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January 2022: A Note From the Chair

| Jan Stirm, Ph.D.

Dear Friends, Alums, Colleagues, and Students,

As I write on this chilly January morning, glad to be in the warmth of my office with a thermos of coffee, I'm reflecting on my earlier letters to you.  In my first note, I was transitioning to being chair, and all of us were still adjusting to a world with COVID.  Some things have changed, and some less so.  I'm feeling more comfortable as chair now, though I'm still learning a lot.  Earlier this week, I was working on budgeting with folks in the Dean's office, and felt a light go on in my brain:  The budget actually made sense to me.  And, even better, we have a bit of extra money in our budget for more travel funding this year than I'd thought.  So when I write my welcome back to the semester email, I get to share that good news with my colleagues, and ask them to submit further travel requests.  Of course, COVID, and especially the Omicron variant will affect travel plans, but some conferences are happening in person, so maybe folks can travel.  (And if they do, I hope they travel safely!)  On the other hand, we're still fighting systemic racism and we're still dealing with COVID.  Budgets are still difficult.

I think as a whole we've learned a lot about teaching and learning in the pandemic.  So we're better prepared in a lot of ways for the new semester and dealing with the Omicron variant.  On the other hand, we're also all tired and stressed, our students especially.  In fall, I taught a senior seminar; the course (on 16th and 17th century comedy) had students from all our emphases, and I have to say, as always, I was deeply impressed by how smart, thoughtful, and insightful our students are.  It's lovely to see the different strengths students bring to a senior seminar, to see how they make connections with other courses or programs to help us all learn. 

As I look forward to the coming semester, I'm worried about Omicron, about the stress and worries that faculty, staff, and students all feel, and which continues to build.  I'm worried about peoples' health, and trying to facilitate strong learning and reasonable safety.  I'm glad for vaccines and boosters, and hopeful that we'll manage to help keep each other well.

In last winter's letter, I told you about an exciting scholarship opportunity thanks to John Magliocco.  The Magliocco scholarship provides a $1000 scholarship to entering students from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds with a declared English major or minor, and is renewable for a second year.  Our first Magliocco scholars entered this year, and are flourishing.  Dr. Sarita Mizin meets with these students regularly to mentor them, providing support and advising.  We're looking forward to another cohort next year, and hope the current scholars will help the new scholars, too.  If you'd like to help fund a third year of the program, please contact me or Foundation.  Also, please encourage any High School seniors you know who are interested in English to apply; we'd love to have them join us.

In last year's newsletter, you also read about BJ Hollars' project, the Midwest Artist Academy, a program for area youth interested in the arts.  The inaugural year was a tremendous success, and this year's program, scheduled for July 10-17, looks exciting, too.  Happily, we've learned that a number of students from the program are enrolling at UWEC this coming fall.  Frankly, the more students who love and practice arts of all sorts, the better!  (You can read more about last summer's program in this newsletter.)

In this newsletter, I encourage you to read the lovely remembrance of Professor Grace Shipley by Dr. Kathleen Serley, and the note from Professor Emerita Helen Dale about the scholarship she's funding.  The other day I got a note that a graduate made a donation to the department in my name, and I have to say, I got a bit teary eyed.  It pretty much made my day.  Scholarships of all sorts help students in the most direct ways.

This spring, thanks to help from Doug Pearson and the Chippewa Valley Writer's guild, we'll welcome writer Peter Geye on April 4th to read and work with our Creative Writing students. 

Further, we're excited to be part of the Smithsonian exhibit, "The Bias Inside Us" coming to the Pablo Center from February 26-March 27.  I encourage those of you in the area to go if you can.

We're planning our department spring celebration for May 13th, the last day of classes, from 3-5:30 pm in Davies, Ojibwe C.  Please do join us if you can.

Here's a request:  While education is about way more than getting a job, most students (and their parents) do want to feel confident that they'll find a good way to make a living someday.  If you've got a few minutes, I'd love to hear from you about your path to finding your career, and about how English studies helped along the way, or maybe some advice to current students?  That would be a neat addition to our summer newsletter.

I hope you enjoy the newsletter, and wish you good health and kindness. 

Best wishes, Jan