As it turns out, even two-hour drives through the snowcapped countryside of a Wisconsin winter can’t stop a truly dedicated individual.
Such was the case for Tenille Nowak (formerly Tenille Pionkowski), a graduate of the English Master’s program at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. During those semesters, from January 2002 to August 2005, she would finish her day job teaching high school English in Stevens Point and, once a week, make the trek over to UWEC to attend night class, no matter the weather.
Nowadays, Nowak lives once again in Stevens Point, where she accepted a request to provide thoughts on her time at UWEC and advice for students who are or will be in positions similar to hers. Before she came back to Stevens Point though, she spent time away to continue her education and then to teach. Once she graduated from UWEC, Nowak moved on to Marquette University, where she received her Ph.D. in 2008. There she focused on British Literature, the Long Eighteenth Century in particular, and wrote a dissertation titled, “The Gothic Novel and the Invention of the Middle-Class Reader: Northanger Abbey as Case Study.” After earning her doctorate, she taught at a variety of places, including Carroll College (now Carroll University), Northcentral Technical College, UW-Marathon County, and UW-Stevens Point, the lattermost of which being where she still currently works as a Senior Lecturer and teaches primarily Freshman Writing, Advanced Freshman Writing, and Sophomore Writing. Suffice it to say, her career in academia is right on track.
When asked to reflect on her time at UWEC, Nowak was quick to note that what she’d learned at Eau Claire helped prepare her for her future studies. The most useful thing she learned, Nowak said, was how to devise, research, and write a major paper. This, she felt, gave her a head start compared to some of her doctoral classmates who had taken exams instead of written theses. In addition, Nowak built upon her particular interests that she’d cultivated while at UWEC, particularly British Literature. While in the Masters’ Program, she wrote her thesis on “Harry Potter and the Fantastic Bildungsroman,” a culmination of this work. Her eventual dissertation on Northanger Abbey, mentioned above, was a natural extension of and a closer examination into what she’d been analyzing already during her time at Eau Claire. During her time at UWEC, Nowak learned a lot about both how to research and what she enjoyed studying, and both of these were vital to her success in her Ph.D. program.
Nowak made sure to offer a few tips for current and future graduate students, at UWEC and elsewhere. The first, she said, is that it’s important to broaden your horizons during graduate school. If you’re focusing on the Victorian period, maybe take a class on Chaucer. Or, if you’ve never been in one, take your first creative writing workshop. While it was Nowak’s unique circumstances, her commute in particular and the resulting ability to take only night courses, that lead her to taking classes outside of her wheelhouse, she believes it was important to her securing jobs later on in her career. “The broader your background,” she said, “the more appealing you are to future employers.”
While thinking back on her time at UWEC, Nowak made sure to compliment the professors with whom she studied. All of them were highly qualified and pleasant individuals, she said, but she made special note of Dr. David Jones. She described him as “the epitome of what I think a professor should be: knowledgeable, professional, and approachable.” She explained further his willingness to offer constructive criticism and to engage in debate, as well as his ability to provide the right encouraging word. She also spoke of his ability to be a real person: “I always felt comfortable asking his opinion or coming up to him to say hi.” Nowak strives to emulate Dr. Jones’ style and ability to be so personable now that she’s the one teaching, because she finds that it’s conducive to student success.
Nowadays, Nowak is still at work on projects related to the interests she fostered at UWEC, but she has also continued to broaden her horizons. In addition, without the hours-long treks during the week, she can partake in more hobbies outside of academia. Beyond teaching, Nowak is working on encyclopedic-type entries for the Cambridge Guide to the Eighteenth-Century Novel, and she recently presented papers at both the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association and the College English Association conferences. While the presentations do not strictly relate to the eighteenth century, they do explore topics with a pedagogical lens. Her hobbies, in addition, are wide-ranging; they include scuba diving, traveling, yoga, tennis and racquetball, and spending time with her pups. As she explained, she believes firmly in a balance between work and home.
Tenille Nowak, after years away and with many successes already under her belt, still looks back fondly on what she learned at Eau Claire and the relationships she fostered while studying in the English Masters’ program. As she looks back at her rural drives and time spent studying, she stands also as an example of accomplishment and what time spent at UWEC can help a student achieve.