Category Archives: Undergrad Adventures

Undergrad Adventures: 20th Century American Literature

My three favorite texts from this class.

My three favorite texts from this class.

I graduated on Saturday (!) but I couldn’t forget to blog one last time about my undergrad adventures.  The last class to cover this quarter is my last upper-division English class, 20th Century American Literature. There were two main takeaways for me from this class.

The class text selection was one of the best I’ve ever had. 

In an English class, it’s pretty typical to have a reading list of five or six novels for the quarter. I rarely disliked the reading lists for my English classes, but this class had a particularly good one: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (An overlap with Black Lit in the U.S. [same professor]), Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel and Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs. There were also a few essays from postmodern theorists, as well as required viewing of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. All of these texts made for some really great class discussions about biopower, precarity, total war and bare life, and affected me personally in two instances. I had read Ceremony for a prior class, but hadn’t ended up liking it that much. But looking at it through a different lens helped me parse out the implications of post-traumatic stress disorder and being part of a marginalized community, which made me appreciate it as a novel more. I will also never be able to watch a superhero movie / view Bruce Wayne in the same way, but I’m okay with it. And now it’s nearly impossible for me not to think in these terms. I’ve been making my way through Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, and there were a few stories where I immediately thought about the concepts I learned about in this class. To me, that’s a sign that this was a great class.

Being an English major was the best decision I ever made.

We opened the class with a discussion about biopolitics and biopower, concepts that Michel Foucault pioneered in several of his works, including a series of university talks called Society Must Be Defended. I had already read two of his texts — The Order of Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge — so I had a slight idea of what I was getting myself into. We only read a section from the talks, but I want to add the entire text to my reading list. In an oversimplified nutshell, Foucault says the state controls the population through regulating our bodies in many ways, which obviously has many implications. Everything from sexual health to incarceration to even racism is wrapped up in these concepts. And once you understand what biopower is, you begin to understand just how significant the government’s biopolitical intentions are for you in your daily life. This is just one of several examples of concepts I learned about in this class that ended up changing the way I think about the world.

I was talking about this at graduation with my fellow graduates, but I think the best things about being an English major was how interdisciplinary it was and how I got to read books and talk about social issues / get new perspectives. I was encouraged and pushed to look deeper, think more critically and weigh in other possibilities. I don’t think I would have gained as much being a journalism student. You can teach yourself how to use Photoshop and read the AP stylebook cover to cover, but learning in a literature class — and the people you learn it from and the people you learn it with — is like nothing else. I will miss the classroom immensely.

Have thoughts on 20th century American literature? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Undergrad Adventures: Student Leadership

A special edition of Undergrad Adventures. 

I will miss being involved in KHCC, Sigma Tau Delta and the Poly Post. A lot.

I will miss being involved in KHCC, Sigma Tau Delta and the Poly Post. A lot.

I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to hold several leadership positions in clubs and organizations during my college career. I held three positions (activities chair, treasurer and vice president) in Kellogg Honors College Club, and just ended a two-year run as the president of Cal Poly Pomona’s Sigma Tau Delta chapter. This year, I was also the copy editor for The Poly Post. While I can’t deny that having things to put on my resume were a big reason for getting involved, I wanted the chances to meet people across campus and do something to make myself better. As I’ve been wrapping up my responsibilities and help next year’s leaders transition into their new roles, I’ve realized my combined involvement as a student leader has also been a really important part of my growth as a student and as a person.

It made college even more fun.

Planning events for the entire Kellogg Honors College, running Sigma Tau Delta and being part of a student newspaper production all had their fair share of sweat and tears, but they also all had a lot of laughs and good memories. I have a lot of advice for incoming freshmen, but one of the things I would definitely say is to get involved in causes and groups that you enjoy being a part of.

A Sigma Tau Delta board I'm very proud of.

A Sigma Tau Delta board I’m very proud of.

It saved me from commuter syndrome.

A lot of commuters at Cal Poly Pomona get stuck in the “go to school, come home” mentality, and I’m so glad I never even thought about doing that. Being a part of student organizations made me even prouder to be part of many different communities, and it gave me an excuse to be on campus other than for class or work. It is one of the many reasons I am so proud to call myself a Bronco.

The Poly Post squad.

The Poly Post squad.

The knowledge is priceless.

Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in college have been in the club context. In putting on events and coordinating projects, you learn about what kinds of people you’ll encounter in the workforce and how you’re going to work with them. I think that’s partially why the university allows student clubs and organizations to thrive, as they’re really the perfect learn-by-doing opportunity outside of the classroom. Another thing I’ve come to realize is that you cannot make most things happen without having help, and I worked with some really great people. Some of the most successful events I was a part of were great, collaborative team efforts.

And I feel more confident in myself. 

I planned events for big groups of students, kept on top of finances and provided support to my fellow student leaders. I managed many different aspects of an entire student club for two years. I copyedited an entire newspaper for 30 weeks. The next time I’m down on myself, I’m going to remember that I did all these things and still managed to graduate magna cum laude, hold two jobs at one point and took on a large research project.

Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some times when I wanted to quit everything, retreat to my room and sleep for years. But I’m so glad I didn’t. Having the opportunity to be a student leader really did make all the difference.

Do you have thoughts on being a student leader? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Undergrad Adventures: Reporting III

 Reporting III, or how I learned to stop worrying and just get ahead.


Reporting III, or how I learned to stop worrying and just get ahead.

To finish out my journalism minor, I decided to take Reporting III this quarter. This particular class is centered around how to be a beat reporter for a city, and what kinds of stories you should be looking for. You know that I’m into the arts and cultural criticism side of the business, so this was a different take for me. But for all of the headaches this class has caused me (on the “not having enough business hour time to do the assignments” front), the insight is worth it.

Public affairs reporting is hard stuff. 

The assignments have included, amongst other things, a city report, a crime story and a longform piece. And I have to commend the people who do this for real every day. I had (and am having) a difficult time tracking people down and getting them to talk to me about potentially sensitive issues, from confirming police blotter items to asking questions about crime reports. I give infinite kudos to the hardworking men and women who have made this their lives’ missions.

The difficulty has also has proven to me just how important it is to get public affairs stories. It’s important to know what’s going on at city council meetings, or reporting on crimes in the cities. The people deserve to know what’s happening in their own cities, and the reporters who make sure that happens are really doing a public service. It takes dedication and persistence, which are two traits a lot of people don’t have.

Sidebar: It’s a good thing this is my last quarter of undergrad, because this schedule has been terrible.

Being on campus from 8 or 9 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday with a packed schedule has been killer for me truly flourishing in this class, and I wish I would have known how this class was going to go before I signed up. I know I’ve been a broken record to some of my peers about my time table, but it has actually created most of my problems this quarter — having a cold last week (the reason for no Link Party on Friday) is a byproduct to that. I prefer to conduct my interviews in person, and being unable to leave campus has really put a damper on my progress with the final project. If this had been a year ago, I would have told myself to never do this again. However, it’s taught me that I actually do have a limit as to what schedule I can mesh well with, and I hope you can translate it into advice to not let yourself do the same. Or do it, if that’s what works for you.

Following the growth of the profession and where it’s heading is so important. 

I have appreciated the guidance of the professor, who was an incredibly accomplished journalist when print culture was still the dominant paradigm. But I have to say, the most important takeaway from me for this class is that it’s imperative to stay ahead of the curve.

This is not a knock on the professor. Some of the advice he’s given us has been directly applicable or transferrable, and that’s been great in a department that doesn’t seem to cater much to the journalism option. But the ways he went about getting sources and writing stories are slightly different from how today’s journalists do it, and the expectation of content delivery and how to deliver it is significantly different.  I realized that I don’t want to get stuck in the transition from print to online, or from online to whatever is afterwards. I think the way to stay out of it is to try and be a sponge, soaking up skills (it’s insane that the department doesn’t require a class in basic HTML / talk about the rise of data journalism / the future of websites like Buzzfeed or Vox) and working hard. Embracing the digital front and learning everything there is to know about it / listening to the conversation people in the industry are having are crucial to understanding how the future may look. I really wish I would have gotten more technical training earlier in my college career to put myself at the front of the pack, but it’s something I ‘m going to work on and strive towards.

What are your thoughts on the future of journalism? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Undergrad Adventures: European Romanesque through Baroque Art

Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" is one of my favorite paintings, and I was so glad it popped up in this class.

Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” is one of my favorite paintings, and I was so glad it popped up in this class.

I needed some extra units this quarter, so I decided to pick up an art history class. I definitely count art and art history as hobbies: I love going to museums, reading books about art and incorporating art into my daily life.

This particular class covers Western art history from the European romanesque (early medieval) era to the baroque. This also includes the Renaissance, which honestly deserves an entire class. While I’m a little sick of the lecture-group work-exam class structure (My senioritis has just kicked in), I have enjoyed this class more than I thought I would.

Everyone should take an elective they really love.

You love United States history? Take a class in it. You want to know how to code? Sign up for a workshop. Beyond the knowledge I gained about the subject material, this class taught me that taking electives you want to take is really a form of self-care and makes you a well-rounded person. I love literature classes, but this class was a great diversion from my normal and further fused my hobby with my everyday schedule. I really wish I would have taken more art history classes earlier on in my college career so I would have gotten the full deal.

Romanesque through Baroque art is still not my thing, but I feel more comfortable discussing it. 

Talking about art from the Impressionists onwards is my jam. So as you can imagine, I walked into this class feeling a little bit uncomfortable. From the eighth century to the 15th century in Europe, all of the art was religious, which is something I don’t have much experience with. The fact that 99.9 percent of this art had some religious context makes sense, though. The only people/groups who had money to spend on commissioning art were the religious figures/churches. If they weren’t inspired by Greco-Roman statuary, these artists were borrowing the Byzantine style, and modernism was just a twinkle in the sky.

Nine weeks into the class, however, I feel more comfortable talking about the art from this time period and the cultural significance of these pieces. I can now explain to you what a polyptych is, and tell you all about both Donatello and Michelangelo’s David. I’m glad that I can add all of this information to my breadth of art history knowledge, and that if anyone ever asked me about the Mérode altarpiece or the different parts of a pilgrimage cathedral, I could totally carry on a conversation.

The idea that art is truly everywhere seems to have originated in this time period.

One of the best things I’ve learned in this class is that art is really everywhere. The Europeans crammed sculpture and paintings into just about every corner of the cathedrals they built, from the windows to the door jambs. Their idea (well, those who believed that decorating churches made them even holier and showed incredible devotion) was that everyone, including the illiterate, needed to have the fear God instilled in them. Because so many people could not read, the best way to do that beyond a sermon was making it incredibly visual. There are some insane tympana that probably scared everyone who crossed through the church.

I have to say, I’m really glad they did that. I think that attention to detail and deliberate move to put art where everyone could see it has direct implications for the architecture that follows it. The trend in architecture right now is insanely minimalist, but when I was in downtown Los Angeles last week, I could even see the care taken to add details to the architecture of some of the early 20th century buildings. It just makes me happy that it all exists.

But multiple choice tests continue to suck. 

Granted, I am sort of glad that the exams for this class are multiple choice. Sometimes it’s easier to pick out the right answer from a list of wrong ones instead of trying to pull it from my head. And it is really difficult to retain all of the information, from the name of the artist (so many Italians) to what the pieces are made out of. But 75 percent of the questions on the test ask those kinds of questions. Who is the artist? Who commissioned this piece? Where was it displayed? What is this color/item/person in the painting supposed to represent? What is this architectural detail called?

While I find knowing all of that information important, especially if you’re going to be an art historian, regurgitating it to mark A, B, C or D doesn’t do much to help me retain the art’s cultural significance. There is an essay portion of the exam that approaches this idea of explaining why the pieces are important to talk about, and I’ve rocked it both times. A good art history class would have a lecture component, but also a component where we discuss the pieces and what we think about them. Tl;dr Death to multiple choice tests.

Do you like art history, or have something to say about an elective you really enjoyed? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Undergrad Adventures: Black Literature in the U.S.

I gave a presentation on this Basquiat painting in ENG 205 yesterday, and easily could have talked for hours about it. This painting is called "Untitled (History of Black People)," and it's Basquiat's reclamation of the Egyptians as black.

I gave a presentation on this Basquiat painting in ENG 205 yesterday, and easily could have talked for hours about it. This painting is called “Untitled (History of Black People),” and it’s Basquiat’s reclamation of the Egyptians as black.

I originally signed up for ENG 205, Black Literature in the U.S., for two reasons. One: I needed some extra units. Two: It’s with my capstone professor, so I was already familiar with how rigorous the class was going to be and what was to be expected. Seven weeks into the class, I can say that I had no idea that this class was going to be so incredibly important for developing my understanding of contemporary race issues in the United States, as well as my understanding of other people’s understandings of literature.

The class dynamic is very different, to say the least.

I walked into this with very limited reading under my belt — Two of the examples I can think of right now are Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison. Not only am I one of the oldest students by standing in the class (shoutout to Eric for also sticking through it), but I am also one of a handful of white people, which I can honestly say is refreshing. I don’t think it would be as good of a class if it was predominantly white, which I’ll get to in a moment. The last things you need to know are that it is classified as a general education course, and the subtitle of this class is A Literary History of Ferguson, Missouri.

The range of disciplines and racial diversity that make up the student body of this class makes for a really interesting dynamic that makes for a greater takeaway. There are quite a few students who are involved with the African American Student Center, and I can’t seem to tell who is actually an English major. There have been a few moments where I’ve been really frustrated about the direction of the conversation (The ratio of discussion of social issues to text is 60-40, and it’s difficult to return to the books we’ve read once we’ve gone off in the other direction / sometimes social justice opinions cloud the discussion, and the texts are what I’m really most interested in) it has made for incredible discussion. Before taking this class, I had no real idea of just how pervasive implicit racism is. Although I will never be able to understand what that feels like, I appreciate the perspective it has given me. I am also very lucky that I go to a university that prides itself on diversity and allows for this kind of class to be a part of the curriculum. I’ve wanted to tear my hair out when people have used their 2015 lenses to look at 1898 or 1970s issues, but thinking about why they analyze it in that way is also a learning opportunity for me about how other people experience literature.

The resilience of the African American community after so many years of injustices and inequality should be the more important American narrative. 

Part of the class has involved a presentation from each student, highlighting examples of black resistance and resilience. I’ve enjoyed this part of the class too — it’s been cool to see what people have come up with. Yesterday, one student talked about how disco, a genre pioneered by Chic, resonates throughout today’s music. Other students have talked about the Tuskegee airmen, The Brownies’ Book and Maya Angelou. In a class that is steeped in the literary history of Ferguson, it’s wonderful to hear about really positive movements in light of some really shitty setbacks. I wish that more of these people and movements were recognized on a wider scale, and it sucks that the history we all learn about in high school (and even college) is so whitewashed.

The reading list has been A++++.

We started out with Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which has to be one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Citizen brings attention to the forms of implicit racism that people of color experience every day at every moment, and I’ve never experienced a book like that before. We were also really lucky to have her come to campus to read her poetry and answer questions. She is a national treasure.

We’ve also read Charles Chesnutt’s Marrow of Tradition, and just finished James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk. I had read Baldwin’s novel exactly a year ago for another class, but wasn’t particularly moved by it at the time. Knowing what I know now, however, has made it a more fruitful read. Up next is Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, which I’m also excited to delve into.

I am grateful for the further education on social issues.

I like to think that I keep on top of current events, but this class has shown me that there is a lot of injustice and inequality that just isn’t covered in big media. Granted, I tried to follow the Michael Brown and Ferguson protests as they happened, but I was truly ignorant of a bigger cultural conversation on police brutality and mass incarceration. This class has also coincided with a big historical movement, which has made me pay more attention to it and the voices coming out of it.

The first few weeks of this class centered on a more contemporary conversation about race, and I left most days feeling incredibly depleted and emotionally drained — but it has definitely been worth it. I am much more aware of the language I use to describe situations (for example, riots v. protests). And I am more aware of my white privilege than a lot of other white people (as aware as I can possibly be to still have privilege), and this class has moved me towards understanding in what ways it works.

Have you ever taken a class like this? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Undergrad Adventures: Senior Symposium

The coverpage for my lovely portfolio, featuring my scribble.

The coverpage for my lovely portfolio, featuring my scribble.

In order to graduate from the English literature and language program at Cal Poly Pomona, you have to take a class called Senior Symposium. In addition to reading books by one author (in this case, Italo Calvino), you’re also required to teach one class / write a research paper / and put together a portfolio exhibiting your best work over the past four years / several documents explaining your growth and how to improve the program for future students. Senior Symposium is not one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken, but I learned a lot.

Italo Calvino is pretty alright.

I’ve already done a fair amount of reading about postmodernism, so I didn’t think Calvino’s philosophies were particularly earth shattering. I do know a lot of students in the class came away with a better understanding and a new viewpoint, so I’m good with that. Calvino does have a lot of ideas, however, that are resonant in today’s “want everything instantly” kind of world. It was also really interesting to hear from a writer about what he thought the purposes of writing and reading were, and how to craft a good story. If you’re interested, I highly recommend Six Memos for the Next Millennium and Mr. Palomar.

Learning how to teach a class is an Experience. 

I was lucky that I got to plan it with a partner, but trying to come up with a concept that will create a lot of discussion questions and last the full hour took a long time to formulate. Our presentation was on Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, so we decided to start with a “What is postmodernism?” discussion before moving into the text and its ideas.  We decided to go the mini-lecture on the premise / small groups / reconvene into a big group route, and that worked really well. People were more comfortable to discuss in small groups than they were in a larger one, and that was quite alright. I felt quite unprepared, but we did just fine. If I had to redo it, I would have drawn stronger connections to other theorists and maybe found out if Calvino had expressly ever said anything about postmodernism.

A portfolio is a really great idea, with limits.

Getting to see just how much I’ve grown as a writer over four years was really cool, and I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to do it if not for the class. There are some assignments that I’ve done in the program that I’m really proud of and know that I did a pretty good job on. There were a few where I cringed at the construction and grammar of essays I got pretty good grades on. Save for my last set of Shakespeare commentaries and maybe my Modernism & Postmodernism term paper, I would completely redo the essays I included knowing what I know now — but coming to that realization was basically the point of the portfolio.  I will say, I did so much reflection about the entire process via questionnaires and 7-page reflective essays that I started to repeat myself. My portfolio ended up being about 65 pages. Goodbye to all of those trees. It was definitely worth it.

And a side-note: no 11:45 a.m. classes ever again.

Having a class in the middle of the lunch hour sucks, and learning that in my second-to-last quarter as an undergraduate student was pretty damn rough. Heed the warning.

Have you ever had a class like this? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Undergrad Adventures: ENG 451 Presentation

Photo of me getting said presentation, courtesy of my friend Sarah, who is a great source of moral support.

Photo of me getting said presentation, courtesy of my friend Sarah, who is a great source of moral support. (See my very messy white board diagram in the back.)

Last week, I got an email from my capstone mentor asking me if I wanted to give a presentation on my last capstone paper in his Modernism & Postmodernism class.

He is always simultaneously my favorite and least favorite person.

“No pressure at all” yeah okay uh huh

So I took part of the afternoon off of work and went and gave what ended up being a much bigger presentation/discussion. Despite none of this being for class credit, I learned a lot about public speaking and giving a talk.

Reading from a formal essay will not always work for a talk. 

When I did SCCUR, all I had to do was get up there, read my paper and push along PowerPoint slides. I did a pretty good job of explaining Yeezus, and just about everyone there was already interested in the material.

A class of English students who had maybe seen a handful of Community episodes each makes things just a little harder. This paper is all about the Community episode “Critical Film Studies,” which is heavily entrenched in Pulp Fiction and My Dinner with Andre references. The particular publication I’ll be sending this to is online, so it’s easy for people to Google “My Dinner with Andre summary” or “who is Abed Nadir.” But when you’re in a classroom full of people who may not have seen either movie (most people had seen Pulp Fiction, but nobody had seen My Dinner with Andre), you have to reorient yourself a little bit. I started out with small summaries of the episode (which we had just watched) the two movies, and the definition of the postmodern concept — the simulacra — I was working with. I also added some preliminary questions to get people comfortable with what I was about to say. It was an easier way to segue into very dense material that requires prior knowledge, even if you’ve just watched the episode. When you’re writing a paper for a specific purpose, you forget that not everyone will be on the same page. I think I need to be a tad more cognizant of that for next time.

Nothing ever goes exactly the way you plan it. 

I was originally only supposed to talk and facilitate a discussion for 15-30 minutes. The entire thing, including watching the episode, turned into nearly 1 1/2 hours. The class had SO many questions about the concepts and great things to say, and even started small back-and-forths amongst themselves — I didn’t initially expect any of the scenarios. It was great for me, since I had to think on my feet and got new ideas from their discussions. There are a couple of things they brought up and fleshed out that I hadn’t even thought of that I think will really enhance my paper. I love working with other people like that, because it puts everyone’s creativity in high gear.

You don’t really realize just how important a good room is for teaching until you’re in one that really sucks. 

The classroom that this class is held in is a long and wide room set up to be a computer lab, with four sets of group tables in the middle and computer stations around the perimeter. There was no front table or lectern, and a humongous space between the front tables and the white board. I have a clear and loud voice, so I don’t think I had issues with the people in the back hearing me. But I felt marooned at the front of the room — I had nowhere to put my notebook or my notes, so I felt like an idiot standing up there without an anchor. Plus, I had to write super big on the white board so the quality of my handwriting instantly plummeted. Tl;dr Some rooms are just not good for presentations.

 

I am a halfway decent public speaker.

I was really nervous at the beginning (partly because the concepts are difficult and partly because my research mentor was sitting. right. there.) But I soon found a cadence, and was able to use my hands and move around the room without bouncing or shaking, something I usually do. I faltered over some words, which I should have rehearsed beforehand. I know from my foray into writing scripts for video that you can’t write anything that’s hard to say, and even though this is originally for print, I should have modified some words to help them glide better.

All that being said, I got a lot of compliments from my fellow classmates and the professor, who said I was a good public speaker. I don’t buy that completely, but we’ll see when I have to give my next speech in April — another undergraduate adventure for another day.

What’s your experience with giving presentations? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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