Working in a tradition that includes John Dewey, Henry Giroux, and many others, my goal as a college instructor is to help my students navigate democratic discourse in a multicultural and increasingly media-rich environment. My lectures, assignments, and mentoring therefore try to activate what Giroux calls the “affective investments and pleasures” of engaged reading and writing, so that students can purposefully use the tools of rhetoric to shape civic life through their work in the professions, in the sciences, and in democratic culture at large. This perspective has grown from my diverse teaching record in engineering communication, freshman composition, health science writing, business writing, and literature. In addition, I have worked as a Technical Communications Specialist for Mechanical Engineering students, as a Writing Center tutor, and as a Literacy Center tutor and administrator.
In each case, my goal is to emphasize the intersections between academic and public discourse. For example, I asked students in my UW-Milwaukee course “Writing, Speaking, and Technoscience in the Twenty-First Century” to consider scientific communication as a necessary component of contemporary democratic life. Building on readings and discussions about misinformation and the history, practice, and demographics of STEM fields, students formed working groups around public policy issues that involved semester-long sequences of individual, small group, and full group assignments like improvisational exercises, Ignite talks, Ted Talks, formal debates, press release packets, technical reports, and more. Along with cohort-building, these working groups developed analytical and communication skills that were not solely technical in nature, but instead grew from rhetorical analysis and an ensuing recognition of the social complexity of contemporary technoscience.
My “Health Science Writing” course began with the central thesis, introduced to students on the first day of class, that clear communication is an antidote to the complexity of the health care system and the poor and unequal outcomes that often result from such complexity. The syllabus was designed to foster a process of professional identity formation culminating in public-facing exercises like building a professional website for each student using Canvas’ ePotfolio feature. These websites were stocked with the assignments completed for our class (ranging from resumes to infographics), along with reflective materials that allowed students to publicly comment on the several components of their professional selves: content mastery, research skills, public popularization experience, and more.
My teaching philosophy – approaching writing as democratic discourse through active learning and collaboration – carries through to my current work at UW-Madison, but it began early in my teaching career, in the first-year writing courses I taught as a graduate student at Loyola University Chicago. The “Rambler Report” podcast exercise from my 2016 freshman composition sections emphasized the multimodal aspects of my teaching. For this exercise, my two writing sections worked together on topic invention through free-writing, class discussion, and community blog posts. After settling on the topic of student voting, groups compiled research and conducted interviews with students, professors, and local politicians. In an online workspace, they experimented with and voted on different arrangements and transitions between segments. Through this process we produced a script, which we recorded live, in-class. The final product crowd-sourced the talents of my students, demystified writing as a form of project management, strengthened the sense of campus community, and finally, spoke to wider publics as we broadcast the podcast over the university radio station and streamed it online.
Along with these teaching assignments, I have developed my teaching philosophy through student mentoring. I have consistently worked with students to find a broader readership for their writing, which has led to several essay awards and publications. For example, three of my composition students won campus-wide writing awards, while two students from my literature sections published their essays in national undergraduate research journals. I have helped students shape their application materials for graduate school, resulting in admissions to Stanford, the University of Michigan, and UW-Madison, and I worked closely with one student as she made the final shortlist for the Rhodes scholarship.
Finally, during my doctoral studies, I volunteered as a tutor and administrator for walk-in adult and ESL learners drawn from Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, and at Loyola’s Writing Center. By prioritizing the community impact of writing and reading, these roles profoundly shaped my identity as a teacher and overall teaching philosophy. They demonstrable my ongoing pedagogical commitment to promoting reading, writing, speaking and thinking as deliberative democratic theory and practice, in the syllabus and outside the classroom. More than anything else, my experience as a teacher asserts the value of working alongside students to see how our shared explorations of language can deepen and diversify public discourse.