Will O’Brien graduated from UW-Eau Claire in the spring of 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Language Arts Teacher Education. O’Brien’s education journey does not fail to impress with multiple honors recognition and the English Department’s 2022 outstanding senior award. With a Theatre minor as well, O’Brien was, and still is, involved in theatre productions.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My parents suggested to pursue something with a return on investment, so I enrolled in applied mathematics. It took time to focus on what I was passionate about and pursue that instead. Music, theatre, literature – and then the education piece as well with connecting with others and inspiring others to be focused on empathy and collective action,” O’Brien explains.
Although his major directed him to the English Department, O’Brien mentions his student involvement in theatre was a nice balance in his day and allowed him to prevent himself from burning out. “I would audition for every theatre production. What makes our theatre program special is that many people not a part of the program can audition. I challenge every student to get involved.”
O’Brien on-campus involvement also included undergraduate research. One of his research projects includes an analysis of Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” He presented these findings at various academic conferences including the Johns Hopkins Richard Macksey National Undergraduate Humanities Research Symposium. In April of 2022, his last semester on campus, O’Brien’s conference research paper, "The Turning Wheel: Ideology, Psychoanalysis, and Henry V," won Best Humanities Presentation at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). “I feel honored to have won. The project was founded in my class taught by Dr. Jan Stirm, who helped me greatly in improving my writing and research skills. The award helped with my confidence, pushing me to recognize that the work is important and to be invested in my professional goals.”
Now, in his first school year as an English teacher at Eau Claire Memorial High School, O’Brien praises his educational journey and how it has prepared him in the professional space. “Many of my professors highlighted the importance of molding equity in the classroom and allowing students to have a voice – not feeding them an interpretation but giving them the tools to derive their own perspective.” He mentions in the English field, his classroom can be an opportunity to utilize stories for students to learn about experiences different from theirs. As the school year progresses, O’Brien is excited about his goals as an educator and what he wants to accomplish. “I’m in the process of creating a new English elective for Memorial’s student. It is an introduction to literary and cultural theory, demonstrating to students how text can be read through different frameworks.” O’Brien expresses that his over-arching goal is to have an impact on the students, and rather than to be content-focused, to cultivate a safe space and an environment that students to feel welcomed, heard, and valued.
O’Brien continues to be involved in theatre post-graduation, as part of an ensemble that is comprised of both devised and improvised theatre. At Eau Claire Memorial, he assists in the direction of theatre productions and serves as an acting coach – helping students develop their characters and on-stage presence. O’Brien also helps guide students on Memorial’s competitive improv club.