Esther and Robert Armstrong Professor of Rhetoric
Director of the Writing Center
B.A. in English, Kansas State University (1967)
M.A. in English, Washington State University (1969)
Ph.D. in American Studies, Washington State University (1982)
What classes do you teaching?
Each year I teach the following courses:
- Memory and Memoir (Fall Term First-Year Seminar)
- Cultural Studies (Fall Term)
- Introduction to Midwest Culture (Fall Term course for exchange students from Waseda University in Japan)
- Directed Summer Reading (Summer reading course completed in Fall Term)
- Topics in Composition and Communication (Fall and Spring Term staff development course for students who work in the Writing Center)
- Honors Composition (Spring Term)
- The Essay (Spring Term)
- Environmental Rhetoric (Spring Term)
- Writers Colony (May Term travel literature course)
- Nature Writing (Summer Term course at Coe's Wilderness Field Station)
What activities or campus organizations are you actively involved with?
- Coe Writing Center
- Alpha Nu (college literary society)
- Colere (literary journal, publishes work dealing with multi-cultural issues
What makes Coe stand out from other schools?
- Flexible curriculum, enabling students to create courses of study that fit with their interests; many students can complete a double major, study off campus, and still graduate in four years.
- Excellent working relationship between faculty and students: a friendly, collegial, collaborative environment.
- Opportunities for students to create their own organizations, pursue independent study projects, study overseas, participate in a diverse range of activities-all of this sustained by a supportive administration, faculty, and staff.
- Writing-Across-the-Curriculum: represents the college's commitment to critical thinking and literary across the curriculum.
What is your favorite class to teach and why?
Impossible to identify favorites, but I do enjoy the classes where we have opportunities to get out of the classroom and write about our experiences. Thus my Cultural Studies course is structured around a series of a dozen walks, our Topics in Composition course has a weekend retreat and annual trips to professional conferences all over the United States, the Nature Writing course is based on daily canoe trips near the Field Station and into the Boundary Waters, the Introduction to Midwest Culture course has weekly trips to historic places in eastern Iowa, the Writers Colony class involves 25-day expeditions to such places as New Zealand, Inner Mongolia, and the Lake District in England.
Name your most memorable Coe concert, performance, lecture or program and what it meant to you.
Traveling with students has had the biggest impact on my life: taking three students to spend three weeks working with the four national universities in Syria, teaching a theatre course in London for the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, developing the course where students and I spend three weeks living in farm houses and cottages in the Lake District, doing a three-week road trip on Route 66, teaching a course on baseball that required seeing 21 major league games in 21 days in 9 different ball parks, and the amazing trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area with my Nature Writing classes. Those trips have created memories that will last a lifetime.
What is your most memorable moments interacting with a Coe student?
In the past twenty years, the Writing Center staff have given over 100 presentations at regional, national, and international conferences. It's hard to beat the exhilaration that comes when a presentation has gone well, the staff had a responsive audience, and everyone feels good about the preparation and the presentation.
What research or projects are you currently working on with Coe students?
We always have a dozen or more projects in various stages of development. For example, in recent years I have had some wonderful students put together a web site on the history of Coe College, focusing on the college's first 100 years. Over 100 students have contributed to this project. No one asked for us to do the project, but it's been wonderfully informative for me, provided good research experiences for students, and has (I hope) produced a site that students, staff, alums, faculty, and friends of the college can use for many years to come.
What is your favorite website?
Although it's an ancient web site that will soon be thoroughly remodeled and modernized, my favorite remains the Coe Writing Center Web Site: https://sites.google.com/a/coe.edu/writing-center/home. A second favorite would be the college's Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Web Site, designed by another Writing Center staff member: http://www.public.coe.edu/wac/index.htm. Neither is perfect, but I love how they have both been created and maintained by a sequence of creative, dedicated Coe students.
Who is playing on your iPod?
I don't own an iPod and I don't carry a cell phone. At heart and soul, I am still a farm kid from Kansas in the 1950s. I didn't need an iPod then; I don't feel the need for one now.
What book are you currently reading?
Alas, one of my problems is that I'm usually reading 15-20 books at a time, mostly nonfiction, usually books connected with my teaching. Current books piled on my bedstead and members of my night time reading lineup include a new translation of the book of Samuel by Robert Alter, a couple of books on baseball, Walking English by David Crystal, Can Poetry Save the Earth? by John Felstiner, Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams, and Railroads in the Old South by Aaron Marrs (a marvelous work of history, recently published by Johns Hopkins Press, that happens to have been written by my son). Books being reread include The Long-Legged House by Wendell Berry, As Eve Said to the Servant by Rebecca Solnit, and Walden by Henry David Thoreau (I have lost count how many times I've read this work but it keeps improving, every trip with Thoreau revealing new insights and pleasures).
What do you enjoy doing outside of class?
Reading, gardening, reading, watching Jon Stuart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central, reading, preparing for trips, reading, traveling with my wife, and reading while traveling. What is the best getaway location, local or abroad? I love my backyard and working in my vegetable garden. I have always loved playing in the dirt. I also have a special fondness for the Lake District in England: such a beautiful and diverse terrain with rich historical associations, as close to an idyllic landscape as any I have ever experienced. But I also love the Flint Hills of Kansas, with a raw beauty that I have grown to appreciate more as I have grown older.
What does teaching at Coe mean to you?
I love teaching because it gives me an excuse for continuing to work on my own education, read new books, engage in new conversations, read student compositions, help students discover new ways to enhance their learning. There is nothing more exciting or rewarding than this interaction with students. New knowledge and understanding is created in the collaborative communities as we work together. It's great fun to be engaged in this kind of learning environment.
What is your favorite thing about Coe?
I don't know if it's my favorite, but I do love many aspects of the campus. I love walking across the campus at different times of the day or night, in the different seasons. I love working in this beautiful park, observing the variety of trees on campus. I am always amazed at how the campus can be so close to 1st Avenue and yet we can feel so separate and self-contained and autonomous. I love walking across campus and reflecting on how the campus has grown and evolved in the past 150 years. And I love those first moments entering the library, being immediately surrounded by those beautiful paintings of Marvin Cone.
What is your favorite Coe tradition?
Graduation Day, out on the quad, hoping it won't rain, watching students you have known for four years receive their degree and prepare for their departure. It is such a bittersweet day: so much sadness, knowing many of these marvelous people you will never see again; so much joy, celebrating their wonderful accomplishments...
What advice would you give a prospective student?
There is a Zen saying, "Eat when you eat, sleep when you sleep." That advice appears in all my course syllabi, reminding students to be present in the present. When you study, study. Go all the way. Turn off the tv and the video games, forget about the big game on the weekend, ignore the phone messages and the party down the hall. Absorb yourself in the task at end. Adopt the same approach with all your classes, with all your activities, and your college experience will bring many unexpected joys, unforeseen triumphs.