What has attracted you to the field of composition and rhetoric? What questions do you wish to pursue?
I taught my first course in freshman composition in the spring of 2005, and, as luck would have it, I enrolled in my first graduate course in composition that semester as well. I had just switched my focus in my master’s degree work at the University of New Hampshire from creative non-fiction writing to teaching English. The requirements for the MST degree were very open – I just needed to take eight courses that had something to do with writing, teaching, or a combination of the two. I was substitute teaching during the day to make some extra money, and Paul Matsuda’s Tuesday night transactional writing course fit my schedule well. Not knowing anything about composition – or what “transactional” could possibly mean – I enrolled.
I was the only master’s student in that class, and I knew I was instantly over my head, surrounded by eager PhD students who spat out names, titles, and multisyllabic words I had never heard before with an ease I envied. Even though I was intimidated coming home from that first class, I was determined to succeed. I would stay in that class. I would read everything. I would throw myself into their discussions. I would get an A. And, hopefully, I would understand what “transactional writing” meant.
That class introduced me composition as a discipline, a field previously unknown to me. That course, along with the section of first-year composition that I taught that semester, sold me on the field. I was struck about how composition and rhetoric focuses on the choice of the rhetor/writer: their conscious (or unconscious?) choice of diction, form, or subject directly affects how their words and ideas are received by their audience and, in no small way, their specific words affect what their message says. I have always been interested in choice; when driving down Erie Boulevard, I find myself thinking, “I wonder why the Air-Flo sign is teal,” or “I wonder how Brueggers’ chose that font for their logo.” It’s a continuation of something I did as a child – I took books of speeches down to my basement and read them out loud, marveling about how one word or phrase changed the entire feeling of a piece. Language was invigorating. Making that correct, crucial choice amazed me.
The field of composition also addresses another, more concrete area of interest for me. I am interested in how technology has affected both communities and communication. I see technology in a broad sense, from how the Industrial Revolution transformed the farm into a business enterprise, kicking the men and then the women off the homestead and forever changing family and societal dynamics and power structures, to how cell phones, instant messaging, and emailing have simultaneously drawn the distant corners of the world close together and alienated neighbors. Are we as scholars looking at the consequences of technology as well as its benefits? And are those consequences acceptable to us as human beings?
I am also very interested in the pedagogical aspect of the field. I think it is important that we view our students as writers and as emerging members of society. We have a responsibility to them to provide them with an education that will inspire them to change their communities for the better, and we must give them the tools in order to do that. In first-year composition, I believe it is important to teach students to critically engage with the texts that surround them, both traditional print texts and other, non-traditional rhetorical forms. I want to teach my students that everything around them is a rhetorical choice, influenced by history, culture, and technology. I think that if they can see their world through this kind of rhetorical lens, they won’t take the status quo for granted, instead challenging reality and insisting on a better way to live. At Syracuse, I want to investigate ways that this pedagogy can be put into action in both my individual classes and, on a broader level, how this concept can be incorporated into a writing program as a whole. I am interested in how writing program administration functions, especially the institutional politics that influence and shape it. I would like to run a writing program someday, and because I don’t know much about it at all, I think I’d like to pursue writing program administration for my independent reading project.
I feel like I have a wide variety of interests coming into the CCR PhD, and I’m not quite sure as of yet how they fit into the discipline of rhetoric and composition. I am at once both sure that I fit into this field and nervous because so many aspects of the discipline don’t seem to coincide with my particular interests. It is such a varied field, as Louise Phelps explained in her entry on composition studies in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition, unlike other academic disciplines like biology or history that have cores of shared ideologies and methodologies. I’m looking forward to my work in CCR 601 because I believe it will help me begin to carve out my niche in composition.