CHADRON – Following the theme of “Find Your Story,” a variety of new courses and a new major have been added for students of English and Humanities at Chadron State College.
Approval this fall of an Advanced English Studies major, and revisions to the Literature major, represent the culmination of developments over the past several years, and provide a wider variety of approaches to English studies, said Dr. Matt Evertson, Chair of the department of Justice Studies, Social Sciences, and English.
“The changes to our major will allow students to chart a variety of paths: To find their stories in creative writing, certainly, but also in literature, philosophy, and interdisciplinary studies,” Evertson said.
According to Evertson, Chadron State’s English and Humanities curriculum began changing several years ago, when instructors took note of increased interest in creative writing courses at colleges across the country and the department hired its first full-time writing specialist. From offering a single creative writing class in 2014, the college now has creative writing courses in non-fiction, fiction and poetry, seminars in narrative theory and poetics, and a minor in creative writing.
In adding the new courses, CSC has been following standards recommended by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, a non-profit organization of colleges, universities, and writers that fosters writing programs and promotes writing conferences around the country, Evertson said.
The new writing courses are already showing results.
“We went from very few writing minors to more than 30 in a short time frame and the program continues to grow,” Evertson said.
Students are given the opportunity to hone their writing skills by submitting pieces to the college literary journal, 10th Street Miscellany, presenting at the Sigma Tau Delta honor society conference, and participating in the annual Story Catchers writing workshop.
“Our students are exposed to a surprising number of professional publishing outlets and meet a lot of published writers, despite our isolated setting,” he said.
The approach to literature studies at Chadron State has also evolved in recent years. While retaining and emphasizing study of the classic works of American and British literature, classes now are offered that focus on more contemporary and diverse literary works, including graphic novels, multi-ethnic literature, and major writers.
An important innovation of the new English major is an emphasis on regional studies, a field that includes literature of the American West, literature of the environment, and Native American literature, Evertson said.
“With all these changes across our program, students will be encouraged to draw connections from world literature to our own back yard,” he said.
Revisions to the department’s curriculum have come in part from the need to provide students working on a major in English a guided pathway, based around a core set of courses with a strong foundation in literature, said Evertson. The changes will make class scheduling more predictable and consistent and help the English program grow, he said.
The changes also incorporate nationwide trends in English studies towards a more general exploration of literature and integration of greater emphasis on writing as part of the degree. Future evolution of the program will likely include courses on professional and technical writing, and writing for new genres such as social media and gaming, Evertson said.
And all of the developments help students recognize the impact literature has on people and culture, by allowing readers to live in worlds they would otherwise be unfamiliar with.
“Students will reconsider issues and ideas they had never thought about, or had been resistant to…the literature gets under their skin and moves them,” Evertson said. “That is the power of literature.”