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Director of online programs for ASU English, Kathleen Hicks has come full circle. She received her PhD in English at ASU in 2003, taught for ASU English, and coordinated online education in Writing Programs even before online education was a hot commodity. She left ASU in 2013 to focus her career on online instruction and accepted a position at Grand Canyon University, where she developed undergraduate and graduate courses and programs for the College of Business and the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions.
Fortunately for us, in July 2019, Hicks returned to the department, where online is booming, with nearly 1,700 students in its two undergraduate and three graduate online degree programs. Short term goals for Hicks are to update the curriculum and improve faculty training, including the development of a Canvas training course for new online faculty. The big picture goal is to offer students high quality online learning experiences that encourage them to become better thinkers, writers, and citizens.
“The great thing about ASU’s program is that students from all over the world are privileged to learn with some of the most highly qualified professors in the field," says Hicks, "and we are privileged to have such a wide audience who desire to learn with us.” Hicks admires her online students’ commitment and is aware of the sacrifices they often make to complete their degrees.
Hicks is amazed at the diversity of her students who come from all walks of life—including Peace Corps volunteers, scuba divers, and airplane wing walkers. She has one student touring the country on her motorcycle while finishing her capstone at roadside cafes. Many online students are K-12 teachers who have reported being able to immediately integrate into their lives what they learned in the program. “That’s what we want,” says Hicks, “a relevant program that provides people the skills they need to advance in their professions and if they are positively impacting future generations and their communities through the program—all the better!”
Hicks’ dissertation focused on the socio-biological and ecological underpinnings of John Steinbeck’s writing. Steinbeck was one of the earliest novelists to incorporate environmental ethics. Hicks was engaging in ecocriticism before it was cool! She’s maintained ties to Steinbeck research through her position as associate editor for Steinbeck Review. Her most recent project was a study she did with an Algerian scholar, which was published in the Spring 2020 issue of Steinbeck Review. “It was very interesting to see what appeal Steinbeck holds for a predominantly Arabic North African population,” says Hicks.
With a demanding job, three children, a husband, and an old cat, she has little time to spare. But when she happens to find some, she listens to audiobooks (she loves Harry Potter) for relaxation and for company as she does mundane tasks.
But there’s nothing mundane about Hicks' job as online director, and she’s thrilled to help her colleagues design and teach courses they love. “I am so happy to be back in the department in a position that uniquely combines both of my career passions—English and instructional design!” says Hicks.
Image 1: Courtesy Kathleen Hicks.
Image 2: Hicks' essay with Chaker Mohamed Ben Ali in the Spring 2020 issue of Steinbeck Review is: "Reading John Steinbeck in Algeria."