I’m still searching for a better research process…this seems like a good one…I’d love to hear thoughts from my academic friends…on this as a process or how do you organize and research big projects?
Tag Archives: Grad School
I’ve been on the receiving end of teachers or instructors who were scared of new ideas. They just didn’t know how to handle anyone who questioned their methodology. Since I had that experience the times that standout in my education were those moments when my instructor smiled and let me make an argument for my crazy idea. Those are the instructors I keep in mind when I think about being a professor because schools need more instructors who will welcome students’ ideas. Students take a risk when they approach an instructor. If an instructor smashes the student’s idea hater than welcoming it and helping the student channel & develop their idea into the best possible form for the class. I love this commercial. Hopefully, the message can resonate with people, not just for GE, but also other places where ideas scare us. As the commercial states “under the proper care, they [ideas] become something beautiful.”
As I get ready to leave South Africa my time could quite easily be consumed with marking a list of lasts. But then I would forget to marvel in the beauty that each new day brings. I keep thinking that this is a bittersweet moment. However, today I had a realization, my heart is not heavy from sadness. On the contrary, I leave South Africa with my soul opened, a wealth of new experiences, and friends. My heart is heavy with love.
I can still see the poster neatly hung on the wall of my manager’s cubicle at American Express. It was in full color and showed a single daisy in a terracotta pot. However, my understanding of feedback has stayed rooted in corporate America’s space. In my mind thinking of feedback as a gift always felt as genuine as those uber motivational posters every business major had in their dorm rooms in the 1990s. Feedback in work never felt like a gift but rather it always felt judgmental and punitive. Feedback was given with performance reviews where you were told if you were going to get a raise or explained why you were not receiving one. Feedback in school is generally tied to a grade and also feels punitive. The feedback is an explanation of what you did wrong. I’ll also say that receiving feedback in school had its own problematic roots that I’ve already delved into a bit. So, neither experience (work or school) had positive roots for me when it came to receiving feedback as a gift. Until recently. Over the past five semesters I have worked in a writing center, four semesters at SCSU’s The Write Place and one semester here at NMMU’s Writing Centre. Through my immersion in the writing center culture, pedagogy, and practices I realized that feedback can be a gift. I asked two of the people I’m working with this semester at NMMU to read through my thesis chapters and give me feedback on what I had written. When they returned them to me with detailed comments I felt like I had been given a gift. I read through the comments carefully taking in what they had to say. They were deliberative and inquisitive and I processed each one individually. I have now been both a manager and a consultant in the writing center where I gave feedback to employees and students. I hope that as I move into the classroom I can help my students understand how to receive feedback but more importantly, I hope I can model a healthy manor to give feedback as an instructor.
Yesterday I attended a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Certificate (SoTLC) workshop. These workshops are conducted by the Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Media (CTLM), which is where the former Writing Centre is now housed. The SoTLC workshops are conducted throughout the academic year and if a lecturer completes 7 of the 9 they will receive a certificate at the end. The certificate helps build their teaching portfolio and bolster their chance for tenure. This was the first workshop I attended and the topic was “Being a university teacher: the higher education context and practices.” The facilitators spent a lot of time in the workshop talking about and getting the participants to puzzle through the context in which they teach. First they discussed the context of their classroom. Then their disipline. The discussion moved next to the university, but each of these contexts offer multiple layers for analysis and reflection.
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence ends.” Henry Adams
First, the university context. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) is a unique institution. It is a new institution even though the campus and the buildings have been there for a while. The university’s formation happened in 2005 when 5 universities combined into one entity. Prior to 2005 the South Campus university was known as Univeristy of Port Elizabeth which was founded in 1964. The 5 campuses still exist with the George campus approximately 4.5 hours away. One of the presenters called it “a hybrid structure where there are universities with in the university.” NMMU became a comprehensive university in the South African sense of the term. South Africa has five comprehensive universities and they are:
- University of Johannesburg
- Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
- University of South Africa
- University of Venda
- Walter Sisulu University
The University of Johannesburg was also formed by merging other institutions into one university system. The main institution that became UofJ was founded in 1967 as Rand Afrikaans University.
Developing a distinct institutional ethos and culture as a merged African institution.
To be a dynamic African university recognized for its leadership in generating cutting-edge knowledge or a sustainable future
I was surprised by the conversation that came from placing the mission and vision statements on the power point. Being African or calling one’s self African is still a controversial subject here in South Africa. One of the presenters was a Xhosa woman and the other presenter was an Afrikaans woman. Participants in the workshop were mixed between black, colored (they still used Apartheid era distinctions as part of their rhetoric around race), and white. The first comment someone made about the mission statement was that “Do they know Africa is the contenent?” She was laughing when she said this and making a bit of a joke. The Afrikaans presenter however made the statement some people do not think she should call herself African but she is also African. This discussion didn’t really have legs (I think because it is too controversial) and we moved onto the mission statement.
Again, there was some laughter and the first thing said, by a different lecturer, was “being a ‘dynamic African university’ was in direct conflict with ‘cutting-edge knowledge.'” I struggled to not say anything because my roll as an intern and not a teacher at the institution, I felt was to listen and observe. I was furiously making notes. I spoke to the presenters after everyone else had left and asked them about that particular section of the discussion. It was my opinion that the professors were still struggling with an internalized colonial mindset of Africa or African being a synonym for something of lesser quality. I’m struck daily by the rich cultural environment of South Africa and how it is easily fertile ground for “cutting-edge knowledge.” Innovation for new teaching styles, language feels very fluid here, and I see a ripe opportunity for entrepreneurship here but it could be done in an African way not a western way. Agreeing with me she said that it was difficult for her to bring up the things I was saying because of her status as an Afrikaaner. All of that mix though is also what makes an African context challenging and unique.
Yes, I have come to peace with the fact that I am going to miss something from my well-crafted South African Bucket List. But I feel like I’m just now hitting my stride with my internship and I’ve reached the half-way tipping point of my trip. However, just now I’m feeling like I have built a rapport with my colleagues, know how to work with the students in this academic environment, and feel my skill level being raised by my experience. Students in classes have a built-in structure to their experience (syllabus and timetable). But having a new internship position I have been learning along with my supervisors how I can be the most productive. While I was in my first semester in the Write Place at SCSU I had ENGL 654 where I learned the pedagogy of US writing center’s and The WP specifically through our conversations. Along with my internship here in South Africa, I have been doing a LOT of reading! I ordered an ebook version of Changing Spaces, which is about the unique roll of writing centers in South Africa’s university system. At the same time I am also trying to understand the distinct educational system in South Africa with the mix of students within the system. I feel like my time here is a long snapshot because 6 months is not a very long time but it is longer than the Spring Break experience I had in 2013.
Ok, so you have had an amazing study abroad experience but now what? These are good tips on how to best capitalize on your semester abroad and incorporate your unique experience into your job search resource package. Study abroad often gets relayed back home to friends and family as a long trip. But as students who are eventually entering the job market (like it or not) we need to think of our time abroad also through the lens of our future interviewers.
This was a question I asked myself many times over during my master’s program. I became an English major after discovering the field of rhetoric. Through rhetoric I was finally given the tools I needed to discuss and interpret the world around me. Some of the language came to me through my background in political science and public policy analysis, which is what I majored in for my bachelors. In many regards though I had always been searching for rhetorical analysis and the vocabulary held within the disapline. Beyond finding myself in the field of rhetoric, it has been more of a journey allowing myself to recognize that I have a desire to teach.
Nontraditional student? Yes, I’m coming to my master’s program after a career as a manager with for-profit and non-profit organizations. I thoroughly enjoyed being in management, especially turning around a failing store or organization and getting it on track to fulfill its goals. The toughest and most rewarding part of the job was working with employees. Developing talent, encouraging people to meet their potential, and sometimes, even seeing amazing employees leave because they were able to move onto bigger and better opportunities. However, American companies have moved away from truly letting employees be developed through on the job training and have moved to hiring people for positions below their skill level and then promoting “from within.”
As a manager, I really enjoyed going through the hiring process. Its just down right fun to call someone up and offer them a job! However, my heart would break for some people as I read their resumes and job applications because I knew that their lack of skill with resumes and cover letters was holding them back. I fought back the urge to call them and suggest changes to their resume content, style, and format. So, when I encountered rhetoric and composition studies, I found a way to be able to empower people by helping them gain a necessary knowledge base. I’m passionate when I help give the writing center tours about writing as a skill students will need no matter their chosen career or field of study. I think writing well is even more important now because individuals produce more writing now than in previous eras. For example, businessmen used to dictate letters but now write their own emails to communicate with clients.
That’s only the first portion of my answer…what am I doing here? I wasn’t supposed to be here, this far along in higher education. My first class in the SCSU English Department we were asked to give our literacy narrative orally, to the class. Honestly, I think I made something up because I don’t remember learning to read. I know I learned how before I went to school and it just seemed like a given. But this assignment made me think about my formative educational years for the first time in years. Actually, part of my personal discovery during my master’s program was revisiting these old ghosts. From 1st through 7th grade I went to a very small private school that had multiple grades in the same rooms. Grades 1-4 were taught in the same room and another teacher was across the hall with grades 5-8. I was precocious and loved learning but my foundational years did not endear me to any teachers. Early in first grade my teacher put my desk in the bathroom with the door closed. This was not a large bathroom but rather a small bathroom off the classroom with just a toilet and a sink. It was dark because I was so small and the light was only on the ceiling. By 3rd and 4th grade we had a new teacher and instead of my desk being in the bathroom she created a patrician blocking me off from the rest of the class. Essentially, she just gave me my assignments and I was supposed to just do them. I was cut off from class discussion or interaction with my peers.
However, nothing compared to 5th grade, it was a special kind of hell. Our firth grade teacher was both physically and verbally abusive. I was getting older by this point and tried to not only stand-up for myself but my classmates as well. The teacher would lash out, I would say something, and he would respond by locking me in a closet where the sports equipment was kept. Or he would send me out in the hall and leave me there, for hours. There was more than once when he laid hands on me, once pushing me down and I hit my head on the metal chalktray. There was one occasion when I asked him to explain some instructions over again because I didn’t understand what he wanted us to do on the assignment. Instead of repeating himself, he made me write a confession stating that I had not paid attention in class complete with my signature and date. As I stood next to his desk, which was in front of the classroom. he told me that I would never be anything.
I did not expect to confront these demons as I read rhetorical theory, but they came up. Haunting me as normal graduate school doubt was over taken by my former elementary school teacher again whispering into my psyche. So, what’s the answer…why am I here? Its never that simple, is it? It is not simple because or in-spite of any one person or event. Rather these are all parts of me and so it should not be a surprise that I latch onto Ferreira and embrace his pedagogical philosophy. I do reflect on my actions because I do not want to devalue a student or make them in any way feel marginalized. I am here because after much struggle this is where I fought to be.
I keep saying, “Wow! What a difference 5 years makes.” Then I stopped, thought about it. And damn! If I wasn’t completely right about this one!
Five years ago…
I was still reeling from the effects of 2008. In the short span of those 12 months my mother died, my sister and her family moved out of state, I relocated to Durham, got laid off from my job, went back to university for the last 9 credits of my bachelor’s degree, and graduated.
This time in 2009, I was bracing for my first birthday without my mom. It was the first time that I didn’t feel any joy on that particular day. It felt more empty, her absence amplified. Honestly, I do not even remember doing anything special for my own birthday. I took a trip to visit my sister and helped her celebrate her big day. It was my way to compensate for our mom being gone. She did an amazing job, even as we got older, to make our birthdays feel special. We were lucky to have our birthdays around Easter and almost every year we were all together at some point close to our birthdays.
But 2009 was the start of putting together new traditions with our smaller family. Her birthday was really great! Our dad and step mom came up for the day. My nephew really enjoyed so many of “his people” being at his house for the day. And there was lemon cake (always a win). As 2009 progressed things impoved. I was able to celebrate my nephew’s 3rd birthday with him. In September, I started a new job that I was good at and enjoyed. Double bonus! I got rid of all the notes, articles, and papers from undergad because I had no plans of going back to school! I was d-o-n-e!
Five years later, I not only changed jobs but careers. Moved to Minnesota, I still don’t know if its natural that people live this far north. I went back to school and I’m about to graduate with my master’s and start a PhD program in the fall! What? In 2009, I was still dreaming of Africa and now I’ve not only been here but I’m living here for 6 months.
None of what I’m doing now was on the agenda then. I’m in awe of my life and loving it!
Today, my favorite regular appointment brought a writing assignment, due next Friday, so we could outline it together. The topic he is to write about? The effects of globalization on Africa. Oye, these professors and their broad topics slay me. After talking for a couple of minutes he narrowed the topic down a bit to “The effects of globalization on West Africa”. He was thinking about Nigeria and Ghana but mainly his home country of Nigeria. The outline went as follows:
- Political Globalization
The United Nations
- Economic Globalization
World Trade Organization
- Cultural Globalization
He was going to think about a subtopic
Opinion-Is it more positive or negative?
Can it be changed?
All this in a 10 page paper! That’s a lot to talk about but he felt good about his outline. He said he was going to go home and continue mapping the subtopics for his paper. This was the same student that at our first meeting he got excited about writing and left early (I love that!). We briefly discussed BRICS and MINT countries, he was surprised that I knew about the Nigerian economy. (Thank you BBC Radio Documentaries!) I also knew about Africa’s Richest Man, Aliko Dangote who is from Nigeria. Honestly, I love the learning that takes place in and around the writing center culture. I have been reading about Nigeria because of the students I work with and I think it pays off in dividends.
As we talked about his paper and what he was interested in, he asked me my opinion about globalization and Africa. Back at SCSU I would have totally shied away from giving my (always strong) opinion because I would not want to sway the student or I might have the feeling they were trying to get me to do some of the work on their paper for them. However, in Mr. Samuel’s case I just felt like he was testing me a bit. I think he wanted to see who he is working with. Still, I was taken a back by him actually wanting my opinion and I double checked, “You want my thoughts on the effects globalization has had on the continent of Africa?” He replied that yes, he did. I told him that it is difficult to measure the effects because globalization hit Africa 400-500 years ago. How can we measure the impact that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade had on Africa? We can see how normal projections of population growth has hit those countries especially hard but the people themselves being gone impacted the area. What if Booker T. Washington’s genius was applied to problems in Africa instead of the United States? What if Frederick Douglas’s brilliance was railing against colonial domination in Africa instead of abolishing slavery in the United States? How might the continent have developed if the human capital had remained in place? Then I mentioned the economic devastation that was Apartheid in South Africa. How can people regain the economic power they once possessed before they were forcibly removed from their homes and businesses as they were relocated to townships? All of these single events had devastating impacts on the whole continent. Now, there are companies from the EU, America, and China who come into African countries offering short-term financial benefits, which may not be in the best long-term interests of the country but who can blame them. They are still trying to modernize and reap some benefit for each of their countries.
When i finished, he had a big smile and he said that he agreed with me. I felt like he trusted me more after this little exchange.
He went back to the concept of globalization’s effect on culture, this is the area he is most concerned about. He talked about food, language, and clothes. How those have all changed in Nigeria because of the European influence. I mentioned that in the US accents are flattening out and everyone wants to sound like a news presenter. Also, with the growth of chain grocery stores we are all getting the same food, which flattens out choice and regionalism. He told me that here in Port Elizabeth he hardly ever eats out because he does not like the food here. However, there is a Nigerian food market where he can get ingredients to make the types of dishes he likes. I then introduced the concept of “comfort food”. He’s never heard this term before and I explained that it is food that feeds your heart and soul. Therefore, comfort food is different to each person because it depends on the foods you grew up with.
We are meeting next Wednesday to review his draft. Hopefully by then he will have his other grade back. I’m still on pins and needles waiting to see what grade he received.