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The English Departmental Honors Experience

| Brianna Kosmer

Emilio Taiveaho

Emilio Taiveaho, 2017 English Literature and Latin American Studies graduate

Ever wondered how to further involve yourself in your studies, or how your experiences can apply in a scholarly way to your education? The English Departmental Honors program at UWEC can enhance your English education by both highlighting your past experiences and immersing you in new ones. Promoting both independent and faculty-student scholarly projects, Departmental Honors invites English majors to take part in the program.

Outlining their own experiences with the program, senior Creative Writing major Alexander Zitzner and 2017 English Literature and Latin American Studies graduate Emilio Jesùs Taiveaho highlight the rewards and values of participating in English Departmental Honors.

Alexander Zitzner is no stranger to English-related involvement, as he is currently the Editor-In-Chief of NOTA and has recently completed an internship with Barstow & Grand. In fact, it was through one of his extracurriculars that he first became inspired to apply for the Departmental Honors program. Remarking on his service as the Outreach & Recruitment Officer for the English Ambassadors last year, Alexander notes how he became acquainted with the program, as it was a frequent topic among Ambassadors. “We constantly talked about the Honors program, or at least how we could distinguish those who met the requirements, so I think it was constantly on my mind. Which, of course, got me interested in seeing if I could apply this year,” he remarks.

Alexander reflects on how he then used his experience with NOTA to apply for Departmental Honors: “I was hired as an intern to the former Editor-In-Chief of NOTA, Emilee Grunow, in the first semester of my sophomore year, which was before I really knew anything about graduating with honors.” As a professionalizing academic leadership experience, Alexander used this to fulfill one of his Honors project requirements, explaining, “My time as the Editor-In-Chief relates heavily to gaining professional experience, especially as a leader, since I guide a group of genre editors and designers toward creating a semesterly publication.”

Likewise, to fulfill a second project requirement for the program, Alexander used an experience in faculty-student research. He worked with NOTA’s former Music Director, Geoff Carter, to research the benefits of high-impact educational experiences in workshopping while at the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild’s Cirenaica Writing Residencies. “I did this without really thinking about Honors, but was more so interested in meeting more writers and studying how to sustain the Guild’s ability to provide high-impact educational experiences,” he explains.

Describing how his Departmental Honors experience has enhanced his education at UWEC, Alexander states, “Whether being part of NOTA or the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, if there is anything that I have learned, it is that community is everything. Fortunately, being part of such a diverse and thoughtful group of writers which we find in Eau Claire has enhanced my writing as well as my livelihood.”

In these ways, Alexander has taken his interests and experiences and transformed them into scholarly projects that will allow him to graduate with English Departmental Honors.

Similarly, as a way to prepare for graduate school, Emilio Jesùs Taiveaho, a migrant poet-scholar from Quito, Ecuador, who is currently pursuing his doctorate in English Literature through the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, was encouraged to participate in the Departmental Honors program by his advisor and mentor, Dr. José Felipe Alvergue.

In regards to his scholarly projects for the program, Emilio recalls the one that is most palpable in his memory and continues to influence his current research: an inquiry and exploration of American Modernist Poetics, a research project completed as an extension of ENGL 448: Experimental American Poetry.

“Within the class, my project was twofold: first, to define an approach towards American ‘Modernism’ that centered on poetics as a process - combining artistic and theoretical material to make sense of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons… The second part of my project consisted in crafting a graduate-level research paper, which was a continuation of the research I had been conducting throughout the semester,” he describes.

When highlighting his experience with the Departmental Honors program, Emilio draws heavily on his personal growths, as well as the connections he made with his instructors and mentors, Dr. Stephanie Farrar, who taught ENGL 448 and worked with him on the project, and Dr. Alvergue.

“The semester I spent working on this project was undoubtedly the most beneficial (and thoroughly enjoyable) semester of my undergraduate career, and I really can’t thank Dr. Farrar enough for all of her work and for shaping me both as an academic and as a human being… Dr. Alvergue and Dr. Farrar genuinely cared for me as a scholar and a student, something which significantly altered and transformed my life and set me on the path I’m on today. [They] continue to be my role-models and source of inspiration,” he explains.

Emilio also emphasizes the importance of the program on his whole undergraduate career, as well as how it has affected his current graduate studies: “Participating in the program was the beginning of a ‘serious’ career in English - this was the first moment where I felt that I was writing for an audience that extended beyond the confines of the classroom and which could, potentially, participate in (and contribute to) a larger discursive community… I am not sure I would have survived through the first year of the PhD program I am currently enrolled in had it not been for this experience.”

As both Alexander’s and Emilio’s experiences show, the English Departmental Honors program is an impactful way to professionalize your studies in English and to further apply what you are learning not only to the world of the classroom, but to a larger community as well.