Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Friday, August 27, 2010

Introducing Kate Vieira

Today marks the end of the first week of classes. The weather still says summer, but the bustle of students and the quickened pace of everything and everyone here in the English Building most definitely says Fall. Even though I relish the extra time I have for reading, thinking, and writing over the summer, I have always found there is something energizing and exciting about the start of a new academic year. New students, a fresh syllabus, a chance to get that lesson plan just right this time, renewed acquaintance with those colleagues who may have been elsewhere over the summer, and gorgeous sunny weather with just the slightest hint of chill in the evenings; a jolt, a new challenge, a restart button for tired brains.

In keeping with the season's general spirit of academic renewal, I am very pleased to welcome and introduce the newest member of our tenure-stream faculty, Kate Vieira, who joins us as an Assistant Professor in Writing Studies. Her research deals with literacy and assimilation and, in particular, with the ways that different immigrant communities with shared languages assimilate to the United States while simultaneously competing with and assimilating to each other. Her work comes out of specific ethnographic work on the interactions between
Azorean and Brazilian immigrant communities in Massachusetts, and has broad implications for the way we understand the complex interactions between linguistic and cultural assimilation and the challenges of English language literacy within an increasingly diverse and globalized US.

Vieira is, as we say in my native Boston, wicked smaht (that's "very, very smart," for those not assimilated to the distinctive dialect I grew up in). She also comes to us with a very strong record of classroom instruction and writing program administration. In addition to a wealth of experience teaching writing in a university setting, she is a seasoned ESL instructor and has a really admirable record of educational outreach work in the US and overseas.

Faculty in my department take special pride in the care with which we hire, and we have in truth an amazing record of finding and fostering exceptional scholarly talent. Well, we've done it again. Welcome, Kate. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Instructional excellence, from Alderfer to Zink

The Center for Teaching Excellence has just released a draft of its newest "List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent," based on student evaluation data from classes taught in the Spring of 2010. This list--still known locally as the "incomplete list" despite the fact that CTE no longer calls it that--is considered a draft until it is published in the student newspaper in early September. But nothing in the data upon which it is based is going to change in the next week so I think we can consider it final enough for our purposes here.

As usual, English faculty of all kinds have made a very strong showing in a wide variety of classes. If you look at the faculty listed under the different rubrics for our classes (English, Business and Technical Writing, Creative Writing, and Rhetoric) you'll find a gaggle (or is it a pride?) of tenured and tenure track faculty members, visiting professors, graduate student TAs, instructors, and lecturers, all of whom have received strong student evaluations for classes ranging from general education writing classes and introductory literature classes to highly specialized graduate seminars. And everything in between.

Though I do always want to celebrate and thank faculty members who serve our students well (and this is in effect a list of faculty members that students report feeling especially well-served by), I also know that there are plenty of very good teachers every semester who do not make the list for all kinds of reasons. Good teaching is not a popularity contest, for one thing, and there are classes which, for whatever reasons, have higher and lower student evaluation numbers than others year in and year out regardless of who teaches them. So the list will always remain incomplete, no matter what CTE decides to call it. Still, I'm very glad so many of our teachers are doing right by their students, and I'm proud (as always) to be a member of a department populated by so many dedicated, excellent scholar-teachers.

So, without further ado, our list for Spring 2010:

Sarah Alderfer, Sarah Alexander, Claire Barber, Iryce Baron, Rob Barrett, Benjamin Bascom, Manisha Basu, Rebeccah Bechtold, Rebecca Bilbro, Heather Blain, Allan Borst, Stephanie Brabant, Aaron Burch, Michael Burns, J. B. Capino, Alexandra Cavallero, Debojoy Chanda, Ezra Claverie, Dan Colson, Megan Condis, Mary Rose Cottingham, Leslie Crowell, Sarah Dennis, Lindsey Drager, Caroline Duda, Karolina Engstrom, Patrick Fadely, Jill Fitzgerald, Chris Freeburg, Shawn Gilmore, Melissa Girard, Philip Graham, Catharine Gray, Sarah Gray, Baron Haber, Jill Hamilton, Jim Hansen, Gail Hapke, William Hechler, Ashley Hetrick, Liz Hoiem, Ann Hubert, Anna Ivy, Terra Walston Joseph, Gesa Kirsch, Kimberly Koch, Susan Koshy, Eileen Lagman, Melissa Larabee, Mary Lindsey, Samantha Looker, Tania Lown-Hecht, Sara Luttfring, Mike Madonick, Vicki Mahaffey, Heather McLeer, Bruce Michelson, Matthew Minicucci, Zia Miric, Justine Murison, Esther Nadolski, Michael Odom, Lisa Oliverio, Donghee Om, Paul Pedroza, Curtis Perry, Audrey Petty, Julie Price, Paul Prior, Thierry Ramais, Frank Ridgway, Micah Riecker, Austin Riede, Ricky Rodriguez, Michael Rothberg, John Rubins, Ted Sanders, Julia Saville, Christina Scheuer, E. Jordan Sellers, Alex Shakar, Anne Shea, Frank Sheets, Christopher Simeone, Katherine Skwarczek, Siobhan Somerville, Cristina Stanciu, Andrea Stevens, Bradley Stiles, Ted Underwood, Mary Unger, Michael Verderame, Jonathan Vincent, Jason Vredenburg, Kathryn Walkiewicz, Rebecca Weber, Kirstin Wilcox, Daniel Wong, Elaine Wood, Amanda Zink

Congratulations to one and all and thanks, too, on behalf of all of our students.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Advising Office

Current students and recent alums who read this blog will concur, I know, with the following statement of objective fact: the English Department has a really helpful, responsive, friendly undergraduate advising office. Because we are a large major with several tracks and complicated requirements, and because English classes also serve gen ed requirements for students all over campus, our advising office handles a lot of traffic. And they do a great, great job of answering questions, steering students in the right directions, and, well, advising.

For the past several years, undergraduate advising duties have been split between Claire Billing and Bob Steltman. As of today (August 6, 2010) you will see their pictures--along with that of Maureen Airsman, who handles the administrative duties associated with that office--if you click through the link above to the advising office site. Claire, though, retired early this past summer. Let's see how long it takes us to update the website accordingly, shall we?

Between them, Bob and Claire have done a great job of helping our students through the ins and outs of enrollment and course selection. But they did much more than that, too, splitting between them a bunch of other undergraduate services and offering support to departmental faculty in a great many ways as well. Bob, as regular readers of this blog will know, works regularly with me, with the department's Associate Head, and with our Director of Undergraduate Studies as we work on various aspects of our teaching mission. Claire, meanwhile, managed an always-growing network of alumni mentors and sought always to put current English students interested in pursuing all kinds of careers (teaching, publishing, law, business, medicine, you name it) into contact with former English students now laboring in those very fields. Insofar as we have had success as a department in teaching our students and preparing them for life after college--and I think we have indeed had considerable success in this area--the advising office has played a very important, facilitating role.

We had a small retirement party for Claire in May, but I would like to thank her here as well for her years of good work on behalf of our students. She is, and will continue to be, missed in the English Building.

The good news, though, is that we have just hired a new departmental advisor--Adrienne Pickett--who will surely be able to pick up some of the ongoing advising-office initiatives started by Claire and who I know will soon put her own distinctive stamp on that office's important work. Adrienne comes to us with a strong, humanistic academic background in Art History and African Studies as well as academic expertise in Educational Policy and a wealth of advising experience. We are very fortunate, in my view, to have found her. It is a great relief to me to know that we will still be able to provide the high-level of advising that our students deserve and have come to depend upon.

If, dear reader, you happen to work in the English Building, please join me in welcoming Adrienne Pickett to the department. She starts on Monday.

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