Carson Leftwich is the first person you see when you come into the Graduate College. As Office Associate, she works the front desk, among her many roles. She spends quite a bit of time on the phone, answering questions, guiding prospective graduate students through the admissions process, and referring calls to the respective departmental graduate advisors. Carson is an editor and writer who produces the Graduate College’s articles for the “Prism” newsletter and the “Graduate Standard.” She guides two fellowships, the Thurgood Marshall and the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) through the application and award process. She also handles the calendar of Tony Dennis, Director of Graduate Student Research and Retention, making sure he gets to and from his recruiting events across the country. When he has a schedule conflict she stands in for him at recruiting events. She assists with the Graduate Research and Creative Scholars and Graduate Teaching Effectiveness awards in the Spring and coordinates the AGEP Dissertation Writing Retreat in May. It is difficult to pin her down to one job category as she wears many hats since coming to the Graduate College in June, 2008. Carson has her B.A. in History from Western and an M.A. in History from WMU as well. She taught part-time at Western for 13 years after getting her Master’s. She is currently working on a certificate program in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) in the Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology. She and her husband, Kirk, have two grown children and enjoy spending time at Lake Michigan, socializing with friends, antiquing, traveling up north to the Leelanau Peninsula, and attending vintage Volkswagen events.
The Hilltop Review: A Journal of Western Michigan University Graduate Student Research
The Graduate Student Advisory Committee publishes a journal of student writing and artwork. “The Hilltop Review: A Journal of Western Michigan University Graduate Student Research” is a peer-reviewed journal. It is intended to be an interdisciplinary journal which provides a venue for sharing the scholarly and creative activities of graduate students from all disciplines at Western Michigan University. It offers a sampling of original and significant findings. Published in hard cover twice a year since 2009, and electronically since 1995, the journal will be issuing its Spring 2013 volume soon. This issue will include articles “An Explanatory Ethnography of the Gendered Communicative Behaviors of Bouncers,” by Nathan M. Swords; “Youths’ Access to Public Space: An Application of Bernard’s Cycle of Juvenile Justice” by Amanda Smith; “Feminist Research Ethics, Informed Consent, and Potential Harms,” by Melinda McCormick; “Bureaucracy and Income Disparity in America,” by Daniel Dougherty; and artwork by students Matt Klepac and Tess Erskine. A short note from the editor precedes the scholarly works. Josh Berkenpas, doctoral student in Political Science, had the tough but rewarding role of editor for two years; for 2013 we have a new editor, Tim Bauer, a doctoral student in Sociology. Tim has served on the Editorial Board of The Hilltop Review since Fall 2011, and continues to work closely with that board to produce the journal. The board includes graduate students, members of the faculty, and officers of the Graduate Student Advisory Council (GSAC), which sponsors its publication. Tim issues the call for submissions, solicits reviewers, sends the reviewed articles back to the authors for changes, then formats the finished document and sends it to the printer. Copies are distributed to the Graduate Studies Council, the Editorial Board of The Hilltop Review and to current graduate student members of GSAC. Copies of each issue are also sent to the Archives and Regional History Collection at WMU for reference now and in the future. You can see archived copies online at http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/hilltopreview/. The Spring 2013 issue is the first to consider poetry, or what Tim calls “written art.” We look forward to reading the upcoming issue of this outstanding effort by all the contributing WMU graduate students.
For Stasia Lopez, a student in WMU’s Master’s program in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA), her university experience has taken her on unexpected paths, with surprising rewards. Stasia began her undergraduate study at Robert Morris University (Pittsburgh, PA), studying Business Administration with a concentration in Hospitality and Tourism Management. But a desire to break out of familiar places led her to study abroad, first visiting her extended family’s home in Greece and then journeying to Rome, hoping to trace her own roots in both countries. At the start of her trip, Stasia chose not to call or contact her extended family; from Greece, she simply hopped on a boat for the twelve-hour journey to the island of Kalymnos, her ancestral home. Miraculously, after wandering through streets and finding her maiden name (Diamantis, Greek for “diamond”) plastered everywhere, she located her relatives within mere hours of getting off the boat. Beginning a life-changing and vastly rewarding experience, Stasia continued her pilgrimage, arriving in Italy days later. While taking Italian language and culture classes at the American University in Rome, Stasia made Italian friends who helped her to discover much more about the city and its hidden treasures – off-the-beaten-path cafes, shops, and nearly forgotten landmarks and spaces, as well as new Italian friends and families – than she would have discovered among her enclave of American peers. From learning to think and speak in another language to navigating an ancient city, Stasia recalls that there was never a dormant moment for her… she felt completely alive, captivated, and challenged the entire time.
When Stasia returned stateside in 2008, she found a seismic shift had occurred in her life, with her goals and outlook completely changed. She observes that “when you can foster relationships with anyone, especially international friends, who can tell you about differences in culture, perceptions, and perspectives… it breaks you out of thinking that your home is the only way to live and you see a wider swath of the world, or the world from another viewpoint.” This experience also changed her career path; when Stasia returned, she turned down a marketing internship to intern in the Study Abroad Office at her alma mater. Her experiences abroad and in that office blossomed into an advocacy and love for education that she continues in her work as a graduate student at WMU.
As a graduate assistant in Career & Student Employment Services (CSES), Stasia plans a variety of programming at WMU. In fall 2012, she helped to open the Career Zone in Ellsworth Hall, which offers individualized drop-in and group advising. According to Stasia, “the career advising offered by CSES helps all students in what they can do with their majors, writing their cover letters and resumes, and also provides one-on-one career counseling with our doctoral students. Additionally, we also help students in planning for jobs and internships and have assessment resources to help match students with careers and internships.” Stasia finds that some of her most rewarding work comes in advising first-generation college students. As a first-generation college graduate herself, Stasia understands the importance and difficulty of balancing work, school, and life, and completing a degree program quickly, issues of special concern to this group of students. After completing one of her program internships in the TRIO Student Success Program at WMU, which primarily works with first-generation students, she realized more than ever how much she loves academic advising, especially first-generation and exploratory advising students.
Stasia also finds that her work for the Career Zone and CSES dovetails beautifully with her coursework. For each student in the HESA program, the curriculum is very broad-based and leadership focused. Stasia has taken a diverse array of courses encompassing higher education and student affairs from student development to diversity and equity. Through her work as an advisor, she is able to combine the theory learned in class with experience in the field. In a course on student development, for example, Stasia regularly gets to work with students and see them develop throughout their degree programs. In any given semester, she may encourage students to reflect on their study abroad programs, or listen to international students’ perspectives on American education and how they’re settling here, or help students to find their passions, choose majors, and locate resources to help them land internships or determine their career paths. Through it all, Stasia sees her work as a career advisor and her coursework in the HESA program as inextricably linked, creating a truly experiential learning experience for her. “Experiential learning,” says Stasia, “is how we learn, grow, and gain qualifications for careers.”
Hoping to pursue a career in Study Abroad herself, Stasia has advocated that this life-changing experience be available for students of all backgrounds. In 2009, she created a Facebook group called the International Cultures Group to inform a global audience about the benefits of international study and perspectives. From the start, she posted serious statistics about international cultures and Study Abroad programs alongside fun posts about foreign food, world holidays, and mini-celebrations. Her audience on the site grew to almost 400 and, last year, Stasia was nominated by GoAbroad (one of the leading websites concerning study / intern / volunteer / work abroad) for its 2012 Innovation Award for the site she created. Not content to rest on her laurels, Stasia has continued her advocacy as a writer for sites like Wandering Educators and Go Overseas; she has also attended several regional NAFSA (Association of International Educators) conferences and has applied for grants to attend many of them, the first with her work for the online resource AbroadScout.
Stasia currently balances these activities with her coursework in HESA, her work in CSES, and four internships, one of which involves creating a series of workshops on re-entry for all WMU students returning from their study abroad experiences. While she feels she has found her voice and purpose in advocating for international study, she sees her life coming full-circle in her work. The first of her family to graduate from college, she was also the first to make it back to their ancestral home. Finding that her life changed and her eyes opened by this experience of traveling abroad, she now helps other students to navigate the life-changing and eye-opening experiences of higher education, and advocates the importance of new perspectives and adventures for all of her peers at WMU and beyond.
The Career Zone, located across from the writing center on the first floor of Ellsworth Hall, is open Monday thru Friday 12-5pm. All students are welcome to receive drop-in advising on resumes, cover letters, interviewing tips, to find out what they can do with their majors, and more! For more information call: 269-387-2745
From the WMU HESA program website: “The master’s degree concentration in higher education and student affairs (HESA) is designed to prepare students for entry and mid-level professional positions in colleges, community colleges, and universities. Typically, these positions include administrative roles in admissions, academic advising, residence life, student activities, financial aid, career services, and offices designed to support and retain historically underserved student populations (e.g., multicultural affairs, LGBT Services, services for students with disabilities, women’s centers, veteran and military services, offices for foster care youth, etc.)”
The Graduate College appointed two Faculty Fellows at the beginning of Spring 2013. They will be in the position until the end of Fall 2013. Each of them brings their own set of skills to the job, and each has unique responsibilities tied to their job description. Dr. Jon Adams, an associate professor in the Department of English, has the focus area in student and faculty engagement and success. He is working with Academic Affairs, college deans, graduate program directors and chairs and the Office of Faculty Development and the Office of Student Affairs.
When asked what led him to apply for the position, he specified his excitement over the new direction Dean Susan Stapleton has been taking the Graduate College and her determination that the Graduate College be a part of every conversation. Dr. Adams is especially interested in the aspects of his position that include student and faculty engagement and success. His whole career has been informed by his wish to see students succeed and this position gives him a chance to be a part of that success individually and institutionally. Besides the engagement piece, it is a professional development opportunity as well.
If he could narrow his position to one point, it would be student engagement. Studies show that student engagement is one major predictor of retention and the Graduate College is serious about not only recruitment but retention. Dr. Adams will work with the Graduate College Ambassadors, a group of twelve grad students from each college who represent Graduate College interests across the campus. He will also interact with the Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC). This is a flourishing registered student organization that advocates for graduate education and graduate students. GSAC represents graduate students at Western Student Advisory council meetings and funds activities proposed by graduate student groups.
During Spring 2013 and Summer I and II 2013 Dr. Adams will be working on an online orientation program for graduate students who cannot attend on-campus orientation. Students who are off-campus need training for teaching assistant and graduate assistant positions as much as on-campus students, and this online training can be expanded to offer supplemental orientation activities and alternative types of training.
His work as a Graduate Faculty Fellow has taught him a great deal about Western’s history and current administrative and personnel climate. Talking with constituents from all over campus, including deans and associate deans as well as graduate students, has given him knowledge about the people who make Western happen. This helps him know how to help them in his function as faculty fellow.
Dr. Adams studies representations of war and masculinity in American literature and culture. He teaches upper level, graduate and special topics classes in American Literature and upper-division and graduate courses in Literary Theory and the Novel. He received the WMU Distinguished Teaching Award in 2012 and serves on the Graduate Studies Council and as the Director of Graduate Studies in English. He received his Ph.D. from University of California-Riverside.
Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology whose Faculty Fellow position includes a focus area on graduate admissions and enrollment. She will work with Academic Affairs, the University Student Enrollment Management Committee, Extended University Programs, admissions, college deans and the graduate program chairs, directors and academic units.
She earned her Ed.D. in Educational Administration from Northern Arizona University. Dr. Bierlein Palmer teaches EDLD courses in the areas of School Community Relations and Cultural Competency, Policy Development and Analysis, and Leadership Theory. Her research interests include a broad array of K-12 and higher education reform and policy issues, and she often uses survey research and case study analyses. Prior to joining WMU, Dr. Bierlein Palmer served in various policy research and leadership roles, including the Governor’s Office in Louisiana, and state and university policy centers in Louisiana and Arizona. She is also considered a national expert on quality charter school laws and authorizing policies.
Because her area of interest is in leadership and policy analysis and reform, she applied for this position to use this opportunity to become involved at the systems level at WMU. Most of her students are working professionals, so the faculty fellow position allows her to reengage in the practical leadership aspects of higher education. She is working on streamlining policies and procedures to stretch limited resources farther.
One of Dr. Bierlein Palmer’s goals is to establish more regular communication with graduate advisors, especially on issues relating to admissions and recruitment. Currently she is also working on a merged version of the Graduate Catalog with the Graduate Advising Handbook to create a document which more accurately reflects the needs of advisors and other users. The new Graduate Catalog will be more user-friendly and up-to-date. She is also working with Graduate College staff and University Relations on creating a new Graduate College brochure to use for recruiting purposes. In addition to making changes to the interior of the current brochure, including the listings of programs to make it easier for recruiters to use, she is creating one page handout templates that each department or program can use to customize the information provided.
Dr. Bierlein Palmer states, “It is a privilege to work with Dr. Stapleton and others in the Graduate College, and to work on the larger goal of promoting high quality graduate education within WMU…As a systems thinker, I treasure learning more about the many pieces needed to support the broader university.”
Dr. Amy Gullickson received her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Evaluation (IDPE) in December, 2010. Following her graduation she worked in the College of Education and Human Development as the Senior Research Associate to the Dean and served as a graduate faculty member for the college’s Educational Leadership, Research and Technology department. In November 2012 she moved to Australia to take a tenure track position as Senior Lecturer at the Center for Program Evaluation at the University of Melbourne.
As a professional evaluator, Amy’s job is to help organizations understand the effects of their actions. She serves as independent observer, reviewing context, activities, and results. She then gives reports on what they are doing right or wrong and recommendations on how they might improve. She gained experience doing evaluation in a variety of settings throughout her PhD program, including four months in Southeast Asia over four years as a team member on the Heifer International Impact evaluation. Through Heifer International, people in developing countries receive gifts of animals, from ducks to pigs to bees, learn how to raise and care for them, and then pass on the gift of animals and training to another family. As she talked to farmers, government officials, and non-governmental organizations, she learned valuable lessons about working with people from different cultures and languages on an evaluation project.
Also during her PhD work, Amy was fortunate to study at The Evaluation Center with several of the field’s foundational thinkers: Dr. Daniel Stufflebeam, Dr. Michael Scriven, and Dr. James Sanders (who served on her dissertation committee). Her dissertation, “Mainstreaming Evaluation: Four Case Studies of Systematic Evaluation Integrated into Organizational Culture and Practices,” explored evaluative practices in National Science Foundation-funded Advanced Technological Education centers. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the IDPE, she found one of her biggest challenges was to put together a dissertation committee. Dr. Nick Andreadis, Dean of Lee Honors College served as her committee chair, with committee members Dr. Sanders, and Dr. Chris Coryn, Assistant Professor in Education, Measurement and Research and Director of the IDPE program.
As Senior Research Associate to the Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Amy interviewed all faculty and staff to understand the culture and practice of the various departments with regard to evaluation. She then debriefed the various departments with her findings in order to help them move forward with creating systems to collect evaluative data for strategic planning, continuous improvement, and to provide evidence of their impact. Her data analysis has also been used to inform college level strategic planning.
When asked what she had gained from the Graduate College, Amy stated that she was grateful to receive two travel grants, which she used to attend the American Evaluation Association Annual Conference. In addition, she participated in a dissertation writing workshop sponsored by the Graduate College. She encourages all graduate students to take advantage of the dissertation formatting workshops sponsored by the Graduate College and run by Jennifer Holm, Coordinator of Theses and Dissertations. Amy states that she did not attend one of the formatting workshops, usually offered several times in the Fall and Spring semesters, and wishes she had!
As we draw near to the end of 2012 and take part in this season of thanksgiving and holiday excitement, I wanted thank all the faculty and staff who teach and support our graduate student body as well as the students themselves who have chosen Western Michigan University as their place of study. We are looking forward to the new year and the continued advancement of graduate education. If your financial situation allows, we would be honored by a donation in support of our efforts. We are hoping to grow financial assistance for graduate students as well as to support new initiatives to position ourselves as a destination of choice for graduate education.
May this holiday season be filled with many opportunities to make lasting memories.
The Graduate College is proud to announce the formation of the Graduate Student Ambassador Program, which has come to fruition with twelve Graduate Student Ambassadors for Fall 2012 and Spring 2013. The twelve students were selected from over 40 applicants. They will function as outreach ambassadors for the Graduate College and the Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC).
All the students who were chosen are expected to draw on their own experiences as graduate students to help prospective and current grad students at WMU. They are a highly motivated group of students, involved in many activities besides their school work, so they come to the job with a full understanding of the responsibilities and rewards of this leadership opportunity. There is at least one student representing each college at WMU and their role is complex. They are expected to represent Western Michigan University, GSAC, and the Graduate College as well as their college or area to current and prospective students.
They meet bi-weekly for informal gatherings to share knowledge and ideas, but their formal role is demanding. They attend recruiting events with Mr. Tony Dennis, Director of Graduate Student Recruitment and Retention. They hold office hours to meet with students from their colleges and/or programs who have questions about graduate study in general or more specific questions about issues they may be having. While sometimes students like to be able to have a student to talk to, which is the genesis of the program, the Graduate Ambassadors are trained to refer sensitive issues back to the Graduate College or to the appropriate unit. They give campus and community tours to prospective students and answer questions to the best of their ability, based on their training and personal experience, regarding admissions, registration, graduation, and theses and dissertations, as well as navigating departmental culture, planning their graduate careers, and balancing school, work and family. They are expected to attend all GSAC meetings. All twelve will be blogging for the Graduate College on The Grad Word, and keeping up with social media to promote the Graduate College and GSAC and to communicate with current and prospective graduate students. Each has also been assigned a university-wide committee to serve on as well.
The Graduate Ambassadors for 2012-2013 are Ms. Jessica Bell, of the Occupational Therapy program in the College of Health and Human Services, and Ms. Stephanie Boltrick, an MSW student who will serve in the area of Veterans and Military Affairs. Mr. Robert Brown, MS in Accountancy, represents the Haworth College of Business; Ms. Ashley Butterfield, a Speech and Language Pathology MA student, will be serving in the College of Health and Human Services, and Mr. Ryan Clark, Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering represents the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Also serving as Ambassadors for 2012-2013 are Ms. Cindy Cross, M.A. student in Music Therapy, representing the College of Fine Arts and the Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences and Ms. Kristin Everett, Ph.D. student in Evaluation, Measurement and Research, who will represent the College of Education and Human Development. Ms. Jamie Gomez, M.A. student in Anthropology, is serving as Ambassador in the College of Arts and Sciences in the area of social and behavioral sciences. Ms. Denisha Griffey, a Ph.D. student in Geosciences, will represent the College of Arts and Sciences in the area of mathematics and sciences. Finally, we have Ms. Josie Wells, M.A. in Public Administration, who will represent our off-campus and Extended University Programs, Mr. Benjamin Williams, an M.A. student in Family and Consumer Science representing the College of Education and Human Development, and Mr. Tiantian Zhang, Ph.D. student in Biological Sciences, who will serve international students and the Haenicke Institute for Global Education.
The Graduate College is very proud to welcome these outstanding student representatives. They have all shown initiative in contacting deans, chairs, graduate directors, and staff members to introduce themselves, setting up their office hours, asking questions, and planning their bi-weekly informal meetings to get to know each other better and learn more about what the Graduate College and Western Michigan University have to offer prospective and current students. If you have any questions for the graduate ambassador who represents your college or area, please call Carson Leftwich at the Graduate College at (269) 387-8212 for contact information.
Jennifer Wendling Holm is one of the last staff members graduate students meet in the final months before they graduate. As coordinator of theses and dissertations in the Graduate College, Jennifer is responsible for reviewing and clearing these culminating works, putting on formatting workshops to help students make sure these works meet WMU guidelines, and assisting students with scheduling and announcing their oral dissertation defenses. Jennifer revises and shepherds between 30 and 45 dissertations and 25 to 35 theses through the system each graduation period.
It is a lot of reading and editing in a short period of time, so organization and time management are of the utmost importance surrounding graduation periods. She understands where the students are emotionally and academically at this final stage in the educational process and tries to make it as smooth as possible by being accessible to them, answering their questions, encouraging them and lending a sympathetic ear when needed. She finds it quite rewarding to see them through to the end. One of her goals is to make sure they leave the University on a high note, with scholarly theses and dissertations and a good feeling about WMU. In addition to reviewing theses and dissertations, Jennifer handles the graduate faculty nomination forms, committee forms, permission to elect forms, extend time to degree program forms and is the MIGS liaison officer for the University. She crafts the commencement copy for doctoral candidates, provides data regarding awards of doctoral and master’s candidates to University Relations and doctoral numbers and information to the Registrar’s Office.
Jennifer earned a bachelor’s degree in English from WMU and was hired full time as assistant to the vice president of research in 2000. In OVPR, her duties consisted of finding funding opportunities for the School of Social Work and various other disciplines, creating reports for the VP of Research for Carnegie Classification, writing correspondence and editing documents for staff, assistant editor for the WMU Research Magazine and Web author. Jennifer moved to the Graduate College as assistant to the dean in 2003. She was named to her current post in January 2005.
Prior to her employment at WMU, Jennifer enjoyed an assistant manager position at an independent bookseller, Bookbinder’s Bookstore and Café, near campus in Kalamazoo. She also spent a year traveling in Greensboro, North Carolina and Richland, Washington, visiting family and writing short stories. Jennifer takes pleasure in volunteering in the Kalamazoo area. She is a tutor for the Kalamazoo Literacy Council and will resume hosting a Senior Book Club at Wyndham West Retirement Community in winter 2013. She has been a student of yoga since 1996 and enjoys reading, writing, walking, hiking, kayaking and sailing.
Deciding to move from the sciences to the humanities as a graduate student is not necessarily common or easy, especially for disciplines as substantively and methodologically distant as physics and medieval studies.
For graduate students Jill Bjerke and Luke Chambers, the attraction of medieval studies—the fascinating history of iconic kings and queens, the adventure of medieval romances and epics—was a force too strong to resist.
Jill, who earned her M.S. in Physics from Wake Forest University, had been interested in the Middle Ages and historical fiction since she was a child. During her master’s program, she happened upon the brochure for the International Congress on Medieval Studies, a massive conference held every year in Kalamazoo (of all places!) and hosted by WMU’s Medieval Institute. Fascinated by the hundreds of sessions on topics ranging from ale-brewing and iron-smelting to semiotics, gender theory, and medievalism in gaming culture, Jill decided to give the conference a go. During her first visit to Congress, she attended a session on Angevin and Plantagenet warfare, and watched as the room erupted in a debate over medieval military tactics. The experience turned out to be a decisive one for Jill. Watching these scholars argue passionately with each other over 700 year-old warfare made her realize that, yes, people do this for a living, and that she could as well.
Luke also traces his fascination with the Middle Ages to his childhood, when his mother read to him from Beowulf and from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. After a winding academic path through interdisciplinary studies, math, and medieval literature, Luke found himself completing undergraduate degrees in Physics and Math at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Feeling a pull to return to the medieval (along with some disenchantment with future career choices in his field) Luke took a semester of Latin at the University of Minnesota, then applied to and was accepted to Western’s Medieval Studies M.A. For him, the structures of languages provide a familiar link to his background in mathematics. Luke observes that, in both math and linguistics, “you have to recognize sets and groupings… though, in the long run, languages aren’t strict, technical things.”
Jill too concedes that there’s quite a disciplinary distance between her original research in Physics (nanotechnology and materials science) and her current work in Medieval Studies. However, she hopes that classes in paleography (the study of ancient writing) will help her to bridge the two disciplines. A mix of history and science, paleography presents the opportunity to study manuscripts and “the materials background of writing,” according to Jill. She says she’s often been curious about putting manuscripts under the microscope in the same way that she studied the composition of steel in her master’s program, yet doing so would involve cutting the medieval vellum, destroying the manuscript and losing a rare and tangible piece of history.
Making the transition from a scientific field to the humanities, Jill feels that the greatest challenges have been an increased reading load and acquainting herself with a new discipline’s writing style. Learning to write for the humanities, Jill says, “you have to pay attention to word choice, sentence structure, style… writing for the sciences is much more succinct, clear, and simple.” Luke agrees, describing different methods of persuasion in each field: style and rhetoric vs. reporting data and interpretation. Jill says that her focus now is on the writing process and establishing a voice as a historian, a much different task than writing in the sciences. As for her new reading load, she feels like she’s gone back to the beginning of school—a “new school,” as she puts it—and since the character of her work has changed so drastically, she’s not burned out yet.
Likewise, though Luke acknowledges that graduate study is a considerable commitment of time and resources, he chose to pursue his interests in medieval languages and literatures at Western because “you can’t learn as much as you’d like to learn about old languages as an undergrad,” and, as he observes, “if you want to understand the past, you have to be able to read the languages of those cultures.” As he explains, the history of language and literature tells us a great deal about our own culture: “Old English is the source of our own language, and Old Norse had a strong influence on English culture and language as well, due to their common mythology and the history of the Danish invasions of England.” Luke’s own research interests reveal the intersections of language, text, and culture. His Master’s thesis will explore the classical source material for the 13th-century Icelandic Trójumanna saga (Saga of the Troy-men), a text which adapts and recombines material from the Latin matter of Troy as well as Ovid’s Heroides. In addition to his research in Germanic languages and literatures, Luke, a third-year Master’s student, is also one of the Medieval Institute’s graduate instructors for MDVL 1450: “Heroes and Villains” of the Middle Ages.
Now in the second year of her M.A. in Medieval Studies, Jill balances a full workload of courses, as well as working as a graduate instructor for MDVL 1450. Last year, her classes ranged from classical and medieval Latin to medieval “Art and Devotion” to a course on the “Rulers and Regions” of France, England, and the Low Countries. The last of these classes provided another decisive moment for Jill, when she realized that every text on the syllabus for “Rulers and Regions” was one that she would have picked up on her own. Her lifelong love of history and enthusiasm for this course material gave her the knowledge that, despite the fact that she doesn’t have an academic background in history, she’s not a “fish out of water” here and that her decision to change fields was a good one. Her current research interests center on Richard the Lionheart and his political career, including his involvement in the Crusades. Jill speaks passionately about Richard, his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his global wanderings: “Richard I is everywhere. He’s King of England, yet has extensive holdings in France. On Crusade he goes to Sicily, Cyprus and the Holy Land and gets captured by the Duke of Austria on the way home. He’s a gateway into many regions of medieval Europe. And, of course, he turns up in the Robin Hood legends as well!” Jill’s excitement about this legendary king and her field makes it clear that, whatever she may have sacrificed in her disciplinary shift, it’s been worth it to her.
The Institute currently enrolls 22 graduate students, each with widely varied research interests. In addition to Jill’s and Luke’s research in late medieval English history and Germanic languages, our medievalists are interested in topics including monasticism and anchoritism; medieval Bohemia and Central Europe; women, peasants, and Islam in the Byzantine Empire; medieval and Renaissance drama; and medieval economies, among other areas. In addition to physics and mathematics, our current students have undergraduate backgrounds in philosophy, history, varied languages and literatures, music education, film, international relations, political science, psychology, and classics. With graduate students coming from far afield to pursue their research passions at the Medieval Institute, and graduate instructors sharing their lifelong “medieval fascinations” with students, it seems that Medieval Studies is in good hands at WMU.
Louise Schuster got the surprise of her long life when Dean Susan Stapleton of the Graduate College at Western Michigan University showed up at her door to deliver Mrs. Schuster’s third diploma. At 91 years of age, Mrs. Schuster had already earned a Bachelor of Science in 1968 and a Master of Arts in 1969 from Western. She had also completed coursework toward a Master’s degree in Literacy Studies through 1980, but had never gotten that degree. With only imaged transcripts from 1962 through 1980 to work with, some detective work was needed.
Enter Mallory Bourdo, Academic Auditor in the Registrar’s Office and Lauren Freedman, Professor in the Department of Special Education and Literary Studies, College of Education and Human Development. They combed through Mrs. Schuster’s records, evaluated her credits, and found she had enough credits to receive a Master of Arts in Literacy Studies. With the help of Carrie Cumming, Senior Associate Registrar, and Stacey Doxtater, Graduation Auditing Supervisor, a decision was made to issue a diploma for June 2012. Mallory worked with the family, especially Mrs. Schuster’s granddaughter, Darcy Kelly, to make sure Mrs. Schuster would receive her diploma, and between all parties they agreed to have the diploma hand-delivered to Mrs. Schuster in her Sturgis home by Dean Susan Stapleton. Mrs. Schuster knew she would be receiving a diploma, but did not know it would be delivered to her home with pomp and circumstance. With her family surrounding her, Louise Schuster finally received her second Master of Arts and her third diploma, in its ceremonial cover, made possible by her hard work and the efforts of Western Michigan University faculty, staff, and administrators.