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, [email protected]’ 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.
For the past year, our department has been completing a self-study, reflecting on what we have done over the past five years, so we can improve as a department, which, in turn, will enhance our students’ success. I would like to acknowledge all of those individuals who contributed to our department self-study. I apologize in advance if I have forgotten anyone: Linn Bekins, Richard Boyd, Carl Fielden, Matt Gantos, Karen Keene, Jamie Madden, Glen McClish, Steve Merriam, Paul Minifee, Cezar Ornatowski, Claudia Ortiz, Jason Parker, Jenny Sheppard, Janet Tempelton, Michael Underwood, Kathryn Valentine, Chris Werry, Emma Lee Whitworth, and Marla Williams. I also would like to extend a special thank you to Kathleen Onofrio, a Professional Proposal Writer who helped proof the entire 143-page document. The self-study represents a department-wide effort, and I am grateful for everyone’s work!
During the past five years, the department has experienced several positive achievements. Here are highlights from the self-study:
- 2013: RWS, in coordination with the Building on Excellence Strategic Plan and the
Student Success and Academic Excellence Task Force, established the University Writing
- 2014: RWS hired Kathryn Valentine as an associate professor and writing center director.
- 2014: The RWS Major became available to students when it was listed in the SDSU General Catalog 2014–2015.
- 2017: RWS received the Wendelmoot Memorial Fund. Titled the Dean’s Excellence Endowment, the fund enriches the academic opportunities for teaching, research and scholarships, and community engagement for faculty and students in RWS.
- 2018: RWS instructors won both the CAL Excellence in Teaching Award for non-tenure
track faculty and the Favorite Faculty Award for small classes from the Division of
Student Affairs, Residential Education Office. Nine other RWS faculty members were
among those nominated for the Favorite Faculty Award.
- 2018: RWS hired Jenny Sheppard as an assistant professor in Digital Rhetoric.
The department has also faced ongoing challenges, directly related to the state budget and the impact reductions have had on higher education.
- Increases in class size. For the past dozen years, larger class sizes have been a
significant challenge for RWS. It was a concern noted in both our 2006 and 2013 self-studies.
- Loss of tenured faculty. RWS teaches the largest number of students within the College of Arts and Letters. During Fall 2017, RWS taught upward of 8,000 students in the Upper-Division and Lower-Division programs, as well as in the RWS Major. Yet since the last review, the Department gained only two hires and lost two to retirement. In addition, we expect more retirements in the near future. Furthermore, three tenured faculty members receive release time for serving outside of the Department (for serving in the CSU Academic Senate and the SDSU Senate, for coordinating the Writing Placement Assessment, and for directing the University Writing Center). Given the retirements, anticipated retirements, and the service by faculty outside of the Department, the need for tenure-line hires is even more pressing.
The self-study process has fostered dialogue and reflection about what we do and who we are as a department. It has encouraged us to clarify our mission and preparations for the future. We are pleased to welcome our reviewers to our department in October: Dr. Lois Agnew, Syracuse University; Dr. Shirley Rose, Arizona State University; and Dr. Kurt Lindemann, San Diego State University. We look forward to their visit and their findings and recommendations. We are hopeful that the process will have a positive impact on the future of our department.
Pictured are both graduate and undergraduate students who graduated in May 2018. Congratulations to the class of 2018!
A regular feature of our Fall Conference on Pedagogy and Research is a graduate student panel. Pictured are Breeann MacDonald and Sarah Tanori, who presented on the graduate panel at the 2018 conference. Breann is a second-year RWS graduate student, and the title of her presentation was “Constructing Geographies through Music.” Sarah is a first-year RWS graduate student, and the title of her presentation was “Memes as a Form of Political Discourse: An Intersectional Analysis of Gothshakira.”
New RWS Graduates Students
During our Fall Conference on Pedagogy and Research we held a reception for our new
graduate students, who are pictured here with a few second-year RWS graduate students,
as well as with one of our recent graduates and a student who hopes to join the program
next year. In the back row from left to right are Ryan Barela and Breeann MacDonald,
who are second-year RWS graduate students; Kevin Smead, Anthony Toledo, Caitlyn Halliburton,
Emily Mclaughlin, Ruben Mendoza, Joe Bush, Clara Cushing, who are first-year graduate
students; and Stephanie Loney, who is a second-year RWS graduate student. In the
front row from left to right are Jake Anderson, Michael Cline, Sarah Tanori, Clinton
Barnes, who are all first-year RWS graduate students; Cade Gallal, who hopes to join
our program next year; and Andra Steinbergs, who graduated in May. Graduate Advisor
Glen McClish is pictured in the back.
Dr. Steve Merriam
Dr. Steve Merriam is the proud recipient of a 2017–2018 College of Arts & Letters Excellence in Teaching Award. We spoke recently about his background, his belief in the importance of RWS, and what it means to be honored by his students and peers.
Dr. Merriam is a San Diego native with deep roots in the community; he received his undergraduate degree from SDSU in 1987, and he returned to the university to teach professional writing in 2002. During that time, he has been instrumental in raising the profile of the department’s professional writing specialization. Dr. Merriam connects his work to the overall mission of the department; he believes that “More than any other discipline, rhetoric helps students develop essential critical thinking skills. Rhetoric is especially important in professional writing, the type of writing I teach.”
Within the department, there is a prevailing belief among both students and faculty that Dr. Merriam is integral to the success of RWS at SDSU. His recent receipt of a CAL Excellence in Teaching Award attests to this fact. Indeed, the award was particularly meaningful for Dr. Merriam because “RWS faculty nominated me and students supported that nomination. I’ll cherish their letters of support forever.” Nevertheless, Dr. Merriam is careful to point out that he is lucky to work in a department in which “there are so many strong teachers . . . any of them could have earned the award. I really mean that (no humblebrag here!).”
When asked to describe his philosophy as a professor, Dr. Merriam kept it simple. He said, “I always try to put the needs of the students first . . . Ultimately, I just want to do a good job and set relatively high standards for myself.” In practice, this means that Dr. Merriam looks forward to the unique experiences found on each day of each specific class. He stressed that “individual sections of classes [can be] spectacular. In fact, those sections really keep me going. Each class is a community, an organic entity.” Ultimately, it was this passion that brought Dr. Merriam back to the profession in the early 2000s. He remembered, “One of my mentors once told me that you have to have a soul for teaching. I think he was right.”
Dr. Kathryn Valentine
Dr. Kathryn Valentine is an associate professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at SDSU. Additionally, she serves as the director of the SDSU Writing Center, a central function of which is to “work with undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines to develop and extend their knowledge and performance of academic literacies through coaching from tutors who engage them in conversations about their writing.” She has held both these positions since moving to San Diego in 2014.
I interviewed Dr. Valentine recently about her classroom philosophy, her research, and the challenging and essential three-part role she serves at SDSU as a teacher, a scholar, and a writing center director.
Regarding her classroom philosophy, Dr. Valentine shared with me her belief that it’s essential to strike a balance between challenging and supporting her students. To that end, she said, “I think we learn the most when we are challenged to understand a new concept or perspective or perform a new kind of writing. I want students in classes I teach to be challenged by what they are learning and what they are writing. At the same time, I believe that when we are challenged, we also need support, and I try to offer that support to students in my classes.”
As a teacher, Dr. Valentine’s strategy of navigating the narrow path between “challenge” and “support” bears obvious dividends in classes such as RWS 640, Research Methods. This class is used by many graduate students as a key stepping stone to the development of a thesis; its final project is the creation of an original research proposal which can often be retooled to form the core of a prospectus. Accordingly, Dr. Valentine told me that she is “fascinated with the idea of creating knowledge and the methods that we use to research writing and analyze texts. It’s wonderful when a student develops an idea for a thesis in the [RWS 640] course and then that project comes to fruition when they complete their degree.”
One of Dr. Valentine’s current research projects, given her role in the Writing Center, is concerned with the degree to which listening affects the tutoring experience. She explained that this project “look[s] at both tutor guidebooks and at tutorial sessions. While writing center work is associated with the importance of talk, it’s been interesting to view the field’s work through the lesson of listening at a conceptual level while also thinking about strategies for listening that can be used in tutoring.”
Like several others in the department, Dr. Valentine initially came to RWS via a degree in English. She told me that “I learned about composition and rhetoric when I joined the M.A. program in English as Chico State and became very interested in the idea of studying writing not only through attention to literary or creative texts but also to all kinds of texts.” This willingness to read many objects, actions, and spaces rhetorically is also clearly present in Dr. Valentine’s firm conviction that “Learning about rhetoric and writing helps students to navigate their personal, professional, and civic lives. Given how written and visual texts are constantly circulating in our lives, it is essential to be able to ask critical questions about texts as well as be able to produce effective arguments.” Although it is potentially daunting to read so many of our actions rhetorically, Dr. Valentine prefers to look at it another way: “There’s always more to learn!”
Dr. Chris Werry
Dr. Chris Werry is an associate professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at SDSU. Within the department, he directs the Lower-Division Writing Program and is a co-coordinator of the Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement. Dr. Werry and I corresponded recently about his path to becoming a valued teacher and researcher at SDSU and his abiding belief in rhetorical criticism as a vital prosocial tool.
Dr. Werry has followed what is perhaps a more circuitous academic path than some of his peers. He remembered that, while attending university in New Zealand, “all the scholars I most admired were from the U.S., but this was years before webpages and widespread access to the internet, so I had no idea how to apply. Fortunately, a visiting American professor left some PhD application forms in our department.” Dr. Werry filled out that application with “no idea what kind of undertaking a PhD was . . . I had no idea how long it took or how much was required. I imagined I would go back to New Zealand and find a job somewhere in the public-service sector.” Luckily for the students and faculty at SDSU, Dr. Werry’s PhD studies at Carnegie Mellon led him to San Diego, where he has been key to the success of the RWS Department for more than 18 years.
Despite this serendipitous journey to the study of rhetoric, Dr. Werry is passionate about the value of the discipline. He believes that “Rhetoric and Writing Studies equips students with ways of thinking that are an invaluable part of undergraduate education, academic literacy, and critical thinking.”
As a teacher, Dr. Werry hopes “to equip students with ways of understanding texts that help them produce powerful, self-aware, critical analyses, and also contribute to communities and conversations important to them.” Additionally, he “endeavor[s] to find projects that can help students reflect on and move closer to their academic and professional goals. These goals might be teaching at a community college, applying to a PhD program, contributing to a scholarly research project, mastering some aspect of academic discourse, or producing online resources for an organization. I try to create classroom communities where students feel comfortable sharing and pursuing such goals.”
This classroom philosophy is perhaps most obviously on display in one of Dr. Werry’s favorite courses to teach, RWS 411, Digital Rhetorics. In this class, students “get to examine how digital texts are used to persuade, produce change, build community, and construct identity.” The class is evidence of the continued relevance of an ancient academic tradition; it is “always changing to keep up with what is going on, and students consistently bring great insights and fascinating project ideas.”
As a researcher, Dr. Werry’s work offers further evidence of the need for contemporary rhetorical criticism. He is currently “working on an analysis of alt-right rhetoric that draws on data gathered from lurking for several years in some scary online communities.” Without scholars such as Dr. Werry, it is likely that we would lack a necessary critical vocabulary for and interrogating and deconstructing the forces of demagoguery and xenophobia.
Overall, when I asked Dr. Werry to reflect on his life as a scholar and teacher, he once again remembered his unlikely path to RWS. Although Dr. Werry initially came to the study of rhetoric without fully knowing what to expect, he is “nonetheless extremely glad” he did: “I was lucky enough to be part of a wonderful group of graduate students, and later on a wonderful group of colleagues at SDSU.”
Current Student Profiles
Gretchen Barksdale is a current SDSU graduate student in English and a TA for the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies. As a TA, she recently won SDSU’s Favorite Faculty Award for small classes from the Residential Education Office, Division of Student Affairs.
Gretchen generously agreed to be interviewed about her experiences as a student, a scholar, and an award-winning teacher.
Since Gretchen expects to graduate this December with her MA in English, I was eager to ask her to reflect on her time as a student at SDSU. She told me that it’s especially meaningful to earn a graduate degree here because she also completed her BA at SDSU. Gretchen said, “I love this university, the culture it cultivates, and I’m a proud Aztec.” More specifically, Gretchen had some kind words for her mentors on the RWS faculty team. She maintains that “This [RWS] department has always been attentive and supportive, as well as producing some of the best TAs here at SDSU. Although I did not have the opportunity to take classes from all the department’s professors, I can confidently say I would have never won the ‘Favorite Faculty Award’ without the lessons I learned from Professors Boyd, Minifee, and Werry. Thank you!”
Given that Gretchen has been successful as a teacher as well as a student, I made sure to ask for her thoughts about teaching various RWS classes. Gretchen told me that, as a new teacher, she has been enormously encouraged by the obvious progress her students made as they ascended through the RWS courses. She said, “I had a good number of my RWS 100 students follow me into my 200 classes and it was a treasure witnessing the transformation they made within a year. They all grew into confident (deservingly so) readers, writers, and thinkers. I am quite proud of all my students.”
Regarding her general classroom philosophy, Gretchen told me that she takes care to respect student diversity and individuality. To that end, she said, “I think it is exceedingly important for my students to write with their own voices. My end goal for my students is that they take pride in and understand the value of having their own writing voice.”
For those classes that are specifically concerned with rhetoric and composition, Gretchen said she tries “teaching my students how writing well is not only necessary for passing my class, but the skills they learn in RWS 100/200 will assist them in their other courses, and, later, with their careers.” Although some students may initially be skeptical about the value of a composition course, most of them leave Gretchen’s classes enthusiastic about their experiences: “Honestly, my students have the best time learning rhetoric, and it’s inspiring for me to hear their excitement towards the topic.”
This student enthusiasm likely contributed to Gretchen’s winning a Favorite Faculty Award for the 2017–2018 academic year. After all, “Since my students are the ones who nominated me, it is to them I am unconditionally thankful. As a first-year teacher, it means a great deal to know they took the time to show their appreciation.” Gretchen also confessed to feeling a bit stunned at hearing her name announced at the award ceremony. She told me, “I was more than happy and content on the nomination alone, but when I heard my name as the winner, it threw me in complete and absolute shock (I’m pretty sure my face went three shades paler for a moment). Honestly, I still feel that way today about the whole thing.”
When I asked Gretchen about her plans for the future, she enthused about her upcoming
RWS 100 class entitled “This Is America: Imagined Power and the Power of Imagination.”
She said, “We’ll be reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and a chapter from Harari’s Sapiens, as well as watching the 2015 horror film The Witch, and finishing with an analysis of Childish Gambino’s music video ‘This is America.’
Lots of exciting stuff, and I look forward to the conversations my students will ignite
from exploring these texts.” Thanks in part to her time here at SDSU, Gretchen has
found a fulfilling career path that suits her well. Long term, she said, “My plan
is to keep teaching. It’s what I love.”
Last August, I had the good fortune to meet Cass Lynch during my orientation as an RWS graduate student. I was anxious about returning to academia after a ten-year break, and Cass helped me to find my footing in the department. I recall that we had a stimulating conversation about the versatility and depth of the discipline, and I left orientation feeling more certain about my path forward. During the past year, I’ve observed that Cass is an exemplary student, generous with her time and dedicated to the success of the department.
And so naturally, when I was asked to write profiles of RWS graduate students, I thought of Cass. We recently sat down in the Writing Center for a brief interview about the ways in which Cass has contributed to the department as a lecturer, a researcher, a tutor, and a mentor.
When I asked what originally drew Cass to RWS, they related a story that I’ve heard echoed by other students. Cass told me, “I knew what rhetoric was, but I didn’t know that I could actually study it. And when I learned about it, it just filled this hole that was left over from English lit. I was looking for something new for my grad program, so then when everybody started talking to me about rhetoric, I was just like ‘Oh my gosh, this sounds amazing! This sounds like exactly what I’m looking for, where I can talk about philosophy and writing.’”
As a researcher, this freedom has led Cass to a timely and challenging thesis project exploring online texts that contribute to the domestic radicalization of internet users in general, and vulnerable white men in particular. Specifically, Cass’s thesis examines the rhetoric of the Bundys, the family primarily responsible for the anti-government occupation, in 2016, of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Projects such as this convincingly demonstrate that rhetorical criticism is uniquely positioned to explore and diagnose exigent issues. This research dovetails with Cass’s plan to pursue a PhD in rhetoric, which would allow for a more thorough exploration of online extremist texts.
As a tutor and mentor at SDSU’s Writing Center, Cass uses their considerable skill as a writer to offer valuable advice to a broad and diverse group of students. Cass finds it especially rewarding to help those who belong to typically underserved or marginalized populations on campus.
As a lecturer, Cass has used the RWS Department as a springboard to a job in SDSU’s
American Indian Studies Department. Cass currently teaches a class—American Indian
Studies 120, Written Communication—which is the academic equivalent of RWS 100. In
structuring this class, Cass is careful to put students’ goals and desires first.
Cass finds that this approach, also known as student sovereignty, leads to students
who are more likely to feel valued and, therefore, are more likely to deeply engage
with the coursework.
Recent Alumni Profiles
Iris Farrou is a distinguished recent graduate of the RWS MA program at SDSU. She has joined a PhD program at Virginia Tech, where she will pursue her goal of attaining a tenure-track university position as a teacher and scholar of rhetoric. Iris and I corresponded recently about her time at SDSU and her belief in the value of rhetoric and writing.
When I asked Iris to describe the point at which her passion for RWS became tangible, she immediately mentioned her experiences as a first-year student in SDSU’s MA courses. “I would say,” recalled Iris, “that my first-year experience as both an MA student and a TA was pivotal in my relationship with writing. RWS gave us the great opportunity to reflect on our own writing strategies, strengths and weaknesses while we both received (from our instructors) and provided (to our students) support.”
Iris was also careful to give credit to SDSU in general and the RWS MA program in particular for helping her to hone her skills as a scholar of rhetoric. According to Iris, “The RWS Department provided us all with valuable mentorship and unconditional support from the moment we joined it as students.” Additionally, she remembered SDSU as a place that “provided me with invaluable life-long friendships, which is a bonus rare gem in graduate studies.”
Regarding her particular course of study, Iris mentioned the importance of her time in RWS 730, Gender and Rhetoric, which eventually led to the development of her thesis: Dismantling Binary Gender Identity in Ruby Rose’s “Break Free.” Iris’s experience writing this thesis influenced her decision to attend Virginia Tech, in part because it offers a Women and Gender Studies certificate as part of its PhD program. Although the rhetorical tradition has existed for millennia, Iris’s work at SDSU and Virginia Tech demonstrates that it is an adaptable discipline—rhetorical criticism can effectively illuminate the marquee social issues of the twenty-first century.
Iris closed out our interview with some brief words of advice. Reflecting on her time at SDSU, the only change she might make would be to her personal schedule. Iris advises incoming students to “be adamant about finding little pockets of time for [yourself].”
B López is a recent distinguished graduate of SDSU’s MA program in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. This fall, B will begin a PhD program at Syracuse University where they will pursue a doctorate in composition and cultural rhetoric.
I was fortunate enough to correspond with B recently about their time in the RWS MA program, and B was generous enough to share some memories, as well as thoughts and advice for those who are currently immersed in—or even just beginning—their studies.
When I asked B to name a favorite professor, they understandably needed to hedge a bit by naming several. B said that “Professor McClish, Professor Bordelon, Professor Valentine, and Professor Sheppard all really supported me and my writing while I was at SDSU.” Nevertheless, B reserved some extra praise for Dr. Sheppard and her class entitled Rhetoric, Literacy, and Technology; this class and Dr. Sheppard’s guidance proved inspirational to B “because the focus of our papers was on digital rhetoric, which really allowed me to get creative and choose topics that were about social media, popular culture, and digital archives.” Consequently, B told me that “one of the papers I wrote in Professor Sheppard’s class was about the visual aspects of a sugar baby website. At first, I was hesitant to assess the platform as it did not seem appropriate to discuss in an academic space, but Professor Sheppard supported my idea. She created safe classroom dynamics, which allowed us to consider multiple perspectives. She definitely encouraged me to be unapologetic about my writing and to embrace my ideas.”
Given B’s success as a student and a scholar of rhetoric, I was curious to know what drew them to the discipline and drove their passion for it. B told me that the power of rhetorical criticism to illuminate patterns of social injustice serves as a major inspiration. They said, “The moments that made my passion for writing even more concrete was hearing about the rise of violence against trans and gender non-conforming communities of color . . . Reflecting on the violence, I felt powerless, but it was exactly those feelings that manifested in my writing.”
Knowing that a passion for effecting social equity fuels B in their scholarly work, it was fitting to discover that their favorite research project examined issues of race in the digital archive. B spoke of being especially proud of a “rhetorical analysis about a YouTube video called ‘Caucasian Living with Joanne the Scammer’ created by Brandon Miller, who is also known as his online popular persona Joanne the Scammer.” B elaborated, telling me they especially “enjoyed analyzing the video because it calls attention to whiteness and the ways that it should be critiqued. This project inspired my thesis idea and ultimately opened my mind to various writing topic[s].”
Now that B has completed an RWS MA and has been admitted to a PhD program, they can look back and offer some words of advice for current and prospective students. Above all, B stressed the importance of creating and keeping to a schedule for thesis writing. B said students must “mentally prepare for thesis writing. It is so important to stay on track and to schedule breaks as well because thesis writing can get overwhelming.”
Looking to the future, B spoke of feeling excited about the numerous possibilities that their degree has helped create. In the Composition and Cultural Rhetoric PhD program at Syracuse University, B is eager to “continue [their] work on queer rhetorics and to start some projects that combine queer rhetorics with critical race theories.” Ultimately, B is planning a career as a “college professor and teacher of composition and queer studies.” In this capacity B aspires to help students to “become better writers and . . . use their writing skills in my class and beyond academic spaces.”
Meet the Editor/Contributor
Joe Harris is a second-year graduate student in SDSU’s Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies. He is specializing in professional writing to better explore his interests in grant writing, technical writing, and editing. Joe did his undergraduate work at UCSD, where he majored in political science. When he decided not to pursue a law degree, he came (eventually!) to SDSU because he saw an opportunity to turn his lifelong love of writing into a career.
In the past year, Joe has taken a number of fascinating courses at SDSU. These include RWS 600, Reading and Writing Rhetorically, which was taught by Dr. Ornatowski, formerly the only Polish cowboy in New York; and RWS 601, History of Rhetoric, where the book is so massive that a cookbook holder is necessary to hold it upright comfortably.
Over the summer, Joe had the opportunity to work on an academic book manuscript as an editorial assistant, which he loved (even when it involved Googling hundreds of proper names to check spelling). He also—in partnership with his lovely wife Sarah—planned his wedding and got married on August 12th. Joe and Sarah’s honeymoon was in the Bay Area, where they parked on some exceptionally steep hills and took appropriately foggy pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Joe currently works at SDSU’s Writing Center, where he loves meeting with students from all over the university and hearing their stories. He is also working on his thesis, which examines the rhetoric of climate change in secular and religious museum spaces.
Welcome to the newsletter for the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies! As you probably know, this fall I became the new department chair when our previous chair, Glen McClish, stepped down after eighteen years of service. In getting underway, I face my new position with a sense of excitement but also fear. Glen McClish is certainly a daunting chair to follow! No one can replace the care and dedication that Glen brought to his position as chair of our department. I feel fortunate that he remains in our department as the Graduate Adviser. Glen has been an excellent resource regarding chair-related questions, and I am deeply appreciative. I also am appreciative of the tremendous support and assistance that the staff and faculty have already provided. The department is really what it is today because of all of its wonderful faculty and staff!
In August, the department held a retreat at Mission Trails Visitor Center, a beautiful setting for a retreat. At the retreat, Kathryn Valentine led us through a strategic planning activity in which we discussed our strengths and challenges as a department. We also set a number of goals. One of the primary goals that emerged was the need to enhance our department’s profile on campus. We also came up with several strategies for attaining that goal and developed a draft value statement that will be posted on our department website.
In addition to posting our value statement, we plan to update our mission statement and begin preparing for our department self-study, something we complete about every five years and which is scheduled for fall 2018. This process is extremely helpful because it provides an opportunity for us to reflect on our department’s identity and vision and to engage in strategic planning to better serve our students.
Not only am I grateful to faculty and staff, but I also would like to thank our department donors for their support. This fall we received a $1,000 donation from Sue and Doug McLeod. Dr. Sue McLeod, a retired Research Professor and University of California, Santa Barbara Writing Program Distinguished Scholar, once taught for the English Department at SDSU before the formation of RWS. Dr. McLeod served as a reviewer for our department self-study in 2013, and she also was a speaker at our department Landmark Lecture that year. The Landmark Lecture in Rhetoric series invites a prominent scholar in Rhetoric and Writing Studies to SDSU every year to discuss current research or curriculum developments in the field.
The department also received a gift from Dr. Thomas L. Wendelmoot, which will create an endowment called the Dean’s Excellence Endowment for RWS, and the amount is about $65,000. Since it is an endowment, it has a spendable cash balance of about $2,500. Additional distributions will take place on a quarterly basis, but the fund exists in perpetuity. Established by the College of Arts and Letters, the criteria for the award include the following:
The Dean’s Excellence Endowment will help enrich the academic opportunities for teaching, research and scholarships, and community engagement for faculty and students in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the College of Arts and Letters, including, but not limited to:
- Scholarly research for full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty
- Scholarly research by undergraduate and graduate students
- Start-up efforts and change initiatives
- Recognition of important contributions by faculty
- Professional development of faculty
- Faculty initiatives to improve learning opportunities for students
- Innovative program development that enhance academic excellence
- Engagement in San Diego communities such as working with K-12 schools and
As is evident, we have a significant amount of latitude in how “excellence” is defined. Next semester, we will establish a process for awarding these funds. Soon after, we will look forward to presenting these funds to our faculty and students.
It truly is an honor to serve as chair of our department. Please don’t hesitate to
contact me if you have any questions or suggestions! I look forward to hearing from
you, [email protected].
Upcoming 16th Landmark Lecture: The Rhetoric of Health, Medicine, and Science
By Andra Steinbergs
The Landmark Lecture is an annual event that brings together faculty, staff, students, alumni, and guests for an afternoon of discussion and investigation into different aspects of 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’s 16th Landmark Lecture will take place February 26, 2018, at 4 p.m. at Scripps Cottage. The Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies is excited to host Professors Jordynn Jack and Blake Scott and their panel on the rhetoric of health and medicine.
Dr. Jack is a Professor with the Department of English and Comparative Literature and is the Associate Director of the Literature, Medicine, and Culture Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She locates her scholarship at the intersection of two subfields within the interdisciplinary field of rhetorical scholarship: feminist rhetorics and the rhetoric of science. Her current research focuses on two interrelated questions: How are knowledge claims produced and circulated through rhetoric?; and, How does rhetoric produce and order the material and semiotic conditions for knowledge production—bodies, spaces, institutions, memories, and so on, and to what effect? Professor Jack has publications that examine the rhetoric of health and medicine and is interested in several aspects of rhetorical scholarship including, disability studies, feminist historiography, science writing, and technical communication.
Dr. Scott is a founding Associate Chair and Director of Degree Programs in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida. He is interested in the rhetoric of health and medicine, rhetorical history and theory, professional and technical communication, and theories of writing and writing program development. Professor Scott has several publications on the rhetoric of medicine, health, and technical communication. Additionally, Dr. Scott, whose scholarly accomplishments overlap with and complement the work of Professor Jack, is the co-editor of the newly-minted journal Rhetoric of Health & Medicine. Appropriately, Professors Jack and Scott will focus their presentations on key concepts of the rhetoric of health and medicine.
This year’s Landmark Lecture promises to be an interactive, integrated experience, where Professors Jack and Scott will coordinate their talks to enhance their discussion of the rhetoric of health, medicine, and science, and its importance to rhetorical practice and investigation. The Landmark Lecture is an excellent opportunity for those in and adjacent to academia to participate in academic discourses. The setting of the Landmark Lecture allows for a close, comfortable meeting environment, where academic community members have a chance to interact with peers and professionals in the field and introduce students to new ideas. The Landmark Lecture is like a miniature, two-speaker conference, where newer scholars can engage in conversations with more experienced community members, and all participants have the opportunity to participate in engaging discussion.
We invite you to join us at 4 p.m. February 26, 2018, for an afternoon with Professors
Jack and Scott and the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies in a discussion
of the rhetoric of health, medicine, and science.
A regular feature of our Fall Conference on Pedagogy and Research is a graduate student
panel. The 2017 conference featured the ongoing work of B. López (Rhetoric and Writing
Studies, “Gender Analysis: Dismantling the Cistem”); Andrew Testa (Rhetoric and Writing
Studies, “‘Games Aren’t Just for Kids’: Ethos Construction and Audience Roles in BioShock Infinite”); and Katie Sweeney (English and Comparative Literature, “Protests within Protests:
Black Female Contradiction in a White Feminist Space”).
Dr. Linn Bekins Speaking to Professional Audiences — How Rhetorical Skills Improve Your Network
By Kylie Jorgensen
Dr. Linn Bekins recently attended "Networking with a Purpose," a multi-member networking forum with related topics focusing on concepts surrounding "Breaking the Glass Ceiling." The panel was part of a TED Talk hosted by author, entrepreneur, and blogger, Jia Jiang. While navigating a networked workplace was at the forefront of discussion, the conference articulated specific strategies for building a professional ethos and developing a career path.
Parallel to her acute understanding of specific characteristics that make collaboration function effectively is Dr. Bekins’s keen ability to articulate these components through collaboration. This insight propelled how she chose to contribute to the larger conversation of "Networking with a Purpose." Consequently, Professor Bekins tasked participants with discussing how to problem-solve effectively in collaborative scenarios to co-invent "Yes" through rhetorical appeals. Ideally, such strategies involve bringing a group to a collective consensus and using rhetorical strategies to reach an agreement when working in teams.
Drawing on research in conflict mediation and computational social science, Dr. Bekins divided her presentation into two sections: linguistic persuasion and nonlinguistic persuasion. She also made sure to structure her discussion according to her given audience. Likewise, through the framework of both linguistic and nonlinguistic aspects of the workplace, she identified how strategically to use ethos, pathos, and logos to turn short-range tactics into long-range strategies.
Along with approximately 150 professionals, Dr. Bekins presented strategies to Tech Titan companies in the Bay Area, such as Cisco, eBay, Dell EMC, Ericsson, Gigamon, HPE, NetApp, Oracle, PayPal, Symantec, VCE, and VMWare. Hence — as the rhetorical situation required — the concept of "networking" quickly advanced, particularly with digital components, as critical tools that define successful networking.
Dr. Bekins also offered the following "take aways" that will help you "Network with a Purpose" and advance your career:
- Personal Brand
Compile a go-to list of the three most prominent qualities for which you want to be known. Create a "good value statement" that people will remember about you when they've left the conversation. To emphasize the importance of using this strategy in networking, you need to understand to which rhetorical moves you are responding. Consciously be aware that you are composing a personal brand statement and continue to manage it consistently. This personal brand needs to mirror who you are as a professional in the workplace.
As Dr. Bekins notes, "Your goal is not to win over them, but to win them over.” Or rather, using nonlinguistic social signals — body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice — is just as significant as using the conscious linguistic content. Not only do nonlinguistic and linguistic tools function rhetorically, but they also equally predict outcomes in how teams function.
- Rejection is a Lesson Gained
Don't waste any rejection; learn from and use each rejection as a way to improve characteristics of your professional ethos. Each rejection can always tell you more about your audience and the motivations/assumptions that underlie your particular career path.
- The Purpose of Your Network
Always network with the selfless intention of building your "tribe." Similarly, be aware that you need people who can provide fruitful advice and support, both professionally and personally. Networking involves give and take on both sides. An excellent way to practice this step is to maintain your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles consistently.
Unmasking the Connection Between Humor and Pedagogy with Dr. Boyd
By Erica Mosley
|In lieu of a headshot, Dr. Boyd chose a photo that is deeply meaningful to him. Pictured above is one of the individuals he most admires: Arsenal Football manager Arsene Wenger, “The Boss.”|
This semester I’ve had the honor of taking Dr. Richard Boyd’s Craft of Writing Rhetorically
class. Twice a week for seventy-five minutes, he graces us with his humorously witty
personality and exceptional teaching abilities. In a brief twenty-minute interview,
one of our most beloved professors in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies
gives us an inside look into his teaching style and experiences during his twenty
years in the department.
When asked what he thinks is the best part about working in the RWS Department, Dr. Boyd raves about the benefits of being a part of such a small major. He boasts that, unlike the larger departments on campus that have even larger class sizes, there aren’t feelings of anonymity among professors and students in our department — “you get to know people.” He then tells a story about how funny it is when students begin their emails by saying, “Hi, I’m in your RWS class . . .” as if he doesn’t know or recognize them by name. As an instructor in a small department and alumni of a liberal arts college, Dr. Boyd knows, and maintains, that developing relationships with your classmates and people in your department really makes a huge impact on your overall college experience.
Though he is known for his good-natured bonding humor, Dr. Boyd breaks down how he uses this over-the-top form of his personality to contest the authoritative nature of student-instructor relationships. Remaining cool, casual, and comical is a conscious choice that Dr. Boyd makes in order to avoid throwing his authority as a professor around. He explains how the use of humor can make the classroom setting seem less formal, which typically results in students feeling more relaxed and comfortable. He does, however, concede that this is not always the case. But overall, maintaining a jovial disposition, in addition to his cunning wit, helps him to diffuse and address situations that may arise with students, such as chronic tardiness.
Dr. Boyd further explores the topic of teaching personas when he reveals one of the courses he has enjoyed teaching the most: RWS 609, Theory and Practice of Teaching Composition. This class is comprised mostly of students who are preparing to be Teaching Assistants in the RWS Department, and he enjoys it so much because it allows him to be different than he is in other classes. Or in his own words, it lets him “take the [teaching] mask off a little bit.” He expands on this statement by stating that teaching is similar to performing a role. Most instructors pretend to be one way or another, and their teaching personas are typically extensions of their personalities. Since too much performance, or a stark deviation from their personality, would be hard for instructors to sustain, you can rest assured that most professors aren’t heroes by day and villains by night. He compares his experience teaching RWS 609 to being an actor at an acting workshop, where people are talking about acting. In both cases, the difference in setting fosters an open environment, where certain topics can be explored in a different context than usual.
Toward the end of the interview, Dr. Boyd enlightens us on his personal philosophy about the importance of rhetoric and leaves us with some golden advice for students who are currently pursuing their dreams. He philosophizes that every text, be it literary, a news article, or a sign on the road, is a kind of argument that fosters a reader-viewer relationship. The study of rhetoric is important, he says, because it teaches students to become better readers and to recognize how the texts that they encounter in their lives are working to shape them in one way or another. This experience, in turn, allows them to become more cognizant readers, make better decisions, and be as critically aware as they can possibly be. He closes with two pieces of advice:
- Your path is not set. Life is going to take you on a journey, and at different points
in your life, you will have the opportunity to make new choices. So, don’t be opposed
to trying new things out, taking classes that are interesting, or in short, just exploring
more. You never know where that exploration may lead you.
- Being an adult (post-graduate) is probably nowhere near as fun as we think it will be. Looking back, Dr. Boyd says that he would not be averse to being back in school again. With that being said, we should be in no rush to “get done with life” or to take control of our destinies, but instead we should appreciate and enjoy where we are in our lives right now.
Graduate Student Profiles
The Writing Center - What do Writing Centers Really Do?
By Erica Mosley
|Emma Saturday is a Writing Center tutor who is completing fascinating research involving writing centers and student-learning-communities.|
Some students come into San Diego State University’s (SDSU) Writing Center expecting a quick fix or tune-up for their work. However, what a lot of students don’t realize is that writing centers are places where they can gain new insights and focus on all aspects of their writing. Tutors are trained to encourage students to apply basic rhetorical concepts and strategies to their writing across several different disciplines. Emma Saturday, a current RWS Master’s student and tutor in the SDSU Center, can attest to the hard work and dedication that goes into running a valuable center.
Although this is only her first year at SDSU, she is no stranger to writing center work and already has three years of experience as a tutor and academic skills coach under her belt. She has presented at the Southern California Writing Centers Association Conference, the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing, and the Conference on College Composition and Communication. As Emma explains, these projects have spanned a variety of topics including linguistic diversity, students’ rhetorical awareness in academic writing, grammar-based tutor training, and minority student success at a Hispanic Serving Institution. Furthermore, she is also working on a column in the Writing Lab Newsletter that chronicles her experiences with undergraduate research, which is slated to come out next year. Lastly, and most excitingly, Emma had the opportunity to chair a session at the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) Conference in Chicago this November. After serving as a Peer Tutor Board Representative on the Executive Board of the IWCA, Emma served as the chair.
Currently, Emma is “involved in an empirical study that is investigating the effects of a student learning community on faculty job satisfaction at the University of La Verne.” Researchers have already explored the impact of student learning communities on students’ success; however, Emma and her team hope to uncover how these communities affect faculty as well. It is her love for writing centers, though, that fuels her goal of becoming a writing center director in the future. She believes that “writing center directors are in a unique position that combines teaching, mentorship, administrative duties, and research.” Emma wants to go beyond the ordinary writing center work and help students, particularly prospective tutors, with “developing skills in areas other than writing [such as] professional development, research strategies, [and] leadership.” She wants tutors to be able to gain transferable skills that they can be beneficial to them post-graduation. Ultimately, Emma wants to be able to to provide the same help and guidance that her past writing center directors gave her by giving future tutors the opportunity to enhance their critical thinking abilities and to gain other valuable skills.
In the Writing Center here at SDSU, we value the collaborative nature of the peer-to-peer
tutoring experience. This approach fosters a safe and comfortable environment that
allows students to become more familiar with their writing processes as a whole. We
pride our Center on being a creative, supportive, and friendly place that allows students
from all backgrounds to work, learn, and develop confidence in their writing abilities.
During training, tutors learn different strategies to help students improve their writing, one of the most useful being to look at rhetoric and writing as an active project or a conversation with their readers. The Center aims to help students understand how words are being used to make people “do something.” This point is especially important because many RWS 100 and 200 students, who frequent the Center, are usually relatively new to these concepts and a session can help to supplement their instruction. Tutors are trained to help students recognize what the rhetorical situation is and how it is used to make or break an argument. Using the Five Ws (who, what, when, where, and why) to spell out the rhetorical situation generally helps students gain a better understanding of how a text is “both resulting from and responding to its context.”
The SDSU Writing Center aims to create an experience that is more than just a tutor
correcting a student’s work with the infamous red pen. Our goal is for tutors to make
connections with their peers, so they can work and learn together. An understanding
of these rhetorical skills, in conjunction with knowledge about tutoring and teaching
practices, is what makes writing center tutors more than just proofreaders or “fixer-uppers.”
They can be seen as liaisons between students and instructors, helping students gain
a better understanding of their instructors' expectations and the context in which
they are writing.
How to Make the Most of SDSU’s RWS MA Professional Writing Track
By Kylie Jorgensen
As an entry-level Extended Studies student in 2015, I knew I was passionate about writing, but I didn't know I'd be completing a Master's degree in Rhetoric and Writing Studies (RWS). Since taking courses through Extended Studies, I have been admitted into the program and have completed two internships. I did both simultaneously: I worked as a Social Media Intern for the Surfrider Foundation and as a Teaching Associate for the Lower-Division Writing Program internship course with Professors Chris Werry and Jenny Sheppard.
In addition to my academic development in the RWS program, I have always focused all of my motivation on moving forward. As Professors Linn Bekins, Steve Merriam, and Sheppard can attest, I am diligent about my academic and professional growth. As a student, I stem from a very challenging undergraduate history, but I give the environment and faculty of this particular program credit for encouraging me to accomplish my goals and for instilling a strong sense of agency in defining my career path.
As co-editor of several of the department's newsletters, I began to navigate the field of technical and professional writing with a not-so-clear sense of agency but direction and motivation were there nonetheless. As I completed each course, my passion and direction for what I wanted to accomplish with my RWS MA narrowed and specified toward the professional field.
As rhetoricians, we learn to never stop developing — whether it is as a writer, student, teammate, or professional. We must always have an acute awareness of our progress in a constantly and rapidly changing field. Whether our focus is academia or the technical field, our skills and rhetorical education will always apply.
I have recently accepted a Technical Writer/Editor I position with General Atomics, Electromagnetic Systems Group, where I will be managing writing projects, meeting standardizations, and editing various components/versions of procedural and technical documentation. Even though that might sound like a foreign language to my friends and family members, to us practicing rhetors, that is a specific description of the tasks that constitute a fun challenge.
The “challenge” I most enjoy is using rhetorical skills and analysis to appropriate a text to its audience, purpose, and context. This challenge might debatably also summarize the art of rhetoric (at least in the technical field, perhaps). For students new to RWS, your audience, purpose, and context should always be at the forefront of your memory. Those three components of written, oral, or visual discourse are essential to the field of rhetoric, inescapably so.
To that end, for as much as I'd like to give the Rhetoric and Writing Studies Department
all the credit for my achievements thus far, I believe this department's environment
has ultimately made me realize it is my own determination and the development of my
own ethos that have gotten me to each mile marker along the way.
Karina Legzdins - Communications Manager and Author
By Andra Steinbergs
“I always wanted to be a writer because I love to read and tell stories, and I like
to explore worlds different than my own through words.”
— Karina Legzdins
The Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies (RWS) is invested in its current and past students and is proud to highlight the accomplishments of students and alumni. This year, we are delighted to feature RWS alumna, Karina Legzdins. Karina graduated from San Diego State University in 2012 with a Master’s in RWS and a specialization in Professional Writing. Currently, Karina works as a Communications Manager with one of the largest financial institutions in Canada.
The combination of theory and professional writing classes in the RWS program gave Karina an opportunity to explore the history of rhetoric, philosophize about rhetoric in more theoretical terms, and analyze current uses of rhetoric in a wide range of fields, from advertising, to journalism, to technical writing, to corporate and digital communications. The skills provided by the RWS MA can be an immensely valuable foundation for building a career in writing — both professionally and personally.
“The RWS MA program helped me build on that passion [for storytelling] by making me a much more effective writer. Rather than just putting my story down on paper, the program taught me how to write it to ensure that it resonates with my target audience. This goes beyond just a theoretical understanding but has changed how I approach every job or writing project from writing a fiction book or short stories, to writing a screenplay, to writing a newsletter for a pharmaceutical company, to writing an article about complex financial topics. The essence is the same for each — I am telling a story for a specific audience and, depending on the audience and the topic, I find a way to tell it that resonates with the reader.”
The RWS program and the Professional Writing specialization allow students to integrate theory and practice in their classes, and Karina’s experience demonstrates how applicable the RWS MA program can be once graduates join the professional world. The skills she gained from her graduate education have helped her to stand out to employers and highlight her as an experienced and educated communicator and storyteller.
Her passion for storytelling has led her to publish her first book, Unsealed, under the pseudonym K.M. Langdon. Inspired by her time in San Diego, Unsealed tells an honest and raw, two-sided story of first love, passion, friendship, and acceptance through the eyes of Kara, a quixotic grad student, and Liam, a winning Navy SEAL candidate secretly struggling with gender identity confusion:
Kara Edwards falls in love with her Prince Charming in sunny San Diego, California. Handsome and charming with a winning smile, Liam Sundry is a Navy SEAL candidate from rural Tennessee who can squat a thousand pounds and make any person feel like the most important [person]in the room. He's the picture-perfect all-American country boy. They live happily ever after, at least for a while. And then, in a whirlpool of anger and depression, drugs and alcohol, Liam trusts Kara with a long-buried secret he's never told anyone — that he wants to live as a woman.
In Unsealed, we see the other side of the coming-out story — Kara’s side. She shares what it’s like to lose the man you love while remaining friends with the girl version, the fear of being helpless while a loved one struggles with some unknown turmoil, and the difficulty she has in adjusting to their new roles. Readers join Kara through every unique and surreal event, including dressing her almost-fiancé in women’s clothes and then being his wing-woman when he wants to pick up men.
Telling a story like this, especially one that calls for sensitivity and respect of the subject matter, can be significantly aided by experience handling different kinds of texts in various scenarios, and the theory and practice of rhetoric is an excellent boon when exploring these issues. Furthermore, gender and rhetoric is a rich area of study, and RWS offers classes on that subject at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Karina is currently working on the screenplay for Unsealed and is toying with ideas for her next story. If you’d like to connect with Karina,
you can find her at www.kmlangdon.com or on Instagram @the_northern_bookworm.
Reconnecting with Purpose: How Jaime Fleres Used Her RWS Degree to Birth Her Story and Collaborate with Lauren Lang
By Erica Mosley
Through the power of social media, class of 2008 Master’s degree graduates Jaime Fleres and Lauren Lang were able to reconnect and collaborate on Jaime’s book Birth Your Story. After receiving news that Jaime was working on a book, Lauren, who is currently a copyeditor, offered up her skills and expertise. Upon the completion of the manuscript, Jaime reached out to Lauren so they could edit, proofread, and refine it together. Although it has been several years since they have graduated from the tight-knit MA class of 2008, the two have been able to use the skills that they’ve acquired and honed at San Diego State University (SDSU) to collaborate on Jaime’s book. They both reflect back on their experience working together positively, and Lauren jokes that sometime during their MA program she and her colleagues even deliberated matching Toulmin-model tattoos. I admire how the two of them were able to use their MA degrees in unique ways and demonstrate the power of making meaningful connections.
A common fear that is often associated with pursuing any type of English or writing degree is the likelihood of employability after graduation. However, the Rhetoric and Writing Studies Department (RWS) can spark an endless love for learning and provide students with an invaluable skillset that can benefit them no matter where life takes them. Jaime Fleres, alumna of the MA program, is a great example of this. Although the path to her current career has not been totally linear, her RWS degree afforded her vital skills that have helped her navigate various professions.
Jaime began her undergraduate work at SDSU in 1998 and earned her BA in Women’s Studies with a minor in English by 2003. Not surprisingly, she graduated at the top of her class with honors and even received an award for her writing. After her first graduation, she studied International Politics abroad at Oxford University on a scholarship with Dr. Stoddard from the Political Science Department.
Then in 2006, Jaime enrolled at SDSU again to pursue her MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies with an emphasis in Teaching Writing. She was managing a Content Department for an internet marketing firm in Encinitas. It was at this time that she discovered her passion for teaching writing and, naturally, she wanted to pair it with her love for academia. She claims, “the RWS program . . . couldn’t have been a better fit for me.” She goes on to to discuss the many experiences throughout her MA program that deepened her passion for writing. “Specifically,” she declares, “I remember my first semester teaching RWS 100, feeling so inspired as I watched my first class of students develop their critical thinking and writing skills in a college setting for the first time. It was so inspiring to help other students develop skills I knew would serve them for the rest of their time at SDSU (and for the rest of their lives). I also learned so much that first year of teaching. (What a humbling and edifying process!) My students taught me how to be the teacher they needed. I felt so fully prepared and supported by the department, and I felt totally inspired about the power of writing.” After graduating with her Master’s degree, Jaime is now a mother, entrepreneur, birth professional, writing coach and editor, and author. Although she is established now, reaching her goals and finding her niche was not necessarily a straight-shot.
Prior to becoming a book author, Jaime worked abroad in Peru as a professional marketing writer, where she describes her work on a menopause website and an art history website as “randomly strange.” When she returned to the states, she taught college composition, developmental reading, and English literature in San Diego and the Twin Cities in Minnesota for several years. During her time in Minnesota, she also visited hotels undercover and wrote travel reviews. She has also launched a birth and wellness business — Santosha Birth and Wellness. Although she is currently in the process of shutting down Santosha Birth and Wellness, she still uses her business savvy in her current ventures.
In 2013, after having her daughter, Jaime took a break from teaching to do more professional writing and to build her own business in other areas of interest. During this break, she also completed several movement certification programs (yoga, Qoya, and functional movement) and became a doula. Currently, she primarily works as a private writing coach and editor, and her focus has been shifting more toward her work on JaimeFleres.com, where she is building a nine-month book coaching program to help service-based professionals, such as coaches and practitioners, communicate their ideas, expertise, and wisdom to a broader audience.
Nearly nine years have passed since she received her MA in 2008, and Jaime is close to fulfilling her dream of hiding out in her cozy mountain home, in Asheville, North Carolina, all winter writing every day. This can be credited to the “cherished” critical thinking skills that she honed during her MA program. She has been able to incorporate those skills into her work on her book, Birth Your Story: Why Writing about Your Birth Matters, her university teaching, her private coaching and editing work, and her own professional writing. She uses her in-depth knowledge of rhetorical situations and strategies to help her clients understand their exigence, audience, and message, making their communication more effective.
Jaime’s background in RWS has been especially useful in the creation of her book Birth Your Story. She claims that “those with a background in RWS will find so much from our program/field woven into [it].” For example, she invites her “readers to become aware of the lens(es) through which they can and do perceive their birth experiences and how this impacts their understanding and expression of their stories.” She also offers “several invention activities to [her] readers... [that] include answering key questions, mapping of their stories, note taking, using sensory markers, and much more.” She also relies on her experiences as a composition instructor in the chapter of her book titled “After Your First Draft” and offers her readers many of the same activities that she would offer to her students, including advice for revision, proofreading, audience consideration, and more.
Jaime has always known she wanted to write a book. (In fact, she completed an unpublished full-length memoir manuscript many years ago, which she sees as a vital training ground for her current work.) She claims, “I have more books in me that are patiently awaiting their time for creation.” And she is working toward building her writing coaching and editing business this year so that she can support more writers and authors. She also landed a contract to speak at several conventions this year and looks forward to traveling throughout the country to speak about her book. Lastly, she is also doing a podcast tour this fall, which she hopes will help her reach and serve a wider audience.
Jaime advises current students who may not know how their degrees will serve them in the future to “trust and enjoy the process.” When she was a student, she had those same fears, but looking back it all makes sense to her. The connections that she made with her classmates and instructors have also been valuable, so she encourages students to try and make those types of connections as well.
Overview of Birth Your Story
Birth Your Story began as a workshop manual that Jaime Fleres used to support new parents in expressing their birth experiences through writing. Jaime recalls, “I casually thought I’d spend a weekend developing the manual into a short eBook; but three years later, I had developed this short manual into a full-length book with eighteen birth stories written by men and women all over the United States, and substantial writing support for parents wanting to remember, process, heal, and honor their experiences of birth through writing.”
Birth Your Story is about using writing to remember, process, heal, and honor the entirety of your
birth experience. You are forever changed, and how you tell the story can determine
whether the power of birth serves or hinders your life. Whether you’re pregnant or
birthed decades ago, a seasoned or novice writer, man or woman, this book is for you.
The book inspires and supports you to write your birth story, takes the intimidation and other obstacles out of writing, offers accessible writing prompts and support, and includes over fifteen inspiring stories — about birth loss, adoption, home birth, premature birth, surrogacy, cesarean birth, and more.
Feel empowered to write your story, honor your experience, value your voice, heal your past and transform your future, and find freedom through authentic expression. Because your stories matter. Because YOU matter.
Lauren Lang - RWS as a Framework for the Future
By Erica Mosley
Some of the wonderful benefits of pursuing higher education are the endless learning opportunities, and the chance to make meaningful memories and lasting connections. Not only does our department foster personal and professional relationships that can be beneficial beyond the classroom, but also our curriculum provides a framework that can help students cultivate critical thinking skills that they can use no matter where life leads them.
At the early age of fifteen, Lauren Lang knew that writing would be a significant part of her career. But her experience in the Rhetoric and Writing Studies Department is what made her passion for writing more concrete. She says the department helped to give her writing context and provided a framework for how she came to think of herself as a writer. Although she came to the program thinking she would be a technical writer, when she got here, she found “her people,” and everything seemed to suddenly fall into place for her. Lauren recalls Dr. Richard Boyd’s Rhetoric of Public Memory course that inspired her to look for arguments in places where she hadn’t seen them before, and Dr. Chris Werry’s courses that taught her so much about the challenges of and opportunities for communicating with technology. As she gained new insights about rhetoric, she began to view writing as a tangible action, and many of the lessons and discussions she had here at San Diego State University have become a part of her professional identity.
After earning a copyediting certification from the University of California at San Diego, she discovered a niche in desperate need of strong writers and editors: the craft industry. As a longtime quilter, sewer, and knitter, Lauren discovered this niche was a natural fit for her. By the time she graduated, Lauren ended up freelancing as a copyeditor and writer for several publishers in the arts — everything from books to individual sewing patterns to blog posts to magazines.
Today, Lauren still writes columns for some quilting magazines. However, she works full-time as a sales content manager at Skillcrush, an online education company that teaches technology skills primarily to women. There, she is “constantly evaluating and testing different types of appeals and strategies to see which works best for a specific audience.” And although she would have never pegged herself as a “sales” type of person, Lauren asserts that her career best features all of her previous experiences: education, female empowerment, a strong sense of mission, and, of course, writing.
As a content manager, she primarily authors email campaigns at Skillcrush, but she also is a regular contributor to the Skillcrush blog, which touches on all sorts of topics including technology skills, the freelance life, money management, remote work, etc. She writes editorials on current events involving feminism and women in tech: the recent Google memo, for example. As a working mother with strong opinions and a background in freelancing, feminism, and education, Lauren has experiences and insights that clearly resonate with her audience. She admits that the writing she does now is “more personal and unfiltered,” which is different from the more professional writing that she has done in the past, but it is still very rhetorical, and she enjoys it.
Lauren uses the experience that she gained as a writing tutor, writing Fellow, and adjunct in the department in her current career as a copyeditor. She states that although she no longer collaborates with writers on their work in person, she has been able to draw on her skills to help them to deal with their issues in a different way. She advises students currently pursuing their degrees to not worry so much about their next move and remember that there is “more than one way to make a life.” Instead of looking at life as a path, remaining open to new possibilities and opportunities helps you view life as “an identity that you create by trying on and discarding other hats.”
Meet the Contributors
Erica Mosley / Newsletter Editor /Contributor
Erica Mosley anticipates graduating in May 2018 with her Bachelor of Arts degree in
Rhetoric and Writing Studies (RWS). She has goals of studying Civil Law post-graduation,
and she currently works as a tutor in the Writing Center. She asserts that becoming
an RWS major was one of the best decisions she has ever made because she has gained
insight that she will be able to use no matter what career path she takes. Likewise,
she has also had the pleasure of contributing to this semester’s edition of the newsletter
and learned so much more about the department and our area of study. She looks forward
to being able to apply the knowledge and skills that she has acquired to all of her
Andra Steinbergs is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Rhetoric and
Writing Studies (RWS). She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology from
the University of California at Santa Cruz and is specializing in Professional Writing
for her Master’s degree at San Diego State University. Currently, Andra is a Teaching
Associate with RWS and is also an intern with a medical regulatory editing company.
Andra has a passion for learning and hopes to stay involved with the department as
an educator, to pursue a Ph.D. in science communication, to remain active in academia
and education, and to start her own editing business.
Kylie Jorgensen is a second-year Rhetoric and Writing Studies (RWS) graduate student. In addition to contributing to several of the department’s newsletters, she has completed various internships on and off campus. Kylie is passionate about rhetoric and writing and enjoys the challenge of using rhetorical skills and analysis to tailor a text to its audience, purpose, and context. Most recently, she has accepted a Technical Writer/Editor Iposition with General Atomics, Electromagnetic Systems Group, where she will be managing writing projects, meeting standardizations, and editing various components/versions of procedural and technical documentation. She attributes all of her success thus far to the skills that she has acquired in the RWS program along with her sheer determination.
Message from the Chair
Dear RWS colleagues, students, alumni, and friends,
This issue of the Rhetoric and Writing Studies Newsletter particularly celebrates our students and alumni. I hope you will enjoy reading about their experiences in the department and their recent professional accomplishments, respectively. We’ve also included a report on last month’s stimulating Landmark Lecture, “Encountering Visual Phenomena: A Conversation,” featuring Professors Ekaterina Haskins from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Christa Olson from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. And you will find a description of a new course, RWS 390W (Business Writing and Rhetoric), developed by our colleague Steve Merriam, which will be offered for the first time in Fall 2017.
On a personal note, I would like to report that in August—after eighteen years on the job—I will be stepping down as Chair of Rhetoric and Writing Studies. Beginning in the fall semester, Professor Suzanne Bordelon will assume the Chair, and I will serve as graduate adviser, teach classes, and work at other assignments on behalf of the department and the University.
It has been a great honor to serve as your chair from the late nineties to the present and to contribute to the department’s growth and development. During this period, we’ve developed from a department focused primarily on service courses to an academic unit with an undergraduate major and minor, a master’s degree, and two certificate programs. We’ve created many new courses and academic programs. We’ve operated out of four different locations on campus: Storm Hall-Nasatir Hall, Extended Studies Center, Adams Humanities, and now Storm Hall-Storm Hall West. We’ve hired and tenured Professors Linn Bekins, Chris Werry, Suzanne Bordelon, and Paul Minifee. We’ve established a University Writing Center and hired its first permanent Director, Professor Kathryn Valentine. We’ve watched our graduates (both bachelor’s and master’s level) secure and succeed in a wide array of fulfilling academic and professional positions in San Diego and across the Western Hemisphere. (Many are now college and university professors in their own right.) Despite internal and external pressures, we’ve sustained and even improved upon our student-centered programs in developmental mathematics and writing. We’ve been supported (or, perhaps more accurately, directed) by an office staff—currently compromising Karen Keene, Jamie Madden, Tessa Haviland, and longtime Academic Coordinator Jo Serrano—that has developed into a wonderfully efficient and responsive team. We’ve witnessed the retirements of Professors Ann Johns, Carol Sweedler-Brown, JaneE Hindman, Jane Robinett, Deborah Poole, and—most recently—Ellen Quandahl, as well as distinguished lecturers such as Elise Miller, Pat Morgan, Liane Bryson, Jim Mack, Laura Emery, Terry Williams, Dick Finn, Albert Morin, and many others. We’ve corporately mourned the deaths of former staff members Phyllis Cohen and Betteann Wagner and lecturer Melody Kilcrease.
But despite all this change, the spirit of the department in many ways continues to closely resemble the essence of the academic unit I first encountered in 1999: a collegial academic community dedicated to composition and rhetoric with a particular passion for teaching students from all walks of life to write and reason effectively, to read the world rhetorically, and to participate in academic, civic, and professional discourse in meaningful, socially responsible ways. I’m grateful that despite the many ups and downs we’ve faced together, and the many changes we’ve experienced, this department’s core values and practices—which first attracted me to RWS in what now seems like a lifetime ago—have persisted and flourished.
2017 Landmark Lecture: “Encountering Visual Phenomena: A Conversation”
Reflections by Andra Steinbergs
On March 2nd, cozy afternoon light was streaming into Scripps Cottage as two speakers and a diverse group of students and teachers engaged in a discussion of the visual. Our guest lecturers: Dr. Ekaterina Haskins, a Professor of Rhetoric at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and Dr. Christa Olson, an Associate Professor of Composition & Rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Our first speaker on visual rhetoric, Dr. Haskins, explored the ability of ephemeral memorials to engage accidental audiences—people who had not intended to visit a memorial, but who were invited to view or engage with the temporary memorial. Dr. Haskins described some of the strategies used by these temporary monuments—the similarity in spatial organization to permanent memorials and the placement of these memorials in time and space—to attract accidental audiences. Our own Dr. Jenny Sheppard, designer and instructor of the course Rhetoric of Visual Composing, remarked on the importance of “rhetorics of place”—rhetorics that exist beyond texts, rhetorics that use time and place to engage audiences. Indeed, the consideration of non-text artifacts as being rhetorical is an idea that is still gaining momentum, and, as Dr. Haskins’ research of ephemeral memorials shows, visual displays are deeply rhetorical and may have power to engage audiences—and types of audiences—in ways that traditional texts cannot.
Our second speaker, Dr. Olson, explored historic visual artifacts and discussed the act of seeing. Dr. Olson addressed the rhetoric of the interactions between indigenous peoples from mid-nineteenth-century colonial Ecuador. She discussed the use of topoi in examining rhetorical artifacts from historic Ecuador, and focused on visuals and the act of seeing—of the literal witnessing of a rhetorical act by the human eye. Dr. Olson’s discussion applied ideas from contemporary rhetoric to historical artifacts and, importantly, considered non-textual artifacts as being highly rhetorical. Department Chair Glen McClish remarked that studying historical texts and acts, especially those that were considered unsuccessful in their time, is a rich and often overlooked vein of exploration.
Both speakers addressed the rhetoricity of non-text-based media, and each explored a different set of rhetorical artifacts. The lecture concluded with an open discussion about images and their rhetorical function, and the speakers invited questions and observations from the audience.
Beyond featuring the topics discussed by each speaker, this lecture provided a great opportunity for those in and adjacent to academia to participate in academic discourses; it offered our academic community members a chance to interact with peers and professionals in the field, introduced students to new ideas, and allowed for more experienced community members to discuss and explore different paths of research and rhetoric. Lectures like this allow for the same type of social interaction as academic conferences, but on a much smaller scale where, hopefully, newer scholars may engage in conversations with more experienced community members.
The lecture provided a close, comfortable environment that facilitated interaction between students and lecturers; and, aside from the conversations shared over cookies and coffee in the Cottage, the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies sponsored a few students to join a small dinner party with the faculty and lecturers. There, I had the joy of engaging in conversations ranging from academic research to weather in San Diego to surviving a thesis or Ph.D. project and, through it all, Dr. Haskins and Dr. Olson provided us with excellent insights and commentary. For instance, sometimes the inspiration and motivation for a project can come from out of the shining blue—Dr. Haskins was inspired to research the rhetoric of ephemeral, grassroots memorials after a student brought her attention to the existence of these memorials. Dr. Olson often works with historical documents, discovering meaning in texts that have been forgotten to time. It is an important lesson, perhaps, that inspiration for research may come from unexpected places. Further, it shows that rhetoric can encompass an astounding range of timescales and media, each ripe with numerous areas for exploration, and it shows us the value of keeping our eyes open to the rhetoric that is all around us.
For me, and I hope for others as well, this lecture was a chance to be a part of the academic community in a way that is different from the more solitary work of researching or writing papers and projects. For those who could join us, thank you, and for those who were not able to make it, we hope to see you at future events.
Learn About the New RWS 390W Course—Writing in Business Settings
Emphasizing skills such as acute awareness of audience, purpose, presentation, evidence, and research, RWS 390W is a new course that has been developed and tailored to the specific needs of students in Business Majors. This new course will provide assignments and projects that are meant to emulate predictable situations in Business settings in which the writer is required to produce various informal and formal documents. Emails, memos, and informal reports may sound simple now, but this course will give students the necessary tools to become an extremely valuable resource to businesses and organizations by producing rhetorically effective forms of communication within the workplace. Instead of fumbling to learn the basics of new types of documents necessary in the business field, RWS 390W will confidently prepare students for inevitable writing situations.
Written communication plays a key role in someone’s ability to excel in the workplace. With the Business focus of RWS 390W, professors in the RWS Department have created accurate and realistic course objectives, assignments, and expectations that will undoubtedly help to improve communication skills in Business settings. During RWS 390W, Business students will learn intellectual frameworks and analytical tools specifically defined for the Business field such as:
- Craft effective business messages for specific audiences and purposes;
- Place professional communication within generic and cultural contexts;
- Demonstrate the ability to link business communication to problem solving and decision making;
- Analyze the ethical dilemmas associated with professional writing;
- Assess business communication for quality of content and design.
Like written communication, verbal rhetoric is also an important workplace skill. Since Rhetoric is the knowledge and actions concerning all means of persuasion, argument, and discourse, Business students in RWS 390W will be given the tools needed in order to speak well in varied Business situations.
Written and oral communications inevitably include collaborative work. The RWS 390W course is intended to provide skills and strategies for as many predictable situations in the field as possible. Through this course, it will become clear that the most successful managers, financial analysts, and real estate brokers are those who work in effective and productive teams.
Course assignments and projects will include creating a robust Employment Package. Second, students will learn to write a Report/Industry Analysis and the process in which one is created. Third, as a group, students will advance to a Sector-specific Proposal. Since proposals are most important in any field, RWS 390W will teach students their significance as well how Business proposals are different from other field proposals. Reading quizzes, collaboration, participation, and some pertinent case studies will be included in order to provide as much contextual information and knowledge about writing in the Business field.
RWS 390W is not intended for RWS majors, but for Business students needing to fulfill
the Upper Division Writing Requirement. Nonetheless, the course demonstrates to students
who have minimal exposure to Rhetoric the applicability of this ancient art, specifically
to formal business settings.
Graduating RWS M.A. Student Dalton Salvo to Pursue Doctoral Study at UC Irvine
It is with great excitement that I announce my acceptance into UC Irvine’s English Ph.D. program with an emphasis in rhetoric and critical theory. I am exceedingly grateful to those professors who helped me realize my future goals and allowed me to take the next step in achieving them.
In the RWS Department, I would like to extend my thanks to Professors Glen McClish and Cezar Ornatowski. Professor McClish’s work in reading fiction and poetry rhetorically served as the foundation for my own work rhetorically analyzing the poetry of William Blake, while Professor Ornatowski’s experience in visual rhetoric allowed me to account for the illustrations which accompany Blake’s poetry as well as an initial examination of spatialization in virtual reality. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Professor Jessica Pressman from the Department of English and Comparative Literature, who first introduced me to the field of Digital Humanities and who helped inspire my examination of the rhetorical nature of virtual reality and its potential pedagogical applications. It is the combined influence of these three scholars that led to the future project I will be working on at UCI, further developing my explorations of literature, rhetoric, and digital humanities. It hope to not only construct a theory which encapsulates the rhetorical nature of virtual reality, but also to practically implement that theory in the construction of a virtual dissertation the content of which includes analyses of virtual reality, literature, and the social, theoretical, and pedagogical implications of this novel technology.
My sincerest thanks,
Undergraduate Profile: Jackie Husted
Interviewed by Kylie Jorgensen
Jackie Husted is a current student thriving in the undergraduate RWS program. Like many others who have ended up in the program, Jackie’s discovery of rhetoric were almost by accident. In fact, although she knew writing was her passion, she didn’t immediately pick the Rhetoric and Writing Studies major. After struggling in a few courses she had little interest in, she decided she needed a more “writing-centric” major. Glancing through the academic catalog, she came across RWS. Jackie explained, “My choice to drastically switch academic directions played a crucial role in the discovery and cultivation of my voice.”
With the help of some courses the RWS program offered, Jackie was able to embrace and build on her newfound voice throughout the program. Her drastic decision to make the change to this particular major had an impact on her frame of mind. In her words, she “became more comfortable and more effective with expressing my opinions, and the classes I have taken have helped me take advantage of this voice to fuel my ability as a writer.”
Similarly, her favorite course so far, The Craft of Writing Rhetorically taken with Dr. Minifee, has also been significant towards finding her identity as a writer. This class had such an impact on Jackie and her growth as a writer because, as she stated, “Although I didn't take [the course] until my second-to-last semester at SDSU, it was in this class that I first truly identified as a writer.” She continued to expand on this significant turning point in her academic career, explaining, “Until that point, I had felt as though I was limited to studying other writers and writing mainly to fulfill specific class requirements.” Amazingly, however, Jackie was challenged by some of “the most vague prompts” she had ever been given. It was through these “both terrifying and exhilarating” prompts that she was liberated to finally “Pin down [her] voice and style as a writer.”
Jackie’s academic path with the RWS program has influenced her strong identity as
a writer, and has given her writing skills the colorful and lively characteristics
of rhetoric. Finally, she summarizes seamlessly, “Rhetoric stood out to me due to
its innate ability to influence, provoke, and inspire, and I chose this major because,
no matter where life may take me, I want my writing to reflect those characteristics.”
Alumni Profile: Maggie Vidal—A Look into the Professional Writing Field
Interviewed by Kylie Jorgensen
SDSU’s Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies has a dynamic and robust MA program designed for its students. In fact, the strengths of this unique program have helped alumni such as Maggie Vidal develop applicable skillsets that can be adapted to different career opportunities. To be more specific, Maggie Vidal has excelled in the professional writing field since graduating with her MA. Originally writing clickbait articles after graduating, she is now a Proposal Manager at General Atomics.
Although Maggie is currently working in the professional writing field, she advises current students not to “feel boxed in by their track at SDSU.” She emphasizes, with her own experience as evidence, that students graduating from SDSU’s RWS program are strong candidates for a variety of job opportunities. Maggie encourages students in the RWS program to be open to opportunities they aren’t sure fit the “track” they have been studying. Maggie took the General track, but her experience in the grant writing, professional writing, and editing courses enabled her to make the case that she had the knowledge and skills applicable for a proposal position.
Furthermore, her position as Proposal Specialist before being promoted to her current title as Proposal Manager provided pertinent field experience current MA students might find informative when moving forward the professional writing field. Often, students in the professional writing track are concerned with the daunting task of “knowing all the content” for a proposal. Maggie, however, explains that in reality, complex and difficult proposal projects will more than likely include Subject Matter Experts (SME) who help to generate content. Complementing the SME’s contribution, Proposal Specialists assume a role that is sometimes called the “translator.” As a sort of middleman/woman, Proposal Specialists handle various tasks such as first drafts on transmittal letters, program management sections, as well as crafting good content/information from notes or other discussions focused on the project.
With these areas to build from, Proposal Specialists often help Proposal Managers “identify and ad
dress all customer requirements.” Again, this is the act of the “translator” making sure all information meets the expectations of the client, General Atomics, the manager, and so on. Consequently, Maggie is enthusiastic when comparing grant writing versus proposal writing. She maintains, “Proposal writing/editing is a different kind of challenge.”
Just as grant writing is creative in its use of ethos in its ability to persuade,
proposals, Maggie explains it is still creative, but with a more “primary use of clinical/business
language.” After interviewing Maggie, it was clear that when working in these positions,
it is critical to be involved in the development/invention stages of the writing process
in order to create clear and concise content. It is key for Proposal Specialists because
“they can contribute to these types of discussions and can use the information gained to
guide their edits and comments, and notice discrepancies between what was discussed
and what is written.”
Likewise, as RWS students quickly learn, collaborative work will be frequent and necessary in most careers in technical communication. Maggie likes the process of writing a proposal specifically because of collaborative work. She explains, “Behind every proposal there is a team of people dedicated to coming up with a program strategy, creating and evaluating cost and price, and determining the best business approach.” For Maggie, this is an exciting work environment that brings fun challenges to the job.
Despite Maggie’s enthusiasm for the teamwork that goes into proposal writing, she does admit that managing so many people on one project can be difficult. As Maggie states, “Proposals often have 10+ contributors, [and] it can become difficult to ensure that everyone is working on the same version of the document.” This frequent problem in many professional and technical writing jobs is what is more commonly called “managing version control.” From hard copies to soft copies, anyone managing a team like Maggie does needs to be able to navigate multiple versions, copies, and different hands on these versions simultaneously—a unique but common challenge in today’s technological workplace.
Maggie is thankful for her skillset and the knowledge she has gained from SDSU’s RWS
program. This unique and applicable program enabled her to excel and take on various
challenges in the professional writing field. Without a doubt, Maggie expresses that
the various courses in the RWS program were a major influence in her success so far.
It will be a pleasure to see how far she goes!
Alumni Profile: Michelle Crooks—How the RWS Department Prepares Future Teachers
Interviewed by Kylie Jorgensen
Michelle Crooks was not sure she had “the gift of teaching” when she first entered the RWS Graduate program at SDSU. However, Michelle had found the perfect program. She has landed a full-time position as an English Instructor at Grossmont College. Beyond teaching within the classroom, Michelle also helps to coordinate graduate students who work in developmental writing classrooms at Grossmont College. However, she is very thankful for the opportunity to teach her own RWS 100 section during her time in the RWS program. Through this experience, she developed a strong teaching philosophy while taking RWS 609, particularly because she was able to learn different teaching theories. In fact, she said those class discussions still influence her decisions as a teacher today.
Michelle’s appreciation for the support and mentorship through the RWS TA program is immense. As Michelle expressed, “Having the unique opportunity to lead my own class and have a lot of freedom over the curriculum allowed me to find myself as a teacher. I was able to jump right in and learn through a hands-on experience.” After the first signs of improvement, positive feedback, and appreciation from students, she knew she had what it took to be a good teacher.
Furthermore, the most applicable skill she gained during the program (even though it was difficult to pick out of many) was the set of strategies she gained about how to best design a prompt and rubric. She was able to work on this specific skill, which she insists is critical to develop as a teacher, through the weekly “ITC” teacher meetings new TAs attend when first teaching. Michelle explained that the feedback and discussions each week were “very practical” and “set [her] up for success in the classroom.”
Dr. Werry’s “dedication to helping aspiring teachers get started in the classroom” was particularly encouraging and memorable for Michelle as a growing MA student in the program. Michelle was also inspired by Dr. McClish’s “calm and fair demeanor in the classroom, along with his expert knowledge in Rhetoric.” The professors of SDSU’s RWS department are essential to student success. Dr. McClish’s delivery within the classroom encouraged Michelle to emulate some of those great characteristics as a teacher herself. Professors like Dr. Werry empower students like Michelle within the program to go above and beyond what they might have ever imagined for themselves.
Michelle’s word of advice for current students: you don’t have to write a traditional thesis. For instance, her thesis project consisted of writing a handbook for college students on how to find a job using social media platforms. She says, “Think outside the box!” Make sure it is practical “so that you are motivated to complete it!”
How many times have you needed to explain your field of study to others? This newsletter’s theme, “Discovering Rhetoric,” addresses the meaning of rhetoric and explores its many functions and applications. Below, we cover news and events within the RWS community, highlight how alumni and current graduate students are working in the field, and exhibit faculty scholarship to illustrate the many ways we use rhetoric.
Most individuals’ understanding of rhetoric’s meaning is relatively limited and warped. Often cast in a negative light because of association with deceptive political campaigns or empty prose, the more common forms of rhetoric are so intertwined with daily life that they are frequently overlooked. In fact, the malleability and ubiquity of rhetoric makes it difficult to recognize.
Rhetoric is used on freeway billboards, to try and grab commuters’ attention on the way to work. Rhetoric is tied into the minister’s sermon at a weekly service. Rhetoric functions through the terminology surrounding a labeled group of individuals within a society such as, the way millennials are portrayed today.
Aristotle calls rhetoric “an ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion.” Similarly, Kenneth Burke points to rhetoric’s applicability by explaining it as “the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents.”
As seen by the impressive growth of San Diego State’s Rhetoric and Writing Studies Major, it’s clear students are beginning to realize rhetoric’s functionality. The number of RWS graduates has increased fivefold in the past two years! Scholars within the department can attest to its utility, either a strong foundation subject that can launch its students into a wide variety of careers, from academia to law to marketing and to writing or a wholesome complement to another academic focus.
Most any professional career can benefit from a rhetorical skill, whether it is in the form of analysis or creation. Students within the RWS Department each have a unique discovery story of the major. Generally, individuals who enjoy critical analysis, intellectual discussions regarding a speaker’s motives and appeals, or participating in a community that gravitates toward the written word are likely to be found in RWS. Programs offered include a minor, major, a Masters, a Certificate in the Teaching of Writing, and a Certificate in Professional Writing.
Discover more about rhetoric by getting in touch with Department Chair, Dr. Glen McClish,
at [email protected].
Information & Events
Current rhetoric students spotlighted several of their favorite rhetoric courses, showcasing the variety of curricula and topics within the department.
Rhetoric in Visual Culture
Visual Rhetoric is one of the most popular and prevalent components of the RWS program. In fact, visual rhetoric is more prominent in popular culture than one might expect. For instance, the seating arrangements in classrooms or offices, the font of various street signs, or the color scheme of restaurants or coffeehouses are all sites in which visual rhetoric influences actions and impressions. This class focuses on the social, cultural, and political contexts in which visual rhetoric plays a crucial role. While it’s easy to associate RWS with the writing portion of its name, the department also offers critical engagement in graphic design and visual composition.
Craft of Writing Rhetorically
What does it take for you speak up when you would usually remain silent? What catalysts ignite the small voice inside of you telling you that you must write? Does your writing show your personality? For the first time this past fall, Dr. Paul Minifee asked students to answer these questions in an effort to help them find their own voices. Poetic and profound assigned readings from authors like bell hooks and Rainer Maria Rilke guided writers on their journey to finding a voice. Tough, thought-provoking exercises ask students to search deep within themselves and discover the purpose behind their writing.
Rhetoric of Visual Composing
While visual rhetoric classes are available at the 400 level, SDSU also offers more intense programs at the 500 level. Taught by Dr. Jenny Sheppard, this course focuses on taking complex content and making it digestible through the construction of visuals. Additionally, it includes written analysis of visual communication, and learning to persuade and inform broader audiences through the construction of visual texts. Students will learn how to make meaning through multiple mediums and gain a solid understanding of user-centered design and usability, even if they don’t plan on becoming specialists in the visual field.
Spring 2017 Landmark Lecture
Each spring, the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies hosts the Landmark Lecture series. For this event, distinguished rhetoricians engage in discussion, dialogue, and debate before students and with students. The Spring 2017 Landmark Lecture will feature Visual Rhetoric and the influence of images and videos in communication, conflict, culture, and social revolutions.
Professor Christa Olson, an Associate Professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Madison will join Professor Ekaterina Haskins, Associate Professor of Rhetoric at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, to lead the discussion. Olson’s primary areas of expertise include the role of the visual in social movements, representations of indigenous peoples, and nationalism in the Americas. Her 2013 book, Constitutive Visions: Indigeneity and Commonplaces of National Identity in Republican Ecuador, both challenges and augments theories about the constitution of national identity and its relationship to citizenship, sovereignty, and legislation. Olson and Haskins’ projects complement one another, as each uses elements of visual rhetorical theory to interpret group identity and nationalism. Haskins is known for her contributions to studies in the history of rhetoric, visual rhetoric, and rhetorics of public memory and national identity. Their discussion will explore how visual representations function as arguments and persuasive artifacts that build rhetorical power.
In addition to RWS majors, minors, and graduate students, we invite students from
Latin American Studies, Chicano and Chicana Studies, Communication, English, MALAS,
and others to hear the scholars’ interdisciplinary work. Both scholars broaden our
conventional understanding of rhetoric by looking past the traditional verbal message
and beyond dominant Western practices. The collaborative discussion promises a rich
and multifaceted dialogue on a topic that has been a major focus of research and theory
over the last two decades in a variety of disciplines.
Professor Inducted into Prestigious Society
This spring, Dr. Ann Johns was initiated as the 2016 Honorary Member of San Diego State’s Phi Beta Kappa Chapter. Phi Beta Kappa is an academic society for those excelling in the liberal arts and sciences. After 30 years of teaching and service at SDSU, the Professor Emerita of Linguistics and Rhetoric and Writing Studies retired in 2005. Some of her involvement in the university includes serving as the first Director of the SDSU Center for Teaching and Learning as well as supporting SDSU student candidates for study-abroad Fulbright Fellowships.
Johns holds a bachelor’s degree in History, a master’s degree in the Teaching of History, a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and a doctoral degree in Linguistics. She has written multiple books and collections on teaching and learning in the 21st century as well as over 60 articles and book chapters. While members are most often elected as baccalaureate juniors or seniors, Johns was elected on the basis of her contributions that reflect the ideals of Phi Beta Kappa.
Q & A with Dr. Ornatowski
Our newsletter’s theme is “Discovering Rhetoric,” partially because many people don’t
actually know the meaning or functions of rhetoric. How did you discover this field,
and what initially drew you to it?
I grew up in a communist country, where the political regime was also a linguistic regimen. While a student of Linguistics in Poland, I discovered Sociolinguistics through the work of Dell Hymes (“Models of the Interaction of Language and Social Life.” In J. Gumperz & D. Hymes, eds.,Directions in Sociolinguistics: The Ethnography of Communication (pp.35-71). New York: Holt, Rhinehart & Winston, 1972). It opened up a new way of thinking about language, different from the formal models of abstract language structure prevalent at the time. I “discovered” Rhetoric in 1983 while at a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for College Teachers at Carnegie Mellon University. The seminar was run by Richard Young and was devoted to rhetorical invention. Both Discourse Analysis (which evolved from Sociolinguistics) and Rhetoric still underpin my work.
This theme also entails the many avenues one may take within our discipline. At first
glance, your scholarship can seem like it belongs in a department like Political Science,
or something of the sort. What made you choose to pursue rhetoric specifically over
others? (Was this the initial academic direction you planned to take?)
I don’t know if at the beginning of their career anyone really knows where they will end up. Beginning my studies in Poland, I did not know I’d end up in the US, let alone in legendary California as a university professor of Rhetoric. I started with “English” at the university, I also had a fifteen-year stint as a corporate communication consultant, writing reports and speeches and giving workshops for executives (an experience from which I learned a lot and which determined the project of my PhD dissertation).
Politics, as Aristotle and Plato already demonstrated, is primarily a matter of symbols and perceptions (Aristotle in his Politics spends an entire chapter on urban design as regulating the political life of inhabitants; Plato’s Republic is a treatise on both politics and rhetoric). Kenneth Burke suggests that humans are fundamentally “symbol-using animals” whose social life is conducted in what Burke refers to as “congregations”: collectivities of various kinds, from nations and countries to groups, religious communities, organizations, institutions, political movements, and so on. For Burke, rhetoric is “rooted in … the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols" (A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: UC Press, 1950, rpt. 1969, 43). Cooperation, Burke notes, implies also its reverse: conflict and war—the “diseases of cooperation.” Both cooperation and its “diseases” imply politics (politicking) and propaganda—hence symbolic means of shaping collective identity and consciousness. In spite of the diversity of subjects on which I have worked--from corporate communication to religion, political transformation, parliamentary debate, and warfare--my interests at their core have focused on how people shape/reshape/destroy social communities through rhetorical action: language, images, performance, and other modes of meaning-making, even terrorism
Whether growing up in a totalitarian society (one not dissimilar in its “idealism” and methods to Plato’s Republic), doing corporate communications, and now serving on the university and statewide senates, my life seems to have always placed me around the intersection of politics and rhetoric.
You have quite an extensive collection of publications. Which are you most proud of
or which are most important to you?
I’ll point to two especially representative of what I said above about my interests: “Parliamentary Discourse and Political Transition: The Case of the Polish Parliament After 1989” and “The Rhetoric of Pope John Paul II’s Visits to Poland, 1979-2002.” Both involve Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis, both use a variety of sources (from parliamentary, Vatican, and communist party archives to oratory and news media), both examine a variety of symbolic means of making meaning, and both tell a story about the shaping and reshaping of “congregations” in the context of historic world-remaking changes.
Have your research interests taken any significant or unexpected shifts over the years?
If so, what were they?
My research went from technical/organizational communication to political transformation (in the context of historic changes in Central-Eastern Europe and South Africa) and then on to homeland security and warfare post 9/11—another congregation-changing event. All of it was unexpected and all driven by changes in the world around us. I have no idea what may happen tomorrow that may draw my interest—I’m sure something will.
What attracts you to the rhetoric of homeland security?
Terry Eagleton once said that “ideas are weapons in a field of struggle.” For Richard Nixon, “attacking ideas is the key to affecting history.” In the Internet age, history is affected largely through struggle over meaning conducted with words, images, or symbolic events (such as 9/11) before a global audience (witness Islamic State videos on UTube). To use current strategic/military language, “information” constitutes the key “battlespace” in contemporary conflicts, a battlespace for the “hearts and minds” of the global community. This “space” is essentially rhetorical, which is how I connect rhetoric to “security” and what attracts me to the subject. It is also very real (nothing is more real than war and suffering)—no empty theorizing here.
I understand you teach in two departments. What have been some of your favorite classes
to teach, and some of your favorite assignments?
I find my HSec 690 “Ideology, Discourse, and Conflict” (which explores the information “battlespace” I mentioned above) and RWS 744 “Visual Rhetoric” most fascinating in terms of what I learn by teaching them. There is a degree of overlap, considering that much of the “information” on the Internet is visual. The assignment I learn most from in both classes is when students analyze a self-selected propaganda or visual artifact they find on the Internet. It is amazing what’s out there and how it works.
If you had to advertise a class you teach every year, how would you pitch it to potential
“Take a tour of the global ‘information’ universe in which contending forces vie to manage your perceptions and shape your consciousness” (HSec 690 Ideology, Discourse, and Conflict); “Understand how to see what you’re looking at” (RWS 744 Visual Rhetoric)
How does your scholarship affect the way you view current events?
I look at “information” in terms of how it influences perceptions (and whose perceptions?) of events and “realities.” I try to understand the major players and methods; they are not always apparent on the surface--hence even intelligent and well-meaning people can be painfully wrong (this includes even CNN) and in effect play into interests they don’t suspect.
Any closing remarks? Any words of wisdom to add for current rhetoric students?
At some point, I realized that my experiences and knowledge of Polish help me interpret certain kinds of texts and tell certain kinds of stories. I try to be the spokesman for these texts and stories. I also read very broadly. Perhaps I’d say: connect your work to your life, cast your net wide, never stop learning, and let events influence your work (what happens IS real, much as we may not like it).
Grad Student Projects
Current graduate students in the RWS program tell us about their research and thesis projects and why they’re excited to pursue these interests
Chelsea Kerford: “My thesis will be an analysis of Beyoncé's "Formation" music video. I'll be expanding on a project I completed in Research Methods last semester, in which I examined the ways that Beyoncé employed Burke's concepts of identification and consubstantiality in her video. I'm excited to work on this project for my thesis because it is so contemporary and relevant, and it indulges my slight obsession with Beyoncé.”
Pierra Pincock: “I presented the current progress of my thesis at the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education’s annual conference. The title of my presentation was, “How Students Experience Academic Writing: Mindfulness in the Composition Classroom.” It’s a study I’m currently conducting in my RWS 100 course this semester. Basically, I’m trying to get at the negative attitude students seem to have about academic writing, particularly in required lower-division writing courses. I’m doing this by implementing contemplative pedagogical methods into my course to see if it does anything to change the way students feel about academic writing.”
Caroline Raedeker-Freitas: “My thesis involves listening to the archived audio interviews and oral histories of queer women activist-rhetors in 1990's San Diego and asking how queer and/or feminist ethos is constructed through the affordances of sound. In addition to my written thesis, I'm producing a sound composition. I'm really interested in exploring how it feels to compose with words and with sound using the same material.”
Andra Steinberg: presented at the Western States Conference on Rhetoric and Literacy at UCSD in October 2016:“Images and Reshaping the Public-Science Border.” “In this presentation, I examine the rhetorical strategy hypotyposis, as it is used in popular science publications. I then discuss images and collaboration in citizen science projects. Finally, I discuss the implications of these topics in the context of the public-science border.”
The connection between rhetorical theory and professional writing can appear hazy at times, especially with only a superficial examination of the subjects.
This video was created as an assignment for RWS 504, Advanced Professional Writing, taught by Dr. Linn Bekins. The grad students’ intent with this video was to spell out the connection between rhetorical theory and professional writing practice. The goal is to explicate the role of rhetoric in the workplace and society.
This video relies on the concept that these students are selling a bundle of tutorial videos to companies or corporations, called “Business Rhetoric Tutorials.” It hypothetically functions as the “pilot video,” or first video in a series, that the students would pitch to an executive of a company. It serves to 1) sell a subsequent package of tutorials, and 2) demonstrate the importance of rhetoric to business communication. Students navigate topics of cultivating ideologies, Aristotelian genres of Oratory, how to write an enthymematic Sorites, which often seem disparate from learning about balance in document graphics, genres of memos, or how to write technical specifications.
Rhetoric can take students in a number of different career directions after graduation. Here are some examples of what SDSU RWS alumni are doing now.
DJ Goodwiler, M.A. 2012, teaches rhetoric curriculum at The Cambridge School in San Diego
Goodwiler’s students practice ancient rhetoric exercises in 4th grade, and learn about Burkeian theory in 9th grade at a school that emphasizes classical learning.
After graduating, DJ Goodwiler was pointed toward The Cambridge School, a recently founded school that was looking to developing a cohesive rhetoric(al) curriculum for middle and high school students.
Over the next five years he worked to develop and implement a writing curriculum around the ancient progymnasmata and contemporary argument theory. Students begin progymnasmata exercises in 4th grade, and when they have finished with declamations and discussion of a law in 8th grade, they then are introduced by DJ to a “reading and writing rhetorically” class in 9th grade, history of rhetoric in 10th, and contemporary rhetoric in 11th. His students read, analyze and imitate rhetoric practices, even using Kenneth Burke’s master tropes, concept of identification, and discussion of science.
DJ continues to immerse himself in the history of rhetoric, including Quintilian and recent work by Jeffrey Walker and J. David Fleming. He plans to present research at the International Society for the History of Rhetoric in London in 2017.
Alexia Murray-Risso, M.A. 2012, translates work on Gorgias for journal “Pre/Text:”
Murray-Risso translates texts from Italian to English, and discusses how the work of translation is inherently rhetorical.
“A forthcoming issue of Pre/Text is dedicated to translations from the oeuvre of Mario Untersteiner, an Italian philologist working in the mid-20th century, who is perhaps best known to English-speaking audiences for his monograph The Sophists.
I was one of the three translators working on this Pre/Text project, and my focus was on a monograph entitled La Fisiologia del Mito, which can be translated as The Workings of Myth. Very broadly, this text traces the organizing principles of ancient Greek thought as they evolved from mythos to logos. The three brief excerpts I worked on examine the development of arête; human responsibility in myth; and the challenges posed by knowledge as exemplified in the Gorgian myths.
I had just completed my thesis on protest rhetorics in three cultures when the Call
for Papers inviting Italian-English translators to apply for the Pre/Text project
came out. Working on this project, and the 2016 RSA panel discussion that emerged
from it, allowed me to continue exploring the rich intersections of rhetoric and translation.”
Alumni: Where Are They Now?
We reached out to some RWS alumni on LinkedIn who graduated from the RWS program and now have professional careers. We asked about what motivated them to study rhetoric, how they use rhetoric in their professional careers, and any advice they would give to undergraduates. Here are their answers.
John Grossman, Technical Writer at Western Digital
Why did you choose Rhetoric and Writing Studies MA or Professional Certificate?
I graduated college with a degree in Liberal Studies and had zero job prospects afterwards. I knew I was very capable when it came to research and writing, so I signed up for SDSU’s Professional Writing Certificate Program.
How do you incorporate Rhetoric into your job now?
To be successful in my career, I must always look for opportunities to improve audience engagement with the adoption of the software/hardware training and support materials I create.
What advice might you give to an undecided major and/or a RWS major?
Writing is a very special craft that can be applied in a broad and diverse array of industries and disciplines. Mastery of rhetoric and writing will be of great value in any professional setting and can give rise to a number of different and exciting opportunities along your career path.
Allison Krug, Principal, Artemis Biomedical Communications LLC
Why did you choose Rhetoric and Writing Studies MA or Professional Certificate?
My husband is in the Navy and we moved around quite often. It had become increasingly difficult to transport my career. My background is in epidemiology, thus, adding the Certificate in Professional Writing helped to establish my credentials as a professional communicator.
How do you incorporate Rhetoric into your job now?
A: Currently, rhetoric is critically important in securing publication for a research manuscript. Understanding the audience, purpose, and context helps the researcher identify how the scientific investigation fits into the current landscape of publications.
What advice might you give to an undecided major and/or a RWS major?
I would offer that all writers struggle with the writing process, however, I have found that a good writer unwittingly employs rhetoric in every facet of his or her work.
Carlos Medina, Grants Officer at Father Joe’s Villages
Why did you choose Rhetoric and Writing Studies MA or Professional Certificate?
I was pursuing a BA in Anthropology at SDSU and I picked up a minor in Rhetoric and Writing Studies because it offered me vocational style training. The Rhetoric and Writing Studies faculty was committed to engaging students in theory, practice and ethics, as well as the greater community. They demonstrated career paths as professional writers, which in turn influenced me to choose to pursue an MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies
How do you incorporate Rhetoric into your job now?
In a Rhetoric and Writing Studies MA course we read, “The Meaning and Function of Phantasia in Aristotle’s Rhetoric III.1“ (2006), and we discussed the persuasive benefits of descriptive writing that “paints a picture.” I applied this concept to grant writing at one job and updated sentences in proposals, from “we deliver three meals daily,” to “we deliver a hot, home-cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.” It’s relatively simple, but the change made a significant impact on how people view Father Joe’s mission.
What advice might you give to an undecided major and/or a RWS major?
Effective communicators are in high demand. Whether you think your brain is wired for the sciences or for the humanities, know that any career path will benefit from strong communication skills. Companies and nonprofits need communicators to analyze research and interpret trends, modify messages to reach particular audiences, and develop marketing collateral and technical communication.
Yasamin Salari, Teacher at Horace Mann Elementary School
Why did you choose Rhetoric and Writing Studies MA or Professional Certificate?
To be perfectly honest, I was not entirely sure what I was doing. However, I knew that good writers are always in high demand.
How do you incorporate Rhetoric into your job now?
While an MA in Rhetoric and Composition is not necessary in Elementary education, because of my MA, I have been put into multiple leadership roles and have been called upon by the district for projects and opportunities that would never have come my way without my education. I use the skills and concepts presented to me by the program everyday in my work.
What advice might you give to an undecided major and/or a RWS major?
For those of you out there choosing majors and career paths I offer you this advice: Think seriously, starting now, about what steps you are taking to set yourself up in fields that will help you create the life you want.
Don Wuetherick, Senior Technical Communicator at Baxter Healthcare Corporation
Why did you choose Rhetoric and Writing Studies MA or Professional Certificate?
I went to school using my GI bill from the Navy and earned an English degree. Afterwards I found out that I qualified for a vocational rehabilitation program through the military with the stipulation that once I graduated, I needed to find employment. I knew that technical writers were in high demand and I am also naturally inquisitive, so technical writing gave me almost guaranteed job security as well as the opportunity to explore my curiosity.
How do you incorporate Rhetoric into your job now?
I wear several hats in my role as a technical writer in the healthcare industry. In addition to writing and designing complex documentation, I also serve as a project manager, instructor, and most rewardingly, a mentor to junior writers.
I understand you’ve had a wide variety of jobs, how have you used rhetoric in each
I started out in San Diego at Delta Design, writing in the electro-mechanical arena. When I moved to Chicago, I resumed work in electro-mechanical devices. I kept working my way up and eventually managed a small group of writers and a service technician. Additionally, I gained experience in project management. After leaving that job, it wasn’t long before I got a call from Baxter Healthcare. Recently, I have also taken up consulting and editing for Seydel Harmonica. This started out when I simply suggested a few changes that would help their website look better, and eventually grew into my helping them edit several publications, books, and websites.
What advice might you give to an undecided major and/or a RWS major?
Writing is your chance to learn to create documentation that captivates and empowers your audience because when you know your audience, you can effect change by bringing them fresh insight, talent, and innovation.
This newsletter was produced by RWS students as part of RWS 505, Writing Project Management, taught by Dr. Linn Bekins. The group was comprised of Christian Redelsperger, Lindsey Pierce, Hannah Smart and Olivia Litsey. We want to thank all of the RWS alumni, current students and faculty who responded to our queries and those whom user tested early drafts.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the very first newsletter of the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies here at San Diego State University. The Rhetoric and Writing Studies Department aims to produce sophisticated writers and interpreters of texts whose analytical, communicative, and persuasive abilities will meet the demands of almost every twenty-first century profession.
Since the beginning of the department in 1993, the department has evolved dramatically. During these years of growth and development the department has changed from offering only a Certificate in Technical and Scientific Writing to having an undergraduate minor and major, a Master’s program, and a Certificate in the Teaching of Writing. The undergraduate major, which began just two years ago, already has about 25 majors and is growing rapidly. We are also in a new building, Storm Hall West (see picture under Happenings), located adjacent to the newly remodeled Storm and Nasatir Halls on the west side of campus.
Within this newsletter we have included a new course highlight (Visual Information and Design) to be offered by Dr. Jenny Sheppard in the fall. We have also included two faculty profiles. Furthermore, we are profiling alumna Mara Holiday on her successes and achievements.
As we move forward onto a new academic year, I look forward to sharing with you stories of the success and accomplishments of our students, graduates, and faculty.
The RWS department has a new course titled Visual and Information Design. This course takes a hands-on approach to learning how to apply rhetorical theories to real life technical communication practices. With assignments like building an online portfolium and infographic data visualization presentations, students will be able to apply what they have learned about communicating to the reader through such tools as page design, graphics, color, images, and other forms of visual communication.
For example, the infographic data visualization project includes using an interactive website called Piktochart. This website includes numerous features in order to turn a document of only written text into a visual form of communication. Using visual tools encourages students to define what information is most important in their document, and helps students reinforce what they want their readers to get out of reading the document by using visual communication tools. Through this website students will learn to communicate their information through mainly visual design, and learn different ways to get the attention of their audience and inform them with visual tools along with written text rather than written text alone.
According to Dr. Sheppard, the focus of this course is to evaluate texts that integrate effective visual and written strategies to create user-friendly, informative, and persuasive texts for professional audiences. Students will also develop familiarity with design capabilities in common workplace software and online tools for print, presentation, and online text development, including the use of charts, graphs, and infographics.
Did you know?
The library just released their list of top ten most accessed online theses for 2015. Congratulations to Michelle Barbeau Crooks for making the list at the number four spot. Michelle received her MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. Her thesis was titled, From "Friend Me" to "Hire Me": A Guide to Social Networking for Job Seekers. Chris Werry served as her chair and Glen McClish as her second. Read the full story
Teaching Excellence Award: Paul Minifee
The Teaching Excellence Award is highly sought after and it is an honor for the Rhetoric and Writing Studies Department to have Dr. Paul Minifee recognized by the College of Arts and Letters for this great achievement. Teaching excellence is judged by four categories: high quality teaching, effective pedagogical techniques, enrollment, and engagement and motivation of diverse student populations in learning and critical thinking. Professor Minifee’s dedication to promote communities and advance individual development allows him to transcend all four of these categories.
Professor Minifee is passionate about helping his students succeed in and outside the classroom. The individual development of his students is a main priority and inspires Professor Minifee to perform and teach at such a high caliber. Having firsthand experience with being dismissed, discouraged, and seen as inadequate by his elementary school teachers, Professor Minifee sets out to discover what makes each of his students uniquely powerful and challenges them to rise to their full potential. Professor Minifee’s fifth grade teacher, Theresa Rice, modeled this approach and was the first to challenge and nurture his academic and personal growth through writing. Professor Minifee tells his students, “I want to challenge you, inspire you, and help you find your voice—using the power of language.”
Similarly, Professor Minifee is inspired by abolitionist figures, Frederick Douglas and Jarena Lee, in their commitment to advance and promote their communities during the 1800s. Thinking about what these figures achieved with such limited resources and support is riveting to Professor Minifee and motivates him to serve the needs of the community. By teaching and serving the community, Professor Minifee directly applies rhetorical frames and analytical tools to his life. Many would say Professor Minifee truly practices what he preaches.
Professor Minifee’s practice is not confined to the classroom and academia, but is seen in every part of his life. As the Faculty in Residence at Zura Hall, Professor Minifee engages with and devotes himself to a community of 650 freshmen. In addition to mentoring hundreds of freshmen, Professor Minifee also advises two campus ministries as well as Students African American Brotherhood (SAAB). The exposure to student life enables Professor Minifee to identify and engage with his students—an important factor for rallying action. Professor Minifee genuinely desires to help his students overcome obstacles of any nature: “I want to address issues students are faced with, and equip them with tools so that they might engage with and effectively change the communities around them.” He finds that this opportunity to live on campus with students allows him to mentor them, play sports with them, and is unique to San Diego State University, making it the ideal place to serve.
Phi Beta Kappa Lecture: Cezar Ornatowski
Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's most presti gious academic honor society, has recognized Professor Cezar Ornatowski for his success in scholarship and teaching. The society elects members annually who have succeeded and excelled in the liberal arts and sciences. Because of this recognition, Professor Ornatowski is asked to present a public lecture for Phi Beta Kappa. His name will also be inscribed on a plaque that hangs in the SDSU library. His lecture is entitled "Visuality and Politics: How Regimes Shape What and How We See--The Case of Communist Poland." Through this lecture, Ornatowski explains how visual images can strongly affect politics such as how we view, form an understanding, and perceive them. This lecture analyzes the relationship between visual images and politics, specifically during the communist Poland between 1956 and 1989.
Read the read the full synopsis of his lecture below:
The lecture, entitled “Visuality and Politics: How Regimes Shape What and How We See--The Case of Communist Poland,” explored the relationship between visual images and politics through a unique lens: an archive of press images censored in communist Poland between 1956 and 1989.
All regimes, especially political ones, imply also rhetorical regimens: specific ways of speaking, thinking, and being in the world that foreclose or limit other ways. They also imply specific modes of visual representation, including preferences regarding what may be shown and how things are to be shown. While all images emerge as a result of both “technical” treatment (camera positioning, framing, and so on) and selection (from among other possible images), in the context of a democratic political culture we rarely, if ever, have a chance to encounter an archive of censored images: in effect to see what we were not supposed to see, both in terms of subject matter and manner of display. As Peter Wollen has suggested, “[i]t is through modes of display that regimes of all sorts reveal the truths they mean to conceal.” Hence, “each historic period has its own rhetorical mode of display, because each has different truths to conceal.” Part of the research included finding published images of the same subjects, situations, or events to directly compare preferred vs. proscribed modes of display, in effect following the censor’s gaze to discover modes of visual representation characteristic of the state- socialist regime in Poland between 1949 and 1989.
Following the censor’s gaze reveals that visual representation is always caught (although we normally remain unaware of that) in the dialectic of concealment and revelation. This dialectic is “historical” in that the lines of demarcation between the shown and the un-shown bear the mark of the historical moment. They also bear the marks of the “symbolic” that shapes our understanding of the world and mediates our action within it. One may say, paraphrasing the anthropologist Douglas Lewis, that the shown is a synecdoche of the un-shown of a given culture (including political culture). This un-shown remains normally unseen but is present in the forms of the shown. Censored images allow us to glimpse that haunting presence.
Dr. Glen McClish is the current chair of the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies. We recently interviewed Glenn to discuss his work, tenure, the RWS department, and future developments.
The diverse student body of SDSU initially attracted McClish to the university whether they were day or night, undergrads or graduates, commuter or dorm, speaking foreign languages, returning for a second career or first generation. Growing up in the Bay Area, Glen was not unfamiliar with the California culture, but the complexity of SDSU regarding codes, procedures, and bureaucracy surprised him coming from the smaller Austin, Texas school, Southwestern University. McClish has been the department chair since his arrival.
At the moment, McClish is working on an article about the Roman rhetorician Quintilian and his view on how delivery in public speaking is still useful today. It’s part of a collection of essays that’s being published in the journal Advances in the History of Rhetoric directed towards teachers of public speaking. He is also working on a piece about Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells who, in the late 19th century, delivered important speeches about lynching which was a huge problem at the time. McClish has received multiple teaching and scholarship awards and encourages students to be continuous learners.
As for the RWS department, McClish sees the growth. The low student to teacher ratio enables students to interact directly, allowing the development of strong professional and personable relationships between students and teachers. The new major attracts different students with desires for various professional workplace environments, yet all involve developing strong rhetoric and writing skills. Studying rhetoric gives the students training in practical skills: how to argue well, how to format texts, how to work with discourse, how to work in a job. These skills translate well in a workplace, civic setting, and social life.
There are a few final words from McClish. For students, current or looking into RWS, he reiterates that the program is going to challenge you intellectually and help refine your writing skills, which will build practical skills to use in everyday life. For recent graduates, McClish understands that the initial transition will be difficult, but reminds students that their first job probably will not be their last. There will be growth and soon you will find what you are looking for. He also says to never say, “I’m done with school.” There is a good chance you’ll go back and continue your education.
Mara Holiday has kept herself busy since earning her M.A. from RWS, working at numerous nonprofits all across San Diego. We recently interviewed Mara to catch up on her achievements and discuss how our Master’s program has enriched her professional development.
When Mara began the RWS Masters program she was working as a grant writer for a nonprofit organization in San Diego and wanted to develop her writing, as grant writing is primarily an argument. Mara was drawn to the RWS program so she could refine the art of argumentation and enhance her skill for crafting and shaping arguments.
The focus of her thesis work was to understand what kinds of arguments would be most compelling to various types of organizations and funders when considering a specific funding opportunity. When writing her thesis, Mara interviewed a number of Executive Directors and organizational leaders at a variety of family foundations, community foundations, and government funding programs throughout the country. This research was the first of its kind to use both qualitative and quantitative data to make conclusions about what made “a winning grant,” and helped Mara learn what funders in San Diego really looked for when evaluating a grant proposal. Mara believes she has gained a wide expanse of knowledge about the study of rhetoric as a discipline, the practical application of language mechanics (e.g., editing manuscripts, writing project proposals, creating style guides), both of which have been invaluable to her career. She firmly believes that what she learned in this program will continue to serve her throughout her career.
Mara now works with the San Diego Women’s Foundation as a Program Specialist. In this role, Mara manages the program while coordinating with a committee to work on the annual grant-making processes, and any ongoing foundation operations. Mara enjoys working at the San Diego Women’s Foundation and is proud to be able to use her knowledge of rhetoric to serve as a resource to her colleagues and associates.