Author: Whittier Strong

April, May, and Beyond

Forgive me for the extreme tardiness in posting this, my last entry as a first-year blogger for The MFA Years. The end of the semester proved daunting as I put the wraps on probably the toughest semester of my program. I honestly needed a week to recover after classes let out — a pattern I am learning is my norm. And then, before I knew it, I was off on a two-week vacation, first to Minneapolis for a wedding, then to the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania for some time with dear friends. A month ago, I spotted my first robin redbreast of the season. The deciduous trees were budding, and the dandelions were in bloom. A year ago, I didn’t know that any of these things existed in Fairbanks, Alaska. In my head was firmly planted a vision of a desolate tundra, but time and experience would prove this vision wrong. It’s a metaphor for my entire experience at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. There was so much I could not know until I got into …

March

No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke to say today is March. This past week was perhaps the busiest of my semester, and this is my first chance to post. My third and final course this semester is a comparative-lit course taught by our department director, Rich Carr. I’d already got to know him some, as he is also director of the Writing Center. What’s great about taking this course this semester is that he chose the topic of Pacific literature, his specialty. He opened our first class in Samoan –it turns out that he went to Samoa for the Peace Corps years ago. He taught for a school administered by New Zealanders, and it bothered him that all the literature he was required to teach was British. Thus began his lifelong love of Pacific literature. I have to say, I felt most fortunate to be studying a subject that’s offered at few other schools. I’ve enjoyed learning about the writing conventions that distinguish Pacific literature from other English-language literatures. So, on this April Fool’s …

February

February: the shortest month, always proving to be a whirlwind. Here at Alaska-Fairbanks, February means comps (or, if you will, comprehensive exams.) The second-year MA’s and MFA’s all gathered in a computer lab on Valentine’s Day (of all days) for the exams. Two longer essay questions in the morning, a two-hour lunch break, and three shorter questions in the afternoon. Afterwards, we first- and third-years always host a little ceremony to honor the examinees involving champagne and Doritos (no one knows why this combo, but it’s how it’s always been done.) Then, a student in my program who lives in my building threw a party to celebrate the completion of the exams. The party was fun (one of my cohortmates, a fantastic cook, brought incredible pork tacos,) and it was a great chance for me to socialize with the others in my program. We’re pretty good at socializing, actually, and that close-knit quality is one reason I’m glad I’m here. I’ll be taking comps a year from now. The comps list, thankfully, has shrunken some; …

Jenny Pansing

So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With Whittier Strong

For the next two months we’ll be asking some of our first year contributors to talk about the post application period and how they dealt with it last year. What did you do to get through the post application period? I still had my final semester of undergrad to do. But it was a lighter semester–a paper-making class and an independent study in drawing to finish my art minor. I also started a part-time job as a writing tutor in the tutoring center at my university. With what spare time I had beyond that, I got a Netflix subscription and watched my favorite shows (old Britcoms for the win). I played my video games (Star Trek Online is my most-played). I continued my involvement in social groups, even making new friends just as I was (possibly???) moving. And I spent time with old friends, not knowing if I would be in Minneapolis much longer. What’s the best piece of advice you received about applying? I think the best piece of advice I received was to relax. This …

January

Image: Emmanuel Keller So it seems always I am forgetting to include things in my posts and so I have to pick them up the following month. So I’ll bring up two such topics today. First, in November, I attended my first-ever thesis defense. It was for my friend Vicky, who was finishing her MA in English. Her thesis was on the use of video games as instructional tools within the composition classroom, and, in particular, with how she used the game Portal in her class. I was surprised at how a thesis defense actually looked. About 25 of us crammed into a conference room, around a table, with Vicky and her committee at the head. I had always envisioned this sort of thing as being much more formal, with a lectern and rows of audience and the committee sitting like a panel. And the committee asked her a handful of questions about her thesis, and she responded. This took about forty-five minutes. Then we all hung out outside the conference room to await the decision, …

“December”

Image: Ian James Grant So, obviously, it’s not December. But, until 6 p.m., when my Forms of Nonfiction class begins, I’m technically on winter break. So I’ll use the scare quotes to indicate that my December was extended into winter break. I want to use this post to wrap up a few loose ends from this past semester, things I didn’t get the chance to tell or forgot to tell. As I look over my previous posts, I see that I never did tell how my housing situation worked out. When applying for graduate-student housing at the University of Alaska, you sign up for your three top choices, in terms of size, rent, roommate status, etc. This puts you on the three waiting lists. Because some apartment situations are more desirable than others, some lists move faster than others. My name came up for a one-bedroom apartment by myself. It’s one of the more expensive options, but that also meant this list moved faster. I’m not organized enough to handle an efficiency, and I prefer …

November

This month I finished my pedagogy course. As I’ve stated previously, we began this class online over the summer so that we’d be better grounded in our teaching when we began. Once we got here, we continued meeting weekly for 1 ½ hours (rather than the standard 3 hours). Each class opened with a discussion of how our teaching was going, what was working and what wasn’t, and we were able to give each other feedback and advice. Then we would discuss our week’s readings and explore how they applied to the classroom. The class is taught by Sarah Stanley, who oversees writing instruction at Alaska-Fairbanks. She is brilliant when it comes to rhetoric and theory, and is incredibly supportive in our teaching efforts. Her assignments are well suited to professional development. For instance, our final project was a roundtable discussion open to the public on the various ideas we studied over the course of the semester. My group discussed the relationship between the composition classroom and the notion of global citizenship, while the other …