A CARE-ing member of our department retires
Karen Dwyer is always thinking in terms of community
I was lucky enough to be an instructor in the Department of English when Karen Dwyer came from Purdue in 1994 along with Jackie Wheeler, Jeanne Dugan, and Greg Glau—the first lecturers hired to teach composition. At the time, this was part of a new initiative to recognize those who excelled as teachers and develop a professional track for them.
When Dwyer joined ASU, she brought with her up-to-date knowledge about postmodernism and cultural studies. One of her specialties was also professional workplace writing and I remember being in a meeting for English 301 teachers and hearing her speak about things we should be doing in that class. She saw that the class lacked a rhetorical grounding and she urged us to think not about limiting the class to the teaching of various kinds of documents but to think of audiences and their needs. She spoke about how poor writing and inattention to audience was a contributing factor in the Challenger disaster and I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to teach English 301 after hearing her speak.
Some of you may not know that when she was young, Dwyer dropped out of college and moved to Manhattan to work in editing. In her first year, she was editor for a scientific press, the next for a feminist newspaper and then for a company that made insert catalogs for newspapers. That is why she was such an amazing English 301 teacher. Next, she worked in Texas and did volunteer work for Amnesty International. When she went back to school, she got her first degree in economics and her second in English. She then attended Purdue to do her PhD in English, starting in literature but switching to rhetoric and composition.
Back in the old Language and Literature Building, I’d see Dwyer on my way from Writing Programs down to my office. I treasure those conversations. Some were about teaching, but others about TV shows we’d watched and books we’d read, and it was Dwyer who introduced me to the often gruesome Nordic mysteries and thrillers I grew to love. I’ve spent many happy summers reading thanks to her recommendations.
It was Dwyer who took over the Stretch program and helped make it a nationally recognized program. Dwyer explained that Greg Glau, who was the first director of Stretch, asked her to take the program over from him when he left ASU because, he said, “they thought about students the same way.” It was Dwyer who helped recruit and train our instructors and TAs to teach in that program. And one thing Dwyer always stressed is how much she respected and learned from Stretch teachers through the many years of working with them. Dwyer recognized what inclusivity meant long before it became encoded in the university’s mission, and she practiced that every day in the Stretch program.
Dwyer also worked in the Learning Communities with Jeanne Hanrahan. These programs integrated courses so that teachers from different disciplines worked together to show students how what they learned in one course applied to another.
And of course, it was not just her work as a teacher that was so inspiring. Dwyer was the force behind the Department’s charitable giving. Along with Adelheid Thieme, she also worked on an “adopt-a-family” project and together they made that program successful. She also started my favorite program: the backpack granola and snacks for Tempe school kids. She said that one thing that kept her wanting to keep working was the CARE committee that tried to create a student crisis fund.
Dwyer has never stopped trying to give back to the community and involving us all in that effort. I will miss her and I will miss her quiet witty humor.
Karen, have a brilliant retirement and never grade another paper.
Image: Karen Dwyer participates in the Department of English's annual ASU Composition Conference in 2017. Photo by Bruce Matsunaga/ASU.