Monday, August 25, 2014

Alumni Spotlight: Brittany Potter

By Brittany Potter, class of 2010, English major

An English degree at Ashland prepared me better for my job than any other degree I could have pursued. I work with copywriters, proofread their work and offer strategy as needed, and it's at this time that I am grateful to have spent hours in writing and literature classes, since there is no room for grammar or structural errors in an agency setting. On the other hand, I flex my analytical skills on a daily basis while dissecting websites and performing research. I can credit a lot to Ashland and the hours I spent studying and breaking down everything from classic novels to international literature to film. 

Creativity is not only encouraged at Rosetta, but expected - we're constantly looking for ways to make a difference in people's live with at the same time delivering business impact. I can wholeheartedly say that the professors and English department at Ashland offered me the creativity and skills I needed to dive into a career that I had no idea I would end up in, let alone fall in love with.

Shortly after graduation, I was lucky to land an internship with Ketchum, a PR agency in Washington, DC. I lived there for about four months and enjoyed every second of it - I got involved in their digital sector, which was the transition into my full-time career. I worked for a little while at a small digital marketing agency, and most recently grew into a Senior Digital Marketing Strategist role at Rosetta, an interactive marketing & customer engagement agency in downtown Cleveland.

I now work on a handful of nationally recognized clients. Without getting too technical, I'll say I work on my clients' websites to help achieve a few different goals: 
  • Work with their marketing teams to develop effective content strategies and content marketing campaigns (aligning with several other facets of online marketing as we develop them)
  • Help build websites in a way where they can be easily found across the web and in search engines (since most people online are spending their time on them)
  • Promote and share content across the web
Finally, I can say literature courses, and especially ones like the South African course that Professor Lehman  taught, were invaluable because it opened me up to the most important experience of all outside of work: the human experience. The values, philosophies, and musings that came out of the readings in many courses are those that cannot be absorbed in a science class (though science courses are insightful in their own right).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Alumni Spotlight: Cecilia Garman

By Cecilia Garman, class of 2011, English and Creative Writing major. 

I am currently living in Harbin, China, teaching students from ages 3 to age 14 at a private English school called Kid Castle. In order to be able to teach English abroad, I had to get my TEFOL/TESOL certificate. 

Teaching the small children takes a lot of energy and patience. They have almost no English skills, so I really have to begin at the beginning. The older children have a better grasp at some parts of English and are able to have a conversation that is understandable, if a little limited. I like to teach the older students better because I get more out of the interactions. I like to think that I am able to pass along some of my love for English and a passion for learning to the students that helps push them into doing better.

When I say I teach English in China, it’s very different than what American students think of as English class. Here, I am teaching the students to speak English. I start from the basics of the alphabet and ‘What’s your name?’ and I work my way up from there. The students at Kid Castle won’t get into literary analysis until after they leave us, in high school or college level English. I get to teach the language, not the art of English. The grammar class I took has been the most helpful to me with trying to help the older students (who are around 12 or 13) to understand the rules of English language.

Living in China has been, at times, a little overwhelming, especially since I speak next to no Mandarin Chinese. I know enough to get by now, so I’m satisfied with that. The strangest thing about living in China is seeing how different the language really is. Because all the signs on shops and billboards are written in simplified Chinese, it’s a little mind boggling to be able to understand almost nothing when I look around me.

I love the experience of being in a foreign country and trying to fend for myself. I’ve forced myself to try things and go outside of my comfort zone and it’s been a really rewarding experience. I’ve learned that baozi is a really good thing to eat for lunch. It’s a steamed bun stuffed with meat or vegetables. I’ve seen an entirely different way of life here. And at the same time, I’ve seen things that are so much like home that it makes me a little homesick. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything though, despite some of the ups and downs I’ve faced.

I was able to travel to Europe thanks to AU’s study abroad program, which helped prepare me for living life in another country. The best preparation I’ve had to come to China that I got from AU, though, has to be from Dr. Lehman. I took an African literature course with him, and I was my first in depth exposure to a foreign lifestyle and culture. I learned cultural appreciation from him; not just for the new culture I’m experiencing, but also for the one I left behind to come here. Without Dr. Lehman’s stories and the experiences he shared with us, I think I might have had a much harder time adjusting to life in China.

After I’m finished with my year in China, I plan to head to other countries to continue teaching English. I have made it to three continents so far and plan to visit three more.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Undergraduate Creative Writing Major on Her Internship with the AU MFA Residency

By Audrey Art, Creative Writing and Digital Media Journalism major

Audrey Art, David St. John, and Erika Gallion at the MFA Residency

When Joe Mackall pulled me aside after my writing workshop and told me about an internship at the AU Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing residency in July, I panicked. Then he unexpectedly rushed me downstairs to Sarah Wells’s office and he left me there to listen to her explain the job description. I was petrified and eager all at the same time. Essentially, it sounded like the perfect deal. I was going to get to meet well-known writers and people who had the same interests as me who were pursuing them in an MFA, all while getting to sit in on readings and craft seminars. I remember thinking at the beginning of the residency that I was getting paid way too much for two weeks of work. But by the end of those two weeks I understood why they decided on the amount they did. I was exhausted and slept for what felt like a week after the last Saturday.

When I walked into Bixler at 8:00 in the morning on the first day and saw fellow students Erika Gallion and Andrew Kistler waiting with Cassy Brown and Sarah to discuss the schedule, I looked down at the four stapled pages of itinerary laid out in front of me, saw 4:30 AM- take Kerri Snell to Cleveland Airport and took a deep breath that I held in until the next morning.

My first task was to pick up a group of MFA students from the airport, and after I introduced myself like a professional and was met with kindness I knew I was going to be happy working a program with such welcoming, down-to-earth writers.

I found out shortly after the residency started that I could take this experience one of two ways: I could allow myself to be overwhelmed and discouraged by the seemingly unreachable success of the dedicated writers surrounding me, or I could let myself to be motivated and inspired by the enlightenment washing over all in attendance. I realized that some drown in the uncertainty of writing and others swim. But as the visiting poet Rosanna Warren told me: You don’t become a writer to be successful, you become a writer because you have to write.

During his craft seminar, David St. John said: “Jagged pieces of experience can make the world seem not so threatening,” and if there is anything I’ve learned it’s that writing heals and so do writers. The students, visiting writers, and faculty for the Creative Writing MFA program are some of the most warm and honest people I have ever met and every star of humble wisdom shared by them left me profoundly in awe. During my two weeks I had to attend craft seminars, readings, and thesis defenses, but the experiences I know I’ll never forget are getting sushi with David St. John, having illuminating conversations with Rosanna Warren, singing karaoke with my fellow intern Erika, and playing Cards Against Humanity with MFA students. Even when my day started at 8 AM and ended at 9:30 PM I never felt like what I was doing was work. I felt like I was just having an awesome day and time flew by.

In the end, I spent a good chunk of my earnings on memoirs and books of poetry, made lifelong friends, and learned a great deal academically and spiritually. I can hardly wait to do it all over again next year. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

English Department Sponsors Lecture on The Shawshank Redemption

From the AU News Center

The English Department at Ashland University is sponsoring a lecture titled “Redemption through the Feminine in ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ or Why Rita Hayworth Belongs in the Title” by Tony Magistrale, a professor of English at the University of Vermont.
The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held Aug. 29 at 9 a.m. in the Ronk Lecture Hall in the Schar College of Education on the AU campus. The 45-minute talk by Magistrale will include time for questions after the lecture. The event is co-sponsored by the Journalism and Digital Media Department and Hospitality Management Department at Ashland University as well as the Ashland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and The Shawshank Trail.
“We are thrilled to have Dr. Magistrale visit Ashland University to lecture during the events of the 20th anniversary of the Shawshank Redemption," said Dr. Maura Grady, assistant professor of English, who with Dr. Robby Roberson, associate professor of hospitality management, studies film tourism sites.
In addition to the lecture, a number of events are scheduled in Ashland on Labor Day weekend as part of the 20th anniversary of the film, including a free screening of the film on Sunday night at the corner of Orange and Second streets and self-guided tours of the former Huntington National Bank building as well as an autograph signing session by the bank manager in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) is a film that revolves around men in prison, but, according to Magistrale, the three or four “living females” who appear in this film, each occupying a cameo role, are inextricably connected to Andy Dufresne's quest for redemption.
Magistrale has taught courses in writing and American literature since 1983 when he returned to the United States after a Fulbright post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Milan, Italy. He has lectured at many universities in North and South America and Western Europe, most recently at Pontificia Catholic University in Santiago, Chile, and Augsburg University in Augsburg, Germany.
Over the past three decades, Magistrale’s 26 books and many articles have covered a broad area of interests. He has published on the writing process, international study abroad, and his own poetry. But the majority of his books have centered on defining and tracing Anglo-American Gothicism, from its origins in 18th-century romanticism to its contemporary manifestations in popular culture, particularly in the work of Stephen King.

Ashland University MFA Graduate Sets Record with 12th Graduate Degree

From the AU News Center

On Aug. 9, 2014, Dr. Benjamin B. Bolger will earn his first Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Ashland University and his 12th graduate degree, setting a record for the most number of graduate degrees from the most number of graduate schools in the United States and England.
Originally homeschooled, Bolger began college at age 12. He graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, while still a teenager and went on to complete graduate degrees at Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, Columbia, Teachers College, Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, Brandeis and Skidmore. He earned his doctorate from Harvard.
But because of his severe dyslexia, Bolger has only read at a grade school level of reading proficiency for most of his life; relying on his mother to read to him and using books on tape and other compensation mechanisms.
So how does someone like this who lives in Grand Haven, Mich., and Cambridge, Mass., end up in the MFA program at Ashland University?
A number of years ago, several news and media outlets profiled Bolger’s story of being severely dyslexic, yet still pushing forward with his higher education goals. “At that time, it was suggested to me that I should consider writing a memoir about my struggles with dyslexia and my unique educational experiences,” he said.
“To become a good writer takes focus and refined skills.  When I discovered the innovative, low- residency model used by Ashland’s MFA program, I immediately found it appealing,” Bolger said. “The Ashland MFA program offers an accelerated learning experience and features a time efficient and well-structured, limited residency model. The Ashland MFA program has enabled me to refine and hone my creative writing skills while also maintaining an active professional career.”
Bolger also discussed the similarities between Ashland’s program and other celebrated learning models.
“When I was at Oxford and Cambridge, I often met with faculty on a one-on-one basis or in small group context,” he said. “Likewise, the Ashland MFA program also emphasizes close, personalized interaction between faculty and graduate students. At Ashland, my courses have contained five or fewer students. Without question, the incredible amount of personal attention that I have received at Ashland has significantly contributed to my growth and development as a writer.”
Each summer, the Ashland MFA program offers an on-campus residency, which features appearances by leading creative writers.
“When I began the program, Andre Dubus III (author of House of Sand and Fog and Townie) richly impacted me. Last summer, Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild which is being made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon) spoke at our residency. This summer, we have had Kristen Iversen, Judith Kitchen, Rosanna Warren and David St. John,” he said. “What is special about the residency is that high profile writers come in to not only read their celebrated works, but also lead candid, thoughtful and impactful craft focused seminars and workshops. The Ashland MFA program has built up an outstanding reputation for bringing in leading writers to campus who directly interact with students in the program.”
Bolger said Dr. Stephen Haven, the director of the MFA program, has assembled a remarkable and unique collection of creative nonfiction writers and poets. “Each of the faculty mentors has special skills that benefit students,” he said.
“The alumni of the Ashland MFA program are ambitious and unique as well,” he said. “Some of my colleagues who graduated a year or two before me have already published incredible creative writing pieces that reflect the talents that they have developed and refined while in the program. I hope that I’ll eventually follow in their footsteps.”
Bolger, who runs his own private consulting business in Cambridge, Mass., said he has been “absolutely delighted” with his time at Ashland. “Ashland has a world-class, innovative MFA program and I’ve been thrilled to have been a part of it,” he noted.
Bolger’s life story is as interesting as the number of schools he has attended and the number of degrees he has received.
“In Michigan in 1978, my family was hit by a drunk driver at 90 miles per hour. As a two-and-a-half year old, I was almost left without parents.  Following the accident, both my mother and father were rushed to the emergency room and placed in intensive care, where doctors gave them limited hope for survival,” he said. “However, in time, they found the strength and perseverance to overcome serious and permanent physical injuries. Nevertheless, as a child, I watched my parents suffer through extensive physical rehabilitation. I also learned a much broader lesson: life is fragile and fleeting.”
Bolger was diagnosed with severe dyslexia. While he had the good fortune of being correctly identified with a serious learning disability at a young age, his parents and he experienced the crucible of trying to locate a school that could help students with special needs. This search was particularly problematic in the early 1980s because information about special education was often confusing and contradictory. 
After attending a number of public and private schools that offered initial promises, his mother, who was a retired teacher, volunteered to school him at home. Using a model of hands-on learning that Thomas Edison’s mother used when the creative youngster was removed from school due to his dyslexia, Bolger’s mother took him to a wide array of museums, historic sites, cultural events and conferences. 
“Providing me with as many special custom-tailored learning opportunities as she could, my mother was a wonderful teacher. However, I realize that not all parents have the ability or the resources to follow her example,” he said. “Today, countless children continue to face the difficulties I encountered and I remain dedicated to the proposition that America’s public schools should serve everyone.”
The success of his mother’s educational strategy resulted in a bold step.
“When I was 12 years old, I began college. In the end, I earned my undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, graduating with Highest Distinction, an induction into Phi Beta Kappa, a perfect 4.0 grade point average, and I was a James B. Angell Scholar,” he said.
In college, Bolger became active in a number of student organizations devoted to leadership and improvement in the community. 
After completing his bachelor’s degree, he began working as an intern for the Clinton Administration in 1995. 
“In time, I worked in the West Wing Press Office helping to serve members of the national press, gaining unique experience during moments of great national stress,” he said. “My experience in Washington further impacted my career goals and helped confirm an earlier life decision: that I would not strive to be an architect of buildings, my original childhood ambition, but instead, I would work on improving the architecture of society, concentrating on effective public policy and thoughtful social change.”
At 20, Bolger left America to attend the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. He studied in England for three years and earned a degree in sociology from Oxford and a degree in politics and sociology from Cambridge.
“The privilege of simultaneously studying at the two oldest English speaking universities in the world brought excellent opportunities for research, travel and reflection on difficult social policy questions,” he recalls.
Upon his return to America in 1999, he began studies at Dartmouth College that would span five summers. After his first summer at Dartmouth, he attended and graduated from Stanford University’s School of Education, studying in an interdisciplinary program that included courses from the Law School, Graduate School of Business and the School of Humanities and Sciences.
After his second summer at Dartmouth, he moved to New York City in the fall of 2000. 
“In one academic year, I graduated from both Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture and Teachers College,” he said. “While living in Manhattan, I taught at Queens College, Baruch College and the Pratt Institute. One memorable highlight from the spring of 2001 was the privilege of participating in Vice President Al Gore’s post-Presidential election course at the School of Journalism at Columbia.”
Since leaving New York, Bolger has completed graduate degrees at Dartmouth College, Brown University, Brandeis University and Skidmore College. When he moved to Massachusetts, he began studies at Harvard University. 
“Presently, I am pursuing my interests in urban planning and real estate, while incorporating social policy perspectives that have been cultivated and refined in graduate study,” he said.
While in the Boston area, he has taught at Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts, Suffolk University, Emerson College, Lesley College, Quincy College and Bunker Hill Community College. Additionally, he has served as a tutor and an award winning teaching fellow at Harvard.
For relaxation, Bolger said he enjoys public speaking and debating competitions, which have taken him to Europe, Asia, Australia and both sides of North America.
“I have competitively appeared at the European Championships and two World’s Debating Championships. An example of my success includes winning the Princeton University Adlai Stevenson Memorial Public Speaking Tournament,” he said. “Other pursuits have fostered rigorous travel, which has resulted in exploring every inhabited continent. Theater, visual arts and community service are other interests that I regularly pursue.”
Bolger believes his life experiences have shaped who he is today.
“From an early age, I realized that life should never be wasted or squandered and that coping with challenges and overcoming adversity can be a powerful motivation for a life of perseverance and hope,” he said. “My exposure to politics confirmed my interest in the arena of public service, and highlighted the importance of thoughtful, sincere, disciplined and empathetic leadership. In the final analysis, creating a better tomorrow requires a bold vision and recognition of our past experiences.”
So why is Bolger’s 12th record setting graduate degree (for the most number of graduate degrees from the most number of graduate schools in the United States and England) from Ashland University’s low-residency MFA program?
“With the love and support of my mother, I’ve learned how to deal with and overcome the problems caused by my dyslexia. I’m incredibly fortunate to have had a unique and special educational journey.  It’s been a story of perseverance. I’m interested in writing about my experiences because they may help inspire others. Of course, because of my dyslexia, writing is something that is very difficult and challenging for me,” he said.
“Ashland’s unique MFA program has tremendously helped refine my writing skills. As a severe dyslexic, I thought it would be very unlikely that I’d ever study for, or complete, a graduate degree in creative writing,” he said. “Without question, this has been one of my most challenging educational experiences ever.
“People have told me that I have a life’s story that is worth writing about. If that is true, because of my learning experiences from Ashland’s MFA program, I now feel better prepared to write a memoir about my life. Without Ashland, I don’t think I’d be able to say that.”