Alumni Interview: Jennifer Pizzi

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Jennifer and her husband

Tell us about yourself.:

I currently reside in Truckee, California (North Lake Tahoe Community). I moved here in 2008 after graduation. Originally, I grew up in Braintree, Mass just south of Boston before relocating to Farmington in 2002 to attend college. I began as a secondary education major, but wound up with a unique Bachelor of Arts combining studies of English Literature with Philosophy, as well as ascertaining a Philosophy minor. In college, I worked everywhere in town it seems (Granary, Front St. Tavern, the Shipyard at Sugarloaf) but most of my college employment was spent bartending at the Bag and Kettle while juggling being a part time snowboard coach for Carrabassett Valley Academy. I am presently pursing a master’s degree in journalism at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada Reno. After graduation, I dabbled in writing for a small east coast ski magazine “Steez” based out of Beverly, Mass for a few years, but mainly, I have spent the last 12 years working full-time in the restaurant industry, chasing the snow, and enjoying life in the mountains.

What are some of your most memorable moments at UMF?:

Participating In a May semester in Italy was awesome. Snowboarding in the Italian Dolomites during a winter term that went back to Italy was probably the best college experience.

How did your time at UMF help you beyond the classroom?:

So many ways. Moving to rural western Maine from a large suburb of Boston was one of the most humbling and defining experiences of my life. UMF and the Farmington community showed me how to slow down, demonstrate acts of kindness to others, and to enjoy the simpler things in life. The community portrayed a resilience of character and level of generosity I had not ever recognized in my adolescence—I carry that with me everywhere—always. At first I remember feeling frustrated in a small town, the tiny classroom sizes annoyed me, but by the end I truly recognized how it personalized my education and triggered my development as a caring and contributing adult.

What advice do you have for current or prospective students?:

Embrace the intimacy of the classroom, peers, and faculty. In the world outside the University, it is all about connections and relationships. I am not sure what the English department requirements for graduation are but we were never required to do an internship.  If this has still not become part of the curriculum, take the initiative to find one.  Reach out to community members and faculty to guide you.  A degree in English is only as impactful as you choose to make it.  While I cherish my undergraduate education, I struggled to apply it to a profession and, ultimately, found myself philosophizing from behind the bar for 10 years too long. Find an internship. Find two, if you need to.

Jennifer and her college roommate, Becky, on a trip into the Dolomites when staying in Venice during a winter term abroad with UMF.

Jennifer and her college roommate, Becky, on a trip into the Dolomites while staying in Venice during a winter term abroad with UMF.

What type of students should consider majoring in English at UMF?:

Creative thinkers and pipe-dreamers. A strong reader will develop into a strong writer. Writers will always be needed.

What do you see yourself doing in the future (10- 20 years)?:

I tell you that is a loaded question. And I don’t have the answer. I am further from it now, than I have ever been in the past. I am hoping that this education will open new doors for me. When I graduated from UMF, I wanted to get involved in publishing. It was a tough time to graduate and try to get into a transitioning industry. 22 year old Jen wanted to work for an outdoor magazine and travel. 30 year old Jen wants stability, flexibility, healthcare and a 401k. Out of my current pursuit in education, I hope to ascertain the skills that will guide me through use of basic technology and help me be able to land a job where I can creatively write content for an active company, preferably related to the snow-sport industry. I am seeking the balance between maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle, paired with a career that will challenge my intellect and put my education into practice.

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Alumni Interview: Ian Davis

Tell us about yourself.: IMG_0785

I graduated from UMF in December 2011, having spent a year at Bennington College and then two and a half at Farmington. I’m now working on being a student in the English PhD program at Princeton University, where I study twentieth-century literature and theory. I live in Princeton with a sweet polar bear of a dog named Olivia.

What are some of your most memorable moments at UMF?:

I remember meeting Dan Gunn for the first time. I was one of three new advisees; he asked us why we wanted to study literature, listened carefully, responded thoughtfully, and then took us out to ice cream. I remember midnight pie at the Irving out toward Wilton. I remember going down to the river with friends on spring nights. Also, there were books: Joyce and Eliot with Dan Gunn, Thoreau and Dickinson with Kristen Case, Cervantes with Eric Brown; and all the others, all the others. And once, during a test, I got real excited realizing there is no difference between form and matter.

What makes studying English at UMF unique?:

I haven’t studied English at many other places, and am not sure if I have any authority on that. What made it wonderful for me, though, I could say that ––– the professors are some of the most brilliant, caring, and dedicated people I’ve known. The rest of my life will be in their wake, in their debt.

How did your time at UMF help you beyond the classroom?:

Oh, that’s tough; the classroom leaks too much to say things like that. It gets you better at everything, probably: reading, decisions, courage, sass, writing, dying, breadbaking. About once a month I learn responsibility again and pay bills and hand in paperwork, which I never did before, so. I’m pretty sure Djuna Barnes taught me how to love better. I’m also a little better at punning; not much, but enough to get by, which is good.

What advice do you have for current or prospective students?:

Try to give less advice and more listening. Listen to Sylvan Esso’s self-titled new album. Read Walden with an open heart. Sharing is caring. Be hip, but in a nice way. Try to remember what George Eliot wrote to Charles Bray: “If art does not enlarge men’s sympathies, it does nothing morally.” Also, try not to take too much advice.

I don’t have any concrete plans. The dog seems pretty convinced we have a lot more walks to take, so probably that. I’d like to teach, too, and write things, a few more things. I wouldn’t mind being useful either, but who knows about that.

Alumni Interview: Mike Minchin

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I graduated from UMF in 2006. Since Graduation I’ve worked full time as a Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer, for three years at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire and for the past five years at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, Vermont. In January 2014, I graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with my MFA in writing. My fiction has recently received Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train. Currently, I’m at work on short stories and essays. I live in Bethel, Vermont with my wife and two children.

What are some of your most memorable moments at UMF?:

I enjoyed my time at UMF a great deal, so it’s hard to pick out just a few moments. But I recall taking a Cuban literature class that gave me a new perspective on a culture I knew little about. I have to say, that was a really fun class. The discussions we had were often stimulating and insightful, and the stories and novels we read changed the way I thought about Cuba. I have a lot of great memories of skiing with friends at Saddleback and Sugarloaf, fishing on the Sandy River, hiking in the Bigelows, among other adventures.

What makes studying English at UMF unique?:

What struck me about the English program at UMF was that I always felt like I had ample opportunities to engage with other students, to participate in class, to discuss literature and really be part of the ongoing conversation. I enjoyed the small class sizes and the way we would sometimes sit around the perimeter of the room, facing each other, going back and forth with questions or comments. I like that small-group feel so much more than sitting in a large lecture hall. In another sense, what is remarkable about UMF is that you have a quality university situated in one of the most desirable spots in Maine in terms of outdoor recreation. I felt lucky to be studying just a short drive from the Bigelow Preserve and Saddleback Mountain, among other places.

How did your time at UMF help you beyond the classroom?:

My time at UMF has helped me in many ways. As a practical example, the skills I developed as an English major—analyzing and interpreting writing, doing research, forming my ideas into thoughtful essays—helped me a great deal when I was working on my MFA degree, which involved not only creative writing but substantial amounts of critical essay writing and research. In my daily work at the hospital, I’m communicating all the time with colleagues, usually in writing, via e-mail. I’ve written letters designed to help our department move forward in one area or another, and often these letters are of the persuasive nature, so I need to back up my arguments in the most concise and articulate ways possible.

What advice do you have for current or prospective students?:

For current students: First, I hope you consider it a privilege to be a UMF student. It’s such a great opportunity, and it can lead you almost anywhere. As an undergraduate, you have a lot of helpful people and resources available to you. My advice: take advantage of those resources as much as possible. For example, even if you haven’t considered graduate school, I would encourage you to do some research into graduate studies as early as freshman year. You might stumble upon something that really interests you. There are alternative ways to pay for graduate school in some cases, so don’t let the cost stop you from at least seeing what’s out there. Talk to your professors, ask questions. Graduate school for me was about exploring what I was passionate about, and I couldn’t have done it without my undergraduate degree.

For prospective students: I can only tell you that my experience at UMF was a positive one. I’ve attended several colleges and universities, both undergraduate and graduate, and UMF was one of the best. Farmington is a great place to live and study if you want to avoid the bustle of city life. In my case, I had the chance to graduate from a private college, but I’m glad I chose UMF for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned. But beyond all that, I’m in no way convinced that spending four times the money (or more) on tuition at a private college equates to a better education.

What type of students should consider majoring in English at UMF?:

You know, I think the English major covers so much ground, that anyone interested in a well-rounded education should consider English as a major. But certainly anyone who has a particular interest in the written word, or the spoken word, or just a love of language itself, in all its different forms, should consider majoring in English. It’s a luxury and simply enriching to immerse oneself in literature, to learn about people from all over the world. In my mind, education is not just about mastering a certain set of skills. There are certainly tangible skills that come from studying English, but I think the education alone, the time you spend thinking and conversing and writing about works of literature, is worth a great deal. Practically speaking, the English degree is useful simply because there are so many careers that require careful attention to language and the ability to think critically and write competently.

What do you see yourself doing in the future (10 – 20 years)?:

In the next few years, I’m hoping to develop a writing workshop here in Vermont, possibly at my town library. This would likely be a free workshop to participants and voluntary on my part, and I think it will be a lot of fun. In the long run, I could see myself teaching in a more formal setting. But, for now, my primary focus is creating new works of fiction and new essays on the craft of writing.

Alumni Interview: Hayden Golden

Hayden Golden

Tell us about yourself.: 

I graduated in 2008 and I currently work as an Organizer for the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan representing unionized adjuncts and graduate students. I help them in collective bargaining, developing leaders on campus, and building a regional coalition of faith leaders, community organizations, and political allies. Before that, I worked on a legislative campaign in Rhode Island and the Yes on 1 same-sex marriage campaign in Maine.

I graduated in 2008 and I currently work as an Organizer for the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan representing unionized adjuncts and graduate students. I help them in collective bargaining, developing leaders on campus, and building a regional coalition of faith leaders, community organizations, and political allies. Before that, I worked on a legislative campaign in Rhode Island and the Yes on 1 same-sex marriage campaign in Maine.

What are some of your most memorable moments at UMF?:

In my time at UMF, there were two events that stand out as the most profound in my education. In 2010-11, the faculty put together an amazing series on indigenous art and literature featuring William Yellow Robe, Jr. and Georgina Lightning. Interacting with these amazing people was a great lesson in how literature, film, and performance can be instruments of social justice that push for a new kind of discourse around Native communities, their often tragic histories, and their sovereignty. That same year UMF hosted Bill Ayers and Lincoln Auditorium was packed! He’s this radical scholar and people tend to have strong feelings about him because of his involvement with the Weather Underground, but he spoke about how classrooms and the academy create power structures that actually inhibit democracy. I think that the year culminated in a major shift in my writing and thought: I moved away from reflective and distant writing and the stereotype of the scholar secluded in the ivory tower thinking great thoughts toward intensely political and engaged writing.

What makes studying English at UMF unique?:

Having worked with higher ed institutions across Michigan for about a year now, I’ve noticed that they tend to host one or two big speakers a year. I guess that’s cool if you want to see Noam Chomsky or Slavoj Zizek, but at UMF there are scholars coming throughout the year. It means that students get to practice learning outside the classroom more than students at bigger schools. It’s not to say that big name schools don’t have scholarly activities going on, just that perhaps they’re more easily overlooked in an academic environment where too much is happening for students to keep track of it all.

I’d also say that studying English at UMF is innately collaborative. The faculty push students to read outside the field and consult scholars in other disciplines. Sure, we can read about having a room of one’s own, but our ability to truly understand it and incorporate it into today’s discourse comes from reading Annette Kolodny or Jack Halberstam. Once we get past our core classes, we’ve got the fundamentals of writing down and we know how to pick a single line of poetry or even a few words and extract pages of meaning, but then the faculty pull you out of that microcosm and force you to confront all kinds of new knowledge, even if messes with your thesis. You learn at once how to learn from the smallest of details and glean as much knowledge as possible from myriad sources.

How did your time at UMF help you beyond the classroom?:

It’s influenced my current work as an Organizer fighting for a future where faculty and grad students aren’t paid according to their discipline, but according to their labor. Whenever some administrator at the bargaining table asks why we need to raise wages for grad students in the social sciences and humanities, I do take that personally because they’ve placed (an arbitrarily) higher value in STEM fields. More importantly, I’ve got loads of data showing why majoring in English is vital and why our stereotype about beatnik-quoting baristas is actually a myth.

What advice do you have for current or prospective students?:

Study something that makes you uncomfortable and don’t believe that grad school is the only option. And if you are sure that grad school is the answer, think about American Studies.

What type of students should consider majoring in English at UMF?:

I don’t know that I can pigeonhole a “type” of person for the English major, but I’d encourage everyone who’s studying English to double major. I know from experience that you can do it in four years (if that’s what you’re worried about), but more importantly, it’s a chance to give yourself breadth and depth; you’ll encounter all kinds of new materials, but you’ll also find fascinating points of intersection.

What do you see yourself doing in the future (10- 20 years)?:

Well, I’ve been working on my Master’s in Social Work for a couple of years now, so I’d really like to have that finished up. And in 10 or 20 years, I’d still like to be engaged in social justice work, but I’d like 20 hours a week to be considered full time. In the technology-laden world we live in where productivity has increased consistently since the mid-1960s, doesn’t 40 hours seem like an insane standard? I’d spend a lot more time reading if 20 hours was full time and maybe get around to reading Middlemarch or one of 50 other “classics” BuzzFeed keeps telling me I’ve missed.