Category: Of Special Interest
On Friday afternoon, CGS alumni, faculty, and friends gathered to recognize those who help make CGS a celebrated community. This was one of many events during the course of the highly-anticipated annual alumni weekend.
Dean Natalie McKnight started the ceremony with a brief update on the College. Among many recent achievements, the College has increased the number of undergraduate research projects offered to approximately 12 per year– a nearly 600 percent increase from what it was just two years ago thanks to the generous support of CGS alumni and parents. Considered one of the most effective practices in higher education, CGS hopes to continue to grow such opportunities. Additionally, McKnight shared that blueprints for the Science Center project- which involves complete renovations of CGS’s four science labs, a student study area, and the 4th floor courtyard garden- are complete. Once fundraising goals have been met, the school will be ready to break ground.
Shifting focus, McKnight turned to the annual tradition of presenting the CGS Distinguished Alumni Award, given to an alumnus who has outstanding professional success and who has been supportive of the College. Linda Sloane Kay (CGS 81, COM 83), executive vice president of Century Bank, received the 2015 award. Kay’s professional leadership also includes her role as director of Century Bank and Century Bancorp, and her membership on the Bank’s Management, Executive, and Loan Committees.
In addition to her success in the workplace, Kay has remained heavily involved in the BU community: she serves on the Board of Overseers for Boston University, and continues to support CGS. Her community involvement sets a high bar for those around her, as it extends beyond her alma mater: she’s vice chair on the Board of Directors for the Newton Needham Chamber of Commerce, on the Board of Overseers for Newton Wellesley Hospital, and has provided key support for fundraising initiatives for many organizations, including for the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School, the Special Olympics of Massachusetts, the Franciscan Hospital for Children, and Catholic Charities, among others. McKnight summarized, “Linda Sloane Kay inspires confidence with her intelligence, energy, focus, drive, success in her field and generosity to her alma mater and the community at large.” Kay graciously received the award and acknowledged that CGS has remained a foundational part of her college experience.
Lastly, McKnight recognized two CGS faculty who recently received awards for their outstanding efforts.
Professor of Social Science Ben Varat received the Peyton Richter Award for Outstanding Interdisciplinary Teaching. Among many gushing student reviews, one writes, “Professor Varat is the most engaging, stimulating, and enthusiastic educator I’ve had. He’s incredibly interesting and his method of teaching is unmatched. He’s kind and understanding during office hours and he really encourages students to work hard.”
Professor of Rhetoric Aaron Worth received the Dr. Ismail Sensel Award, recognizing exceptional professors who also had a particularly successful year in research. “One of the things that pleases me most about Worth’s scholarship is that it grows out of and feeds his teaching. It’s not always easy to find substantial connections between original scholarship and the teaching of general education courses, but Aaron has,” shared McKnight. “The research paper assignments are informed by his own research, so his students can benefit from his expertise while developing their own skills and knowledge, and hopefully teaching him a thing or two in the process.”
Rhetoric Professor Lynn O-Brien Hallstein releases her new book, Bikini-Ready Moms, on September 1. As this key milestone approaches, Hallstein can’t help but reflect upon the hard work, effort and support that made the book possible. Undergraduate research assistant Allyson English (CGS 14, SAR 16) played a critical role in the writing process, not only conducting valuable research to inform the insights of the book, but also re-inspiring her faculty mentor when Hallstein needed it the most.
The two met in Hallstein’s freshman rhetoric course, and stayed in touch afterwards. “I was on sabbatical working on the book, when I heard about the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning’s newly-funded Undergraduate Research Opportunities.” The research opportunity, made possible by a generous donation from a CGS alumnus, specifically supports undergraduate students secure research positions in a highly-competitive, research-oriented university; specifically working alongside a CGS faculty member. “[Allyson] had shown lots of interest in my book project, and had been an excellent student. I had no doubt that she would be a great researcher,” comments Hallstein.
“I learned so much about the thinking, planning, and writing process from [Professor Hallstein]– it was so exciting to have the opportunity to really test these skills out with the individual who inspired me towards such a passion for writing,” reflects English. “Before my freshman year, I had never known that media criticism existed as a study.”
Bikini-Ready Moms analyzes and evaluates why and how celebrity mom profiles, or stories, are now integrating the slender-pregnant, and quickly slender post-pregnant maternal body as the central feature; while also continuing to reinforce and romanticize what constitutes “good” mothering today. Anyone who shops at a chain grocery or convenience store can relate to Hallstein’s inspiration behind the book: the token magazine stands at the checkout lines. “Around 2010, I started to notice that the profiles on celebrity mothers seemed to be changing from a focus on the celebrities’ mothering to the celebrities’ quickly slender, and even ‘bikini-ready’, post-pregnant body,” comments Hallstein. This was a major shift from what she had observed in the past: profiles that centered on the actual mothering, and once the children were toddlers.
English’s primary role was centered on media research and analysis, which required looking at “media artifacts” such as blog posts, magazine articles, celebrity interviews, and more. “I contextualized the underlying message in the media artifacts to think critically about their impact on the psyche, especially that of the postpartum mother.”
Early into the research partnership, Hallstein suffered a terrible ski accident. Bed-ridden for five weeks and recovering from broken bones and torn tendons, Hallstein understandably found herself in a bit of writing slump. “Then, Allyson started to send me all the research she was finding, and she was so excited about the project… her enthusiasm rubbed off on me,” accounts Hallstein. She formally acknowledges all of her research assistant’s efforts in the beginning of Bikini-Ready Moms: “[Allyson’s] energy and enthusiasm for this project reenergized me and helped me sit up and just do the work to complete the manuscript, leg brace and all.”
This won’t be the last we see from this duo. Hallstein already has two new projects in the works: she is guest editing a special issue titled Mothering Rhetorics for an academic journal, Women’s Studies in Communication; and is working on a book chapter titled “But, Didn’t I Choose This?: Empowering Mothers by Closing the Choice Gap between Women and Men Before becoming Mothers and Fathers.”
English reflects, “The most important take-away from working with Professor Hallstein, between her class and mentorship, has been an analytic perspective on the world. I see this reflected in my daily life. Simply walking down the street in Boston I no longer just see advertisements or hear the lyrics to songs passively, I’m always challenging myself to consider the true message- who was it designed by, what purpose is being achieved, what does this mean in relation to me?” She continues, “I, too, hope to contribute to the academic body of knowledge someday with my own research and publications.”
Hallstein will be the keynote speaker at the “Mothers, Mothering, Motherhood in 21st Century: Culture, Society, Literature, and the Arts” at the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, October 21-23, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
For more information on the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities, or to support future research opportunities, please contact CITL.
Exploring Where Life Intersects Literature: Renstrom Releases Unique Collection of Nonfiction Essays
Literature, typically crafted for wide audiences, has the unique ability to touch each reader in an incredibly personal way. It’s is a powerful means to share, guide, and connect readers across all borders and boundaries through a relatable story. College of General Studies (CGS) Rhetoric instructor Joelle Renstrom explores that delicate intersection of life and literature in her newly released collection of non-fiction essays: Closing the Book: Travels in Life, Loss, and Literature.
CGS sat down to learn more:
CGS: Let’s start at the beginning. What is the inspiration behind Closing the Book: Travels in Life, Loss, and Literature?
JR: I lost my dad to cancer, and instead of being able to throw myself into my work, I found I’d lost my work, too. I was just finishing writing a novel in which the protagonist’s dad dies, and a couple months later, that became my reality. Not only was my favorite person in the world gone, but so was the one activity I’d always found solace in. I stopped working on that book— I couldn’t fictionalize what had actually happened—and I didn’t know if I could or wanted to write anymore. So I did two things, both of which saved me: I traveled and I read. And after a while, I was able to put myself back together, both as a person and as a writer. That’s when I realized I had a story to tell after all.
Did you write the essays individually, or were they written knowing that they would be parts of a collection?
The letters to Ray Bradbury came first. I always loved him as a writer and a person, and reading and teaching his books during this time brought me so much comfort and pointed me in the only direction that made sense. I wanted him to know what his writing meant to me, so I wrote one letter, then another, and ended up writing about a dozen altogether until I had an essay. I stopped there, for a while. I thought about writing a series of letters to a bunch of different authors, but I ultimately decided that was too gimmicky, that it might cheapen what I got from them. Essays, on the other hand, allowed me to pay homage to the works that guided me while having more freedom to explore the themes, so about six months after I wrote the Bradbury letters I started writing more.
The structure of the essays sounds pretty unique—each contains reflections on a life theme, framed by a certain piece of literature. Are these favorite pieces of literature, or did you seek them out for each essay?
Many of them have been my favorites for a long time, but gained new resonance for me after my dad died. Some of them took me by surprise. I’d read Camus’ The Stranger a long time ago, and I liked it, but it wasn’t an important book for me until I taught it and engaged its philosophies in light of what I was going through. When I wrote the piece about luck, I immediately thought about Vonnegut, and reread Sirens of Titans after I finished the rough draft. Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End had always been a favorite too, and one I reflected on a lot before I even started writing the book. I was reading and teaching these books while thinking about and living with these questions and thoughts–I didn’t have to contrive anything, which for me speaks to the power of this literature.
Can you explain a bit about your experience in writing about issues that are deeply personal, knowing they would be shared with a wide audience?
My thesis for graduate school was fiction– that’s what I always thought I would be writing. After my novel became reality, I switched to nonfiction quite quickly. I’d written a few pieces here and there, all pretty low stakes and fairly impersonal, so I really had no experience writing this kind of thing. But I think that’s part of what made it so profound for me– it was all very raw, and writing the first drafts was the only time I felt totally unafraid. I had to think about structure and narrative voice and whether the work was too confessional (I didn’t want it to read like a journal) and other writerly considerations, and by then I was committed to the content. I published some of the chapters as essays in magazines and that felt okay, but I’ll admit I’ve woken up at night in a cold sweat thinking about this book being out there. I worry that it’s too self-involved or too sentimental, and as with everything, but particularly nonfiction, I worry that people will read it and think, “who cares?” But ultimately, these fears are common among writers, and we wouldn’t do what we do if we didn’t want to get read, so I’m pretending to be brave.
That certainly takes courage, and we commend you for being brave (not just pretending). Do you have a favorite essay?
That’s a hard question! I’m proud of the imaginary interaction between Albert Camus and Kazuo Ishiguro in “How I Spent My Free Will,” and I’m attached to the final essay, “The Stars Are Not For Man,” because it’s about my move to Boston and about hope. But I’d have to go with “Letters to Ray Bradbury,” which will always have a special place in my heart.
Writing in Response was written in effort to fill the need for a book that treats critical reading as the first stage of the writing process. Parfitt explains, “That is, the writing that students do in the form of marginalia and reading notes, and their reflections on these notes, should form the basis of a first draft. Few other rhetorics treat critical reading very extensively.”
The first edition of Writing in Response, published in 2012, includes five readings that were also used as example-texts throughout the book. For the second edition, rhetoric faculty and students alike can look forward to refreshed content: all but one of the readings have been changed, a few new readings have been added to make a total of eight, and the chapters are reorganized. The new, additional content enables instructors to use the book as the sole text for the course, rather than needing a supplemental reader. The chapters are thoughtfully designed from the teaching perspective, divided into sections that make it easier to organize a syllabus around the book and for a cohesive class experience. Other smaller updates are aligned around the same goal: creating an easier and more effective book to use in the classroom.
Upon the release of the new edition, Parfitt was asked to by North Virginia Community College (NVCC) to hold a faculty development session with its 30 rhetoric instructors. NVCC has been a strong supporter of Writing in Response, and has been using the book since the first edition was released three years ago. Instructors had the opportunity to hear about the specific updates in the second edition, discuss the recommended teaching approach, and ask Parfitt questions so that they could best build out their syllabi for the upcoming academic year.
Parfitt has been pleasantly surprised by the variety of schools that have adopted the book. He originally anticipated that it would be mostly used in selective programs like CGS— mainly, private research institutions that have ambitious goals for their students. But while some adopters fit this description (e.g. Brandeis University), the book has been embraced by a wider audience: state schools (e.g., Rutgers Camden), community colleges (e.g., NVCC), and others. Parfitt relates this back to the teaching and learning approach at CGS. Although curricular goals have remained fairly consistent, the “typical” CGS student profile has grown and shifted over the years, encouraging faculty to adopt a more flexible, encompassing approach.
Interested in using Writing in Response in your classroom? Request a free exam copy.
The past two weeks have gone by in the blink of an eye over in London. Many students and professors are packing their bags to head back home today and tomorrow; with a few others extending their time in Europe to travel with friends or family. How can it be?
The last experiential learning trip of the semester was France. Students spent the last two weeks of the program wrapping up the semester with final papers and exams, yet still finding time to indulge in their favorite local spots and soak up the final days as Londoners.
Aside from those that we’ve already shared, here’s a mix of our favorite photos from throughout the semester. A big thank you to our student photographers who volunteered to help make this post series possible!
To supplement the plays, poetry, and art that students have been studying, week three ended with some students seeing The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare’s Globe, and others opting to check out the London sports scene by seeing some polo. After another few days back in the classroom for week four, everyone packed their bags to head to France for a few days. It was a fine line between “school” and “play”; students took in the amazing views, tasty cuisine, and rich culture. Both teams had the chance to appreciate world-renowned art from centuries past, with Team B visiting the Louvre and Team C going to D’Orsay. And both teams took in the dramatic architecture and pristine gardens of Versailles to reinforce classroom readings about the French Revolution. As the final two weeks approach, the curriculum will shift to the Digital Revolution.
The 6-week semester in London is nearly half-way done! This week, students went to the prehistoric site Stonehenge; Bath, where they visited the Roman Baths; and also went to the Warhorse Theatre. Check out the photos below, which are submitted by students in London.
Scholars landed in London nearly two weeks ago and have been avidly exploring the city, studying hard, and adjusting to the London culture. Upon arrival on May 18, students embarked on a scenic walking tour of the city, and have been busy since visiting other historical sites as they delve into the interdisciplinary curriculum. Students have traveled to Westminster Abbey, seen War Horse at the New London Theatre, and learned about the infamous Jack the Ripper through a spooky walking tour. Check out photos taken by members of the Class of 2018 January Boston-London Program.
Students and faculty on the CGS sophomore teams gathered on Friday to turn in the written portion of the Capstone project and recognize the hard work of classmates and notable accomplishments over the past two years. In addition to announcing the students with the top 10 GPAs, the following awards were given:
Judson Rea Butler Award
This award is made annually to the sophomore students who best exemplified the highest standards of leadership, citizenship, and loyalty in contributing to the student life of the College of General Studies.
2015 Recipient: Jennifer Wong
Linda Bondy-Ives Advisee Award
This annual award is given to a deserving sophomore student who embodies the values and spirit of Linda Bondy-Ives, who was a dear friend and colleague at CGS . For over 25 years, Linda touched the lives of many students through her energy, kindness, and compassion.
2015 Recipient: Cindy Shaw
Brendan Gilbane Award
This award was established to honor long-time faculty member and dean Brendan F. Gilbane, who served as dean from 1974-2000. Initially nominated by a faculty member, this scholarship is given to a student based on following criteria:
- plans to continue into either CAS or COM (Dean Gilbane received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from COM and his Ph.D. in history from CAS)
- excellence in academic performance, as reflected in the faculty nomination and in the student’s academic record
- a two-page personal statement written by the nominated student, linking the first two years of interdisciplinary general education at CGS with plans for the next two years of study at CAS or COM.
2015 Recipient: James Patrick King
Given to students who have demonstrated growth and achievement over the past two years through participation in e-Portfolio.
2015 sophomore recipients: Jonathan Caflun, Hayley Kohler
Sophomore will begin the oral arguments portion of the Capstone project today. Commonly referred to as “Capstone”, this final research project serves as the culmination of the College of General Studies experience. Sophomore students are challenged to solve a real-world issue using an interdisciplinary approach. This year’s topics, focusing on the theme Ethics, Politics, and the Law, challenges students to explore pressing political, legal, and constitutional issues of our time, including: internet regulation, teacher tenure in public schools, war crimes, immigration enforcement, affirmative action and higher education, money in politics, genetic privacy, and more. For the full syllabus, please see CGSNow.
As the 2014- 2015 academic year draws to a close, many student groups are transitioning leadership, inducting the next generation of executive boards and charging them to continue the legacy. While this is bittersweet for some and exciting for others, it’s the perfect time to reflect on this year’s accomplishments, and pass along wisdom for next year. CGS sat down with this year’s Executive Board of the Student Government Association (SGA) to gain insight on their secrets for success. Not only did the SGA make a huge impact on the CGS community, organizing numerous successful events, they were also nominated as a top group across campus for the prestigious Excellence in Student Activities award, given by Student Activities. CGS thanks the SGA for not only sharing their wisdom and advice below, but for all that they’ve done to make the CGS community more vibrant than ever!
Advice on… how to work together as a leadership unit
Jennifer Wong, President (CGS 15, COM 17): CGS represents scholars with a multitude of majors, talents and passions– and this benefit is what makes our college so unique. In any team setting, respect and communication are crucial. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other beforehand, grabbing meals and constantly planning logistics over the summer before the semester started. Everyone on the e-board is extremely dedicated and like we tell our general assembly members, being a student leader should be considered a 24/7 commitment, not just a role you play during a weekly meeting. We wanted to “take the politics out of politics” and create a community rather than a bureaucracy. We aimed to create an environment that fostered genuine leaders with a passion for making a difference. We always like to say that this community has become so much more than just a student government, we’re a family.
Advice on… working with administration
Anushka Pinto, Student Senator (CGS 15, CAS 17): It is extremely important to build relationships with the faculty and administrators because they are a key resource when it comes to event execution and operations. Communication is critical. We proactively set up meetings, emailed, or stopped by for an informal conversation to let them know what we were planning and how things were going. That way, we could work together to offer the best events possible. This approach worked well– it’s much more pleasant to be nice and respectful rather than throwing in last minute surprises (or demands).
Advice on… running effective meetings and planning events
Anushka: Always have an agenda. That way, meetings are structured, conversation runs smoothly, and you stay on time. Activities and events should always be planned sooner, rather than later. With more time to plan, you can work out the details that otherwise might be overlooked, have time to sold any unforeseen obstacles or challenges, and ultimately create a better event experience.
Advice on… member recruitment and engagement
Anushka: It’s important to recruit members in a way that highlights the benefits of being a member. While SGA is about helping others and catering to the CGS community, our recruitment efforts are framed around what SGA can deliver to the potential member. We position it as a great way to gain leadership skills, build your resume, make friends at CGS, and form relationships with the administration. Students are more likely to join if they know they can get something out of joining.
Advice on… event execution
Amanda Gee, Secretary (CGS 15, Questrom 17): Plan ahead. Events seem simple but they actually take a lot of planning and creativity. Making reservations and marketing events should be done 1-2 weeks in advance to create awareness and to make sure everything is in place.
Advice on… anything else!
Jennifer: We strive to cultivate an environment of positive change by building student leaders who excel both within the College and across the greater BU network.
A new initiative we started this year is the CGS mentorship program. We understand that continuing from CGS into another college can be complex, so we matched freshmen with sophomore student leaders who are planning on going into the same major field as them to guide them academically, provide support and follow our theme of building community here at CGS. Mentorship is a valuable resource that I would like to see SGA exhibit for years to come.
The purpose of being a leader isn’t to grow more followers, it’s build more leaders, and that’s what we at CGS Student Government aim to do.