Professor of English
BA, Goshen College, 1983
MA, Arizona State University Tempe, 1988
PhD, Loyola University Chicago, 1998
WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD, WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
I don’t remember early desires, except to play piano and twirl baton (both goals I achieved, by the way!). Once I got into middle school and was first asked “career” questions, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. In high school, I was involved in the FTA (Future Teachers of America) organization, which allowed me to observe classes in our local elementary schools and assist in a day care setting. I recall feeling quite official as I shadowed the teacher, even though I’m sure I wasn’t. I credit that experience with offering me a lens for viewing myself as a “professional” in any career.
WHY OR HOW DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR FIELD?
The school visits required for my education curriculum in college showed me quickly that elementary education was no longer appealing. I observed a third-grade class at Parkside the spring of my first year at Goshen and concluded that thirty years in a classroom full of eight year olds was not for me. At the same time, my English classes were interesting and intellectually challenging, so I switched to English Education. After four years in a high school setting, I knew that the intellectual challenge was more important to me than adolescent development issues, so I returned to graduate school fulltime. I’ve found the combination of scholarship, college teaching, and student mentoring the perfect fit for me.
WHAT’S EXCITING ABOUT YOUR JOB OR THIS FIELD?
By teaching at a small liberal arts college, I’ve had many opportunities to develop new interests, offer new classes, shape my own research agenda, and try out leadership roles. People in higher education value specialization most, but I enjoy being a “generalist.” By working at Goshen College, I’ve also been able to enjoy international study and teaching, something that I’ve valued most in my career.
WHAT HAS BEEN A STRUGGLE IN YOUR CAREER JOURNEY?
I’ve struggled most with the balance of personal and professional responsibilities. As a scholar, I could always be reading new research or writing another article. As a teacher, I always have papers to grade or lessons to prepare. At a small college, I have responsibilities for advising, co-curricular activities, and campus events. Teaching at a college is not a nine-to-five job.
WHAT GREAT ADVICE HAVE YOU BEEN GIVEN?
The best advice has been to stay involved with professional organizations. Annual conferences and special disciplinary events facilitate networking, expose me to best practices by other professors, and introduce me to new developments in the field.
WHAT ARE YOU REALLY PROUD OF? (IN A MENNONITE, HUMBLE SORT OF WAY, OF COURSE)
Besides being proud of my children, I would say that I am most proud of the connection I made between SST leadership in Costa Rica and my Women’s Studies work. Returning to Costa Rica for research, study, and a new off-campus course has been so meaningful professionally and personally. I was an SST student in Costa Rica in 1981 and never would have imagined that twenty-seven years later I would be working closely with women’s organizations and international education programs there.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG PERSON JUST STARTING OUT
Get involved with professional activities in any way you can: volunteering, shadowing, attending conferences, taking special workshops, etc. Undergraduate students are welcome at many professional conferences and your department might even help facilitate your participation. The number of workshops and special presentations in our region are phenomenal. Between Goshen College, Bethel College, IUSB, Notre Dame, and Saint Mary’s College, you can find something intellectually stimulating every week, whether it is a museum display, a free lecture, or a guest performance. If you broaden your scope to Chicago, the resources are endless. Every time you attend a professional event, you expand your understanding of your field, your perception of possible career options, and your potential contacts for future opportunity.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
Professionally, I don’t think I would do much differently, except get more involved in professional organizations while teaching high school or going to graduate school. Personally, I would have started a family sooner and not waited until I achieved certain milestones: finish graduate school, get tenure, etc. It is difficult to balance, but the rewards of my family are so much greater than my professional rewards. I wish I had more years to enjoy them. At one point, I thought I might regret working while my kids were small, and it certainly wasn’t easy. As they head into adolescence, though, I see the ways my work enriches our family life, as well as the way my family strengthens the quality of work I am able to do. But that choice is different for each individual. I encourage you to listen to yourself and not make choices based on external expectations alone.