December 10, 2012
Dear NDSU Assessment Committee:
Throughout my nine semesters at NDSU, I have experienced intellectually stimulating work that has challenged my writing and my analytic thinking through a variety of mediums, theoretical approaches, and audiences. Although one can never encapsulate four and a half years of labor into one WordPress site—even less so into one cover letter—I hope that this blog offers glimpses of the hard work and dedication that has been demanded of me through the English Department. Overall, I believe that there is a clear trajectory in my work that begins with ambitious yet unfocused work and ends with more articulate and more refined professional documents.
My first experience with literary analysis was in Cynthia Nichol’s English 271 course, Literary Analysis, in the fall of 2009. This course primarily focused on fulfilling course Outcome #5 because every week there would be an introduction to a new theoretical lens. My Lacanian interpretation of Van Morrison’s album Astral Weeks also demonstrated Outcome #2. While becoming familiar with the psychoanalytical lens, I also learned how to analyze an audio text—a bit of a divergence from the traditional written text. However, this document shows need for improvement. The citations are weak—e.g. brainyquotes.com. Plus, I do not cite any primary sources. In fact, I believe I forgot to cite whichever text I used for the Lacan information. Additionally, the analysis lacks in creativity—each paragraph is merely an introduction to a new Lacanian concept and then an explanation into how it can be seen in the album. There lacks any innovative take on the theory or on listening to music. While this certainly demonstrates Outcomes #2 and #6, it lacks in overall sophistication.
My paper for Medieval Literature, titled “The Role of a Host: Supplying a Place,” in the fall of 2011 shows a more mature application of literary theory and more creativity. Furthermore, I engage predominantly with primary texts: both Chaucer’s and Aristotle’s. In this piece, I use the philosophy of Aristotle (which is certainly a lens for seeing how texts operate) and interpret the Host’s function in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The thesis is considerably more original, and I maintain a consistent grounding in the texts. This aspect demonstrates Outcome #1 because while I am accustomed to discussing philosophic ideas to a philosophy-major audience, I had to change my approach in this paper in order to appeal to a literature audience. I did this by avoiding divergences into extreme detail regarding Aristotle’s worldview, which might be expected in a philosophy paper, and instead gave a minimal account as necessary for the focus of the paper and only brought up additional details as they became relevant to Chaucer. Also, this paper fulfills Outcome #6 because it represents my understanding of Chaucer, a literary figure of preeminent standing, as well as an awareness of the genre conventions he was playing with—which might be considered the focus of the piece.
In the spring of 2010, Dr. Andrew Mara’s Introduction to Writing Studies course centered on Outcome #4. For the first half of the semester we worked on creating a community literacy event called the Celtic Crawl. This project called for copious amounts of writing (reports, proposals, advertisements, etc.) and managing (schedules, teams, etc.). This focus on long-term management also carried over to the final “Phaedrus remix” project, which I worked on with Jeff Opgrand and Dave Catlette throughout the whole semester. First, Jeff, Dave, and I decided to work together and agreed on a deadline for having Plato’s Phaedrus read by. Next, the three of us underwent the brainstorming phase. After several meetings, we decided that we’d do a modern adaption of Plato’s work through a mock-Real World spin-off. We gave each other sections to write and kept each other accountable for the deadline. Last, we got together on an arranged date and shot, edited and scored the project. Overall, this project involved a lot of little steps—writing, researching, and assigning deadlines to meet the class’s constraints. The final project is very comic yet deep in philosophic parallel. While I am proud of this video, I think the time management could have been conducted better. Dave, Jeff and I failed to meet for some meetings and resorted to just texting each other our ideas. Additionally, Jeff and I wrote the majority of the script first, and then later Dave contributed. This led to a bit of a disjoint in tone throughout the work.
My skills in time management can be seen more fully in my Electronic Communication course from the spring of 2012. The project I made, called “Trolls: The Bridge-Keepers to Digital Utopia,” was the result of over a month of planning and research. This paper involved scouring internet for trolls, researching internet statistics on use and deviance, and finally integrating my findings with the theories of Gilles Deleuze, Slavoj Zizek, and Malcolm Bull. The tight organization (aided with the use of headers), the cleaner use of citations (less isolated and more integrated than my previous work), and the chapter-length all met the requirements for this 400-level course. Additionally, this paper also exemplifies Outcome #1 because I wrote the paper in the format of a book chapter. I looked closely at the style of Paul Levinson (the author of our main text) and followed his style of small sections with headers, plus I made liberal use of first-person anecdotes and less formal voice. Perhaps the most experimental part was the purely electronic nature of the paper. I was able to incorporate hyperlinks, screen shots and more creative design elements. Last, I believe that this project also demonstrates a high degree of professionalism because of the timely manner in which it was made, the high level of analysis, and the clean presentation. Additionally, I met with my instructor several times and peer-reviewed the paper with fellow classmates, thus fulfilling Outcome #7.
In the spring of 2011 I asked Dr. Robert O’Connor and Dr. Paul Homan about setting up an Existentialism & Literature class. The result of this course is the seminar paper, “Existentialism & Buddhism,” which I went on to present at a philosophy conference. This paper was the product of months of research and weekly meetings with Dr. O’Connor and Dr. Homan. The need to be on-task and self-motivated pushed me to advance my competency in Outcomes #4 and #7. Furthermore, Outcome #3 is demonstrated in all of the research and appropriate documentation that can be seen in the paper. I investigated the works of American, South American, African, and Asian writers. Some of the documents that Dr. Homan had me research were through inter-library loan (most of the Japanese authors). Dr. Homan also had me integrate fiction works in the research. All of this demanded a strong ability to conduct research.
The last document that carries on in this trajectory is the piece I wrote in the fall of 2011, titled “Derrida and Pedagogy.” This is also the result of a semester’s worth of research (Outcome #4) in my Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences course. Following Outcome #1, this piece was a unique design challenge because I chose to write in two opposing columns. The unique style was an extension of the research I conducted on Deconstruction theory. I hoped to decenter the traditional expectations of the reader. Also, this piece is a more mature demonstration of Outcome #2 because I critique the IMRaD format—thus expanding the notion of a text to a much more challenging idea. Throughout the paper I make use of Derrida’s theories (Outcome #5). Dr. Matthew Salafia aided me greatly in the project. However, he admitted that it would be a challenge because he isn’t familiar with Derrida. Thus, it took a lot of self-motivation and scheduling to meet with other professors. The cooperation and professionalism that this demanded again demonstrates Outcome #7.
My experience as an English major has indeed proven to be more rewarding than I had originally predicted. Hopefully, the abilities that I have cultivated from striving for the seven Core Outcomes can be seen in my Capstone project. The independent research, project planning, collaboration, and presentation all represent a synthesis of these skills. I will continue to build these traits until they are second nature. On the road ahead, I will strive to lead by example through using all the analytic, organizational, and professional skills that the English degree has embedded in me.
Dominic J. Manthey