instead of punching me, he put out a long, white box of comic books and . . he gave me X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills.” Hasan remembers well that he related to the X-Men, “I was a black kid in Southeast San Diego, in the hood. And, X-Men were mutants; they were hated by society, misunderstood. And I felt the same way.” Hasan thinks that Ed, like himself, felt unable to share this passion for comics with others until they stumbled into each others’ lives. Today, Hasan’s Flagstaff apartment is covered with Marvel paraphernalia, and he enjoys anime and comics just as much now as he did at six.
Reflecting on the places life has taken him, Hasan laughed, “It’s been a very strange ride.” To this point, he shared, “I went to [college] when I was 35 years old.” In fact, he never graduated high school or received a GED even as he’s on track to complete his Ph.D. in fall 2021. At 35, he began at a community college and later transferred to San Diego State University (SDSU), where he earned a B.A. in linguistics and continued to complete an M.A. in linguistics as well. Towards the end of his Bachelor’s, Hasan began working as a tutor for the Rhetoric and Writing Studies (RWS) Department and eventually became one of the first tutors in the SDSU writing center. He not only took courses in the RWS Department but also taught courses for the department as a Master’s student.
As the end of his Master’s loomed in the near future and Hasan was searching for positions, a neat networking opportunity arose after he presented his thesis at a convention. SDSU was developing a university in the Republic of Georgia, and Hasan was hired to help build the school and create a language center—“That’s still in operation by the way,” Hasan noted proudly. Founded in 2014, SDSU Georgia, as it is commonly known, is located in Tbilisi, Georgia, and currently offers six different STEM majors with professionally accredited and internationally recognized U.S. bachelor’s degrees. SDSU Georgia also follows a western approach to education with an emphasis on a well-rounded liberal arts curriculum. Hasan’s year in Georgia centered around laying necessary groundwork to build the school. In particular, Hasan initiated and developed the English Language Development Center (ELDC) with the dean’s support, using the structure of SDSU’s own writing center as the model. Soon after he completed the ELDC in Georgia, a school in Azerbaijan and yet another school in Northern Cyprus both heard of Hasan’s accomplishments and hired him to do similar work. After a year overseas, Hasan returned to the US to pursue his graduate studies.
At NAU, Hasan progresses toward his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction within the education department and has added a focus on ethnic studies. Hasan specified, “I have my graduate certificate in ethics studies.” As he approaches the end of his studies at NAU, Hasan said, “I was supposed to complete it in May, but I started playing video games and slacked off—Grand Theft Auto, man.” Even so, Hasan will be completing his Ph.D. in only about three years. His advice for time management: “Work smarter, not harder.” Currently, his dissertation focuses on “the language of hip hop-based education in African American vernacular” as he examines potential differing meanings and the history behind the N-word. With his personal insight as a black person also involved in hip hop, he recognizes a distinction between pronunciations with an “a” versus “er” sound at the end. The former he sees as “a term of kinship, and it’s evolved past whatever racist roots they might’ve had.” But, the “er” pronunciation “is not like that,” Hasan observed. Ultimately, he said, “I’m using my research to try to uncover what’s really happening on the streets: Are people using two separate words with two separate meanings, and is the N-word phrase a valid phrase to cover up both words?”
According to Hasan, the relationships between rhetoric and linguistics equally inform his work as an educator. “Semantics classes have definite overlap with rhetoric,” he explained. But, more importantly, Hasan approaches both learning and teaching with a linguistics perspective that he describes as a “scientific approach” and with rhetoric as a philosophy: “I kind of merged them together to make an amalgamation of my, you know, teaching style.” Naming John Swales and Christine Feak’s Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills among other texts about common rhetorical concepts, Hasan stated, “I get the nuts and bolts, but also the philosophical parts.” As Hasan’s academic interests and his journey across careers demonstrate, rhetoric is present in every discipline.
The Mountain Climber
First-Generation Chicano grad student Carl Silva does not give up easily
San Diego native and first-generation Chicano college student Carl Silva plans to graduate this summer with his M.A. in rhetoric and writing. Carl is a proponent of diversity as well as first-generation and transfer student awareness. He says it’s crucial to keep in mind representation of these identities: “It is a lot easier for students to imagine themselves in a particular job or career field when they see people like themselves holding them.” He envisions himself as the face that others like himself can and will see in academia. As he looks forward to potential careers, his ultimate goal is returning to San Diego City College where his college path first began and becoming a professor. He stressed, “I want to help people who come from the same background as myself.”
During his three years at San Diego Community College, Carl received his Associate’s degree in elementary teaching preparation as well as an Associate’s in honors communication studies. Carl transferred to California State University Long Beach, where he completed a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on interpersonal and organizational communication. On his academic interests, Carl said, “I always had a taste for communication/rhetoric and I eventually gravitated back into it for my grad program.” After wrapping up his BA at Long Beach, he entered San Diego State University within the Homeland Security Program. However, a year in the program and a gradual realization later, Carl had a slight change of heart and switched programs. It was in HSEC 690--otherwise known as Seminar in Ideology, Discourse, and Conflict--taught by Dr. Cezary Ornatowski of the rhetoric and writing studies department where Carl had his “ah ha!” moment, connecting various mentors’ backgrounds in rhetoric with the topics of the course. Shortly after taking Ornatowski’s course, Carl became a rhetoric and writing studies student and selected an emphasis in the teaching track. Carl taught his first RWS 200 course in the spring semester and worked as a writing mentor (previously known as a writing fellow) for three semesters prior.
Looking back, Carl’s college pursuit began when he started 5th grade. Carl attended KIPP Adelante Preparatory Academy in San Diego from 5th through 8th grade. The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is a national network of middle schools that support their alumni through high school and into college, and KIPP Adelante is one of many tuition-free college preparatory charter public middle schools across the country. KIPP Adelante and its greater Southern California branch marshal counselors and advisors to support alumni through high school into college as well as into careers post-college. And, thanks to Carl and a few peers, the extensive alumni network now has an online platform that launched this past summer which allows for fellow KIPP-sters, what graduates of KIPP middle schools are nicknamed, to collaborate and support each others’ academic journeys.
Carl expressed immense gratitude for the doors that KIPP Adelante opened: “Being a first-generation student, I didn’t really have . . . guidance and nobody was like pushing me and motivating me to go to school,” he said. “So, when I went to that school, their whole theme and environment was to climb the mountain into college. They had . . . murals on the stairs, the hallways, of kids climbing literal mountains to college.” This image lingers in Carl’s mind as he reflects on his academic journey, sometimes wondering if a gap year here or there might have relieved some of his burn out. Still, Carl looks forward to the future that awaits him as he continues applying for teaching positions, one with a KIPP affiliated school on the East coast and a few dispersed around the Southern California area.
The Balancing Act
Grad Jenna Levasseur manages full-time work, part-time learning, and a wedding
After the tumult of 2020, things still haven’t calmed down for full-time employee and graduate student Jenna Levasseur. As soon as the clock strikes 4:30 p.m. on a weekday, “I’m RWS part-time student and if I get one moment of peace, then I am trying to be a good partner, trying to plan a wedding, trying to raise this little rescue mutt, all of these other like normal day-to-day hats.” Jenna and her fiancé, Alex, also began planning their wedding at the same time as moving in January of this year, Jenna exclaimed, “which was stupid! We should have really waited until after we moved.” Luckily, she and Alex are only about a six-minute drive from campus now.
Photographers, florists, and bakers, oh my! Jenna has noticed that the majority of people she meets for wedding planning tend toward selling based on the current, most popular items. Jenna shared, “I feel like I’ve had a really, really hard time finding someone that listens to what I’m saying and realizes that I'm not going for just a trend.” Instead, her intended wedding theme is centered in timelessness. To her, this theme entails a few key details: “I really want just muted colors, and I want it to be calm and not visually overwhelming.” She also chose timelessness to avoid any potential regrets; she said, “I don’t want to look at these photos in five minutes and just be like . . . Why did I do that?” To this point, Jenna expressed difficulty locating things that were timeless but is sticking to “less color is more,” including white bridesmaids’ dresses to many people’s disagreement. Still, she will persevere with the support of her doting fiancé.
When Jenna isn’t focused on planning her wedding or being a good partner, she is working for San Diego State University’s own College of Sciences as development coordinator for the past two years. On weekdays, you can find Jenna typing away as she researches potential donors and writes grants, proposals, and gift agreements herself. And it is through this position that Jenna actually discovered Rhetoric and Writing Studies shortly after she started as development coordinator. Beginning with courses for the certificate in Professional Writing, Jenna learned that she was but a few courses away from a MA. She went ahead and applied in Fall 2020—and got in! With only three courses remaining, Jenna is happily looking forward to graduating in spring 2022 with a specialization in Professional Writing.
Before discovering her fondness for fundraising, Jenna began her academic journey at SDSU herself through Compact for Success, in which Sweetwater Union High School District graduates were guaranteed admission to SDSU if they met admission requirements. After two years with the same classmates as high school and an exhausting daily commute, Jenna felt drained and needed a change of place; she transferred to California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and majored in sociology. Upon graduation at CSUN, Jenna immediately returned to San Diego because the greater Los Angeles area was not her cup of tea. Her first summer position post-graduate at the Boys & Girls Club in San Diego initiated Jenna’s love of fundraising and development when she shifted from a hands-on role working with children to a behind-the-scenes role as a development professional. Seeking to expand her experience in development and delve into higher education, Jenna landed at SDSU in the College of Sciences.
Since joining SDSU for a second time, Jenna has grown to love working and learning at SDSU for many reasons, including how “SDSU is like a little city” for her. She reflects on her in-person experiences, “I can go to work. I can go to Trader Joe’s (when it’s open), and get my lunch, and walk around. And then at the end of the day, I can go to my class. And so, it’s just like a little city.” Clearly, she isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Afterall, she’s got a wedding to plan!
Department News and Events
Stay in the know about everything RWS
The summer is officially in full-swing, but here’s a look at a few important features of the spring semester.
- College of Arts & Letters (CAL) Awards for the 2020-2021 Academic Year
- We honor our two Spring 2021 retirees, Hedda Fish and Bob Stein. Hedda’s career at San Diego State began with lecturing in the English Department in 1979, prior to the existence of Rhetoric and Writing Studies. Bob began as a graduate student in the RWS Master’s program many moons ago. We thank them both for their service and commitment to the department and our students.
- Congratulations to our new faculty member Dustin Edwards, whose Rhetoric Review article “Digital Rhetoric on a Damaged Planet: Storying Digital Damage as Inventive Response to the Anthropocene” received Honorable Mention for the 2020 Theresa J. Enos 25th Anniversary Award.
- Congratulations to RWS M.A. student Eirein Gaile Harn who received a Master’s Research Scholarship for the 2021–2022 academic year from CAL.
- Eirein Gaile shared, “I’m honored and humbled to receive the Master's Research Scholarship for 2021-22! I'm thankful for the guidance of Dr. Glen McClish, Dr. Jenny Sheppard, and Dr. Kathryn Valentine who continue to be important mentors for me throughout my experience in RWS. My research aims to extend Onomastics (the study of names) into the field of Rhetoric. I will explore names as rhetorical sites of meaning by considering the rhetorical strategies people use to navigate the relationship between their names and their cultural identity. Specifically, I seek to understand the role names play in cultural identity development.”
- While the Rhetoric Society of America student chapter looks forward to shifting to in-person learning again, the E-Board is excited for upcoming events, including Ph.D. application workshops, thesis support workshops, and more. Follow their Instagram account @rsasdsu for updates closer to the start of the fall semester!
- If you’re an undergraduate or graduate student interested in employment opportunities within the RWS department, you can apply to become an RWS Mentor (previously Fellow) or a Writing Center tutor! Find more information about mentoring and tutoring.
Hope you enjoy a well deserved summer of as much rest as you can find. Loop back in sometime during the fall semester for the next newsletter.
Meet the Editors
Graduate Students Nicole and Rachel
Read on to find out more about the co-editors who spearheaded the podcast!
Nicole is beginning her second year as a graduate student in the M.A. program in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. After graduating from Occidental College in 2019 with a B.A. in English, Nicole spent her gap year working for a non-profit in Los Angeles where she supported a program dedicated to under-resourced elementary schools and raising students’ reading skills. Nicole returned to school while the pandemic still riddled the country with shut-downs and stay-at-home orders, spending two semesters learning online. She even had the chance to teach an RWS 200 course online when she became a TA in the spring semester.
As Nicole delves into her thesis work this summer, cultural rhetorics informs a study of Japanese American identity. Her personal experience as a mixed-race Japanese American influences her interest in understanding practices undergone by other Japanese American millennials as they articulate and construct their mixed-race identities. With this interest in mind, Nicole plans to continue within academia in pursuit of a Ph.D. in order to expand her cultural knowledge and hopefully teach at the university level. Still, Nicole looks forward to a career centered around the teaching of writing but welcomes whatever opportunities arise as long as her thirst for learning can be quenched.
Rachel Michelle Fernandes
Rachel is a graduate student in the M.A. program in Rhetoric and Writing Studies, entering into her second year, with a focus in multimodal and digital rhetorics. After an accomplished career in film and television production and over a decade in New York City, Rachel decided it was time to prioritize her mental health and return to her West Coast roots. Rachel shifted her focus to arts journalism and podcasting, writing a column for San Diego City Beat called “Thank You for Staring” and recording and editing a podcast series called Psychic Rehab. The podcast chronicled Rachel’s struggles with Bipolar disorder and featured a range of interesting and informative guests to discuss getting rooted in reality and finding common ground—be it with civic engagement, trash cinema, Riot Grrrl feminism, or taking to the open road. After writing a successful California Arts Council grant with the Oceanside Public Library and a local arts organization, Rachel realized how rhetoric could help her further advocate for the agency of her creative community and enrolled in the RWS program
Rachel’s thesis work is taking shape as a digital counter-mapping project which takes a decolonial approach to locating and connecting cultural communities and social movements across the San Diego and Tijuana border region. She seeks to locate and constellate any artist, artist run space, grassroots movement, collective, activist or organization in the region who is actively committed to decolonization and anti-racist practices. She hopes this visual and geographic tool will eventually serve as a useful resource for strengthening community care and mutual aid networks. She looks forward to teaching RWS 100 in the Fall and getting to know the SDSU community IRL!
The Rhetorical Situation
The SDSU Rhetoric & Writing Studies Department
Newsletter and Podcast
The Personal is Rhetorical
Podcast - Ep. 1
We cordially invite you to take a step back from the computer, give your eyes some
much needed rest, and listen to the first ever RWS podcast! We the editors figured
that, with all the social isolation, zoom fatigue, and distance learning, listening
to a few real conversations with faculty, students, alumni, and staff might be a breath
of fresh air. Get ready to get personal, and rhetorical, with a chorus of voices from
Why Rhetoric Matters Now
(more than ever?)
A letter from the Chair
After a memorable year serving as Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Letters (that’s an interesting, but separate story for another time), I’m back as chair of Rhetoric and Writing Studies, my spiritual “hometown.” Fall 2020 was a very challenging semester, obviously, and many of the pandemic-related difficulties we faced then continue to define our efforts in Spring 2021. Nonetheless, I’m extremely proud of our faculty and our staff, who worked with creativity, compassion, and diligence to adapt our pedagogy to virtual space and to help our students improve their writing and critical thinking skills in the face of considerable hardship and uncertainty.
I’m also heartened by the support we provided for one another. Many faculty and staff found themselves in the nearly impossible bind of having to fulfill their formidable RWS responsibilities while simultaneously taking care of infants and toddlers, supervising their children’s online schooling, and tending to their own physical and mental wellbeing. Finding creative ways to help these colleagues manage their competing responsibilities was one of the unexpected pleasures of the semester.
In addition to the pandemic, the surging Black Lives Matter movement that shook the country in 2020 sent needed shockwaves through RWS, and in Fall 2020 we seriously reflected on ways to establish a more consciously focused anti-racist culture in our department. These cultural changes will positively affect our teaching and our grading, as well as our hiring and retention of people of color. We are committed to the goal of establishing a faculty and staff that more closely align with the identities and life experiences of our students. We will reduce race-specific equity gaps—lower grades in writing classes for students of color—that limit the success of the students we should be most concerned with helping. And we will bring down the percentage of students who are earning Ds, Fs, and Withdrawals in our courses, since these low grades take a psychological toll and slow students’ pace toward graduation.
Finally, RWS felt the trauma of an election season like no other, followed by a post-election period unlike any we have experienced in the US since Reconstruction. We have been continually reminded of the role rhetoric plays in the ongoing political drama, both to bring us together and to drive us apart. In their recent “Statement Condemning Insurrectional Rhetoric and Resulting Violence 1/6/21” (for the full statement, see link on our website homepage), the Board of Directors of the Rhetoric Society of America declared,
Words matter, and when they are used they have material consequences. Being with others requires that we use our words, our language. Admittedly, language is unstable and uncertain, but that is precisely why we need rhetoric: to grapple, collectively, with such instability and uncertainty, to make the best cases for our behaviors, actions, institutions, laws, and judgments. Otherwise there is simply violence.
The fact that “words matter” reaffirms the mission of our department. Given the political world we inhabit, teaching and studying rhetoric and writing cannot be more important in 2021. So despite the very real, significant challenges we face, I’m optimistic about RWS’s future teaching, research, and service. Through this newsletter and accompanying podcast, I hope you enjoy learning more about the people who make our departmental mission possible, as well as our inspiring students and alumni.
New Faculty Spotlight
Dr. Consuelo Salas
Rhetoric and Writing Studies department’s newest member of faculty, assistant professor Dr. Consuelo Salas brings “experience working with students who live in a border space, who are multilingual, who have a variety of different linguistic backgrounds” as well as her academic specialties. Focusing on Border Rhetorics as well as combining rhetoric and food studies, Dr. Salas earned both her MA and PhD from the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP). “It was an interesting journey,” Dr. Salas laughed as she explained a shift from a pre-med career trajectory to the English department at UTEP and, finally, to the field of rhetoric. After beginning to take English courses while still pursuing a B.A. in a science at UTEP, Dr. Salas recognized her passion for reading and writing and changed majors—against her parents’ wishes, she admitted. With a B.A. in English, young and unsure about job opportunities, Dr. Salas decided to pursue a master’s degree at UTEP where her mentor Dr. Meredith Abarca introduced her to food studies and suggested UTEP’s PhD program in rhetoric and composition. “I entered into my PhD program with this hope of marrying the two fields of rhetoric and food studies,” Dr. Salas said, “that was kind of my driving force.”
A somewhat lesser known but growing field, food studies is quite a broad area of study that follows food within society, including its production, consumption, distribution, and other practices as well as cultural aspects. Dr. Salas explained that food studies involves “looking at this very micro moment in our daily lives, and then trying to understand how it became the practice that it is.” Once she learned about food studies, Dr. Salas realized that it was “a kind of an ontological lens through which [she] saw a lot of different things.” Bridging rhetoric and food studies in her ongoing project, Dr. Salas is currently working on a monograph that examines how food and identity become apparent through Mexican cultural imagery. According to Dr. Salas, the book is “looking at what visuals are paired with Mexican food stuffs and how and why have those images become markers of Mexican and/or Mexican foods.”
Dr. Salas is looking forward to her second semester in the RWS department. “I feel just very fortunate that I'm joining the department at such a serendipitous moment. I welcome the opportunity to be involved in a variety of different changes to kind of help better address the needs of our students,” she said. She also expressed deep appreciation for the effort her students put into her course during the Fall 2020 semester despite the continued challenges of learning online and the political tumult that the election presented. She awaits teaching in-person at SDSU but is excited to continue learning how to teach more effectively throughout the Spring. Although Dr. Salas shared that she was not entirely new to teaching online—having taught entirely asynchronous courses during graduate school in El Paso—she still felt quite unfamiliar with online teaching. She stated, “That's just the nature of teaching. You continuously improve . . . each semester that you go.” In addition to teaching, Dr. Salas has also partnered with Dr. Shepherd as co-faculty advisor for the student chapter of the Rhetoric Society of America. Just last December, she and Dr. Shepherd led a workshop for graduate students to learn more about PhDs in rhetoric and composition.
As a scholar of border regions who grew up one herself, Dr. Salas is deeply familiar with the uniqueness of border regions from not only other spaces but each other. She says there is a “knowing and being that is specific to border regions.” She describes it as “kind of this two worlds space.” As she thinks about eventually making the move from her current home-base in North Carolina to San Diego, Dr. Salas shared, “I'm very much looking forward to just getting to know the community in San Diego. I know that there is a history of doing really good work there with border issues.” She also noted, “I think it's important for folks who teach in a community to be of the community and that can look a number of different ways, but I very much welcome that.” Thus, with a new and an old border region in mind, Dr. Salas is excited to immerse herself in the unique space and community that San Diego and SDSU have to offer.
Feelings are Facts
Alumnus Ruby Mendoza
“Be disruptive.” This is the advice that recent Rhetoric and Writing Studies alum Ruben “Ruby” Mendoza gives to current undergraduate and graduate students alike. Although it might sound odd at first, this advice pushed Ruby to get where they are now: a doctoral candidate at one of the most prestigious PhD programs in the field of rhetoric. Studying queer, trans, and feminist rhetoric as well as writing program administration, Ruby joined Michigan State Univeristy’s (MSU) Writing, Rhetoric, and American Culture doctoral program in Fall 2020. At MSU, Ruby works as a Graduate Writing Consultant and as LBGT Resource Center Liaison on campus while they eagerly await teaching in the next academic year.
Before beginning their journey as a PhD candidate, Ruby earned a BA in English Studies from California State University, Chico and their MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies (Specialization in the Teaching of Writing) from San Diego State University. When asked about their experience at SDSU, Ruby admitted, “I feel like I was a pain in the ass.” However comical this may seem, as they explained, it became clear that Ruby truly meant it but did not regret it.
They described how the predominantly white faculty made suggestions and provided advice centered around the typical path that students take, but Ruby went into graduate school with a different mindset than most students. Instead of entering graduate school to discover who they are, as many students have done, Ruby shared, “I kind of had a sense of who I was because I was approaching 30. I knew that I wanted to teach, and I knew I wanted to do things that intersected with my life.” With this conviction in mind, Ruby forged a path for themself that met their needs and interests while at SDSU.
Before beginning their journey as a PhD candidate, Ruby earned a BA in English Studies from California State University, Chico and their MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies (Specialization in the Teaching of Writing) from San Diego State University. When asked about their experience at SDSU, Ruby admitted, “I feel like I was a pain in the ass.” However comical this may seem, as they explained, it became clear that Ruby truly meant it but did not regret it. They described how the predominantly white faculty made suggestions and provided advice centered around the typical path that students take, but Ruby went into graduate school with a different mindset than most students. Instead of entering graduate school to discover who they are, as many students have done, Ruby shared, “I kind of had a sense of who I was because I was approaching 30. I knew that I wanted to teach, and I knew I wanted to do things that intersected with my life.” With this conviction in mind, Ruby forged a path for themself that met their needs and interests while at SDSU.
Rather than simply following the conventional route, Ruby challenged the curriculum taught to undergraduates and discovered that faculty were incredibly supportive of their individual pursuits. According to Ruby, the outcome of their firm resolve in the things they believed altered the course of their life: at SDSU, “I really was able to realize how to take charge of my academic career and my choices. And, I do the same thing here at MSU.” Ruby continued, “if I hold back, I'm risking someone's life and their educational career, and I'm not going to have these inequalities and gaps where students of color are quitting--and especially LGBTQ students--because we failed to incorporate things that are literally life-saving.” Speaking from their lived experience, Ruby added, “I have to do this work because I don't want someone who, like me, has to struggle just to get here . . . thinking that school is going to be the way to escape homelessness and drug abuse.”
Ruby holds their personal experiences close to their heart. However difficult life has been at times, Ruby is grateful for the resilience they learned and the many support systems and resources that helped them get to where they are now. They strive to continue in academia in order to show others across the gender and identity spectrums that there is space for people who feel uninvited by the hegemonic groups and identities we traditionally see in academia. “I'm here to fill those gaps,” they said. And, as they look forward to publishing in Dr. Jacqueline Rhodes’ upcoming book The Queer Handbook, Ruby is already “fill[ing] those gaps” as they make room for academia to better reflect what the rest of the world really looks like. Ruby said, “I get to do work that I believe in. I'm so excited.”
Alum Clara Cushing carries her love of education to the world of professional writing
Class of 2020 rhetoric and writing studies alum, Clara Cushing navigated not only the conclusion of her Master’s with the shift to online learning but even landed a position at a small nonprofit during the COVID-19 outbreak. Having graduated in May 2020 and completed her thesis in August 2020, Clara shared initial concerns for job prospects, “When the pandemic hit, I was sort of giving up on getting hired by a nonprofit. So, I really lucked out with this job.” Since October, Clara has been working as a grant writer and partner relationship manager at Ignited, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit dedicated to transforming STEM education. With only five full-time staff members including Clara, Ignited connects educators with industry through a summer fellowship program that places teachers at various companies. Ignited’s mission is to improve STEM education through giving teachers a chance to re-immerse themselves in fields of interest, bringing renewed enthusiasm to their teaching to instill a similar excitement within their students. For Clara, this mission is really important because of her love of education and nonprofits. Moreover, Ignited’s mission appeals to her because, as she noted, “they’re connecting academia and the professional world. And that's something that is really important to me.”
After completing her undergraduate degree in English, Clara spent a few years teaching and working before she decided to pursue a master’s degree. She taught English in the Czech Republic for a year as well as worked various internships, including communications and magazine writing in Washington, DC. Following a writing-oriented career post-undergrad, Clara said, “I had two years of . . . other jobs where I wasn't writing as much and I really wanted to go back.” Gradually, Clara’s time away from writing showed her that she wanted to return to school and that SDSU’s RWS program would allow her to begin working in the field at the same time that she learned more about professional writing. She said that she hoped to “break into professional writing” but expressed how the paradox of having experience to get experience makes it “kind of hard to break into certain professional writing.”
Clara chose San Diego State’s RWS program specifically because it focuses on the nexus of academia and industry. She sought this degree in order to improve her writing skills and give her an edge into professional writing. Her biggest takeaway from the degree was improving her writing through rigorous practice and great feedback from her professors. Moreover, she appreciates how a degree in rhetoric allowed her to gain a different awareness of the audience than she thinks that the study of English alone provided her. Instead of deciding on one track versus the other, Clara created a schedule centered around her interests and chose the general MA route in RWS. One of her favorite courses from her time at SDSU, Professor Ornatowski’s Homeland Security class focused on ideology, discourse, and conflict within different cultures. Clara remembers how this course recontextualized her sense of rhetoric thanks to the topics and what Ornatowski himself brings to light: “It was just really interesting to see the theories that we were talking about and how rhetoric works. I thought that the rhetoric of conflict was super fascinating to learn about and he has really, really interesting perspectives too.” For Clara, the insights and conversations she shared with faculty were the best moments. She recalls beginning her thesis and realizing she didn’t know how to combine her four interests until working with Dr. Kathryn Valentine, who helped Clara figure out how all four ideas intersected.
Clara is very grateful for her time at SDSU because of the relationships she made, the real-world experience she gained, and the versatility of the degree. For current and future students alike, Clara shares a helpful bit of advice, “Take advantage of relationships with the faculty because they're all really knowledgeable. They all really care about students. And, I think that's really special about the program.” Especially in our current economic environment, Clara expressed how rhetoric in general opens doors for many careers. “You don't need to know necessarily exactly what you want to do,” she began, “there's so many different directions you can go with [rhetoric]. And, I think that the program really sets you up to go in a lot of those different directions.”
For the Love of Learning
For grad student Catherine Hood it’s not about the degree
From Cameroon to a classical education, graduate student Catherine Hood is on a different path than most. Catherine started taking courses in the RWS department during the fall semester of 2016 but ended up moving to Los Angeles County that spring. Then it wasn’t until fall 2020, when the program officially shifted online, that Catherine had the serendipitous opportunity to continue where she had left off. Currently located in the Sacramento area with her husband and toddler, Catherine will continue in the program this semester while she is not only expecting her second child but working full-time. Catherine chose to enroll at SDSU back in 2016 not for an advanced degree or pay-raise but to learn as much as she could, to improve herself as a person and an educator. And, although it is unclear how long things will continue online and allow her to take courses, Catherine is certain about “taking it a semester at a time” and “being super grateful for any courses” she is able to.
Earning her teaching credential in 2009 from Biola University, Catherine majored in liberal studies so that she could teach elementary education. Fresh out of college during a deep economic crisis, Catherine explained, “It was 2009. It was the middle of the recession. You couldn't even get a substitute teaching job.” Instead, Catherine found herself moving to Cameroon for two years. While living there, Catherine worked as a private tutor for a missionary family. She remembered, “that was my first experience full-time teaching. . . . It just kind of fell in my lap, and I went for it.” Recalling her time in Central Africa, she reiterated how grateful she felt for the family she lived with, the teaching experience she gained, and her discoveries about language and communication while inhabiting such a culturally and linguistically diverse space. In fact, although Cameroon’s official languages are English and French, many other languages are regionally recognized, including Cameroonian Pidgin English and Camfranglais, a portmanteau blending the French adjectives camerounais, français, and anglais. Speaking from experience, Catherine chuckled, half-joking and half-serious, “because people who speak 200 different languages need to find some kind of common communication style and grammatical English,” new languages were born out of necessity.
In 2011, Catherine returned to the U.S. and began a full-time teaching position at a small private elementary school in Orange County that utilized a classical approach to education using the progymnasmata method. Created by the ancient rhetoricians such as Aphthonius, the progymnasmata consists of a thoughtfully ordered pedagogical design that teaches writing and speaking through a series of increasingly complex exercises. For Catherine, the progymnasmata was mostly a mystery until she moved to San Diego to teach at another classical school; it was there that she truly understood the efficacy of the progymnasmata method. A colleague who had worked his way through the RWS Master Program himself showed Catherine the way: “He saw it from beginning to end, and he really actually saw how teaching it with fidelity through the whole program, it teaches everyone . . . the communication and writing skills they need to be effective communicators.” It was then that she sought to join SDSU’s RWS program.
Catherine taught 6th grade using the progymnasmata for several years but eventually settled into her current role as a curriculum educator for the “progym method,” as her workplaces have coined it. As a mentor teacher at John Adams Academy, a group of charter schools that teaches from the progym method, Catherine explained her duties: “I get to coach and train teachers, and examine our curriculum, and train teachers in curriculum.” Having taken RWS 601: The History of Rhetoric with Professor McClish in Fall 2020, Catherine expressed how much she benefited from the program: “I get a fuller view of how the progym developed, where it came from. Reading Apththonius in context is super helpful.” She relates with the teachers she mentors who don’t yet understand the rewards of the progym method, having been in their shoes. But, thanks to her coursework at SDSU, she expressed contentment toward being able to better equip teachers; to “just have faith in it,” Catherine said, is the first necessary step.
Behind the Scenes
Claudia Gracio works hard to keep all the parts moving
Ever wondered about what goes into helping the largest academic department at SDSU run smoothly? There is a great deal more than meets the eye. And one person who devotes hard work and energy toward the myriad of administrative tasks for the RWS Department to run as flawlessly online as it does in person is Claudia Gracio. She has been one of the department's two administrative coordinators since September 2017. As an administrative coordinator alongside Karen Keene, who handles the money and budgets, Claudia works on ensuring that grading is completed on time, scheduling course times and locations (when we were on-campus), Canvas troubleshooting for professors, and much more. An SDSU graduate in 2013, Claudia explained her role and the department through a useful metaphor: “It's like a movie. . . . People only see the movie and the picture. People don't see the amount of people it takes to make that movie.” It is only as a staff member now that Claudia realized just how much is necessary for a department to work as she supports a majority of things that students and professors alike often take for granted but are integral pieces that help the department function in the day-to-day as well as each semester.
In the years leading to joining the RWS Department, Claudia’s mother was struggling with cancer while Claudia balanced a new position in a local school district and the 24/7 caregiver to her mother. Unfortunately, Claudia’s mother passed away in 2017. That same year, Claudia was let go due to the additional time-off that came with caring for her mother as well as because her probationary period drew to a close. In what Claudia described as “the lowest point in [my] life,” a spur-of-the-moment decision to apply to SDSU served as a pivotal shift in the seemingly downward trajectory of Claudia’s life. “It was one of the best things that happened to me that year,” she says about getting hired by the department. Since that especially tough year, Claudia has enjoyed the friendly and motivated environment within the department. She admires the people she works with because of their commitment to the students and their needs. Claudia said, “It's always about the student. And, I see that. I genuinely see that with the people I work with; it's not just a job.” The dedicated staff and students around her encourage Claudia to do her best to help the department run as smoothly as possible each semester.
Since shifting to working from home during the pandemic, Claudia sees the change as both a benefit and a drawback. Claudia mentioned one aspect of in-person that she longs for. “I do miss walking to Starbucks,” she said as she laughed that it’s only a few feet away from her desk. Other than this, she said that she misses “walking into people's offices and people walking into our office and having that one-on-one, having that human connection.” Although working from home removes the crucial one-on-one conversations Claudia enjoys, she also admits, “the flexibility's been kind of nice,” especially since Claudia and her husband welcomed a baby boy in 2020. She and her husband, who also works full-time, have been balancing the care of their newborn as well as Claudia’s aging father. Claudia recalls “juggling [a] crying baby and having to be in a meeting” many times, sometimes having her son attend meetings with her. Luckily, working from home has also meant that Claudia and her husband are both able to share their son’s milestones, including his first steps. Aside from her duties for the department and her busy home life, Claudia has also found time to take a sociology course at SDSU and still have time to cook, one of her favorite activities.
Born to Teach
For undergraduate Rebecca Cudal, education is in her blood
“Here we are at zoom university,” current undergraduate student Rebecca Cudal jokes. As her final semester at San Diego State begins, it certainly looks unlike what many might imagine for the last few months of college. For Rebecca in particular, it feels especially odd since she can see campus while she attends online classes and works as a fellow from home. In fact, it seems as though almost her entire life has been spent preparing for SDSU. Rebecca went to preschool across the street from Campanile and both of her parents are SDSU alumni. Everyone in her nuclear family teaches. Her mom teaches preschool, while her dad and older brother both teach high school. And, Rebecca has been a writing fellow since her second semester at SDSU. Inspired by her family of educators as well as fellowing, Rebecca’s ultimate goal is to become a professor at a four-year university. In particular, Rebecca is interested in the teaching of writing, particularly to Latinx youth. These interests are informed by her teaching experiences as well as her parents’ bilingualism.
One of the most formative parts of finding her career interests, Rebecca had the opportunity to serve as a writing fellow for the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs & Ethnic Affairs’ (EOP) Summer Bridge Program in 2019. This five-week transitional program aims to provide a select group of incoming SDSU first-years a glimpse into college education. According to Rebecca, a majority of the students were first-generation as well as Latinx. But there was one person in particular who showed Rebecca why she enjoys tutoring and working with Latinx students. This student approached Rebecca for support after expressing discomfort with writing in English. Rebecca recalled how she reacted to the situation: she admitted that she is not fully bilingual herself but worked with the student to translate from Spanish to English. Reflecting on this experience, Rebecca said that the student knew much more than they expected and this moment led Rebecca toward an important realization: “I want students to stop second guessing themselves and feel like they are confident writers” who have support from the people around them.
Rebecca admires her parents deeply: her father teaches American literature through the lens of a Latino man and her mother teaches preschool “because she didn't want the students to go through what she went through.” Rebecca grew up hearing stories about her parents’ linguistic oppression growing up in San Diego; “[it] really affected me,” she said. Rebecca shared a telling example: her mother told her stories about attending SDSU in the early 1970s where she was often the only Hispanic student in a class. “Seeing that shift from just my mother’s generation to my generation now is just incredible,” Rebecca said. Currently, SDSU is a Hispanic serving institution. Despite adversity they faced as first-generation, bilingual students, Rebecca’s parents graduated with honors and successfully stayed on the Dean’s List every semester of their undergraduate careers. Her parents’ and her students’ powerful stories and diversity help Rebecca see that she can and will make a difference through teaching. In Rebecca’s words, “Representation matters.”
Department News and Events
Stay in the know about everything RWS
The spring semester is off to a busy start! We at RWS have a few additional resources to help you reach your academic goals and engage with the community, despite being stuck at home.
- Are you an upper division undergraduate or graduate student looking to make a difference
in a lower division student’s life? Do you learn best when teaching others? Well,
the Rhetoric and Writing Fellows program is hiring! Earn some extra income while assisting
in the learning process of others. Reach out to Lea Baker, RWS Writing Fellows Program
Assistant Coordinator, to find out more! [email protected].
- Are you interested in networking with other rhetoric scholars and making connections
to further your academic interests in the field? Consider joining the Rhetoric Society
of America’s SDSU student chapter! The RSA is hosting several upcoming, in depth workshops
on applying for the MA RWS program and Ph.D. programs. They are also hosting upcoming
talks as well as other educational and networking events. For more information email
[email protected] and follow the Instagram account @rsasdsu.
- For students looking for career guidance from RWS alumni, consider popping into the
alumni panel this month: RWS Alumni Career Panel on Friday, Feb. 19, 3-4:30 p.m.
- For anyone interested in learning more about varying perspectives on rhetoric and
pedagogy, as well as how the field is evolving to be more inclusive, check out these
two upcoming talks this semester:
- Dr. Molefi Kete Asante’s Diverse Perspectives: The Afrocentric Origins of Classical Rhetorical Theory on Thursday, March 4, 11–11:50 a.m.
- Dr. Robert P. Robinson’s Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy in RWS: The Personal as Political Through Texts and
Contexts on Wednesday, March 10 at noon
- Lastly, we have an important reminder for students and faculty alike. Your mental health is extremely important! Make sure to reach out to us for assistance with any of your academic needs. No problem is unsolvable with good communication! For additional support for any mental health concerns, do not hesitate to visit SDSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services page for a list of resources.
Be sure to check back toward the end of the semester for more department news and announcements and have a happy, healthy, and productive spring!
As I near the close of my third year, I would like to take this time to thank you all. I am fortunate to work with such excellent colleagues. You form the heart of this huge and complex department and are the ones who truly keep it running so well. We also have wonderful graduate and undergraduate students who inspire me with their energy and fascinating ideas and projects. I don’t mean to suggest that the last three years haven’t been without significant challenges. However, the dedication, generosity, and tenacity of the RWS community has helped to sustain me through those times.
Unfortunately, by the start of Fall Semester 2020, we will have said goodbye to several retiring colleagues: Adriana Groza, Karl Kline, Peter Manley, James Towner, John Vanderpot, and Julie Williams. All of you have contributed so much to this department, with several of you being integral to its early growth and development. I want you all to know how deeply appreciative I am of all of your efforts. Congratulations on your retirement!
In addition, during Fall Semester 2020, Richard Boyd will enter the Faculty Early Retirement Program. Fortunately, Richard will still teach RWS 609 for us, but his teaching load will be significantly lighter. Richard has been a terrific colleague and a mentor, and we are fortunate that he will still be part of our department. His sense of humor and knowledge of Netflix shows are something I will always treasure!
While such changes are difficult for our RWS community, we also have positives in our future. This year, RWS was involved in two searches, one for an Assistant Professor of Border Rhetorics for our department and one for an Assistant Professor of Upper Division Writing at SDSU Imperial Valley. Dr. Consuelo Carr Salas was selected for the Border Rhetorics position and will join our department in August. Currently an Assistant Professor of English in Writing Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Dr. Salas specializes in cultural rhetoric, visual rhetoric, and food. In 2017, her co-edited collection, Latin@s’ Presence in the Food Industry: Changing How We Think About Food (2016), University of Arkansas Press, was selected by Gourmand World Cookbook for the award of 3rd place for “Best Book in the World” in the category of professionals. At Imperial Valley, Lucas Corcoran, who completed his Ph.D. in September 2019 at CUNY Graduate Center, was hired. Dr. Corcoran’s research and teaching specializations include rhetorical theory, translingualism, cultural rhetorics, border and Latinx rhetorics, and anti-racist writing pedagogies. Dr. Corcoran will be the first RWS hire for Imperial Valley, and his position is considered a joint hire, so there might be an opportunity for him to teach a class on our campus. We are excited to welcome two new faculty members to the RWS community!
In our search, I would like to commend the efforts of Kathryn Valentine, who chaired
the search. Kathryn’s organizational skills and close attention to details were integral
to making this a successful search. I also would like to acknowledge the work of
Chris Werry, who also was a member of the search committee. Chris was incredibly
generous with his time in reading and reviewing files and in interviewing candidates.
Finally, I would like to thank all of you who participated in the on-campus interview
for both candidates. I know the first few weeks of the term are hectic. I appreciate
you taking the time to meet with the candidates.
I would also like to acknowledge the work of all of those involved in our different programs: Fast/Stretch, Lower Division Writing, Undergraduate Major, ESL Program, Professional Writing, Business Writing, Graduate Program, Fellows Program, and the Writing Center.
I would like to take a moment to thank our incredibly efficient and friendly office
staff: Matthew Gantos, Claudia Gracio, and Karen Keene. Every day, I am so appreciative
of all that you do to keep our department running smoothly. Although our department
is enormous, you help to make it feel warm and welcoming for faculty and students
alike. Although not technically staff, I also would like to commend the efforts of
our schedulers, Jamie Madden and Siobhan White. I always am amazed by how they manage
the details of our gigantic course schedule, which included more than 300 classes
during Fall 2020! I also want to acknowledge the efforts of so many others who do
so much for this department.
In addition, I would like to extend a special thank you to Clara Cushing, who has done another outstanding job producing the RWS newsletter!
In closing, I want to thank you all for working with me as the chair. I couldn’t
have asked for better colleagues. It has been an honor to serve you!
Second-year MA students Michael Cline, Ruben Mendoza, and Clara Cushing presented their research at the Fall Conference on Pedagogy and Research. Michael Cline’s presentation, “Populist Political Parties of Europe: An Examination of Visual and Digital Rhetoric within a New Political Movement,” analyzes the rise of right-wing populist parties in Europe over the last decade. Focusing on three case studies in Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany, Michael examines how the parties use new and social media to establish the ethos of their party and political beliefs as well as to establish the ethos of individual party leaders.
Ruben Mendoza’s presentation highlighted research findings for their thesis, “Trans and Gender Non-conforming Bodies: Queering and Redefining Drag Spaces.” Ruben’s project analyzes queer drag activist Hollow Eve, a poststructuralist non-binary queer artist who disrupts traditional drag culture. Ruben articulates how Hollow Eve disidentifies against popular drag ideology and uses their performative body as a tool to argue to audiences through live and digital spaces.
Clara Cushing also presented research on her thesis, titled “Old as Time: Circulation
of Gender Conceptions in Beauty and the Beast Tales.” Using circulation theory and
feminist criticism, Clara traces conceptions of gender in one tale’s circulation among
cultures and over time. Specifically, she focuses on how rhetorical portrayals of
the gender of human bride and animal bridegroom transform in the 2nd Century Roman
tale, “Cupid and Psyche,” the eighteenth-century French story La Belle et la Bête, and the contemporary live-action Disney film, Beauty and the Beast.
Distinguished Alum: Jaime Fleres
Former RWS MA graduate Jaime Fleres is being honored as a Distinguished Alum for her work around gender empowerment at the Women’s Studies Gender and Social Justice Festival on April 25, 2020. After working as a professional writer for 15 years and as a teacher of writing at SDSU and in Minnesota, Jaime took a hiatus from teaching in 2013 to mother her newborn daughter, write and publish her first book—Birth Your Story—and support women through childbearing as a doula and medicine woman. Her book Birth Your Story celebrates mothers’ stories of birth, rites of passage, motherhood, and life.
Beyond her book, Jaime is committed to championing the voices, stories, and lives
of women in a multitude of ways. She is a book coach and editor for women writing
memoir and non-fiction about self-empowerment, spirituality, embodiment, the female
experience in our culture, and gender and cultural identity. She also works as an
international teacher of Qoya, a women’s embodied movement practice that teaches women
to source their power and agency from within and from the wisdom of their bodies.
Jaime gives a portion of her earnings from her writing and healing businesses to nonprofits
dedicated to empowering women’s lives and the good of the planet.
New RWS Graduate Students
In Fall 2019, the RWS Department welcomed a new cohort of MA students. Welcome to
Lorise (Rise) Diamond, Carl Silva, Katie Coyle, Rebecca Politzer, and Noveed Safipour!
Distinguished RWS Graduate Student: Lorise “Rise” Diamond
First-year RWS graduate student Lorise “Rise” Diamond received an invitation to the 64th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (SW64/Beijing+25), scheduled March 10-13 in New York. She is slated to introduce the topic of “Transformation in Institutions of Higher Education,” a collaborative side event (breakout session), partnered with South Africa’s Commission on Gender Equality, three Western Cape universities (UCT, Stellenbosch, Western Cape), and five technical and vocational education and training colleges (Northlink, Falsebay, West Coast, Boland, and Cape College) located in the Western Cape Province.
Recognizing that universities represent a microcosm of the world, Lorise will represent San Diego State University’s Rhetoric and Writing Studies Department as panelists and participants evaluate progressive rhetorical approaches, like those contained in the UN Women’s “Heforshe” discourse, to discern how “safe, creative and inclusive” spaces on campus are constituted through espousing gender equality. Furthermore, the side event examines methods of support fused by individuals living within the intersections of gender and feminism, sharing experiences, and imparting best practices to move like-minded institutions and women forward.
Unfortunately, the side event was canceled because of the recent health concerns related
to the Coronavirus, but we wanted to recognize Rise’s invitation to such a prestigious
Dr. Cezar Ornatowski
Growing up in communist Poland, Dr. Cezar Ornatowski’s “first” language chronologically was English; his mother was an English professor and had a collection of English books, including early readers such as “Little Golden Books” and Mother Goose. Dr. Ornatowski always had a love for the English language. It was part of his identity while living in a country where few people spoke English, and it “constituted a connection to the wider world, a ‘window’ out of the grey reality of a communist country walled off behind the Iron Curtain.”
Dr. Ornatowski originally wanted to study engineering after high school, but he applied for English Philology at the last minute instead. Over the years, his interests shifted from literature toward linguistics, discourse analysis, and rhetoric; he received his MA in English from Boston College and his Ph.D. in English/American Literature and Rhetoric from UCSD. While still working on his doctorate, he began lecturing in the SDSU English Department in 1982. He was one of the four tenured/tenure-track founding members of the RWS Department, which he then joined when it was created in 1993.
Of the many classes he has taught, he enjoys the graduate level introductions to rhetorical analysis, modern rhetoric, and visual rhetoric (involving photography, art, and film). He also enjoys the seminar he offers in the Homeland Security program, HSEC 690 Ideology, Discourse, and Conflict. The course, which focuses on propaganda and influences, “continues to be a great learning experience,” he says. “It got me into a whole new area of rhetoric: conflict, warfare, terrorism, national security, and international politics.” As an educator, Dr. Ornatowski tries to teach according to his personality and predilections; he aims to be “intellectually honest, intellectually challenging, open, encouraging” in addition to trying to build upon what students bring in—not only for the benefit of the class as a whole but also to help individual students pursue their interests and goals.
During his time at SDSU, Dr. Ornatowski has taken advantage of the opportunity to become involved with the California State University—one of the largest public universities in the country—on a system level to gain a “broader sense of higher education.” For the past 12 years, he has served on the Fiscal and Governmental Affairs Committee as SDSU’s representative on the statewide Academic Senate. Challenges he has noticed both in the classroom and on the committee are related to the “broader phenomena that have been affecting the character of the American university since the 1970s: more public oversight and legislative interference, more public responsibility and demands to go with it,” including the strain of addressing multiple growing social issues, more stringent demands for research, and budget issues.
Whereas some universities have somewhat strict guidelines regarding what faculty can teach and publish, SDSU offers the freedom to choose what classes to create and teach and what research to pursue. Dr. Ornatowski has enjoyed this freedom to follow his ever-evolving interests. He points to a study that demonstrated the interests of prominent thinkers throughout history changed radically around every ten years. He has found this to be true for himself as the questions and concerns underlying his work have become broader and more philosophical over time. His dissertation was an “ethnography of how aircraft technology was developed and negotiated in a multinational aerospace company,” and his interests have spanned “from the rhetoric of totalitarianism and political transformation to architecture and urban planning, surveillance, and parliamentary debate.”
He prefers to work on a few projects at once, as he finds that they “feed into each other intellectually, despite seeming differences.” Last year, he finished a chapter on democratization in the Polish parliament from 1791-1991, which has taken him almost three years to research and write due to needing to use the parliamentary archives in Warsaw and the project’s wide scope of 200 turbulent years of history. This will hopefully be published next year in a text on European parliamentary democratization. Currently, he is researching the relationship between politeness and politics in classical Renaissance rhetoric, the strategic communication of Olympic opening ceremonies, and the increasing “weaponization” of rhetoric, as in social media.
“The longer I work in rhetoric,” Dr. Ornatowski reflects, “the more I realize that
rhetoric concerns the very structure and workings of human thought and the human identity.”
The symbols we think with “are both the essential ‘stuff’ of our consciousness and
the very ‘stuff’ of society” that enables society to exist and function. “There is
no activity (at least not in a social sense) that does not involve thought and interaction.”
After obtaining her MA in professional writing studies at SDSU, Professor Amber Anaya has held numerous successful positions in the corporate world, including health and wellness writing, content writing for websites and businesses, designing training and promotional materials, and writing for small businesses. Professor Anaya knew she wanted to be a writer since her childhood days of creating short stories, designing garage sale posters, and writing game instructions and play scripts for her friends.
Originally planning to share her love of writing by teaching at the high school level, Professor Anaya switched career paths to professional writing after a year of substitute teaching—but she eventually found her way back to the classroom. She began teaching at the college level part-time in 2010 because she missed the exchange of academic ideas between like-minded people. She joined the RWS Department at SDSU in 2015 and began teaching full time in 2016 as her “love for teaching began to outweigh [her] love of corporate work.”
To Professor Anaya, rhetoric is inherent in all aspects of life. “Understanding rhetoric,” she comments, “is less about interpreting words, and more about bringing a deeper level of analysis, reflection, and meaning to humankind.” Her research topics of interest are primarily focused on professional writing and include the rhetoric of universal design principles, UX/UI, content strategy, persuasion in daily business communications, and Gen Z communication and writing practices. She is also interested in large companies and issues of access and diversity, such as CEO activism, diversity rhetoric in large corporations, and disability and accessibility in professional communications.
Professor Anaya brings her professional experience into the classroom as she mainly teaches business and professional writing. She finds her students to be both the best and most challenging part of her work at SDSU; they constantly inspire her with their engagement and passion for their academics and professional careers, and they also challenge her to rethink her teaching strategies every semester. “Reaching students as individuals and adjusting my curriculum, changing my approach to lectures and activities, and connecting with students in a meaningful and helpful way will always be a challenge, but it is one that I thoroughly enjoy.”
Motivated by the needs of her students, Professor Anaya evolves her teaching style with each new group of students. She teaches courses on business writing and professional writing and has also taught introductory RWS 200 courses. In general, she adopts a flexible approach to teach various classes and student populations, and she intentionally incorporates active learning strategies. While Professor Anaya highlights and clarifies concepts from assigned readings and videos, she thinks it is “important to see these ideas working in real-time through activities and application.”
Students find Professor Anaya easy to understand and appreciate her knowledge of the
subjects she teaches. The practical application of assignments in her classes creates
a clear connection for students between the course and their lives outside of academia.
Students also find it easy to
approach Professor Anaya, as she is fair, open-minded, and cares about the success of her students.
During her own days as a student, Professor Anaya used to be afraid that she was bothersome or taking up too much of her professors’ time. As a professor now, she reflects: “I wish I had known that most professors want to form good working relationships with their students . . . I think most professors cherish the interactions they have with their students and do not view them as bothersome at all.”
“Looking back,” she says, “I would tell my former student self not to take myself
Current Student Profiles
Anthony Toledo, Class of 2020
“Every course in the technical/professional track has been nothing but awesome,” states Anthony Toledo, a second-year MA student in the professional writing track. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of La Verne in 2016, Anthony felt he had honed his written communication skills in the literature-heavy course load but was still missing “strong practical, workplace-oriented skills.” He credits his decision to pursue a master’s in RWS to his work as an academic writing specialist at his university’s writing center. He also credits his mentors: “I am lucky enough to have worked for some stellar people who pushed me to be a better writer and to challenge myself.”
After searching both nationally and internationally for a program focusing on technical and professional writing with a scope that was neither too wide nor too narrow, Anthony found the perfect fit in the perfect city—“The professional/technical writing specialization and its required courses were the only excuses I needed to apply and move to one of my favorite cities to visit.”
During his first semester in the MA program at SDSU, the Writing Project Management class pushed him out of his comfort zone “in the best way possible.” He recalls: “My heart dropped when, on the first day of class, Dr. Bekins announced that we would be contacting organizations and pitching writing projects the following week. It still haunts me.” In addition to teaching specific types of writing, such as style guides and grant proposals, classes such as Content Editing and Writing for Nonprofits gave him practical skills, including professional practices, interacting with authors and organizations, and securing funding. Another class Anthony has enjoyed is Advanced Professional Writing, which gave him new methods for “tightening up” his writing while also “proving to be a great environment for [his] inner layout/documentation nerd.”
Currently, Anthony is continuing research that he began during his time working at ULV before starting the MA program. He is collaborating with one of his mentors at ULV on a paper about a “self-sustaining undergraduate research learning community.” The idea is that anyone can be taught graduate-level writing skills and that those who have been taught can share their knowledge with the next generation of students using the peer-to-peer curriculum Anthony and his professor have developed.
Anthony’s next step after graduating in May is to become a technical writer, although
he may eventually move from technical writing to user experience, given the similarities
he sees between the two. “Regardless of where I wind up,” he says, “I am quite confident
that I will be able to adapt to various writing-oriented professions, from editing
to grant writing.”
Alfredo Valles, Class of 2021
Alfredo Valles discovered the Rhetoric and Writing Studies Major while attending San Diego City College, where he was completing his associate’s degree to transfer to a bachelor’s degree in English. As he began to look at the courses he could take at SDSU, he noticed that the RWS courses were more flexible and fitting for his interests. He found it a “great alternative to English, as it offered the same amount of writing with the benefit of reading more nonfiction texts.” Although he enjoyed the entertaining texts he studied in English, Alfredo felt that it would be difficult to apply the kind of writing he was doing outside of the major. He also liked that RWS courses explored both cultural issues and more practical ones—such as professional writing, editing, and an internship—that “would offer a better skillset for entering the workforce.”
To Alfredo, the best part of the RWS Major is the freedom to choose the areas and artifacts he is interested in researching for his assignments. “I feel that this freedom has improved my independent thinking skills and analytical framework,” he says. The program has something for everyone as it focuses on career, theoretical, and practical writing skills. Alfredo particularly appreciates the field’s approach to popular culture, including “meme culture, social media, music, fiction, film, art, or even dance.” The Advanced Writing Strategies class allowed him to focus on such popular culture artifacts while also polishing his English skills.
Now, thanks to RWS, he says he views the world “through the lens of meaning” and with a healthy sense of skepticism. “No longer are the billboard ads just a company’s attempt to sell something; they are now filled with messages that suggest certain attitudes and perceptions about the world.”
Looking toward life after graduation, Alfredo is doing a lot of self-reflecting to
find a career fitted to his interests. He is considering pursuing a career in the
public sector but is still exploring his options. One thing he is certain of is his
enjoyment of helping people, so he is seeking a career that will incorporate his rhetoric
and professional writing skills to serve others.
Dr. Lindsey Banister, Class of 2012
Eight years later, Dr. Lindsey Banister still remembers the sunny weather and authentic Mexican food from her days studying for her MA at SDSU. And, of course, she also remembers several lessons that got her to where she is today—an assistant professor and assistant director to the writing center at Francis Marion University in South Carolina. Dr. Banister recalls the advice she received from Dr. Minifee when she was applying to Ph.D. programs: to assess the 3 P’s, people, place, and program. She found this advice impactful both in choosing a program and choosing a career, and she now shares the 3 P’s with her own students as they choose their professional careers. She also remembers learning John Swales’s C.A.R.S. Model in Dr. McClish’s class during her first semester. The model helped her access academic texts throughout graduate school, giving her the tools to both read the texts and, later in her professional career, to write academic articles.
During the process of writing her thesis, one of the most productive experiences for Dr. Banister was a moment of failure. “The best thing that happened to me was when I took my first draft of my thesis to Dr. Bordelon, and she told me I needed to scrap most of the first half,” she reflects. “Naturally, I panicked. But, through that revision process, I learned that the writing process and developing nuanced ideas are not linear processes; they require breakdown and even failure.” The process gave Dr. Banister a renewed respect for the value of revision. It also prepared her for writing multiple drafts of chapters for her dissertation and for being a composition instructor comfortable with encouraging students through their writing breakdowns and supporting them through the revision process.
After the MA program, Dr. Banister attended Syracuse University and graduated in 2017 with a Ph.D. in Composition and Cultural Rhetoric, specializing in embodiment rhetorics, multimodal composition, and writing center studies. She refers to her MA as “an essential stepping stone, much like learning to walk before you can run.” Entering her Ph.D. program with the “educational trifecta” of pedagogical training (theory and praxis), an overview of the field’s history and theories, and writing and research skills, Dr. Banister felt prepared. As one of the few students in the program who already had pedagogical training experience, she felt less stress and anxiety than fellow classmates who had not yet had such exposure. She advises current students in the department: “Soak up any and all teaching experience the RWS program offers!” She furthermore advocates taking classes in the program’s various specializations as they paint a picture of the importance of rhetoric in daily life as well as on academic and professional levels.
She has continued to stay in contact with two of her mentors from her MA program, Dr. Bordelon and Dr. McClish. Commenting on these scholars’ ability to “contribute greatly to rhetoric and writing studies while maintaining effective teaching careers,” Dr. Banister comments, “To this day, I try to emulate them as teacher-scholars.” She appreciated all of the time they spent discussing her work as a student, as well as their “unique ability to take complex ideas and present them in interesting and discernable ways.”
Currently, Dr. Banister teaches various composition and rhetoric courses and trains writing tutors to mentor their peers. She is also writing two articles on rhetoric and embodiment. Her current research project is a collaborative effort with fellow Francis Marion University professors from the departments of Political Science and Geography, Dr. Dillon Tatum and Dr. Jennifer Titanski-Hooper. Their book aims to “explore the implications of the contemporary political moment (specifically the resurgence of white nationalism and white privilege) on university teaching practices as they relate to intersectional identities and social stratification as well as how instructors can effectively respond to this moment via their pedagogy.” Because FMU is a small, rural institution in the South with a large first-generation and minority student population, they believe it is particularly situated for such study.
Like everyone else, Dr. Banister uses rhetoric at home in her everyday communications,
but the work of a teacher rarely stays inside the classroom. “Even when I’m not at
work teaching about writing, I’m at home writing about writing.” As a lover of rhetoric,
though, days filled with writing are days well-spent.
Genevieve Knock, Class of 2018
Genevieve Knock worked full time while completing the RWS MA program in the typical two years, but between her busy workday and evenings doing coursework and papers at home, the classroom was her “sanctuary.” “In those moments, in that room, I wasn’t worried about the contract I had sent out earlier that day or the research paper I was going to write when I got home. I was in a place in time in which I was only responsible for engaging with my classmates, instructor, and course materials.” Genevieve valued the opportunity to have discussions with peers and instructors who shared a love for writing but also had enough diversity in experience and background to keep the conversations “dynamic, interesting, and, most importantly, fun.”
Genevieve took Dr. Sheppard’s Advanced Professional Writing class during the spring of her first year. She had been working her first office job after college and was struggling to figure out professional expectations on her own; she remembers feeling like “that meme of a golden retriever sitting at a computer that says, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING.” One of the assigned readings in the class examined the experience of a group of students entering the professional world after their studies, which made Genevieve realize she was not alone. “It seems to be a natural next step that as soon as you’re ready to don a blazer, you’ll make a clean transition to the corporate culture,” Genevieve comments. “The reality is much clumsier: every company is different, and there’s no syllabus to lean on.”
While she enjoyed all of her classes, she found it particularly helpful that her professional writing classes emphasized the importance of being proactive—of doing something and asking for feedback versus just asking if you should do it. Genevieve graduated in 2018, opting to take Dr. Werry’s capstone exam, which involved a course tailored to the students’ writing interests. “No hate to Aristotle,” she says, “but I was stoked that his reappearance wasn’t mandated.”
Because she knew that she wanted to pursue technical communication, Genevieve used the required internship for the professional writing track as an opportunity to gain experience as a technical editor. The skills she had gained from Dr. Merriam’s editing course, as well as the soft skills and question-asking abilities that she had learned from Dr. Bekins, helped her secure the internship at her current company. She notes that the president of the company was impressed “simply because [she] asked a lot of questions.”
Her advice to current MA students is to take advantage of those soft skills—“fake it until you make it!” She has come across many communicators who “aren’t actually technically gifted but are socially charming and helpful and, as such, their work is considered persuasive and effective.”
Currently, Genevieve is a technical editor for ATA Engineering, a mechanical and aerospace engineering company. “I write a compelling email here and there in addition to using my editing and writing skills in preparing proposals and reports for our customers,” she says. She also applies her writing skills in contract negotiations. Outside of work, she reflects every day in a notebook (which she chooses not to label as journaling) and works on personal essays and a screenplay for a “creative, self-reflective outlet.”
It is fascinating for Genevieve to see how her own writing has evolved over time and
how she mediates her writing between personal and professional spheres. “It can be
taxing to be an editor because it’s not something I can just turn off,” she admits.
“I’ve made it a point in my personal communications to be very colloquial because
of this, and it’s very freeing. I’m a huge advocate for acronyms and slang and minimal
punctuation in any other medium, aside from email.” However, people who write to her
tell her they are diligent when writing to her, since she’s an editor. “To that,”
Genevieve comments, “I say, lol!”
Meet the Editor/Contributor
Clara Cushing is a second-year graduate student in the MA program in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. After graduating from Santa Clara University in 2016 with a BA in Classical Studies and English, she taught high schoolers in the Czech Republic as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant for a year. She then worked in Washington, D.C. as a communications intern at Phi Beta Kappa and as an editorial assistant for their magazine, The American Scholar, before deciding to continue studying writing in the MA program at SDSU.
Clara is currently finishing her specialization in professional writing and working on her thesis, titled “Old as Time: Circulation of Gender Conceptions in Beauty and the Beast Tales.” She is enjoying her work at the SDSU Writing Center and writing grants for a local museum. After graduating in the spring, she is excited to build a career around putting her passion for writing into service for others.
Another academic year has come to a close. A highlight of the year is always our intimate department graduation ceremony. In our celebration, the name of each graduate is called, and one of our RWS professors says a few words about that student. Graduates also have the opportunity to share a few words with our department and guests, if they so choose. It’s deeply touching to hear the remarks of our graduates, who freely acknowledge how much their RWS education and the efforts of faculty members have meant to them. These acknowledgements mean so much to our faculty, as does the opportunity to celebrate the special occasion with our graduates and their families. Congratulations to the class of 2019!
In addition to showcasing our recent graduates, our newsletter provides information on our departmental events, faculty and staff, faculty projects, students, and alumni so that you can stay connected with the workings of our department. This issue includes pictures of our Landmark Lecture, an annual event that brings together faculty, staff, students, alumni, and guests for an afternoon of discussion and investigation into different aspects of pedagogy and rhetorical study. Previous years have brought in scholars of visual rhetoric, demagoguery and deliberation, queer theory, the history and development of writing programs, and many more. This year, RWS faculty were excited to host Professor Kristin Arola, Associate Professor in the Writing Rhetoric and American Cultures Department at Michigan State University. Professor Arola gave an engaging presentation on multimodal composing and ways that faculty can integrate such projects into their writing classrooms.
The issue highlights a few of our talented faculty and staff, including Dr. Jenny Sheppard and the intrepid Karen Keene, one of our multitalented staff members. Dr. Sheppard received the 2018–2019 College of Arts and Letters Excellence in Teaching Award in the Humanities and Social Sciences (for tenure or tenure-track faculty). We cannot think of anyone more deserving of this prestigious award! Karen is a familiar face in our department, but, as the newsletter story highlights, few may be aware of all that she does to support our enormous and complicated department. Karen also has fascinating interests and talents outside of work—picture more than 700 Santas!
Dr. Chris Werry has developed critical digital literacy resources for our lower-division writing students. More specifically, he helped to develop the digital textbook, Reading, Writing and Evaluating Argument, which was written for RWS 100 but “is designed to be shared and remixed.” The new digital text will be launched this fall, and Dr. Werry hopes to use the funds generated from the text to benefit the Lower-Division Writing Program, as well as those teaching in the program.
The newsletter features two of our students, recent RWS MA graduate Jim Dierker, Class of 2019, and RWS BA Val Burke, Class of 2018. We also highlight our alumni, Andreea Harambas-Jamotillo, Class of 2010, and Jessica Baris, Class of 2009. We are so proud of our students and alumni!
Finally, I would like to extend a special thank you to Clara Cushing, who did a fabulous job editing and writing stories for our newsletter.
Please read on for more details on all of the above!
Kristin Arola, Associate Professor in the Writing Rhetoric and American Cultures Department
at Michigan State University, gave her presentation “Multimodal Composing: Writing/Designing
Futures” in January at Scripps College. After providing a general overview of multimodal
pedagogy, she discussed the value of using the lens of a slow composition rooted in
an American Indian epistemology to integrate multimodal projects in writing courses.
Kristin Arola speaks on multimodality in the classroom.
Participants try creating multimodal projects and discuss assessment practices.
Faculty and Staff Profiles
Dr. Jenny Sheppard
Dr. Jenny Sheppard was planning to be an elementary school teacher before accidentally happening upon the field of rhetoric. While waiting for her credential program to begin, Dr. Sheppard took a graduate class in literacy that she says “changed everything.” “The class was so much more challenging and engaging than my other coursework and helped me to see that what we traditionally think of as literacy was, in fact, much more complex,” Dr. Sheppard reflects. She joined SDSU’s RWS department as a lecturer in 2014 and recently received the 2018–2019 College of Arts and Letters Excellence in Teaching Award in the Humanities and Social Sciences (for tenure or tenure-track faculty). Starting in fall 2019, she became a tenure-track faculty member.
Of the 12 different classes Dr. Sheppard has taught in RWS so far—ranging from first-year writing courses to a graduate course in digital rhetoric and literacy—one of her favorites has been RWS 414, Rhetoric in Visual Culture. In the class, she has students examine visual texts such as monuments, photographs, advertising, and visual identity. “Most students come into the course with a lot of experience reading words from a rhetorical perspective,” Dr. Sheppard comments, “but they haven’t usually had the opportunity and tools to think about how the visual also works to inform and persuade, so it’s exciting to see those skills develop.”
Students describe Dr. Sheppard’s teaching style as flexible, as she encourages students to write on their own interests, and as accessible and invested in their success and growth. Dr. Sheppard explains her approach to teaching as “engaged but laidback.” While she is interested in sharing a lot of material with her students and expects them to work hard in the class, she purposefully “shape[s]…classes around activities that give students the chance to test out ideas and to apply course concepts to topics of interest to them.” She wishes that she had known as an undergraduate that it’s okay to “ask faculty about pushing the boundaries of class projects” in order to better fit personal interests. One of her professors at Chico State, Tom Fox, was influential to her current pedagogical philosophy; he helped her understand that it is important not to take a single approach to cultivate student learning but to constantly look for multiple ways to ensure students’ success. The New London Group is another influence that Dr. Sheppard cites—these literary scholars support a pedagogical framework that combines direct instruction, hands-on practice, and reflection.
For Dr. Sheppard, one of the best parts of working at SDSU is the diversity of the students she gets to work with. As the department’s classes are relatively small and the field of rhetoric permits students to pursue topics of their own choice, she enjoys getting to know her students, their backgrounds, and their interests—and she values learning from them throughout the class as well. The biggest challenge is finding time to give detailed feedback on student work, which is an integral aspect of her teaching style.
Research topics that are of special interest to Dr. Sheppard include the study of digital and multimodal rhetorics and their integration in the classroom. Currently, she is working on one project about infographics as a multimodal genre that can be useful in teaching digital composition; the genre incorporates literacies and rhetorical practices relevant to communication in the 21st century, which makes it an ideal learning tool for students. Another study she is engaged in is an examination of “tactical communication practices in online social media medical support groups that help users assert more agency in navigating their treatment.”
RWS students and faculty may not be fully aware of all the work that Karen Keene does to support both faculty and students and to make improvements—and that is because she is so good at what she does. Karen likes the challenge of keeping a big department with many different people and personalities running smoothly. “I look at the whole department as a sort of challenge: what can I do to make it better?” Karen says. She ensures employees are provided with what they need to do their jobs and ensures that “the working environment is positive and welcoming.”
Karen is most proud of the improvements she has made in the department through her creativity and innovativeness. “Always on the lookout for something new or better,” she often finds opportunities to apply for funding and sends in applications. Some of the results of such applications are new computers, renovated offices, furniture for TAs and Fellows, technology for online instruction, and the new smart room in SH-128. She has also improved the timeliness of employee pay. She notes, “I strive to ensure that happens and am relentless in tracking down any problems.” A pet peeve of Karen’s is finding out about a problem secondhand, since she can’t fix the problem if she doesn’t know about it.
Karen’s background working for a bottled water company for 30 years gave her the skills necessary for running a department in a university. During her time with the company, it grew from having a few local branches to establishing almost 100 locations nationwide. “From customer service to corporate acquisitions, while advancing from handwritten envelope billing to handheld computers and bar code scanning, I provided support and training whenever and wherever needed,” Karen says of the challenging time. She supervised a hundred people in offices all over the U.S., which helps her make quick, logical decisions for the RWS Department.
The benefits of working at a CSU brought Karen to start working at San Diego State, since her son was planning to attend Cal Poly; the tuition waiver applies to all CSU campuses. Karen worked in the Philosophy Department for about one year before Dr. Glen McClish hired her to transfer to RWS, and she has been an integral part of the department for the past eleven years.
During her time off work, Karen loves crafting and reading. She has unique spatial
skills that allow her to read upside down as quickly as she can read normally. Her
family likes to watch her “solve” newspaper jumble puzzles by reading the words as
if the letters are not scrambled, as they “oddly find this entertaining.” Karen also
collects Santas and has over 700 of them in various shapes and sizes. From Thanksgiving
to Christmas, they are on display inside and outside of her house— “on stairs and
windowsills, mantle and bookcases, above valances, between railing spindles in the
hallway, on the refrigerator, and on a nine-foot tree.”
Dr. Chris Werry’s Open Educational Resources
Most of the reading and writing that students do today takes place in digital environments, yet current textbooks and institutional tools are behind in helping writing instructors teach critical digital literacy. “Little has been published on how we should build the infrastructure needed to support and reimagine General Education (G.E) writing programs as they move into the digital age,” Dr. Chris Werry points out. After noticing this gap in educational resources at the university level, Dr. Werry began working on a solution to support writing instruction: “an ‘ecosystem’ of teaching, publishing, and writing resources.”
The project aims to develop open educational resources for students and teachers and includes a collection of tools and materials for teaching critical digital literacy as well as textbooks and modules that can be shared within the CSU. Dr. Werry summarizes the main goals for creating this “ecosystem” of resources:
- revise first-year writing curricula for the digital age
- lower the cost of instruction for students taking G.E. classes
- develop open, modular, faculty-produced texts and teaching resources that can be shared locally (and potentially within the CSU system)
- collect data and conduct research on these initiatives
The open source textbooks, which will replace publishers’ textbooks, will be “’modular’ and flexible,” allowing teachers to add their own contributions. Students will pay a small amount for these textbooks, which will fund the cost of the writing program, professional development opportunities, teacher additions to the textbook, and a journal of student writing that will highlight undergraduate writing and instructors’ work.
This project is critical for writing programs, which are, as Dr. Werry puts it, “large, sprawling enterprises that do invaluable work but are usually severely underfunded.” Writing teachers at universities often have to deal with difficult labor expectations and have few opportunities for coordinating and sharing. Dr. Werry adds, “the technologies we are provided, such as Blackboard, are akin to a digital Esperanto—a language that barely exists in the outside world, equipping students with few transferable skills for their lives as digital citizens.”
Dr. Werry began collecting data for this project in fall 2014 and 2016. He observed the digital literacy practices of SDSU students, including “search literacy, site/author evaluation, fake news, rhetorical analysis of web pages, social bookmarking, tagging, annotation, and the curation of online materials for writing and research projects.” He then created a set of wikis, complete with assignments, texts, spaces for students to do group work and blogs, writing resources, and more to encourage new writing teachers to begin teaching critical digital literacy. So far, he has developed teacher training materials for these resources and has composed the digital textbook, Reading, Writing and Evaluating Argument, which was written for RWS 100 but “is designed to be shared and remixed.” The book received positive feedback when piloted in fall 2018, and Dr. Werry is now revising it before it is launched for a larger audience in fall 2019. He has also created the journal for undergraduate student writing using the Commons in a Box (CBox) platform, which will enable students to manage the journal. In addition to giving students a platform to showcase their work, the journal will provide opportunities for student work to be chosen to be included in the open ed textbook.
Currently, Dr. Werry is expanding online teaching resources for the textbook. His
next steps are to hold training workshops, promote the textbook, and make an assessment
plan for the textbook and resources. As the project moves from developmental stages
to implementation, he will use the data collected from the project to publish his
findings in journals like Computers and Composition. Future work on the project will explore collaboration with writing programs throughout
CSU, since it is “designed to be packable, scalable, re-usable, and sharable.” In
these initial stages, Dr. Werry hopes to see faculty at SDSU use the project to “add
value to our community,” and he welcomes interest in his project from students and
teachers to help him advance this work or consider alternative directions.
Current Student Profiles
Jim Dierker, Class of 2019
After retiring from forty years in sales and marketing, Jim Dierker “scrolled into” the RWS Department at SDSU while looking for programs to help him transition from the corporate world to a role in teaching. It felt like a natural fit for him, since rhetoric plays a big role in marketing and “persuasion is key to influencing the consumer to buy your product or idea.” Along with his experience in sales and marketing, Jim’s undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri in Journalism with a concentration in broadcasting helped prepare him for the program. He compares the rhetorical situation to the “journalistic search for the who, what, where, why and how of a story,” and the vigorous process of research is another thing that both fields share.
Inspired by classes with Dr. Minifee and reading recommendations from Dr. McClish, Jim decided to commit to the MA program. Each RWS course that he has taken has inspired him in different ways. “RWS 601 turned me on to the ancients, whom I really bonded with, especially Plato, Cicero and Augustine,” Jim says. He has also enjoyed his “TA adventure” working with Professor Werry to teach RWS 100 students.
Teaching is what motivated Jim to go back to school after retiring. During his time in the corporate world, he noticed that a large portion of the population lacks the ability to write and speak publicly in an effective manner. Structuring informative and persuasive emails is challenging for many employees in the business world, and Jim points out that “the growth and diversification of social media demand immediate improvement in the basics of writing” in our rapidly changing multi-cultural society. He hopes to become a part-time lecturer at San Diego State or an embedded tutor at a community college, so he can pay his knowledge of rhetoric forward to help the next generation gain competence in rhetorical communication.
In the meantime, Jim is enjoying the final stages of writing his thesis on a photograph of Nelson Mandela presenting the Rugby World Cup to South Africa’s rugby team captain, Francois Pienaar. Jim is making the argument that “the photograph is a powerful, historic, and authentic icon capturing the political and spiritual transformation (metonoia) of the South African nation – the drama, political performance/theatre, as defined by Burke’s Dramatism Pentad.” The topic is one that Jim is particularly passionate about, as he went on a tour of South Africa as an international rugby player and is currently a high school rugby coach—and a huge fan of Mandela’s eloquence and courage. Jim says his advisor, Professor Ornatowski, sometimes has to remind him to control his enthusiasm and stay focused on the application of rhetorical theory to his premise.
While writing his thesis has been the most difficult requirement of graduate school
in terms of time management, critical research, and endless writing and rewriting,
Jim finds the process of constantly uncovering new information on a topic to be an
“amazing journey”—“like traveling in space and discovering a new heavenly body or
star with each library search.” After he spends the summer taking RWS 799b to perfect
his thesis, Jim’s daughter will take him to the World Cup of Rugby in Japan to celebrate
his master’s accomplishment.
Val Burke, Class of 2018
Val earned her Associate’s degree in English at Grossmont College before coming to SDSU. She thought she would continue with English for her Bachelor’s degree, but a co-worker who was employed at SDSU talked to her about her career goals and asked if she had considered Rhetoric and Writing Studies. After doing a good amount of research, Val committed to the RWS undergraduate major. Looking back on the decision, she says, “I love English, but what made me fall in love with rhetoric is how much more analytical it is.”
Although she claims it is too difficult to pick a favorite class from her time in the program, Val does identify as especially impactful both RWS 543, Rhetoric of Visual Composing, and RWS 507, Professional Writing for Nonprofit Organizations. The visual composition class offered a chance to consider the visual side of rhetoric that is not often a focus in other classes. For Val, the class opened her eyes to things she had never considered before, such as what colors work better together or what combination of fonts are best. In the class for nonprofit organizations, she enjoyed creating an entire boilerplate grant proposal for a nonprofit of her choice.
The most useful skills Val has gained from the RWS program are how to communicate and effectively express ideas, in addition to how to identify various strategies used in any type of written or visual media or communication. The most exciting part of the program, she explains, is that there is a variety of classes in which you can choose what you would like to analyze, and “there is never a ‘right’ answer as long as you argue effectively.”
Val just graduated from the RWS BA program this December, and she has recently been
hired as Associate Content Specialist-Editor at Neil Patel Digital. Her ultimate goal
is to be a writer or grant writer for an animal nonprofit organization: “I want to
help save lives by being a voice for those who do not have one.”
Andreea Harambas-Jamotillo, Class of 2010
Andreea never imagined she would one day write about parking software and equipment—yet
this is the latest of the self-proclaimed “random” jobs that her career in technical
writing has led to. The endless possibilities in this field are something that she
values highly; she previously worked for a company that filed insurance claims on
foreclosed properties, and she has written a variety of documents throughout her professional
career ranging from policies and Request for Proposals (RFPs) to training manuals
and job descriptions.
While working on her MA at SDSU, Andreea “soaked up everything [she] learned” as she also worked full-time and juggled being married and paying a mortgage. She wishes she could be a student for life and enjoyed learning about theory just as much as taking technical classes. “My favorite courses were the rhetorical classes that really made me feel like my brain was getting a workout,” she recalls. Her advice for current MA students: take advantage of class discussions. “Once you get a regular job, nobody’s going to talk to you about Socrates and Plato.”
Getting an MA in rhetoric allowed Andreea to apply to jobs that wouldn’t have been otherwise accessible and gave her tools that helped her in technical writing and in taking on various different roles within the workplace. It also helped her more creative side, as she used her technical writing and editing skills to “remove fluff” and made her stories more convincing through her knowledge of rhetorical theories and modes of persuasion. To balance the technical writing she does for her career, she incorporates creative writing into her life as a romance writer. She has published eight novels under two pseudonyms—Mila Rossi, for her contemporary romances, and Alice Lake, for Victorian era historical romances—and has four more novels on the way.
Beyond the professional skills she gained during her studies at SDSU, the most useful thing she took away from the program was how to construct an argument—for a proposal, a story, or arguing with her husband. “I draw on ethos, pathos, and logos,” Andreea states. “My husband says it’s impossible to win an argument with me.”
Jessica Baris, Class of 2009
As an in-house copywriter for a high-tech company, Jessica Baris is responsible for telling the story of the company’s technology to attract new customers. When she was searching for master’s programs that would help her attain her goal of working as a writer in the corporate setting, the RWS MA program stood out from MFA writing degrees that focused on fiction and poetry: “a program that focused on the art of persuasion, on oratory, how to build an argument, how to edit, how to professionally present information that is helpful to a reader . . . now that was what I was looking for!”
Jessica pursued the technical and professional writing track and notes that the classes specific to this track were invaluable, as they “provided skills that have stuck with [her] over the years.” She enjoyed being exposed to classic works such as On the Ideal Orator, On Rhetoric, and the Phaedrus, and she particularly appreciated the real-world application focus of professional writing courses such as Professor Merriam’s technical editing course. One of her favorite courses, the editing class taught her how to build a style guide and edit a variety of document types using correct copyediting marks—both of which have been useful in her career. She also found that her experiences from the part time work she did during the program were particularly helpful when it came time to graduate, and she urges current students to seek out such experiences during their studies as well.
Jessica uses the skills she gained in the MA program to tell her company’s story through various types of writing, including product descriptions, web content, sales brochures, articles, customer stories, white papers, blogs, and advertisement copy. The most interesting writing project she has worked on was a case study on her company’s product “that provides backup power to a subsystem in a wind turbine.” Jessica traveled to Iowa to meet with a customer’s wind farm manager and wind technicians, who climb the turbines to provide maintenance. She learned about the daily challenges on a wind farm and how the product was assisting with maintenance, and she reported their story in a case study with photographs of the turbines and the people whom the company was helping. “There is no story more compelling than the story told in the customer’s own words,” she says.
In addition to writing for content marketing, Jessica also performs at community events
for adults around San Diego as a storyteller of old folktales from around the world—Greece,
Russia, China, Ireland, America. Rather than writing out these stories before performing
them, Jessica outlines them and builds transitions. Her MA studies of Cicero’s On the Ideal Orator have been influential in her composition of these performances. Jessica is also shifting
gears and writing a personal essay in 2019 to tell her own stories. A final way she
keeps her writing alive outside of work is through letters and postcards to friends
and family, taking it upon herself “to help keep the U.S. postal system in service.”
Our RWS MA and BA students, as well as our RWS faculty, celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2019.
Meet the Editor/Contributor
Clara is a first-year graduate student in the MA program in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. After graduating from Santa Clara University in 2016 with a BA in Classical Studies and English, she taught high schoolers in the Czech Republic as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant for a year. She then worked in Washington, D.C. as a communications intern at Phi Beta Kappa and as an editorial assistant for their magazine, The American Scholar, before deciding to continue studying writing in the MA program at SDSU.
During her first year in the program, Clara has enjoyed gaining a foundation in rhetoric as well as exploring professional writing classes focused on editing and nonprofit grant writing. Over the summer, she plans to get started on her thesis, which will focus on circulation studies and intercultural rhetoric.