Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why Study English at AU?

Why Study English At AU?

By MarĂ­a Cardona, Creative Writing major

As I start my senior year here at Ashland University, I can’t help but think of my time here and all the great memories that I’ll always treasure. I’ve made great friends, I’ve grown, and changed, and matured and I owe a lot of that to the English Department. I’ll be honest—in my first years here I wasn’t as involved with my Department as I should have been, but I finally began to click with it my junior year and I found a home.

Walking into Bixler on freshman year made me nervous and excited. I remember my first English Comp class with Dr. Brown and how stressed I was about having to write papers for the next four years. Soon enough though, my worries were put to rest. I didn’t feel intimidated by my professor; I actually felt encouraged to reach out for help. When the semester was up I felt super-prepared not only to write essays but to really think critically and voice my opinions in paper, and eventually, in class.

While outside of class I’ve become a bit of a chatterbox, I was never one to raise my hand and say what I think. I always felt like my answers and opinions would be judged, like I wasn’t as smart as the other students, or just scared or intimidated by teachers and classmates. One of the greatest things I owe to this lovely department is that I’ve found the courage to use my voice and speak up in and out of class.

It took until my sophomore year but when I took Postcolonial Literature with Dr. Mondal, I started to feel more comfortable with expressing my ideas – even if I knew they might be controversial. Eventually, I went back to Dr. Brown in Modern Novel my junior year and the days when I didn’t raise my hand and spoke up in class were few. However, if it hadn’t been for the support of my professors I know I wouldn’t have made it that far.

It started off with paper conferences when I’d meet with Dr. Mondal, first for English Comp II and later for Postcolonial Literature, and share ideas I wanted to put down on paper but was shy to still express in class. Then I’d find myself talking in the halls with them or dropping by their offices to talk about a class reading or my opinions on a novel or play (just ask Dr. Waterman!)

With each passing class, I felt more and more comfortable and continued to fall in love with the English program at AU. I love Dr. Weaver’s jokes in class – how he always tries to modernize Greek Literature for us and forces us to really think about the intentions behind a character’s actions. I love Dr. Flemings’ passion for poetry – especially her love for Yeats, which led me to studying abroad in Ireland this semester!

I love how I can simply drop by Dr. Donatini’s office to say hello and how comfortable I am talking to her about actual English department stuff or books, or life in general. I love walking into Dr. Waterman’s office and joking or venting but I also love how her classes and book choices give me headaches with how deep we get into discussing them. I love that the books, essays and plays I’ve read in my classes have made me passionate about so many causes and have allowed me to find a voice. I love Dr. Brown’s open-mindedness, her encouraging nature and the amazing directions she takes in both reading discussions and paper ideas.

I love Dr. Mondal’s world views and how she takes us outside our American world and shows us other realities. I also love how she really motivates us to analyze texts down to periods and commas because it all has intent. I love Dr. Mackall’s lightheartedness in class but also his advice and encouragement to pursue ideas and go far with them. I love Dr. Grady’s energy, her passion and drive and her ability to make us think outside the box.

I am beyond thankful to my department for their encouragement, support, hard work, dedication – and most of all, for sharing their brilliant minds with us. While I have not been blessed with the opportunity to have a class with each professor in the department, I’ve met many of them and they are superb human beings and even better professors. I no longer get nervous upon entering Bixler because when I cross that threshold I am home. Come study English at AU, because you will not only leave with a great degree, but also a great understanding shaped by great minds.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dr. Deborah Fleming, Professor of English, to Give Reading

Dr. Deborah Fleming, Professor of English, will be giving a reading of poetry from her new collection titled, “Into a New Country,” on Monday, Oct. 10, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Ronk Lecture Hall of the Schar College of Education building on the AU campus. The event is free and open to the public and refreshments will be served.  

This book, which is her second collection of poetry, was published earlier this year by Cherry Grove Press.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

With a Twinkle in His Eye: John Stratton, Educator

By Becky (Myher) Schaaf, class of 2004, English major

I had the pleasure of having Dr. Stratton as my professor in a class that he co-taught with his wife, Dorothy. It was an Honors course called "The Harlem Renaissance." As an English major, I flew through so many novels throughout my time at AU, so I know the books that remain with me and come to mind most often must've resulted from courses that were particularly meaningful. This was one of them.

I remember how fascinated I was with the dynamics of a husband and wife co-teaching a course. It was entertaining to see their love expressed through annoyance and amusement, irritation and agreement, frustration and acquiescence as they each shared their respective opinions. Perhaps it was so interesting to me as a young, unmarried person to see two such different people sharing their passion for a course and for life and yet holding their ground in the areas most important to them.

I have shelved memories, both in physical and mental form, of works such as The Big Sea, The Blacker the Berry, and Passing. I often return to these texts, both literally and figuratively, as I have always found literature the best way of processing the happenings in our world. After reading works full of so much beauty and pain, how can we ever not have some sort of basic understanding of the hearts of our fellow humans? (Sometimes, I think world problems could be solved by those who read deeply and enter a world so far beyond our own.)

I remember, in particular, a wonderful conversation about African American churches and a fellow student, blond and fair-skinned, who shared how much she loved attending these services because of the passion and emotion she felt when she was there, and "after all, if I'm passionate about the Word when I'm there, isn't that a great place to be!?" Dr. Stratton always helped facilitate these sorts of discussions, pushing his students far past their boundaries to a place of being able to sit with some new discomfort and consider it for awhile.

During class discussions, I found myself disagreeing with Dr. Stratton most of the time (likely to his amusement!), but his responses, though calm and collected, always pushed me to find my true feelings on a topic rather than skating on the surface. He always had a twinkle in his eye when engaged in disagreeing with or challenging a student, and as I reflect on that now, I believe he must've gotten particular enjoyment either from being just a little bit difficult or from watching his students muck through our own value systems and come out with some clarity. Perhaps a little of both. 

After graduation, I enjoyed seeing Dr. Stratton (and Dorothy) on walks around our neighborhood, stopping by to smell their roses, and exchanging stories of my children and their grandchildren. On a regular basis, I find myself being thankful for my varied experiences at Ashland University, and much of my gratitude goes to professors like Dr. Stratton who were always challenging, engaging, thoughtful, funny, and kind. I will truly miss him and all he represents to me, the university, Ashland and the world.

Friday, September 16, 2016

English Majors Participate in Entrepreneurship Immersion Week

Current English majors Bethany Meadows and Tom Nesbitt participated in Entrepreneurship Immersion Week at the University of Mount Union July 31-August 5. Along with three other students, Meadows and Nesbitt represented AU in a competition to devise the best new business concept. Nesbitt describes the experience in a recent Collegian article:

Meadows attests to the value of EIW: 

I had a blast in participating. It was worthwhile experience in regards to combining my Public Relations experience and the creativity from my English classes to develop a business concept. Furthermore, I loved getting to collaborate with many students both from Ashland and from other universities. We were all from different disciplines, which allowed for everyone to have strengths and weaknesses that could shine in the whole group. If I had the chance, I would love to participate again because it allowed me to grow as both an individual and as a student. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

And He Laughed: A Tribute to John Stratton

By Jenny (Valko) Mercer, class of 2007, Integrated Language Arts major

When I saw on social media that Dr. Stratton had passed away, I audibly gasped, and my heart broke. My favorite professor, advisor, a man whom I admired and adored, was gone. I took Dr. Stratton for second semester freshman composition because it was an open section. That small decision made a significant impact on the rest of my time at AU. He gave me my first C ever on the first paper. I ended up in his office in tears. It was during that conversation he looked at me and asked why I was crying, because he knew it was more than that paper. He somehow saw into my heart in that conversation; and I told him the truth. My father had been diagnosed with cancer over that Christmas break and I wrote that paper the week before his surgery to remove the tumor. 

Was my paper bad? Yes, and I deserved the C. My writing was not up to his standards and I certainly didn't think the way he expected. It was during that conversation he explained that an essay should be like spinning a spider web; each idea had to be spun together to make a web. Who else would explain an essay like that, except for Dr. Stratton? My writing wasn't good enough, but my emotional state made it worse. But he listened to me that day in his office. And made me laugh. And I saw who he was in so many ways in that conversation. He truly listened and made me feel better about my dad. Then, he helped me to become a better writer and thinker in that conversation, and in all of the classes I had with him after that. In every class, Dr. Stratton challenged my ways of thinking and writing, and made me laugh through it all. Beyond that, he always remembered that first conversation in his office. He often asked in his own way how my dad was doing, and how I was really doing. He cared to ask, but cared even more to listen to the response.

I'm not sure one could explain him as a professor, unless you had sat in his classes. He was eccentric, quirky, full of wit and humor, while being passionate and sincere. Dr. Stratton made us students see things differently, and he certainly pushed us all outside of our comfort zones and little boxes. But so much of how he taught us, myself in particularly, to understand how to think and write, and analyze Shakespeare, I find myself sharing and using to teach my high school students the same things.

After taking several of his classes, it was clear that he wasn't just admired and adored by me, but by pretty much every other student. At some point during those four years, we nicknamed him Strattypants. I'm not sure why, and it was out of love, even though it probably sounds disrespectful. We never called him that to his face. We heard that a student after we graduated called him that to his face; I can only hope he knew it was out of admiration. And I hope that he laughed.

We all tried to take his classes as often as possible. Even now, my social media feed can attest to that as several AU alumni shared their sadness in Dr. Stratton's passing, but also rejoicing and celebrating the memories and lessons we learned from him. I can only hope that before he passed away, he knew how much we admired and adored him, and his Birkenstock sandals with socks.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Alumna Reflects on John Stratton's Generosity and Grace

By Christina Adkins, class of 2008, Integrated Language Arts major

The news of Dr. Stratton saddened me deeply. He was my academic advisor during my undergrad years at Ashland during 2004 through 2008. He was always patient with me even when he was offering stern advice. Because of his persistence in pushing me to finish what I started, I can honestly say that I wouldn't have graduated had it not been for him. You see, I nearly failed out during my junior year of college. I got so caught up in the social aspects of college life, was working full time waitressing, and wanted so badly to make friends that I let my studies fall to the wayside. I can recall countless times I'd sit in his office for advice, encouragement, or just to have someone to talk to. Every time I would come in, he'd turn from whatever he was doing and give me his full attention. He could have easily failed me. He could have easily turned away, but instead he gave me the grace and hope I needed to complete my education. He set a plan in place to get me back on track, and didn't talk down to me regardless of the crazy issues I'd come to him with.

There is one particular occasion that really sticks out to me about him. As a broke college student, I would always sell back my textbooks after each term. One set of books, the Norton Anthology, was a set of 4 that retailed for over $300 at the time. I sold them back after my junior year once I had completed the classes I had needed them for in order to buy books for the next class. I found out closer towards graduation that I needed those particular books to study for my Praxis Content Area exam that would later lead to my teaching certification. I came to him venting, crying mostly about how I felt stupid for selling back those particular books because I couldn't afford to buy them again to study with. He stopped me and reassured everything would be alright. He then got up and pulled all 4 of those books I had needed off his bookshelf and handed them to me. He told me it was my early graduation present. That wasn’t his first instance of grace towards me. On another occasion, when I had come in just to have someone to talk to, he shared with me a short short story he had written about his rose garden. It was a symbol of hope and beauty during times of chaos, which was quite the metaphor in relation to my life during that time.

Out of all the professors I’ve had throughout the years, I can honestly say my favorite would have to be Dr. Stratton. He believed in me before I was fully able to believe in myself. When I wanted so badly to give up and just quit, he encouraged me to keep fighting and not give up hope. To never ever give up hope because without it we are nothing. I contribute not only my graduation from Ashland to his sincere efforts as my college advisor, but also the gift of compassion. He taught me to give beyond the job expectation, to give the gift of knowledge freely, and to focus on the good even during times of chaos.

After college, I moved down south. I taught high school English for over five years, earned my Master’s Degree, and am now enrolled in the PhD program for Education. I would have never considered continuing my education if it weren’t for Dr. Stratton pushing me during my undergrad years. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to go back and thank Dr. Stratton for his all of his sincere efforts and patience in having me as an advisee. I was probably annoying to him, and I’m sure I drove him nuts with my constant visits, but he always responded with grace and patience. He changed my life and I regret never taking the time to thank him for that.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Local Educator and Alumna Remembers John Stratton

By Aaryn (Faith) Wynn, class of 2003

I came to AU as an accounting major my freshman year, in 1998; little did I know how completely illogical that was for me. I had Dr. Stratton for my freshman English course, and he recognized my love for literature and writing. After much discussion with him and my adviser, I changed my major to Integrated Language Arts Education 7-12 that next semester. I took several additional courses taught by him, and not only absorbed the literature and crafted my writing, but also how to be an effective teacher. This is my fourteenth year in the profession, and I know I'm doing what I was intended to do.

I still use several of the selections he used and his methods of teaching in my own classroom, today. I have a packet of selections that he entitled "Poetic Prose", and use this as the introduction to my poetry unit in my Junior English classes at Crestview High school. He knew how to lessen the anxiety students feel about analyzing poetry and to foster interest in poems. When discussing essay writing, I often quote him, saying, "If it's only clear and concise, it's boring. Take risks. But don't make it muddy for the sake of being muddy, either; make it meaningful." I wrote that in my notes in one of his classes, and I've never forgotten it.

He was always jovial (I remember us laughing at/with him for wearing socks with his sandals) and kind, yet honest and critical when necessary. That said, he was willing to take time with anyone who needed help.

He is a legend.