Building on a Strong Foundation

The most important thing an institution does is not to prepare a student for a career but for a life as a citizen.

–Frank J. Newman

Photo of Aaron Baker by Deanna Dent.

In my just over four months as Interim Chair of English, a lot of my time has been spent on the kinds of things you would imagine I’d be doing: meetings; scrutinizing budgets, teaching schedules and enrollment numbers; and writing promotion letters. But a great deal of my attention so far has also been devoted simply to learning about this very large department of ours, its numerous programs, and the impressive collection of talented, generous, and hard working people who populate them. I have to admit it intimidates me at times; my own contribution to the department seems quite modest when I see how much so many members of the Department of English are doing: teaching and advising students, building new courses, researching and writing, and making a difference in the community.

In addition to the impressive fact that this fall we have an all-time high of nearly 1,800 majors, here are a few of the other accomplishments that have impressed me so far.

My colleague Jacque Wernimont was appointed as Interim Director of the Nexus Lab for digital and computational humanities within the Institute for Humanities Research at ASU. Wernimont is a nationally recognized researcher and teacher in digital archiving, feminist digital media studies, histories of quantification, and technologies of commemoration. Two more of my colleagues—Sybil Durand and James Blasingame of English Education—won this year's award for the best column in The ALAN Review, the publication of NCTE's Assembly on Literature for Adolescents. Two of the students in our outstanding Creative Writing Program, Maritsa Leyva Martinez and Marco Pina, both received ASU Graduate College Reach for the Stars Fellowships ($15,000 and tuition), which are for students traditionally underrepresented in their field of study. At another celebration of our students’ accomplishments this fall, I had the pleasure of presenting the Homecoming Writing Awards given for the best poetry, prose, and critical essay by English majors or minors. We had the extra pleasure at that ceremony of hearing the winners, Delaney Kranz, Jordan Mychal Dahlen, and Ashley Barnard, read from their fine work.

Beyond these measures of excellent research, teaching and learning,  members of the department are also making an impact in the larger community. Lecturer Corri Wells was given the Education Volunteer of the Year Award for her work at the Arizona State Prison in Eyman. Wells is Director of the Prison Education Programming in which a number of faculty and students donate their time to teach in Arizona correctional facilities.

Next fall will be a time of big changes for the English department: Krista Ratcliffe, currently head of the English Department at Purdue University, will be taking over as our new Chair, and the entire department will be moving to a new space in the former Ross-Blakely Law Library, now known as Ross-Blakely Hall. That change will be building on what is already a very strong foundation.

Aaron Baker

Photo of Aaron Baker by Deanna Dent.