University of Minnesota
Department of English
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Department of English

English in the Public Sphere: Undergraduate Programs

The English Department offers an integrated curriculum around public engagement which leads students from introductory to capstone courses. Each spring we recognize English seniors who successfully complete the University’s Community Engagement Scholars Program. Four English majors graduated with such recognition in 2012.

In any one semester, 100 students enrolled in English courses will venture outside the University to teach English to new immigrants, assist high school students with finding community resources, intern at a publisher, and work with children at an urban farm—all for college credit. According to Monica Siems, Service-Learning Coordinator at the University's Community Service-Learning Center, English has become their “star department” in community engagement: the department the Community Service-Learning staff (in 240 Appleby Hall) works with most frequently to place students with community partners.

As Siems notes, English is not the discipline that immediately comes to mind when one envisions the academy engaging with community. The fact that it leads CLA in service learning is the result of two major initiatives: the 2002 Literacy Lab efforts by adjunct lecturer Eric Daigre (PhD 2001) and former associate professors Tom Augst and Pat Crain (now at NYU), which established English’s core public engagement courses, and the 2009-11 Engaged Department project, which met growing student interest in service learning with expanded course choices and increased recognition.

Experiential learning is also a part of the Department of English’s courses in editing and publishing. Students both learn about and practice magazine editing and publishing in Literary Magazine Production Labs I and II, which creates Ivory Tower, the undergraduate literary and art magazine of the University of Minnesota. The Department’s unique year-long internships at the University of Minnesota Press are also available. Two English majors serve two semesters each helping out in the editing and marketing/production departments; application takes place in the spring for the following year. Since the program began in 2007, two interns have subsequently been hired by the Press. Other literary organizations in the Twin Cities which may offer internships are listed on the Creative Writing Program website.

Katie Bull took a service learning class in her last semester and helped teach English to Somali immigrants at the Cedar-Riverside complex in Minneapolis. “I really appreciated how the community service was related back to class,” she says. “We talked about the changing scope of English, how language is changing, how it has changed. It was an academic conversation, but it was in the context of ‘Yeah, I’m working with these beginning English students, and are we going to push the fact that you can’t say “they” as a singular pronoun—that you should say, “he” or “she”?’ It made what I was learning more concrete.”

Our broadened slate of public engagement courses reflects the Department’s commitment to our undergraduates. In the process of earning the English BA, students build the critical skills of writing, reading, and analysis. Yet in this challenging employment environment, we also want to offer undergraduates opportunities to gain experience in careers they may enter, including teaching, management, publishing, and nonprofit organizing.

“It’s so easy to stay here on campus and think this is what everything is about,” acknowledges Bull. “But you can go right across the street, and everything is completely different. We live in Minneapolis, and it’s an amazing, amazing place to be.”

English Courses with Public Engagement Components

Experiential learning components vary by class.

ENGL 1501W Literature of Public Life
Meaning/practice of citizenship. Historical themes, contemporary issues in American public life: access of citizenship, tensions between social duties and individual freedoms, role of moral values in public life. Diverse literary materials. Opportunities to engage with community partners around these topics. Meets Liberal Ed requirements of Writing Intensive, of Literature, and of Civic Life and Ethics.

ENGL 1905 Freshman Seminar: Probing the Social Text
Millions of Americans experience severe deprivations in education, employment, and health care. To understand how inequalities are built into these systems, we will examine the facts, causes, and consequences. Besides understanding the problems, we will attempt to solve some of them.

ENGLW 3001 Textual Analysis: Methods
Required course for all English majors. Students will receive information about careers possible to English majors, possible focuses within the English major, and opportunities for student engagement within the Department of English. Meets Liberal Ed requirement of Writing Intensive.

ENGL 3505/3506 Community Learning Internships I and II
Enrolling 3505 students are required to take EngL 3506 in the spring. Community Learning Internships takes students beyond the classroom to explore the connections between literature and literacy, theory and practice, community work and academic study. Students will work as year-long interns in local community-based education projects. At weekly meetings, interns will meet with faculty and community representatives to reflect on their daily work and the practical relevance of academic skills in diverse social and cultural contexts

ENGL 3711/3712 Literary Magazine Production Lab I and II
Enrolling 3711 students are required to take EngL 3712 in the spring. Students produce the undergraduate art and literary magazine Ivory Tower. Students decide upon the desired identity, tone, and direction of the issue. They explore and take on magazine staff responsibilities. They call for submissions, make selections, investigate and practice the edit and design processes, set a budget and fundraise, find a printer, market and distribute the magazine.

ENGL 3741 Literacy and American Cultural Diversity
This course combines academic study with experiential and service learning in order to collectively build more complex understandings of the functions of literature, literacy, educational institutions, counter-institutional literacy programs, the grassroots and nonprofit sectors, and the different cultures and communities in the Americas. The goals of this ongoing learning are activist ones, specifically developing more engaged higher educational institutions. For “class work” students will complete assigned readings, several short papers, in-class presentations, and a final project. Additionally, students will complete a “practicum” as literacy workers, working two hours a week outside of regularly scheduled classes. Meets Liberal Ed requirements of Literature and of Civic Life and Ethics.

ENGL 3960W Senior Seminar
Required course for all English majors. A section with a focus on public engagement is being developed in which students will reflect on their experiences within public engagement-oriented courses through the lens of theory to create their senior theses. Recent senior honors theses from graduating seniors have included topics from teaching Shakespeare in ELL classrooms to a critique of the No Child Left Behind Act. Meets Liberal Ed requirement of Writing Intensive.

ENGL 5711 Introduction to Editing
If the media doomsayers are right, editing is a dying craft. Yet demand persists in the American marketplace for someone who knows how to turn slop into steak. In this class, students will study editing as a process, a protocol, and a philosophy. Students will study the conventions of editing (grammar, story, and style) and meet professionals who do it well. Mostly, they will edit real, raw manuscripts from newspapers, magazines, and books.

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Chair’s Engaged Leaders Award

English Courses with Public Engagement Components

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