Monday, July 16, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Mercedes (McGee) Over

By Mercedes (McGee) Over, class of 2014, Integrated Language Arts major

Currently, I teach 11th and 12th grade English at Pioneer Career and Technology Center in Shelby, Ohio. This position is my first full-time teaching job, and it has been one of the hardest yet most rewarding jobs I have ever had. Now that I am about to embark on my fourth year of teaching, I am starting to feel more confident in my abilities and I am excited to see what the future holds as I continue to teach and further my own education.

To explain where it all began, my teaching journey actually started prior to attending Ashland University. During my senior year of high school I had the opportunity to take Teaching Professions at Penta Career Center and this program helped me to decide what subject and grade level I wanted to pursue. From there I was able to select the undergraduate institution that was right for me. I visited Ashland knowing that it was one of the best schools in the state of Ohio to prepare educators, but I soon fell in love with the English Department due to the outstanding faculty members and their ability to engage students in their classes and learning materials.
Mercedes (McGee) Over and Andrew Over
While taking these classes and sitting in on multiple intellectual discussions about literature, culture, and writing techniques, I felt inspired to take that insight and share it with others. So towards the end of my undergraduate experience, it seemed like I was fully prepared to take on teaching at the high school level; however, I have since realized that just because I am inspired by the thematic implications in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that does not automatically mean that others share that same passion.

As I have continued to grow in my teaching career, I often think back on those times when I was taking my English courses at AU. The professors had a way of making students feel invested in the material, and this has made me think, “What can I do to get my students motivated?” This thought has led to the creation of so many activities and assessments for my classroom, and now I am getting the chance to go even further with the addition of technology and devices.

Most recently I have become a leader for technology integration by being involved with the implementation of Chromebook devices for the students at my school. Throughout this process I have explored a variety of online tools and programs, and I have educated myself through technology workshops and conferences. With acquiring all of this newly-found knowledge I have even had the ability to share my findings with other members on the staff. At this point my credentials and experiences continue to expand, and with this expansion I believe that I will continue to do well in my contributions to the field of education.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Welcome Lindsay Brandon-Smith, Our New Administrative Assistant

Lindsay Brandon-Smith has recently joined the Ashland University staff as the Administrative Assistant for the departments of English, Foreign Languages, Philosophy, and Religion. We are so happy to have Lindsay on our team, and we know that our campus community will benefit from her work in this role. Get to know Lindsay Brandon-Smith in the brief interview below!

HD: Welcome to Ashland! Where are you coming from?
LB-S: My family recently moved to Ashland from Nappanee, Indiana, a town of about 6,000 in northeastern Indiana Amish country. I laugh when people ask how we are adjusting to small town life in Ashland because Ashland is so much bigger than where we came from! We lived and worked in Nappanee for about 18 years. I worked for 11 years as the Office Assistant and for 2 years as the Adult Programming Manager at the Nappanee Public Library.

HD: Could you talk about being originally from Ohio and your familiarity with the Ashland campus?
LB-S: Although we spent the last 18 years in Indiana, my husband and I were both born and raised in northwestern Ohio. We attended Malone University in Canton, Ohio, which is where we met. I grew up in the Brethren church and my grandfather attended Ashland Seminary, so I have fond memories stretching back to early elementary school of Ashland, the Seminary, and the AU campus. As a teen, I attended conferences at AU and as an adult I spent a week every summer here, chaperoning at the Brethren National Youth Conference, Engage. Though we are new Ashland residents, we are not unfamiliar with town or AU, so that's made it feel like home.

HD: Which aspects of your job are you most excited about so far?
LB-S: I'm really excited to be at AU. I'm looking forward to meeting all the new people I'll be working with and to the energy and life on campus once the students return in the Fall.

HD: Would you like to share anything about your family or personal interests?
LB-S: My husband, Ryan, and I have been married for almost 19 years. Ryan has an epic beard that is his pride and joy. He works across the street at the Brethren National Office, so you may see him around campus now and then. Ryan and I have one daughter, Liliana (Lily), who is 11 years old and will be starting middle school this Fall. She enjoys reading graphic novels and can't wait to get her library card. She loves to draw, dance, and sing, and though she won't admit it, she's a great writer. In my free time I enjoy being creative. It's rare that there is a craft project I cannot do, but my favorite creative outlet is sewing. I make a lot of my own clothing and some for my daughter as well. Even after purging a lot of it to prepare for our move, my fabric stash is embarrassingly large.

Friday, June 22, 2018

English Department Faculty Member Completes Certification

From the AU News Center

6/22/18 ASHLAND, Ohio – Ashland University’s Sharleen Mondal, associate professor of English, recently completed a certification to become a master coach for the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD).

Mondal works with the AU Research and Writing Community (AURWC) on campus, a group she first created and then piloted in fall of 2013 with one faculty small group. Since then, the program has grown to include four-to-five faculty small groups and two-to-three coaches every semester. Also, a student version for College of Arts and Sciences students working on long-term writing projects was piloted in the fall of 2015 and has continued each semester since.

“After directing and small group coaching for the AURWC, I longed to grow my skills and to be part of a broader, national community of people pursuing the same kind of faculty development aims as me,” Mondal said. “There are many faculty development organizations to choose from, with countless online webinars and modules on a large list of subjects, but the NCFDD is different.”

Mondal said the mission of the NCFDD is to give faculty the tools to change their lives, change their campuses and change their world.

“This involves training faculty to use empirically proven techniques to increase their scholarly productivity and improve their work/life balance; both of these are necessary for faculty to thrive in the profession, to be retained by their institutions, and to enrich their institutions and broader communities,” she said. “The NCFDD is centrally focused on holding space open for each individual’s personal transformation, honoring each member’s unique journey, and this is apparent in its Faculty Success Program (FSP) structure.”

Mondal explained that this summer she received an invitation to apply to become a Master Coach with NCFDD.

“Master Coaches are a select group of faculty who are available for one-on-one appointments, each half an hour, with current FSP participants who seek additional assistance beyond what they are receiving in their small group. This level of work requires specific training on how to provide assistance to people who are often struggling with serious challenges at their institutions and professional lives,” she said. “I attended the Master Coach training at NCFDD headquarters in Detroit from June 14-15, during which I worked with my fellow coaches and the core team to expand my repertoire of coaching skills, including very specific techniques for helping faculty feel heard and guiding them to be able to see possibilities in their situation that they were not able to see before.

“If I were to sum up what master coaching is about, it would be this: to affirm to each faculty member their fundamental worth and value, regardless of their personal and institutional circumstances, and to walk with them through their situation with compassion and insight toward discovering a range of possibilities that will help them to achieve their highest good.”

Mondal said that in 2017 she applied to become an FSP coach and began coaching one FSP small group in the fall of 2017. “I coached another FSP small group in spring of 2018 and am currently coaching three small groups for the summer. The training I received to become a small group coach, and regular interaction with a community of other coaches under our head coach, has been phenomenal and has kept me constantly growing as a coach in a way I could not have in isolation,” she said.

Mondal is excited because AU will be hosting an NCFDD workshop at its Faculty College this fall.

“Faculty members can contact Shawn Orr for the date and time of the workshop. It is important that AU faculty connect what I'm saying about NCFDD to knowing that that organization will have a presence on campus to which they are invited,” she said. “One thing the AURWC has taken from NCFDD’s core values is that faculty members are most useful to AU when they are being honored as whole people with fulfilling personal and professional lives.”

Inspired by her experience in the NCFDD, Mondal worked with NCFDD President Kerry Ann Rockquemore under an AU Professional Discipline and Experience Grant in the spring of 2013 to create the AU Research and Writing Community and her work received strong support from Dr. Dawn Weber, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The main website for the organization is and the impressive list of coaches can be found at

Monday, June 18, 2018

Creative Writing Capstone Award Winner Reflects on His Progress through the Major

By Jakob Demers, class of 2018, Creative Writing and English major

Receiving the Creative Writing Award for Outstanding Capstone was, and still is, an incredibly surreal experience for me.

When I first arrived at Ashland University four years ago, I knew two things for certain: I was going to major in Creative Writing, and I had no idea how to function in a college setting. Apart from the usual high school to university transition, Ashland was my first time in an actual brick-and-mortar school building. My first semester was a blur of finding my footing and choosing the easiest way to go about things.

Sophomore year was when my capstone first came into being, starting out as an extended project for the Fiction/Nonfiction Workshop. Looking at my first attempts from then to what I had even last year is a testament to how far I’ve come as a writer. My initial chicken-scratch, while roughly the same plot, has not seen the light of day for a reason. It’s a befuddling mixture of tension between a story idea and its characters, trying to do too much and so achieving nothing.

Junior year was an exercise mainly in my English double-major, and in that sense it was incredibly rewarding. I feel certain that it contributed to the evolution of my writing when I returned to my capstone for senior year. The more academic approach to writing (and the parts any single piece consists of) once again changed my thinking and challenged my conception of writing, creatively or otherwise. Suddenly every work had an intentional (and often an unintentional) meaning woven throughout concerns of plot and character. Every segment seemed to have been carefully chosen and stitched together, a removal from my usual process of “winging it.”

When, in my senior year, I revised and examined my capstone yet again, I felt myself approaching understanding of my piece. I finally knew enough to negotiate between my own flaws as a writer and what my story wanted to explore. As my story took shape, I could rely a bit more on my characters and a bit less on whatever humor I’d been stringing myself along with for the first few drafts. For the first time, I felt certain that I could call myself a writer without hesitation, because I not only enjoyed writing but understood at least some of what went into making it.

I would say the most valuable thing to come out of my capstone is that I know where I have yet to fix. For my next set of revisions, at least, there are plot lines to move forward, characters to spend more time with, and relationships to untangle and streamline. I can already see it shifting into something that, Lord willing, is approaching its best version. Obviously this means I’ll be completely rewriting it within a year when I decide it’s all wrong. I’m being glib, but really even that is an exciting part of the process.

To borrow a half-remembered idiom: the journey to the mountain is just as impressive as the mountain itself.

Friday, June 8, 2018

English Alumni and Faculty Remember Jim Reynolds

The following memories of Jim Reynolds, Professor Emeritus of English, were shared with me. These reminiscences honor this great educator and colleague after his recent passing. There will be a celebration of his life in AU's Hugo Young Theatre on Sunday, June 10, at 1:00 p.m.

Doreen (Bell) Zudell, class of 1983, a Creative Writing and Journalism major writes,"I had Mr. Reynolds for Shakespeare class in the early 1980s. I remember how he walked us through the scenes and helped us understand what the characters were saying. He was passionate about his teaching; kind and patient with his students.Thank you, Mr. Reynolds, for nurturing students’ love for literature and theatre!"

Linda Werman Brawner, class of 1978, a Creative Writing major, shares how Mr. Reynolds's feedback on her writing encouraged her: "I took an essay course from him. I enjoyed his class because the criticism wasn't as sharp as in other writing classes. It was good and valid, but not acidic. On one of my papers he wrote something about 'your tone of gentle strength.' He pointed out something I didn't realize I had. That one small comment has shaped my entire life." 

Dr. Deborah Fleming, Professor of English, shares her memories of Mr. Reynolds as a colleague: "I remember Jim Reynolds as someone always easy to work with, never had a bad word to say, mild-mannered, kept to himself, but friendly. He tried some very experimental things with his plays. My favorite one of his was "The Cherry Orchard." I went to all the plays directed by him (as well as the other directors) in those days."

The following reflection is from Dr. Russell Weaver, Professor of English:

Jim was my first real friend in the English Department. He was on the search committee when I was hired, and I remember that he barely said anything at the lunch where I was interviewed. However, once we settled into our routines, we started running into each other because our offices were one door from one another. Once we started chatting, I found that, even though we approached teaching differently, he seemed to understand intuitively what I was doing, and we spent a lot of time discussing what was happening in our classes and especially about our reaction to our students' writing. But what really sparked our friendship was when I discovered his involvement in the theatrical productions at then Ashland College.

My wife and I began attending the college productions which provided an endless source of fascinating discussions with Jim. It was always very instructive to talk over the plays I had seen, whether those at the college or elsewhere. He had, needless to say, a broad knowledge of theater, and he also had incredibly high standards and very specific things he wanted from a performance. His critiques of productions were hilarious as he was, despite the taciturnity he displayed on our first meeting, uninhibited in expressing his feelings about everything. Discussing the plays he was preparing for production was initially a daunting proposition due to the gloom that settled over him once he was in the midst of rehearsal. One thing you could always count on was that, whenever Jim was directing a play, it was clear that the end of world was imminent and all hope for meaning was irretrievably lost. And Jim wasn't kidding. Somehow, the apocalypse was usually averted, although, after the play was over, there was still no joy in Mudville.

He suffered over everything that was not perfect. Jim was at one with Alec Guiness who, when asked which role that he had played was was his favorite, said, "I wished to hell I'd never done any of them." I remember one play that we saw after he had retired in which it was difficult to understand what the actors were saying. He said that the first step he always took as director once the actors had learned their lines was to stand in the back of the hall and yell, "What? What? What?" For many years after his retirement, most of our conversations took place at Hawkins Grocery Store. We would tend to meet in the meat department and spend an hour or so catching up, discussing the plays he had seen at AU or elsewhere. No matter how long it had been since we had talked, it was as though no time had passed. We just picked up where we had left off. He was truly a great guy, and he will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Alumni Update: Erika Gallion

Gallion with partner, Hans Velasquez

By Erika Gallion, Class of 2014, Creative Writing and English major

This morning, I drove through Beverly Hills to get to my office. Yesterday, I went to see Viet Thanh Nguyen give a reading at Skylight Books in Los Feliz. Tomorrow I’ll watch the sun set from atop The Griffith Observatory. And I can trace all of this joy and success to my undergraduate start at Ashland University.

This January, I relocated to Los Angeles, California, for a new job at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)—I accepted an administrative position as an Academic Advisor within the Fielding School of Public Health. I started my journey in higher education as an undergraduate student at Ashland University, an intimidated first-generation student excited and anxious to begin taking English and Creative Writing courses. Academia scared me, and I felt a deep sense of imposter syndrome being on campus. Ashland University’s English faculty, however, soon made me feel not only welcomed, but also competent. Intelligent. Important. I felt heard in my classrooms, and discovered an atmosphere that encouraged deep learning. My love for literature and creating increased daily throughout my four years there.

Upon graduating, I began a two-year graduate program at Kent State University in Higher Education Administration and Student Affairs. I wanted (and still want) to pursue a doctoral program in English, but found that I enjoyed and wanted more experience in administrative work within the university system. I was especially interested in working with Study Abroad programs and International Student Services, and Kent State’s program offered a certificate in Internationalization as well as a master’s degree. I excelled in my academic pursuits during this graduate program; while my cohort struggled to write lengthy papers and felt intimidated by class discussion, I felt totally adequate and successful. I attribute this success entirely to my education at Ashland University within the English department; I learned what critical thinking meant in Bixler Hall, and have carried these lessons with me into my professional life.

For two years, I worked in Jacksonville, Florida as a Study Abroad Advisor at the University of North Florida. Here, thanks to my administrative perk of tuition remission, I was able to begin another master’s program in Literature. I took a James Joyce Seminar along with an Early American Literature course—again, I felt intimidated and excited to begin this graduate work in the subject I still craved and adored. And, again, I excelled. I thrived back in a classroom environment that again enabled critical thinking and discussion.

My partner and I moved to Los Angeles for his career (as a film editor). Luckily, I found this wonderful position at UCLA. Here I get to assist graduate students in event planning, applying for the program, registering for classes, and more. I work closely with faculty and guest lecturers, and am heavily involved with the day-to-day comings and goings of the university. It’s humbling to be on this campus daily—to see palm trees along the streets and feel 75 degree weather every day. I love my work, and I love having such easy access to higher education. I have also began freelance writing for an online magazine, and have been consistently writing and submitting my creative work. The literary scene in Los Angeles is very active, and I’ve taken advantage of meeting many writers (Elif Batuman, Melissa Broder, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Ramona Ausubel, etc.), and has enabled me to stay active in the literary world.

I still hope to begin a doctoral program in English—my dream (as it has been since my English Comp 102 class with Dr. Linda Joyce Brown and my Intro to Creative Writing class with Dr. Joe Mackall) is to dive deeper into this subject, and to teach—to share it with students who pursue and are curious of the same passions. I am incredibly proud of my journey, and thank Ashland University for giving me not only my confidence, but my joy.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Taking Screenwriting: Learning How to Write a Movie or Learning Valuable Undergraduate Lessons?

By Liz Bucci, Integrated Language Arts major

One of the questions on the end of the year course evaluation for ENG 303, also known as the Screenwriting Workshop, was something along the lines of “how did the professor provide a good learning environment?” This question made me think back to the first day of Screenwriting. I was nervous. “We have to write a MOVIE?” I asked in shock. I was only taking the class as a substitution in order to graduate, but it turned into something much more than that. 

With only a few English courses left to take in my undergraduate career I was not exactly stoked about taking screenwriting. Before the class started, I didn’t even know what a screenplay was, but the first day Dr. Grady assured the wary class that we would take things slowly and learn things step by step. It wouldn’t be as awful as we thought, she assured us. And it wasn’t. Screenwriting, a class that I was never meant to take, ended up being my favorite class that I took my junior year. The class was pretty diverse as far as who was taking it; some English majors, some creative writing majors, some Integrated Language Arts majors, people who had read screenplays often for fun, and people who had never read a screenplay before in their life. Dr. Grady understood that we were all in different places when we started the class, and by recognizing this, she took off a lot of pressure from the course. There was no talk of “the perfect screenplay.” We read screenplays, watched clips of screenplays, talked about screenplays, and wrote random pieces of dialog we hoped to incorporate into our future screenplays. We basically started by doing everything we could do that pertained to screenplays without writing a screenplay. She wanted us to work hard and have good conversations—something most professors want, but not something all professors vocalize. 

After the class had a good grasp on what exactly a screenplay was, then we finally did it on our own. Taking the course with Dr. Grady was such a privilege because not only did I learn how to write a screenplay, but I also learned that it’s good to try out new things that might relate to your major but aren’t necessarily required. I was terrified on the first day of screenwriting. I thought the chances of me succeeding in the class were slim to none. Now when I look back at the class I realize that the classes that terrify you the most are often the ones you learn the most from. Now when I watch movies I look at them in an academic way and enjoy them in a much more substantial way. I never expected a workshop to impact the way I look at any aspect of my life, but because I was invested in the class it truly did change the way I look at things. 

The biggest piece of advice I will give to anyone who is taking a class that they are terrified of or to anyone who is taking a class who thinks it’s a waste of their time is: just give it a chance. Invest time and effort, even when the end product seems far away or even hopeless. Trust the process and trust that no matter what you will always learn at least one thing, whether it be a life lesson or it be purely academic, from each class you take. I’m looking at my senior year schedule and I’m realizing I only have one English class left to take. Whether it be a creative writing class, composition class, etc., don’t let your classes go by without learning from each and every one of them. Each class has a valuable lesson waiting for you to learn it.