Out with ye olde and in with the new, enrollment in English increases

By Juniper Oxford, Staff Reporter

The English Department has been evolving their approach to fit with the expanding job market for English degree holders. Virtual reality and the new podcasting lab are just two of the recent additions. 

Joe Shapiro, a professor and director of undergraduate studies, said there are several developments with the English Department going on. 

“We are up to a lot, we are adding quite a few things to our curricular offerings,” Shapiro said. “We are offering some new courses in content areas that we have not before.” 

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Shapiro said the English Department is expanding more into the “digital humanities,” where it is like the more traditional writing with a technological aspect. 

“We have recently passed pretty major changes in the curricular structure for the different majors,” Shapiro said. “It is not that the old curriculum was rigid but that our new curriculum is more flexible.” 

Shapiro said that the more traditional parts of English will continue to be part of the classes and that Melville and Shakespeare will still be taught. 

ENG 301 and ENG 393 are the only two classes every major within the English Department will have to take. The ten remaining courses will be more of a choice for the students. 

The English Department at SIU is known for its faculty, staff and students involved in publications such as the Grassroots Magazine and the Crab Orchard Review. 

The Grassroots Magazine website states “the purpose of Grassroots is to provide undergraduate students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale with the chance to publish their creative efforts.” 

The Crab Orchard Review also has their own website, which states it “was founded in 1995. We seek diverse voices capturing the range of contemporary American writing and hope in our online version to explore more international concerns as well.” 

Shapiro announced another publication would be coming in Fall 2020, the Journal of Fantasy and Fan Cultures. The first issue of its publication will be Harry Potter. 

“We are going to solicit, going forward, submissions both from SIU students, graduates and undergraduates, but also students from other universities,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro said the department believes that the journal will fill a gap and fit into an area that had previously not been done. 

“It will be produced by students,” Shapiro said.

This journal will give students the opportunity to get experience with both publishing and editing. Shapiro said students can take a course or an internship that goes along with it.

Professor Pinckney Benedict said the creative writing program had primarily been an “on the paper” kind of program. That has been changing in recent years. Benedict said virtual reality and podcasting are just the beginning of the new developments with the creative writing program. 

“We are working on a game design lab,” Benedict said. “I bet most of my students have played more narratives through video games in the past year than they have read books.” 

Benedict said the importance of embodying the creativity is a particular focus of the creative writing program. 

“One of the best and most powerful ways to embody your work is to read it aloud. Y’know, to act out the parts,” Benedict said. “Virtual Reality is literally embodying fiction.” 

Virtual Reality is just one of the many forms of technological narrative. Benedict said the rise of the audio books and podcasting as forms of storytelling have contributed to the peak in interest. 

“Audio books are becoming more and more popular,” Benedict said. “Podcasters are usually popular, and those are areas where audiences are hungry for content.” 

Podcasting has been a development that has taken place just last year for the English Department. Benedict said the SIU Foundation is the reason that it exists. 

The SIU Foundation created grants called Innovation Grants, and anyone in the SIU faculty can apply for the grant. Benedict applied to build a podcasting lab. 

“The podcasting lab was established through a grant by the SIU Foundation almost a year ago,” Benedict said. “The Dean’s Office of the College of Liberal Arts gave us a space in Shryock.” 

Benedict described virtual reality and said it is something that should be experienced.

“The thing about VR is that it is impossible to explain to somebody who has not been in VR,” Benedict said. 

Benedict said a class about virtual reality narrative will be a class instructed by him next spring. 

“The great thing about VR narrative is that no one really knows what it is at this point,” Benedict said. 

Shapiro attributed some of the success of the English Department to the creative writing program, of which Benedict is a part of. 

“We have a nationally recognized and respected writing program,” Shapiro said. “Our creative writing faculty is truly second to none.” 

Graduate assistant Mandi Jourdan said Benedict was instrumental in her educational career. 

“When I was an undergraduate, he helped me find my voice through my fiction and taught me several routes to publication,” Jourdan said. “He encouraged me to go to graduate school, and he’s worked closely with me as a mentor over the past several years.” 

Benedict’s approach to teaching his students about English and creative writing is an important factor to note with all that is happening with the English Department. 

“He’s also taught me new skills that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise, from how to produce a podcast to how to give a presentation to a representative from a major company,” Jourdan said. 

Jourdan said Benedict believes that the new developments are instrumental in forging one’s own career in writing. 

“These new technological developments will allow students to tell stories in new ways and reach new audiences,” Jourdan said. “Writers will need to learn how to adapt to and take advantage of these new media.”

“For those who are considering either taking English classes or having English as a major,” Jourdan said, “an English degree will help you learn mechanics and learn how to structure your thoughts in a written form, and it will prepare you to think creatively.”

With enrollment at SIU going down and the English Department’s enrollment going up, Shapiro said he believes these adaptations that the English Department have went through could be the reason. 

“Enrollment in English went up this year,” Shapiro said. “We are very proud of that. We think that has to do with a lot of the changes we have made.” 

Staff reporter Juniper Oxford can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @JuniperOxford.

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