Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) - Committee Testimonials
Click on the name above to go directly to the testimonial from that individual.
Director Testimonial (for creative writing projects):
In my experience, the most successful final projects don’t necessarily come from the most “inherently brilliant” students (or the students who believe a state of inherent brilliance really exists). The very best projects come from the students who are ready to roll their sleeves up and revise, revise, revise. As a director, I’ve read manuscripts 3, 4, 5 times throughout the course of a semester or two. Those manuscripts evolve dramatically each time, as they should. The final project will ideally look very little like the first draft.
A project that has evolved and changed over many drafts is successful because it illustrates that the student has evolved and changed throughout the process as well. If a writer and project remain static from start to finish, on some basic level, I start to wonder: What’s the point of this exercise?
I expect the students I direct to continually rethink and retool their larger vision of the work. This may include rethinking: basic organizing principles (perhaps your last scene is really your first), genre (maybe a thinly veiled “fictional” account of real events would be better as a memoir), sentence-level language (is every single word helping to tell your story in the most vivid way possible?), and many other factors like setting description, dialogue, background research, etc.
One final note: Obviously, the pay for serving on a final project committee is not the reason we do it. Instead, for me, directing final projects rejuvenates my love of creative writing and reminds me of how important it is to continually evolve and change as a writer. Often, when editing a student’s final project, I am reminded of how to tackle the issues currently holding me back in my own writing.
Reader Testimonial (for creative writing projects):
As a reader, I have found that the best way to help is to let the student utilize you how they see fit and to share with them early on that you can provide as little or as much feedback as they desire. Some students want as much feedback from all committee members as possible from the very beginning. Others feel overwhelmed by having too many voices chiming in early on and would prefer to hear your thoughts closer to the end of the process.
I also think the reader’s approach should be different from the director’s. The director will be looking at the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and there’s potential for the director to become extremely close to the manuscript after reading so many iterations of it. This is where the reader can come in a little later in the process and provide some much-needed “big picture” comments that will help propel future revisions.
It’s important to note that a GLS final project evolves quite a bit before the student defends it, but the manuscript is not done at that point. By providing overarching suggestions on a student’s final project, the reader can be instrumental in helping the student regroup and tackle more revisions post-defense. I want my students to leave the GLS program with more work to do, whether it’s a continuation of their final project or perhaps a sister project or new venture.
I find that most of my GLS students are life-long learners, and they are so rewarding to teach because they are eager to do additional reading, writing, and work that isn’t required. In that vein, I always try to remember that the GLS program and the final project process are just the very beginning of their academic work and exploration
I’ve had the pleasure of working on many final projects, and I find it to be one of the more rewarding aspects of my role as Assistant Director of the program. I’ve worked with students on both creative and scholarly projects, and each has its own unique rewards.
As a director of a project, I tend to be quite hands-on, commenting on multiple drafts and holding my student to a strict timeline that allows for content analysis, organizational editing, and close line editing and formatting at the end of the process. I treat the final project as GLS intends it: as a 3 credit hour course where there is as much to be learned as there is to be reflected upon and executed in graduate-level writing.
When a student requests that I be a reader for a project, I talk about how I navigate that role and let the student determine if this fits her needs. As a reader, I meet with the student at the very beginning of the process and offer suggestions and any insight I might have on her subject. Then, unless I’m contacted with questions, I only enter the process again at the very end, reading the last draft of the work. I attend the defense with a marked-up document and a written response for the student to consider and potentially apply to her work as she shapes it in the future.
As a director, I start the semester with a reading list that the student and I work together to build. The idea is that when the student is not writing (or hits that dreaded wall), she will be reading texts that in some way inform her project. We meet sometimes once a week, sometimes every two weeks, depending on the stage of the process. In these meetings we not only discuss the drafts of her work, but also call on texts from the reading list to discuss both craft options and content concerns that will lead to new possibilities in the writing process.
It is always rewarding to see how a student’s time in the GLS program has informed her final project subject and her ability to execute graduate level work. I encourage my student to discuss these connections as we work together on the project. For a creative work, much of these musings wind up in the artist’s statement, a required component of the project. And be it creative or scholarly, the student should be able to articulate, at the oral defense, how the capstone experience has culminated from her time as a GLS student.
After all of the editing and formatting (a vital component that we should all hold our students accountable to execute properly using the final project formatting manual) is done and the review copy is in Dr. Turrisi’s hands, we meet to plan the oral defense, selecting excerpts to read, making notes on structure and scope, and practicing how to execute all the components in a timely fashion. If a student is using multimedia, we work together to prepare those as well.
During the process, I encourage the student to consider the future of her project. I want the student to take her work seriously and understand that graduation doesn’t close the door on the project. I see the final project as a beginning for the student as much as a culmination of her time in the GLS program.
We’ve seen students move forward with their projects in myriad ways after leaving our program. Some use their scholarly papers or creative works in their applications to Masters and PhD programs (even securing coveted teaching assistantships upon acceptance). One student adapted philosophies from his final project’s text and transformed them into a literacy program for children in his hometown. Another student’s final project of short stories was adapted from an oral history project he’d conducted to preserve stories from the Lumbee tribe, and work from his project was cited in related academic research. Recently a student completed a detailed, scholarly study of former North Carolina poet laureate Cathy Smith Bowers’ poetry, which included personal interviews he conducted with the poet herself. He’s at work presently on investigating archival and publishing options. These are just a few examples of the kind of ambition I like to encourage students to strive for when exploring a topic, writing the work with an audience in mind that reaches far beyond the graduate classroom.
I see this sort of service as a privilege—working one-on-one with a student and deeply engaging in a work from inception to completion. I always come away with not only a sense of pride, but also having learned much myself. I hope your experience is just as rewarding.
Last Update: February 28, 2014