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Kyle Jensen, the new director of ASU Writing Programs and professor in the writing, rhetorics, and literacies program, was delighted to join ASU’s Department of English last fall. Currently, Jensen is working on multiple research projects: he is coauthoring a textbook with our department chair Krista Ratcliffe, writing a manuscript on a book he found written by Kenneth Burke in the 1940s, and adding the finishing touches to an edited collection titled Responding to the Sacred.
In his first book, Jensen examines the history of process-based writing instruction. “The history of writing instruction has argued that our role is to teach students and help them improve their literacy. I argue that definition is narrow,” explains Jensen. As a scholar of rhetoric, Jensen is gripped by problems that aren’t captured as he thinks they could be in research. His approach to investigating a problem is “to read around the problem.” Besides books on rhetoric and rhetorical studies, his bookcase is filled with literature on subjects such as psychology, mathematics, philosophy, and economics just to name a few. Rather than read literature exclusively in his field, Jensen reveals that he reads books in a wide range of disciplines. This approach helps him to develop an innovative angle and avoid replicating the work of other scholars.
Prior to arriving at ASU, Jensen taught as an associate professor of English at the University of North Texas. Jensen observes that the work of faculty in ASU’s Writing Programs is important because it has a ripple effect, which he notes is also the case at UNT, though not at the same scale. The interactions between instructors and students is pivotal, and as a writing programs administrator, or WPA as it’s commonly called in the field, Jensen feels a responsibility to increase the success of these interactions. “I like problem-solving that qualitatively improves the lives of those who I am leading,” says Jensen.
As a WPA, Jensen believes it is important to make a conscious effort to listen to the concerns of everyone in the department. He recognizes that faculty bring with them a diverse set of skills and wants to know what those skills are to help faculty maximize them. At the start of the fall 2019 semester, Jensen asked faculty in the Department of English to highlight their strengths. “If I know strengths, I can reach out and make suggestions based on attributes,” Jensen explains.
While Jensen admits that WPA work poses challenges due to the complexity of systems and scarcity of resources, he is eager to advocate on the behalf of faculty and students. To Jensen, helping his colleagues is what he finds gratifying about his WPA role. “Being a Writing Program Administrator is about service,” says Jensen, citing Shirley Rose, his predecessor, as an exemplar of a WPA dedicated to service.
Image: Courtesy of Kyle Jensen
Video: Jensen gives the 2019 Writing Programs director's address during fall convocation. Video by Bruce Matsunaga.