My freshman year of high school I committed myself to becoming “well read.” I found this desire somewhere between my Anne of Green Gables obsession and a desperate need to impress my peers. I read every list of must-read classic literature I could get my hands on, and I created my own list of 100 books I wanted to read before I graduated high school. I kept up with the list for two years, faithfully reading two books a month. I read everything from Anna Karenina to Beloved, from The Grapes of Wrath to The Trial. Eventually I gave up on the list. I started developing my own literary taste and wanted to read too many books that weren’t on the list. I also realized that I was leaving the longer, more challenging books for the end and there was no way I’d be able to read both Moby Dick and Ulysses in a month. Despite the lists ultimate failure, through this experience I grew accustomed to reading not only for entertainment, but for the critical challenges that came with it. Although these skills weren’t refined, I came into St. Norbert College ready to invest myself into literature and engage in critical scholarship.
While I felt prepared for college level reading, college level writing was a different story. I came in with a general idea of what an essay would look like, but I struggled to understand how to create a thesis statement that made a single, specific claim. I also had a general idea of what college level research looks like, but I did not have a concrete set of skills that made for an organized research process. I definitely spent most of my first year learning how to come up with interesting thesis statements and figuring out how to support those ideas effectively.
I came into college with a picture of what the literary canon was, but it limited based on my understanding of high school reading lists and a vague notion of “classic literature.” At St. Norbert through my survey classes I was exposed to a wide range of novelists, poets, and essayist. My picture of the literary canon is definitely more complete after those courses. I also gained a sense of the extent to which the literary canon was incomplete. In ENGL 301 especially, I read several contemporary novels and had to assess whether or not they should be included in the canon. After all of my courses, I am interested in investigating more about the ways that the literary canon represents marginalized groups and how that is changing in the modern era. This criticism of patriarchal and racist structures has informed several of the essays I have written for my classes. I’ve learned that I feel most passionate about my scholarly work when I am addressing injustice to some extent, without knowledge of the literary canon, I would not be able to accurately address the inequities within these texts.
Most English majors tout their excellent critical thinking skills, and while I think this is warranted, I also think that there are some specific aspects of critical thinking that my English major has assessed. I learned critical thinking is not just about making observations and attaching meaning to them, it is about asking critical questions. Because of my English major, I am able to look at both complex texts and the world around me and question the way we interact with those things. This has motivated a passion for social justice, which I am planning on following throughout my career. My Enligh major has taught me that answers are important, but the questions that start conversations are really the basis for profound critical thinking.
I also learned that critical thinking is worth a lot less if you don;t know of to organize it into a form that people can understand. I learned a lot in my English major about creating effective arguments. When I came in, I was able to create a list of supporting evidence for a vague thesis, not I can create an argument that builds on itself rather than simply presenting points. This is still a skill I am working on, but I definitely feel confident presenting an argument (written or spoken) to a groups of people.
I have been a member of Sigma Tau Delta since my sophomore year at St. Norbert and served as president spring semester 2019. I am especially grateful for my experience at the 2017 Sigma Tau Delta conference in Louisville. Not only did this give me a chance to connect with other St. Norbert English majors, it gave me a chance to connect with English majors around the country. It also gave me a chance to present my work to a large audience. While it was nerve wracking, I feel good about presenting my work in a public space.
Although it was not specifically aligned with my English major, I was given the chance to apply my writing skills as a consultant in the writing center. Although I had an idea of what good college writing looked like, teaching those skills helped my refine my own writing system. Being a consultant taught me how to talk about writing in a constructive and kind way. I have had educators tell me that teaching a skill is what takes you from an intermediate level to an expert level. Although my time in my courses built a foundation for excellent writing skills, I believe that I started mastering certain writing skills when I worked at the writing center.
I really enjoyed Dr. Risden’s poetry workshop course. I had written some poetry in high school, but fell out of the habit in college. I was excited about the opportunity to revisit an old hobby. The course gave me a chance to develop my own poetic style and gaian confidence in my creative writing skills. I also think that refining my poetic style helped me develop a distinct academic writing style as well. I especially appreciated the collaborative elements of the class. I learned a lot about talking about poetry and the ongoing revision process.
I also really enjoyed Dr. Neary’s Singles and Couples course. I was excited to take a course that focused on a more specific aspects of literature rather than a survey of an era or broad writing skills. The course combined philosophy and literature and allowed me to gain a new lens for looking at literature. Dr. Neary also gave us many chances to personally reflect on literature and how it applies to my life. This is a skill I will take with me no matter which career path I’m headed towards.
Like most English majors at St. Norbert, I was particularly overwhelmed by my English 305 course. Learning both the ins and outs of a scholarly writing process as well as the basics of a variety of literary theories was a lot for a single course. I do feel that this challenge helped me develop my writing process and helped me think about the purpose and overarching goals of my writing more. I was especially proud of my finished portfolio and the reflective work I did on my writing process. I regret however, not putting more effort into remembering the theoretical side of the course after it was complete. I honestly couldn’t tell you much about post-structuralism or psychoanalysis besides a very general overview.
I am very grateful for the advisement I received throughout this process. While all of my professors were encouraging, I am especially thankful to my advisor, Dr. Risden. Throughout my college career Dr. Risden has encouraged me to follow my own course for success rather than seeking to impress my peers or gain extra fluff for my resume. When I was a freshman, this approach frustrated me, but he has taught me to be both realistic and optimistic when creating goals. Because of his advice, I stuck with my passions throughout my college career and will continue to follow my passions rather than expectations and fancy titles.
Although I feel that I got a thorough education from my English major, I would have liked more specialized courses. I would like to explore more genre’s of literature or have more courses on specific themes or authors. Some of the best classes I took were taught by professors who specialized their classes based on their interests. The enthusiasm they showed for the topics made the course more interesting and more inspiring.
I also think I would have done well with a basic college writing course at the beginning of my major. I supplemented English 150 for AP credits and I regret it. I wish someone would have advised me to take it anyway, or that there were a course I was required to take instead. Although I learned some college writing skills in high school, I went into my surveys feeling lost on how to approach the writing aspects.
Taking on an English major has helped me develop skills that are both employable and personally valuable. Since I have been taught to raise critical questions and form coherent arguments to address those critical questions. Knowing that I have these skills gives me the confidence to speak my mind and present my ideas and creative expression to the public eye.