2013 Graduate Fall Welcome

A wonderland of candles, golden table draperies, and exotic foods appeared in the West Ballroom of Bernhard Center on September 5th for the Graduate Student Advisory Committee’s annual Fall Welcome for Graduate Students. Members of GSAC, including Vice Chairperson Rebecca Sametz, Stephany Coffman-Wolph, and Chairperson Damon Chambers, designed the event as a “welcome back” for all graduate students. Around 250 graduate students gathered to enjoy a beautiful evening of music, friendship, and fun, listening to the smooth jazz sounds of the Dan Willenberg Trio, with Dan Willenberg on piano, Denis Shebukhov on bass, and Dave Van Haren on drums.

a photo of two international Graduate Students enjoying the fall welcome
Two International Students Enjoying the Fall 2013 Welcome

Chambers, a Blindness and Low Vision master’s student, student employee chef for Bernhard Center, and new Chair of GSAC, drew on his own Jamaican heritage to inspire the delicious food for the event. Students enjoyed hors d’oeuvres of fried plantains and roasted sweet potatoes with pomegranate seeds made from a special recipe Damon created, as well as corn bread with honey butter which was a big hit with the crowd. This was a unique request by Damon based on a popular dish in Jamaica. Later in the evening, funk jazz band Fusion Base (Marcus Johnson on saxophones, Bryan Blowers on guitar, and Dave Van Haren returning on drums) got the crowd dancing to the beat as students got to know each other and enjoyed themselves. The gathering was a diverse mix of American and International students, many of whom were just starting at Western. The event followed the Graduate College Resource Fair, which ran from 3-6 pm in the adjoining ballroom, at which graduate students could meet and greet representatives of various departments and units across campus and the community. Participants included Sindecuse Health Center, University Libraries, University Recreation, the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, Career and Student Employment Services, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Miller Auditorium, HSIRB Research Compliance, Teaching Assistants Union, Faculty Development and more. Graduate College staff were on hand to greet and mingle with the students. Altogether, the fair and welcome celebration provided a great opportunity to get to know new students and to see returning students who stopped in to say “hi.”

a photo of two international graduate students enjoying the food at the fall welcome
Two International Graduate Students Enjoying the Food at the Fall 2013 Welcome

a photo of Three Graduate Students Talking at the Fall 2013 Welcome
Three Graduate Students Talking at the Fall 2013 Welcome

a photo of Graduate College Staff  at the Fall 2013 Welcome
Graduate College Staff at the Fall 2013 Welcome

a photo of the Dan Willenberg Trio performing at the Fall 2013 Welcome
The Dan Willenberg Trio perform at the Fall 2013 Welcome

a photo of students dancing at the fall welcome
Graduate Students dance to the band at the Fall 2013 Welcome

Did you know? – Professional Email Etiquette in 12 Easy Steps

Professional Email Etiquette in 12 Easy Steps

1. Address Email Recipients by Name

2. Write a Definitive Subject Heading

3. Identify Yourself and State Your Intentions Briefly

4. Attach Documents

5. Say “Thank You”

6. Include a Valediction or Complimentary Close

7. Use a Formal Signature and a Professional Email Address

8. Check Grammar, Mechanics, Tone

9. Review Your Email Before Sending

10. Acknowledge Receipt Within 48 Hours

11. When Necessary, Make a Phone Call instead

12. Never Send An Email When You are Angry or Upset

Dean’s Message

The signs of spring are finally around us here in Michigan, trees are budding, flowers are blooming and graduation is on the thoughts of many. In fact, Western Michigan University conferred degrees to 2727 students on April 27 and over 600 of those who received their degree were graduate students. We are so proud of our graduates and know that they will have successful futures.

Other signs of spring at universities usually include fewer undergraduate students on campus as well as a time of intense study for graduate students. For graduate students it is a time to conduct research, to engage in creative work, to build the professional portfolio or to write the thesis or dissertation. It is also a time when funding opportunities for graduate students are most limited. Thus within the Graduate College we are committed to fundraising for scholarships for our graduate students that help sustain the legacy of WMU as a top research institution. Consider helping us in that endeavor and make a donation to the Graduate College today.

Susan R. Stapleton, Ph.D.

Dean, Graduate College
A photo of Dr. Susan Stapleton, Dean of the Graduate College

Did you know?

The Office of Military and Veterans Affairs at WMU provides Veterans, Service Members, and family members of Veterans with guidance and mentorship in a variety of areas. These include, but are not limited to, academic support, benefit support, answers to questions regarding WMU or the VA, and the Western Michigan University community. The military offers a variety of VA educational benefits. Western Michigan University accepts the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill, and the Yellow Ribbon Program. If you or someone you know is interested in details about the costs of attending Western, or how to initiate benefits, please contact Western Michigan University’s Veterans Affairs Representative Brenda Hamlyn at 3210 Siebert Administration Building, by e-mail at brenda.hamlyn@wmich.edu or by phone at (269) 387-4115. Western also accepts a mini GI bill, which covers tuition for an initial semester of enrollment. This makes it easier for a veteran to transition quickly from active service to student life. WMU recognizes veterans and their families as Michigan residents so they can take advantage of in-state tuition rates. The Office of Military and Veterans Affairs at WMU is an active campus support program and advocacy office for helping veterans and active-duty National Guard members transition in and out of academic life. The director is Tracey Quada; she can be reached at military-affairs@wmich.edu or at (269) 387-4444. Office hours are 9 a.m. to five p.m. Monday through Friday in 1260 Ellsworth Hall.

Carson Leftwich

A photo of Carson Leftwich

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

The Hilltop Review: A Journal of Western Michigan University Graduate Student Research

A photo showing five different issues of the Hilltop Review

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.

Rome, Kalymnos, Kalamazoo: Coming Full Circle

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.

a photo of Stasia Lopez

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.)”

Graduate College Welcomes Faculty Fellows

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.
A photo of Graduate Faculty Fellows, Dr. Louann Bierlien Palmer, and Dr. Jon Adams
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.”

Meet Our New Graduate Ambassadors

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).

A photo of our new Graduate Ambassadors meeting Graduate College Staff members

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.

The Physics of Changing Course: From the Materials Lab to the Medieval Institute

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.

a photo of graduate student Jill Bjerke

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.

a photo of graduate student Luke Chambers

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.



Video: Jill Bjerke on Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine

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.

Postscript:

WMU’s Medieval Institute (LINK: www.wmich.edu/medieval) is known worldwide as the home of the International Congress on Medieval Studies (LINK: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/index.html) , which brings thousands of medievalists to Kalamazoo every May, and offers a Master’s program in Medieval Studies (LINK: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/academics/ma-program.html]. The program is also well known for its Richard Rawlinson Center for Anglo-Saxon Studies (LINK: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/research/rawl/index.html) , and houses Medieval Institute Publications (LINK: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/mip/index.html) . The Institute has over thirty affiliated faculty members from the departments of English, History, Theatre, Comparative Religion, Japanese, Spanish, Classics, German, Art, Music, and University Libraries.