PWR Spotlight Archives
Spotlight on: Professor Carolyn Sofia
By: Lopa Shah
- When did your career of teaching begin and what prompted you to venture down this path?
Professor Sofia’s journey began through Journalism, wherein she used the writing and interviewing skills to become a securities analyst at a Wall St. publishing house. 15 years later, Professor Sofia decides that she’d like to come back into the fields of academia since she missed the university setting. She came back to complete her doctorate and moved into becoming a TA for the English Department and now, she is a full-time lecturer in the Writing and Rhetoric Department. She has regularly taught composition in the WRT program, but has also taught writing and rhetoric in the Business honors college, as well as the graduate Engineering department. Professor Sofia muses how her initial job of publishing on Wall St. used similar critical thinking skills that she now uses in teaching writing.
- How would you describe your relationship with your students in the writing courses you teach?
Professor Sofia loves the age group of college students since they are past childhood but not deep into adulthood. She tries to get close to students in this age group as she finds that dynamic of students who are still learning, exploring and very actively forming who they are going to be as people very interesting. She spoke of how she comes with students (one-on-one) to the library to teach them how to take out books; in this digital age, she says, she finds it important to understand the value of books and how to use technology productively by understanding things like Google search algorithms. Professor Sofia further explains how many students, including herself, were initially fearful of going to libraries and how after becoming a “tour-guide” for graduate students, she and her students are much more relaxed about coming to the library and using both books and Google as their sources. Students obviously appreciate her help. The SBU Athletics program just named Dr. Sofia an MVP - most valuable professor -- and are showcasing her teaching contribution during a basketball game against Molloy College.
- What is your teaching philosophy and how do you motivate your students to write in the classroom and outside of the classroom?
Professor Sofia believes that each student has their own life goal and each person needs to be helped to fulfill themselves. Professor Sofia motivates her students to write in the classroom by allowing them to develop ideas they’re curious about. For example, if the students are working on a research project, the project is their idea and often times, she explains how she becomes the student. This power shift puts students at the center which is a big factor of motivation for students.
- How does a real classroom compare to the online courses you teach and how do you encourage students online versus in real time?
Professor Sofia describes how she believes that she is able to get to know individuals better through their writing rather than in person. The style of writing, the students’ engagement are shown in their work.
- How would you describe your experience working with international students?
Professor Sofia loves the diversity on campus. She reflects back onto her time on Wall St. where she travelled internationally and was in awe of the diversity; now, the students come to her. Many international students have an air of maturity surrounding them as they are learning how to live their lives by themselves; this among other factors is very impressive. Overall, the international students demonstrate the immense diversity on campus and enrich the campus life.
- What are your current research interests?
Professor Sofia is currently interested in the topic of how trauma affects texts and their interpretation. Her doctoral dissertation explored how the need to hide in plain sight from the Gestapo as children during the Holocaust affected the work, respectively, of French and Polish American novelists, George Perec and Jerzy Kosinski, as well as French philosopher Sarah Kofman. She has delivered multiple lectures on her research at yearly conventions of the Modern Language Association and the Association for Jewish Studies.Professor Sofia is interested to see how developing a “double self” that presents a Christian mask in the public domain while hiding an original Jewish self helped each child survive and how the silent, hidden self was, nevertheless, voiced in each text written while an adult. She is interested in how authors work on this double personality.
Spotlight Interview with Lopa Shah, PWR Intern
Lopa Shah is our PWR website intern for Fall 2018. She is responsible for interviewing faculty and students for the PWR Spotlight on the website and writing up the news pieces.
Lopa is a senior at SBU studying Biology, with a concentration in Developmental Genetics, and Writing and Rhetoric. Her passions include medicine and education, especially global health care. As a freshmen in college, she founded a “for-purpose” 501c3 exempt organization called Global Education Project which strives to reduce the education gap seen in children internationally. She has led her team to conduct programs in collaboration with Stony Brook Hospital and NYU Winthrop Hospital to promote education in the healthcare system. She also spend time researching at NYU Medical Langone Center in the Cronstein Laboratory, where she recently published an article in the FASEB Journal with her lab team regarding multiple sclerosis and the adenosine receptors. She is also an avid dancer where she is a part of a selective Indian Classical Dance Academy, SIA, and also a member of the SBU Taandava, Stony Brook’s only classical dance team.
Spotlight Interview with Dr. Peter Khost, Assistant Professor, Associate Director of PWR
By: Lopa Shah
1. When did your career of teaching begin and what prompted you to venture down this path?
Dr. Peter Khost began his journey in writing about 20 years ago when he was completing his masters degree in English and Creative Writing, and then became a Teaching Assistant, where he came to realize his passions are language, writing, and helping individuals. He describes how his job as a Professor allows him to think, challenge himself, and grow academically - some of the most important characteristics he wanted in his career. As a tenure-track professor at Stony Brook University, Dr. Khost found that becoming a mentor for his students in addition to the environment fostered in his classrooms allows for the life of mind to thrive.
2. How would you describe your relationship with your students in the writing courses you teach?
Dr. Khost currently teaches a variety of courses at Stony Brook University's Program in Writing and Rhetoric, including WRT 102 and Living Through Texts at the undergraduate level and Rhetor Response Theory at the graduate level; he also co-teaches a course for students in the Honors College called Modes of Knowledge. Dr. Khost describes how grateful he is for the opportunity to help and encourage his students and to create a challenging environment for them; he loves to get to know his students in order to be approachable and believes in teaching the student, not the subject.
3. What is your teaching philosophy and your favorite part of teaching?
In class, Dr. Khost enjoys exchanging ideas and having conversations with his students. He explains that it takes time to do anything well, and in the fourteen weeks he has per semester to teach, he tries his best to get to know his students and let them know that he is there as a helper for them. Dr. Khost expands his teaching philosophy to include collaboration, noting that each person is living a unique life narrative, so effective communication is an act of intertextuality.
4. Outside of being a professor and teaching in classrooms, how has writing played a role in your life? What are your current research interests?
As a professor on the tenured track at Stony Brook, research is a part of his career. Currently, Dr. Khost and Dr. Robert Kaplan are exploring how to improve writing transfer through their work in the Writing Research Lab that they cofounded last year. Khost explains the term “writing transfer” as reapplying or repurposing skills and knowledge in writing from one context to another, in university and beyond. Dr. Khost is also personally interested in exploring visual textuality, particularly how visual representation of war-affected children can often be reductive and non-engaging of their voices. He is coauthoring a book and creating an app to improve on this problem. Khost has already created another mobile app, called the Writing and Transfer Tool (WATT), which encourages users to be more mindful of opportunities for writing transfer and to improve their perceived self-efficacy in eight habits of mind (such as creativity, flexibility, persistence, curiosity, etc.) that are instrumental to good writing. Furthermore, Dr. Khost has been exploring some potentially controversial aspects of the relationship between literary studies and writing in his book which he published earlier this year, Rhetor Response.
5. Congratulations on publishing your book, Rhetor Response. What was your inspiration to write this book and can you tell us more about the book?
This book presents rhetorical uses of literature as alternatives or supplements to interpretation of the meaning of literary texts. Dr. Khost explains how he has personally often unconventionally approached literary texts in this way and how he believes that such “affordances” can in fact be very valuable. Theorizing these personal encounters with texts has expanded the scope and importance of rhetoric for Khost and has led him to seek to help his students derive more pleasure and power from fictional texts than they may ordinarily do in educational contexts. Dr. Khost looks into ecological psychology in his book and explores how significant encounters with texts do different things to different individuals, and therefore how rhetorical context is a rich area for the study of literary textuality. He gives a basic example of how a chair’s intended purpose is for individuals to sit on it, but how a chair can be used for many different purposes depending on the situation, like standing on to reach something high. Dr. Khost summarizes that his book explains how similar repurposings or affordances sometimes occur in our significant encounters with literary texts.
Professor Robert Kaplan, the Undergraduate Program Director for the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, has long been interested in research writing. While working on his doctorate in early American literature at CUNY Graduate Center, he did a fellowship in writing working with public health faculty to use writing as a tool for learning and teaching public health. He also worked as the Director of Writing and Communication at the public health research center, where he worked with staff members to increase their communication and writing skills, and with faculty on grant proposals and scholarly articles. According to Professor Kaplan, this experience showed him “how key writing is as a way to communicate knowledge,” which is something he would continue exploring at Stony Brook University.
Here at Stony Brook University, Professor Kaplan was asked to create WRT 305: Writing for the Health Professions and also to bring back WRT 381: Advanced Analytical and Argumentative Writing, which had not been taught in several years. Professor Kaplan says that he noticed that graduate schools tended to expect that incoming students would have experience with research methods and writing, while undergraduate programs would assume that students would be taught those skills in graduate school, creating a gap in knowledge. Since so many Stony Brook University students hope to continue to graduate school, Professor Kaplan felt that there was a real need for classes like WRT 305 and 381 to fill that gap. After teaching WRT 381 for the first time, Professor Kaplan asked students what they wished the class had been able to cover that they did not have time to, and WRT 380: Advanced Research Writing grew out of that feedback.
The intersection between STEM learning and writing skills has also been a focus of Professor Kaplan’s research. He says that teaching these classes has gotten him interested in “writing transfer,” in which students take what they learn in writing classes and apply it to other coursework in their majors and to their careers. It is useful, he says, to think of disciplines not only as sets of content but also particular ways of looking at the content itself and how to interact with the information. Out of this idea, Professor Kaplan has developed two research projects, alongside fellow Program in Writing and Rhetoric professor Peter Khost. The first of these involves working with biology and psychology majors, both those who are and those who are not writing and rhetoric minors, and seeing if there are any differences in “how they understand the material and communicate the material in their major.” Professors Kaplan and Khost are also in the process of forming a writing research lab. Professor Kaplan says that they hope this lab will be a “hub” to look at writing within Stony Brook University, to study how it is used in various disciplines and departments, and to see how faculty can incorporate writing into non-writing-intensive courses. (Spotlight written by Katherine Hoyt)
Professor Roger Thompson, who recently gave a talk for the Program in Writing and Rhetoric Reading Series, has taught at Stony Brook University since the fall of 2013. During the talk, he discussed his recent book Emerson and the History of Rhetoric, which was released in November of 2017.
His book on Ralph Waldo Emerson reflects a long-term interest in researching "the bridge between rhetoric and literature," and explores the Emerson's relationship to the history of rhetoric. This research focus is also reflected in his dual PhD in nineteenth century American literature and rhetoric.
In addition to Emerson and the History of Rhetoric, Professor Thompson will have another book released in May of 2018, called No Word for Wilderness: Italy's Grizzlies and the Race to Save the Rarest Bears on Earth. This non-fiction book details a unique band of brown bears, often inaccurately referred to as "Italian grizzlies," who have lived peacefully outside of Rome for a thousand years. Today, less than fifty of these bears remain after recent struggles with urban expansion, farming, and even the mafia.
In the Program of Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook, Professor Thompson teaches WRT 102 and course titled Rhetoric and War. In this course, students examine works on the Iraq war, usually memoirs by Americans and Iraqis, as well as nonfiction works. Here at Stony Brook University, he also serves as Director of the Writing Program, after being the graduate coordinator for the Writing Program. (Spotlight written by Katherine Hoyt)
Professor Jennifer Albanese and Ph.D Student Sara Santos
This month’s PWR Spotlight focuses are Jennifer Albanese, a full-time lecturer with
the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, and Sara Santos, a third-year Ph.D. student in
the English department. In addition to her role as the writing center director, Professor
Albanese presides as the lead instructor for a course at the Alan Alda Center for
Communicating Science called “Blogging Science.” According to Professor Albanese,
the class “is designed to help a small group of professional scientists (post-docs
and beyond) to create blog posts for the Observations guest blog at Scientific American
or any other science venues that focus on communicating with ‘science curious’ readers.”
This class has been possible through a partnership between the Alan Alda Center,
Scientific American magazine, and the Kavli Foundation, which is an organization that
supports science and scientific communication. In addition to teaching the course
with the Alan Alda Center, Professor Albanese has also been involved in other scientific
communication efforts across campus, including working with the graduate chemistry
department and the Institute for Advanced Computational Studies (IACS) and doing other
work for the Alda Center.
Sara Santos began her work at Stony Brook in 2015 when, after completing her undergraduate and master’s work in English and American literature at the University of Lisbon, she was invited to participate in a project developed by the Program in Writing and Rhetoric on the topic of International Rhetorics. Through this project, she worked as a teacher’s assistant and has taught WRT 102. During her time at Stony Brook, she has most recently helped to plan the 30th annual Gradcon Conference for graduate students of English and affiliated disciplines, taking place on February 23.
In her Ph.D. studies, Sara focuses on “posthumanism, biopolitics, and ecocriticism in late 20th century and contemporary literature,” as well as “examines the boundaries between human and nonhuman bodies and the way in which contemporary narratives work to redefine the concept of the human through the intertwining of capital, technology, and environment.”
Sara works with Professor Albanese at the Writing Center, located in Humanities 2009, which provides writing tutoring services for Stony Brook students by appointment throughout the year. Professor Albanese has been with the center for three years, while Sara, the assistant director, was offered her position while doing her master’s degree in English with a certificate in Writing. She had become interested in writing pedagogy because it is a subject not often covered in her home country of Portugal.
The tutors who work in the center, mostly but not all writing minors, also have interesting and diverse backgrounds, inclusive of a variety of disciplines which are useful in working with a diverse group of students. Current tutors have majors in applied mathematics, philosophy, biology, music, chemistry, engineering, business, journalism, psychology, and linguistics. Students who use the Writing Center come from all majors and perform at all writing levels, and can range from freshmen to graduate students. Professor Albanese describes the ideal tutor as an undergraduate or graduate student who has “demonstrated strong writing skills and who recognize the value of strong writing for their professional development.”
Tutors undertake a semester-long training course, get practice and guidance in writing pedagogy and peer tutoring strategies, and join an engaged, informal community. Not only do tutors work within the writing center, but they also collaborate with the Melville Library and the Goldstein Athletic Center to work with students there and participate in outreach with various disciplines, particularly the School of Nursing and College of Business.
According to Professor Albanese and Sara Santos, Writing Center tutors also engage in ongoing research about writing instruction. Two tutors delivered a panel at the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) at Hofstra University this past fall, and several tutors have also presented at the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URECA) at Stony Brook University. (Spotlight written by Katherine Hoyt)
On Tuesday, October 24th, the Program in Writing and Rhetoric; Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies; the University Libraries; and English department co-sponsored a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon hosted by Lane Rasberry, a Wikipedia editor, and Marika Cifor, from the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies department at Bowdoin College. This event was funded by a TALENT grant, provided by the Stony Brook University Faculty Center, with SB's Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies department since data shows that there is a real gender bias in Wikipedia and diverse editors are needed to correct this. Rasberry emphasized the wide global reach of Wikipedia and the enormous impact that it has on free information. Stony Brook University Libraries was also a co-sponsor of the event.
The program was well-attended, with WRT 102 and WRT 302: Writing for the New Media professors bringing their classes, as well as graduate students and faculty members attending independently. At this event, students and faculty identified topics that they were interested in, identified credible sources in that topic, and used those to strengthen existing Wikipedia articles. Professor Kristina Lucenko from the Program in Writing and Rhetoric said that students themselves decided how much work to do on each article, with most adding a sentence or two to add a citation or clarify a statement instead of creating new articles. Three important goals of the program. Professor Lucenko said, were to familiarize students with different types of credible sources, to show students how to write for a specific audience, and to actively engage students and faculty in the important project of diversifying Wikipedia and, by extension, examining how knowledge is constructed as a result of bias. Wikipedia article readers are largely non-experts in the topic, so it is crucial that these articles be written in a way that they can understand. According to Professor Lucenko, students can often get so used to writing in an academic style that they do not consider how to express information for a wider, outside audience. And according to a 2011 Wikimedia Foundation Wikipedia editor survey, only about 8.5-16 percent of Wikipedia editors are women, which has resulted in skewed content and a lack of coverage of notable women, among other issues. A diverse group of editors--women, people of color, ethnic/minority and marginalized peoples, and LBGTQ--is essential to shaping this source of global knowledge.
The Edit-a-Thon was one event in the week-long Open Access Week, which raises awareness for open access and open education and for how the university can promote these. Other events included a symposium with various speakers and presenters in the field of open communication. (Spotlight by Katherine Hoyt)
Michelle Whittaker (2017)
The Program in Writing and Rhetoric's Spotlight features Michelle Whittaker, Assistant Professor in the PWR, who gave a poetry reading last month featuring selections from her new book, SURGE.
On September 27th 2017, Michelle Whittaker gave a reading of poetry from her new book, Surge, as part of the PWR Reading Series. Ms. Whittaker gave an animated reading, making use of the entire space. In the Q&A portion of the reading she said that she often finds herself reading and interpreting poems differently each time, considering inflections and rhythms of lines depending on audience, the cadences, tone, and mood of the poem - similar to how one might sit at the piano and interpret a composition. She also described her writing process, saying that she keeps all of her drafts and versions of her poems, and that she is continually revising and rewriting her poems, often thinking of changes during readings.
Surge by Michelle Whittaker was released by Great Weather for Media in July, 2017 and can be found on IndieBound, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Her work has additionally been published in The New Yorker, The Southampton Review, and The New York Times Magazine.
Project BEaUtifull (2017)
PWR's Spotlight is on three remarkable individuals - Shreeya Tuladhar, Cole Lee and Cynthia Davidson. Their journey of starting Project BEaUtifull is very inspiring, and all three teamed up to promote self-acceptance and change the perception of body image. Learn more about them below!
Also, check out Project BEaUtifull's Facebook page!
Interview, write-up and photography by Saher Jafri '17
Jakub Micko (2016)
PWR's Spotlight was on Jakub Micko, a graduating senior who is double majoring in biology and clinical lab sciences, with a minor in writing. Jakub's journey of realizing the importance of writing in his personal and academic life is inspiring, which was influenced by professors such as Dr. Robert Kaplan.
Q: What led you to becoming a writing minor?
A: It’s a funny story. I was originally a pre-med, and for my WRT 102 class I had a really good professor. I hated English in high school, I liked reading, but writing essays was hard. When I took WRT 102, it was interesting because it was a lot different in that the class was receptive to ideas, the professor was really good at facilitating conversation, and it was my favorite class of the semester. I would raise my hand and get goosebumps, but there were so many ideas that were really fascinating to me. When I took Intro to Fiction, we were reading the coolest short works and having really interesting conversations. The next semester, my professor emailed me telling me about WRT 305, a special topics class that is hosted rarely. It was a really cool class, and I started to realize that a lot of my labs required writing. It dawned on me that a lot of science is communication and conveying your results accurately, and we don’t really train people for that.
Q: What is it like to write in your major?
A: A couple of classes I’ve taken have been very technical, and when it comes to handing in work, it’s all written and so technical that it’s so easy to get lost in all of that. Having writing and organization skills is very important. Also, taking writing classes doesn’t mean you’re only getting good at writing. I feel a lot more confident speaking to classes, and I’m better at articulating and organizing ideas in my mind. With writing, it’s practicing organization, and the classes force you to understand the tone and audience behind your paper. Putting focus equally on science and writing is what makes great papers.
Q: What topics or concepts do you like writing about, or specific interests in literature?
A: I do like a couple of topics in scientific writing. I keep a journal, but it’s just to get my thoughts out. I like reading fiction, I’m currently reading a fantasy sci-fi series that’s really good. I’ve always loved reading as a kid and I think that’s what got me into writing. I’ve read somewhere that to be a good writer, you have to start with reading, so I think reading actually did get me into writing. Knowing the right words to specifically express yourself is empowering.
Q: What kind of work have you done with Dr. Kaplan?
A: I started out with two of his classes, one of which was Writing for the Health Professions. In that class, I picked a topic to research, and I was pretty interested in how diet influences health. Dr. Kaplan forces you to pick a very specific topic, so my paper ended up being on diet’s effect on breast cancer in Japanese populations. The other class was WRT 380, and I was really interested in antibiotics and agriculture, and if adding antibiotics to animals’ diets influences antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It’s cool to be able to pick out a topic or question that might be personal to you, and be able to research and become a mini-expert on it. For our independent study, I was talking about interactions between microbiology and HIV. Lastly, the school was thinking about how they can better structure the Writing department to cater to students, and I was helping Dr. Kaplan compile lists of how different writing programs of other universities are structured.
Q: Since you’re graduating, what plans do you have for the future and do you see writing as a part of them?
A: My current plans are to stay in research, or I could be a med tech, which my other major trains us to be. I really enjoy those careers, and writing will definitely play a huge part in the research. These classes have specifically trained me to be able to absorb large amounts of information and explain them to an audience. In terms of long-term goals and satisfaction, I really want to be able to discuss ideas with people.
Interview and photography by Saher Jafri '17
Sushank Chibber & Professor Nezami (2016)
PWR's Spotlight was on Sushank Chibber, a driven and talented graduate student (MA in Africana Studies) who spoke at the URECA Poster Symposium. After taking the Personal Essay class with Professor Nezami, Sushank was inspired to write essays that touched both him and Professor Nezami in many ways. Read their interviews below!
Q: What classes have you taken with Professor Nezami and what did they entail?
A: I took the Personal Essay class with Dr. Nezami, and we had to write three essays about personal experiences and how they transformed us. Another class I took was Independent Study, where I did my research project on how though beauty myths and standards are changing, Eurocentric beauty is still considered the norm. I worked with 80 participants, mainly women of color.
Q: Can you describe the experience you had with URECA?
A: With URECA, I discussed the personal essay and how important it is. I was basically encouraging the department to have more classes like that because it not only improved me as a writer, but I also got to take dark moments from my life and finally make amends with them through my writing.
Q: What steps did you go through with URECA and how did you present your final project?
A: I submitted an abstract in March, and gave a presentation at the poster symposium in early May. I went to see Dr. Nezami a few times, discussing which information should be included. She gave me feedback and I submitted my abstract. I was selected, and around early May, we had to give our presentations. I was the first one that presented so I discussed the personal essay and made a poster, showcasing my three essays with images attached.
Q: What aspect of the URECA program was your favorite to work with?
A: The presentation was the best part for me, because I think as undergraduate students you don’t get as much experience with talking to a big audience. It helped me a lot in terms of public speaking and being confident, because I tend to be a little shy.
Q: What were a few challenges that you overcame during the course of the program?
A: I think more than anything it was revisiting those experiences, and wanting to make sure I addressed them more about what they meant rather than showcasing my emotions. I didn’t want to read certain things from the essays and become emotional about them, because in the end it’s an academic presentation.
Q: Would you recommend URECA and if so, what reasons do you give when recommending URECA to a fellow student?
A: I think URECA is a great platform for students. It really allows you to showcase your work. Like for me, the Personal Essay class was a simple class but it had such an impact on me in terms of my development as a writer, a scholar, even as a person. I was able to really think about how important writing was to me, and it showed me writing is like talking, you have to come to a conclusion on what and how you want to say. Even with the presentation itself with the faculty, I was able to talk about issues that were personal to me with a broader audience which made me feel more comfortable about them in the end.
Q: How did you decide to mentor under Professor Nezami and what are steps other students can take to begin the same process?
A: The best way to find a mentor is to make sure you have a good understanding with them, and you know them before. Since I took classes with her before, we knew how each other worked and it made communication much easier. If the symposium starts in the spring, I would recommend looking for a professor in the fall, getting to know them and then approaching them in the spring semester.
Q: Do you plan to join similar programs like this in the future?
A: I would love to, but it’s really sad and shocking that there aren’t many similar
graduate programs such as URECA. When I joined the graduate program, I learned that
URECA was only for undergraduate students. It’s beneficial because you get to see
other students’ work.
A sample of Sushank's writing:
"...On the car ride back from the funeral, I knew that no matter how successful I would get, how much money I would make, or how much fame I would attain, I would always be poor because I lost the most precious thing in the world: a mother. Money would not buy me warm hugs, or words of wisdom, would not buy me the unconditional love or affection of a mother. Success on the other hand would help me fulfill my mother’s incomplete dreams. I want my success to reach so high on the sky that my mother will feel me and be proud of me. People say that a mother is the form of god on Earth, but my god had been taken away from me. My mother did not only die, but a part of me died with her. I will never be the same person again. I lost a part of my soul. I am wounded and paralyzed for eternity. No matter how hard I try to see her as happy, I always see her during our last encounter. I wipe away my tears. Don’t worry soldier. The battle has just begun and you have a long war ahead of you."
Q: What courses do you teach and what is your teaching philosophy?
A: I have been teaching WRT 102 for nine years. In this class I bring global issues into the classroom, as I want students to expand their world views and understand different perspectives. I also teach the Personal Essay class, which is a type of transformational experience for the student. I also teach International Literature, which will be renamed Global Literacies next semester.
Q: Tell us a bit about your Personal Essay class -- how do you teach and what do you want students to learn in that class?
A: Students walk out of this class saying that they have never taken a course like this. The essay writing allows them to experience self-inquiry, leading to self-discovery. They write about those moments that were turning points in their life.
Q: How did you encourage Sushank to move towards URECA?
A: I see Sushank as my hero. The fact that he is strong enough to overcome all of the obstacles that are thrown in his way, and continue to excel in everything he does, has really inspired me. I see in him a very strong and motivated student who will go a long way. I thought about him for URECA as soon as it was announced. He was the first speaker last semester, and I was able to see that the audience was greatly moved by his presentation about the importance of the personal essay.
Q: How was the process of mentoring Sushank for URECA?
A: Sushank came to see me several times, and he communicated his ideas and what he is preparing to do. He created a poster, and using his three essays, he managed to find images that related to the stories. The images added so much value to the text. The visual rhetoric plus the written text became one powerful experience. I think Sushank is someone who pushes himself until he achieves what he really wants.
Q: What advice do you have for students who are thinking of taking The Personal Essay course and wanting to join URECA?
A: I would advise all students across campus to take the Personal Essay class. Quoting my students on the last day of class, they have said that this is the most important class they’ve ever taken in their life, and that means something to me. A strong bonding takes place in the classroom, through discussions, readings, writing and peer reviewing. In the beginning of the course, the students feel that their experiences are unique and that no one will understand, however very soon they realize that they can all relate to one another, and a family is established through the class.
Interview and photography by Saher Jafri '17
PWR's Spotlight was on one of the five exceptionally caring professors who were recipients of the annual College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Excellence Award. Representing the Humanities, Program in Writing and Rhetoric's Dr. Shyam Sharma was awarded! His humble and genuine nature shines through in the following interview.
Q: When did your career of teaching begin and what prompted you to venture down this path?
A: I was 18 years old when I started teaching in kindergarten at a small private school in western Nepal. That was the only job compatible with going to college, so I ventured into it not knowing that I would really like being a teacher.
Q: What classes do you teach or have taught in the past?
A: In the last 20+ years, I have taught more than five dozen different courses, all the way from teaching the alphabet to kindergarteners to helping scientists communicate effectively. Courses include language, literature (different genres), criticism, critical theory, linguistics, stylistics, intellectual history of the west, rhetoric, composition or writing studies, basic to advance and graduate-level writing, business communication, academic research, professional writing, and writing across cultures and contexts.
Q: What is your favorite part of teaching and what is your teaching philosophy?
A: My favorite part about teaching (in the US) is how I can design or adapt courses to my interest and expertise while trying to identify students’ intellectual interests and educational needs for their future careers. My teaching philosophy is that because the “goal post” of the purpose of education keeps shifting from year to year and decade to decade, I should help students learn how to learn in response to change. Given that we also live in an increasingly interconnected world, I also believe that I can and should help my students realize their potentials as citizens of the world, as well as citizens of their country. And finally, I believe in using my expertise in the subject matter and experience in teaching in order to foster agency and voice among my students. Authority used for advocacy and empowerment of the learner can be productive and positive for both sides.
Q: Congratulations on being awarded with the College of Arts & Sciences Teaching Excellence Award. This award allows students to show their respect for excellent professors of different departments. How does it feel to be appreciated by the countless students you have taught?
A: I was surprised. The award has validated the time I spend with students, the passion that I have for teaching. I am humbled, almost speechless. And I am energized.
Q: What are the best moments that students might have looked back on when reflecting on the nomination?
A: That’s a difficult and humbling question. I can try to guess, but I have a feeling that both classes I taught last semester helped me find my inner voice as a teacher, and by that I mean I think I was able to best inspire students. I spent a lot of time with students in both classes, as usual, but I also found ways to challenge them without discouraging them. In the upper-division writing course titled “Writing Across Cultures and Contexts,” students had to pick a few of the 27 fellow students and scholars from 13 countries around the world, interview them, analyze and discuss what they learned in the context of academic scholarship on the subject of their inquiry. They said they were kind of frightened, but they also found the challenge really worth it. The other, a first-year writing class, was also extraordinary, and I think students appreciated the support I gave them while keeping the bar very high.
Q: What qualities do you feel successful teachers should have in order to reach out to students?
A: Oh, no. I can’t really give advice – so let me share what works for me. I think it is important to understand who we are teaching. Stony Brook University is one of the public institutions that makes the greatest impact on our students’ social mobility: we teach students coming from low-income families and help them go far beyond. I guess my commitment and effectiveness come from being humbled by the idea that I am one of those educators who is making this difference in the lives of students in the State of New York, including students from around the world. Once we put bigger pictures like this in perspective and look in the eyes of the talented future doctor and scientist and lawyer and humanist, teaching becomes greatly empowering and tremendously satisfying. Also, my own humble background reinforces the sense of purpose and appreciation of every little difference that I can make in the education of students.
Q: What are some things you've learned from students in past classes?
A: I would need a whole day to answer this question, but I will just say this: Our students are amazing. Smart. Funny. Respectful. Hard working. I learn both ideas and qualities from them.
Q: What advice would you offer to students who are wishing to do well in your classes?
A: Come see me. Education is not about one course and one grade point at a time; it’s the sum totality of what happens in the big picture, and people are the most important part of that picture. Students are important enough for me to know them in person. My support is beneficial enough to access me in person. If we know each other, I can help best, starting with maybe clarifying the next assignment but extending to broader challenges and opportunities that go beyond the course.
Interview and photography by Saher Jafri '17
Amna Haider (2016)
Amna Haider '18, a talented biomedical engineering student who created an interwoven visual tale for WRT 303, The Personal Essay, taught by Professor Thomas Tousey.
INTERVIEWING AMNA HAIDER
Q: Where did you get the idea to create a video in WRT 303?
A: I feel like I wanted to show everyone what I saw, through my pieces, because most of them were really descriptive and I felt that the best way to actually show my experience was through some sort of visual method, like a video.
Q: What was your process for creating the video?
A: I used iMovie, since some of the pictures and videos were actually images I took during different moments in my life. They also relate to different pieces that I wrote in class. One of my essays was on my trip to Hong Kong, and that’s why I included some pictures that I took during that trip. iMovie helped me piece the scenes together.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in this project?
A: My biggest challenge was trying to fit everything within a reasonable amount of time, and then picking the right words to sum up my entire essay. Sometimes you have to tell a whole story for an essay, but I had to pick out a few things that conveyed the message behind the essay.
Q: How did your professor encourage you while doing this project?
A: Professor Tousey really encouraged me during the time I had no idea what to do in terms of the project and I was really confused. I went to his office hours and he gave me ideas, but told me it was ultimately up to me. He gave me advice on how to piece my different images together and because of that, I got the idea to make a video.
Q: What do you see as the relationship between your essays in WRT 303 and this video?
A: The essays and video project relate in the sense that the essays that I wrote are inside my video. I took pieces and excerpts and put them in the video.
Q: What did you learn from the class, and in particular, from your final project?
A: What I learned a lot about was myself. I also learned what pieces make up who I am and what I find important. What I learned from my final project was how to put all the pieces together and be able to relate one thing to another and express an overarching message.
Q: Do you plan to create more videos like this in the future?
A: I actually do plan to create more videos because it helps to sum a lot of things together for me. Also, in my research lab we create videos to explain what we’ve done so far, so I do create videos and plan on making more like this in the future.
Q: What is some advice you can give to students who are thinking about taking WRT 303?
Answer: My advice would be to look into what they’re really good at, and what they’re passionate in. Usually when you find something you’re passionate in, it becomes much easier to come up with ideas and you become excited to work on the project.
INTERVIEWING PROFESSOR TOUSEY
Q: What courses do you teach, and what is your teaching philosophy?
A: I usually teach WRT 102 and 303, and have taught 101 before. I just hope that the students improve their writing and get a better sense of their writing processes. It depends on the class though. In terms of what is expected, 303 is vastly different from 102. Like Amna said, looking into oneself would not be the same goal in 102, which is more academically based.
Q: Tell us a bit about your Personal Essay class – how do you teach and what do you want students to learn in that class?
A: I want my students to become a little bit more introspective; usually, students that take my class are science majors and they are so focused and career-driven that they don’t have time to be introspective. I like them to be able to take time out in this space and reflect on themselves and that’s what I try to bring out in class. It’s all based around creative non-fiction, with the personal essay at the center of it all.
Q: When did you start encouraging students to incorporate multimodal projects like videos into their work?
A: The first time I taught the class I didn’t, but then I developed a different notion of how to go about it. This was also meant to be the first assignment, but I turned the class around and it became the last assignment of the course. What I realized is that if I point students in the right direction then get out of the way, they’ll usually do better than how they would have if I had micro managed what they did. And in fact, Amna is a perfect example of that. Left to her own doing, she came up with this amazing piece of work.
Q: What advice do you have for students who are thinking of taking The Personal Essay course?
A: Be willing to participate.
John Scheffer (2016)
PWR adjunct professor and novelist John Scheffer reads from his new novel The Sage in the Oak on October 26, 2016 in the Poetry Center. Click the image to hear the reading on our Soundcloud podcast channel.
Sarah Azzara (2016)
Sarah Azzara, full-time lecturer in the PWR as well as a poet, artist and musician, reads from her Sonnet Sequence, based on a series of mythological tales from Ovid, in the Poetry Center in the Humanities Building on April 23, 2016. Her poems appeared in the Southampton Review. Click image to go to a recording on Soundcloud.
Gene Hammond (2016)
Dr. Gene Hammond reads from his book Jonathan Swift: Irish Blow-In at the Poetry Center in the Humanities Building on March 30, 2016.