Category: Of Special Interest
Professor of Humanities Robert Wexelblatt recently released his eighth book, Heiberg’s Twitch, which features a collection of fourteen distinct short stories. Named after the first story in the volume, this is the latest addition to his extensive writing career, which encompasses both scholarly and literary publications.
Wexelblatt selected these stories for their differences in character, tone, and form. He explains that “the aim is to deploy imagination and invention to furnish tales about the variety of human conditions, the scope of thought, the diversity of experience.” Readers continent-hop from Europe to Africa, South America to North America, and meet a full spectrum of characters along the way. “Each tale conjures its own world, has its own language, aims to illuminate a distinct experience, a unique situation. Like human life, the stories in Heiberg’s Twitch are comic, sad, pathetic, perplexing, and tragic,” (Pelekenisis).
Though fresh off the press, Wexelblatt already has ideas brewing for his next book.
Heiberg’s Twitch can be purchased directly through Pelekinesis.
Yesterday, more than 600 people gathered at the College of General Studies to hear Dr. Paul Farmer speak as part of the 25th annual Stanley P. Stone Distinguished Lecture Series. The auditorium started filling in as early as 2:15 p.m., buzzing in anticipation to hear Dr. Paul Farmer speak at 4 p.m. Even Dean Natalie McKnight confessed, “I’m a bit in awe, as you are one of my personal heroes,” as she welcomed Farmer to the stage. The event attracted BU undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, alumni, and even those from other universities and locals.
Charged to speak about the current state of global health, Farmer framed the conversation by citing one of BU’s most famous alumns, Martin Luther King Jr.: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Farmer went on to contrast the healthcare expectations between a developed and developing world, advocating to close that gap with an example from a trip just last year to Sierra Leonne. His Partners in Health team found an infant alone in a home where the adults had died from Ebola. Her veins had shrunk from dehydration and were too tiny to insert a needle for the medicine. Fortunately, the team was able to hydrate the infant and administer medication, and a volunteer commented that it was a “miracle.” “It’s not a miracle,” reflected Farmer. “It’s how medical care should be. A baby who falls sick in the United States can expect an IV bag, if that’s what’s needed. Adequate health care is a right, not a miracle.”
One of the biggest figures in the global public health arena, Farmer used years of experience treating infectious diseases to suggest the “six pitfalls in global public health.” Using the most recent epidemic, Ebola, Farmer illustrated each point: prevention versus care, absence of specialists, weak infrastructure, fixed costs, cost of inaction, and lack of sustainability. One could feel the thoughts stirring in the 600 attendees– be it current medical-related students, graduates, researchers; or those working for organizations that help fund or mobilize relief– of what actions could be taken to help improve the situation.
Even though he discussed painful subjects, Farmer charmed the audience by peppering in personal anecdotes and jokes. He also projected a positive outlook to the audience. Reflecting on the progress that has been made over the past two decades in Rwanada, Farmer summed up, “That gives me hope.” With a dismal life expectancy in the wake of the 1994 genocide and as one of the world’s poorest countries, Rwanda has seen significant improvement since building high-quality health care systems.
Truly a man committed to others, Farmer didn’t leave the building until nearly 11 p.m. Nearly 350 people lined up for the book signing, and Farmer not only signed each copy, but also held a substantive conversation with every single person. “That is truly remarkable and in my experience unprecedented,” commented McKnight.
The Lecture Series was instituted in 1980 through the generosity of Stanley Stone (CGS 64, Questrom 66), “This [donor opportunity] immediately appealed to me since it would be a gift to all the students at the College, the faculty and alumns, and would be given annually in perpetuity,” comments Stone. “The two years at CGS were the most stimulating and meaningful of my entire education. I believe in the value of the integrated core curriculum and team teaching approach at CGS. It meant a lot to me, and I trust it has and will be to many others.” The College of General Studies aims to equip students with key skills and foundational knowledge to help be forces of change in the world.
For those who were unable to attend, the lecture is posted on the Stanley P. Stone Distinguished Lecture Series page.
On the tails of releasing her new book, Bikini-Ready Moms: Celebrity Profiles, Motherhood, and the Body, Rhetoric Professor Dr. Lynn O’Brien Hallstein is headed to Canada to give the keynote address at the Mothers, Mothering, Motherhood in 21st Century: Culture, Society, Literature, and the Arts conference. Sponsored by the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI), the three-day conference will explore motherhood from multiple dimensions, including: film, TV and literature; religion; law and policy; heath, medicine and well-being; technology; and more.
Hallstein will discuss findings and theories from Bikini-Ready Moms, with a particular focus on the media analysis of her work. For more information on the conference, please see here.
On Friday evening, more than 40 CGS alumni who are current juniors, gathered in the Katzenberg Center with proud family members and reconnected with their sophomore CGS professors for the Capstone Awards Ceremony.
A tradition running for almost 40 years—since 1977—the Capstone project challenges CGS sophomore students to create a practical, comprehensive solution to address a timely, real-world problem, while drawing upon the key skills and interdisciplinary approach that they learned over their two years at CGS. Students work on teams of six or seven, carefully researching the issue at hand, constructing arguments for and against the different sides, and presenting findings in a 50-page paper and via an oral argument. Each faculty team chooses a winning Capstone group, recognized for completing this project with distinction. Friday night’s Ceremony honored such groups.
Decades ago, Capstone projects were fairly rare in academia. Now touted as one of the “10 best practices” in undergraduate education (AAC & U), capstone projects are increasingly assigned in institutions that are trying to design projects that will encourage students to integrate what they have learned and apply it to solving real-world problems. National and global surveys of job recruiters show that the criteria that employers are most looking for in candidates are 1) critical thinking and problem solving skills and 2) oral and written communication skills. “That pretty much sums up the aptitudes that the Capstone project helps students develop, and that these award-winning students have demonstrated so ably,” shared Dean Natalie McKnight.
The 2015 topic, Ethics, Politics, and the Law, encouraged students to explore areas such as big data and digital privacy, affirmative action and higher education, war crimes, the economics of climate change, genetic privacy, and more. Professors were very impressed with the thorough research and level of detail in which students evaluated such areas, along with the viability of the proposed solutions.
Each member of the winning groups received a certificate, and one group was chosen at random to attend a BU men’s hockey game in the Snapple luxury box at Agganis Arena, courtesy of the Dean of Students.
Men’s Journal recently featured Matt Trevithick (CGS 06, CAS 08), who has been working in some of the most war-torn areas of the world to help rebuild broken communities and deliver international relief.
Earlier this year, the Islamic State (ISIS) attacked the Kurdish defenders of the Syrian city of Kobane. The world’s most premier news outlets– CNN, ABC, NBC, BBC, and more– were all perched about a quarter mile from the scene to share updates with the world. So was Trevithick. The article shares, “‘The really interesting stuff happens once the world stops watching,’ says Trevithick.”
Trevithick and fellow co-founder Daniel Seckman created the Syrian Research and Evaluation Organization (SREO) to help provide on-the-ground information about what specific relief efforts are needed in the area. Six months ago, many assumed that freshwater would be the most urgent relief need; however SREO used its extensive network of local contacts to discern that fresh food was in fact the greatest need.
For more on Trevithick and SREO, please see the full article text.
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!