English Department: Student Perspectives and Featured Alumni

Students Speak on their Experience

English Students B“It was so nice to be completely engaged in a conversation with classmates who cared about good writing as much as I did.  The greatest thrill for me was getting the chance to write about something I have a passion for (for me it was baseball) and having readers clearly understand that passion through my work.  Discovering how UFOs, Sputnik, nuclear bombs, childhood toys, and competitive eating can all have places in a poem opened my eyes to [new] possibilities in writing.” –Steve Baer

“I learned to write in my own voice.  I began, with the encouragement of professors who recognized the limitations of the formulaic essay, to analyze the complexity of literary issues.  I learn[ed] through writing, how to reach a better understanding of my own thoughts and interpretations by working them out on the page.  It is because of my time spent as an English major that I am able to know myself as a reader.  I have discovered enjoyment in exploring the contexts of literature—in considering how language speaks to specific concerns, misconceptions, and desires of a particular people at a particular time.” –Anna Barton

Webster University English Department blue vases“The English department with all its wonderful classes and astounding professors has not only expanded my knowledge of literature, but has taught me why these various texts and authors are essential, and how they continue to exert an influence and speak to one central question no matter what genre or time period they are drawn from: that is, what it means to be human and to share in the collective human experience.  I have read everything from Shakespeare (and lots of it) to Moby Dick to books on Dutch art and culture to modern selections of short stories.  I have read and analyzed many pieces of literature during my college career which have ‘rearranged a few of my molecules' as Professor Clewell says.” –Rebecca Dehner

 “Through the English Department I not only became a better writer, but a better reader, and consequently, a better thinker.  I couldn't understand, my freshman year, why the writing process was so frustrating and difficult.  It's because I didn't do it very often, and when I did, I was expecting Shakespearian sonnets to pour forth from my keyboard.  The greatest bit of advice I got on writing was to write every day…. The workshopping process has been a lot of fun, if painful at times, [but] I'm grateful that I was never in a workshopping class that felt ‘fluffy' or afraid of criticism.” –Nathan Deming

Webster University English department Steve“The education I had received at other universities had not prepared me for the rigorous attention paid to syntax, grammar, and style that I would experience in the Webster writing courses.  I see a distinct growth in my ability to immerse myself in the text and to smoothly move through the topic at hand.  I am grateful for the committed professors.  I now find myself deeply focused when approaching a short story, novel, poem, or play.  I have found that Webster's attention to critical analysis has changed the way I approach literature and also art in general, and has forced me to consider why I feel a certain way about a piece of work.  I find myself more interested in substantial work that takes risks and is original, but also expresses a sense of universal truth.  I also find that what I once found to be poignant no longer satisfies my needs as a reader and as an artist.” —Jessica Freeman

 “Not only were my professors obviously knowledgeable and engaging, they were excited about their classes.  That excitement spread to the students as well.  For the first time in my academic career, I was surrounded by students who wanted to learn, who had a desire to improve themselves, and who shared the same passion as I did.  Classes were just the right size, the topics were interesting and challenging, the professors were experts who wanted nothing more than the success of every student.  This is where my true education began.  I make connections now.  I take notes when I read, and I notice and appreciate the complexities of a fine piece of writing.  I learned that to be a good writer one must not only read constantly, but write constantly as well. Murray Farish, Steve Lattimore, Michael Erickson, and Kathleen Finneran…are all on the same page, and that made it easy to buy into [this] philosophy of writing.  I have been given the proper tools [to] help me become a better writer.” –Paul Heitman

“The first classes I fell in love with here were memoir and nonfiction writing.  I also focused on script and playwriting classes because I want to write for TV and also movie scripts.  I have learned a lot from these classes and owe a lot to Michael Erickson for helping me realize my potential.” –Paul Hibbeler

Webster University English Department vases “After a year and a half of being dissatisfied with my experiences at [another university], Webster became my refuge.  The first time I entered the cozy Pearson House, I knew I had found a close-knit community in which I could explore and grow in my love for language.  I knew two things when I started my English major:  I had an interest in unveiling the artistry of different authors as well as developing my own talents in the craft of writing.  I resigned to being one of the quiet students in the back of class, listening in on the discussion rather than contributing any thoughts of my own.  I felt confident in my ability to write, but not in my ability to read.  As I got further into my English major, however, I came across authors whose writing I felt so passionate about that I could not stand the thought of holding back my own interpretations in class discussions.  The more I paid attention to my own experiences as a reader, the more I was able to break down whatever I was reading into different literary elements, and thus, I became more trusting of my own ideas.  This breakthrough in reading aided in my contributions in workshops as well.  The better I got at reading literature, the more confident I felt in giving feedback in workshops.” –Caitlin McCommis 

“In order to be a great writer, one has to be brave.  My English education has put my bravery to the test.  I realized I had to push myself out of my comfort zone if I wanted to progress at all.” –Caitlin McCommis

Webster University English Department class“Certainly, over the past four years, there has been an overflowing abundance of the question: ‘English?  What are you going to do with that?'  I've come to fully accept and celebrate my reply: ‘Anything.'  Being an English major at Webster has equipped me to develop opinions and ideas that are my own, ideas that are clear and eloquent.  I am more confident in my abilities, more knowledgeable in history and social issues, and more open minded about different perspectives and beliefs.  Most importantly though, I am able to have a stronger foundation in the beliefs and values that I have always been passionate about.  I cannot imagine studying English literature anywhere other than that small white house that hides in the corner of Webster's campus, with the squeak of its giant red door, the tiny bathrooms, and the basement that I'm afraid to be in after dark.  I've expanded my horizons and developed great friendships in those small classrooms.  Though my emphasis is in literature, society, and politics, I've taken a few creative writing courses over the past couple of years, which have opened up my mind to a whole new world outside of literary analyses.  Interestingly enough, creative writing has helped me be a better writer in my literature classes.  I think what I appreciate most is the way classes are organized by theme rather than time period, with the exception of the survey courses.  It has given me an opportunity to explore how different texts connect, but also learn that authors are eternally dealing with the same things as a text from the late 20th century.  Looking through my reading list over the past four years, I am amazed at the broad range of texts I've read with many different time periods, cultures, forms, and ideas represented.  I've spent the last four years studying about humanity, really.” –Caitlin Morse

“While the writing center is a great tool at any university, I found the professors who took the time to sit with me in Pearson [House] or at a local coffee shop, strengthened my writing skills in ways no writing center could.  Their personal help let me grow within my own writing rather than trying to make my work fit into a technical framework.  The classes made me think about who I was as a writer because the material I was creating was my own, pushing me to find my individual writing style.  The English department allowed for me to take that writing style I had developed and apply it to all my work by encouraging individuality, and by acknowledging the different levels of writers within the department.” –Erica Olliges

“My studies at Webster have pushed my love of reading much further—reading has become, for me, work.  It is no longer a leisurely activity, but has rather grown into an active task, demanding a pen, highlighter, notebook, strong coffee, and silence.  The mental focus required to meticulously examine thematic elements, historical context, and the nuances of syntax is intense; sometimes I feel exhausted after an evening of reading.  Yet the rewards gained from active reading are worth all of the countless lamplit hours.  I now greatly appreciate how form itself can reflect (or contradict) a text's larger thematic issues.” –Molly Pearson

Webster University English Department couch“When I began studying at Webster, it took a couple of semesters to get into the swing of what this major is all about.  It is a lot of reading, a lot of writing, and a lot of analysis.  I have come to enjoy them all thoroughly, and not only that.  I now understand the capacity words may hold, and the process of critical analysis.  What I've learned from the classes and the professors here, is that writing is not about having a title as a writer, it's not just about expression, it's about placing words together like numbers on a clock.  They must flow, they must make sense and most of all they must be meaningful.  Not only have I become critical of my own work, but I have become a critical reader as well.  After four years of being told what to read in class, and having due dates for my own work, I have a hunger to read more and to produce more of my own work.” –Katie Twaddle

Webster University English Department photo“Upon graduating Webster, I've read over sixty books and countless short stories.  All this reading and writing has taught me to become extremely intimate with written English.  The forming of every paragraph, every sentence, every word, and every syllable can make all the difference in the enjoyment of a piece.  Because of this newfound appreciation of how stories work, reading has become and absolute treat for me.” –Lance Vogel

“The Pearson House has been a sanctuary for me during these four years at Webster.  It was there where I learned, with the guidance of a dozen geniuses, to harness my abilities and bolster my passion for creative writing.” –Lance Vogel

Webster University English Department classroom“The title of the major [Literature, Society, and Politics] speaks for itself, I suppose, but cleverly-formed names often grace course catalogs everywhere, and from my experience very few actually meet the standards they assume.  But in the classrooms here, at Webster, literature is not arbitrary.  The words on a page create more than meter and rhyme; they serve as bridges that both reflect and transform the social and political atmosphere.  Two particular classes, Literature of Oppression and Resistance with Karla Armbruster and Contexts: Cold War with Murray Farish, stand out for elaborating literature's ability to work against oppression by manipulating power and creative social change.  Both of these classes utilized not only great works, but philosophy, criticism, and history as well to generate a more thorough and connected vision of the world.  These classes also transformed my understanding of what I believe to be a false division existing between these disciplines.  Thus my faith in both literature and philosophy was renewed in a depth I could not have foreseen.  While at other universities I may have received an education, here I have gained a family of friends and professors that truly will never know the extent of their impact on my life.  The community at Webster is filled with more than just a love for academia; there is a love for humanity and a care for world issues that precedes an openness rarely found in such abundance in any one place, not to mention at a university.  The small class size and cozy quarters of Pearson House emphasize the feel of camaraderie supported by the professors.  Every member of the faculty obviously cares for each one of their students, longing for them to achieve more than just a grade.  I am sorry that I found Webster so late in my college career, and firmly believe that I could have only benefitted from a full four-year education at this university.  However I can only be grateful for my experience, and I will graduate knowing that I have learned more in the past two years than I ever thought possible.” –Amber Ray

“I learned my fiction was missing truth, a contradiction on the surface since fiction is, by definition, imagined.  Interesting fiction tends to teach the reader something.  A revelation moment occurred for me when, in two separate writing classes on the same day, the same question was raised: What do you write about?  [I learned to] appreciate the art of writing itself, but [my professors] also led me to understand the sort of writer I am.”
–Nick Coco

The View from Graduation: Alumni 

Steve BaerSteve Baer
Class of 2011
BA in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing

Current Position
Executive Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator for Operation Food Search, St. Louis, MO

"I entered Webster as a freshman film production major and soon found that it was not for me. Thankfully, the Pearson House [home of the English Department], which I don't even remember seeing on any tours or orientations before my freshman year, sat quietly on the edge of campus, waiting with open arms." (Read more...) 


James CrewJames Crews
Class of 2004
BA in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing


Current Position 
Earning a PhD in the English program at University of Nebraska-Lincoln

"After bouncing around in a few different colleges, I heard that the 'creative types' gravitate toward Webster. I applied, received a small scholarship and transferred as soon as I could. I had heard a lot about the film studies, gender studies, and English programs at Webster--key interests of mine--but when I heard David Clewell read some of his poetry at a gathering at Washington University, that sealed the deal.." (Read more...)


Joan McDonald
Joan McDonald
Class of 2005 
BA in English with an Emphasis in Literature, Society and Politics

Current Position 
Retired 

"As a a young woman, I was unable to stay in college due to financial constraints and through the years regretted that I had been unable to continue my higher education. Therefore, after retirement, having the resources to return to school, I made the decision to pursue an English major at Webster." (Read more...) 


travis_mossottiTravis Mossotti
Class of 2005
BA in French and English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing


Current Position 
Teaching at Lindenwood University

"I came to Webster to study poetry under David Clewell, and visiting the Webster Groves campus solidified my decision. The way so many old houses had been converted to classrooms and offices (especially the English Department in Pearson House) made it feel unique and domestic. I must say I was immediately at home." (Read more...) 


Emily Means
Emily Means
Class of 2010
BA in Secondary Education and English with an Emphasis in Drama


Current Position 
Working at the American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, CA

"Webster was just a very good fit for me personally; we've had a sort of collegieat love affair since I started learning about the school as a senior in high school. My guidance counselor thought very highly of the academic offerings, my mother really appreciated the Webster Groves location, and I loved, in particular, the feeling of community that exists on campus."(Read more...) 


Lisa PepperLisa Pepper
Class of 1999 
BA in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing

Current Position
Working for the Missouri Botanical Garden as an editorial assistant 

"My mom is an alumna of Webster's Art Department and always told great stories about the community there. Webster's small class size, its departments in old, neat houses, and—especially—its reputation for being a dynamic place for artists won me over" (Read more...) 


Josh SigmanJoshua Sigman
Class of 2005 
BA in English with an Emphasis in Literature, Society, and Politics


Current Position 
Working for Helen Sigman and Associates LTD

"My choice of Webster was a mixture of fate and circumstance: I had a good friend from high school who went to Webster a year ahead of me and reported back how great it was. After that it was just a matter of learning about what it had to offer, which turned out to be quite good for me." (Read more...) 


Deborah TaffaDeborah Taffa
Class of 2010 
BA in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing


Current Position 
Graduate student in the MFA program in nonfiction at the University of Iowa

"For a student with my interests, Webster University was the clear choice. The English Department faculty, in particular those with creative writing expertise, are top in the St. Louis area. No other college in the St. Louis area can compete with Pearson House in the preparation it offers its fledgling writers." (Read more...) 


Stephanie Varnon HughesStephanie Varnon-Hughes
Class of 2004 
BA in Education and English with an Emphasis in Literature, Society, and Politics

Current Position
Founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, a certified school teacher, and a full-time PhD studen

"After a year at a huge state school, where I had an impersonal and nearly anonymous experience, I heard about Webster. I was charmed by the small campus, by the individual buildings, and by the array of classes." (Read more...)