How To Make a Difference

“I’m an engineer, not a poet. How can English classes be important to me?” Terry Bollinger, Computer Science major at Missouri University of Science & Technology, answers clearly, “If you want to make a difference in the broader scheme of things, you
have to be able to communicate your thoughts clearly and convincingly.”

Back in the 1970s, the English Department of Missouri S&T (then UMR), began offering a writing minor. One of the first students to take a minor was Terry Bollinger, then a B.S. Student in Computer Science. Terry received his B.S. in 1977 and an M.S. in Computer Science in 1980,both from S&T. The title of this post comes from Terry’s statement quoted above.

Terry was on the S&T campus on April 23 and 24 as a member of the Computer Science Department’s Advisory Board. The Department of English and Technical Communication was fortunate to have Terry meet with an English/Tech Com 260 class. Terry carried on a lively informal conversation with the class, centering on a project the class has been working on.

Currently, Terry works for DeVenCI as their main technology assessor of emerging IT and hard science products. DeVenCI works together with the Department of Defense. Writing is a major component of Terry’s career. If you visit Terry’s personal Web site, you can find many examples of his reports and his advocacy of open source software and of Linux.

It was a real pleasure for me to talk with Terry and sit in on his conversation with the class. He was one of my students here and one of the best I’ve had in 42 years.

Kate Drowne: Woman of the Year

Dr. Kate Drowne, Associate Professor of English and Technical Communication, was named Woman of the Year at the annual Woman of the Year luncheon on April 20. This Award is given annually by Missouri University of Science and Technology.

The program from the luncheon says that the “Woman of the Year Award is given to a female faculty member dedicated to student education and committed to diversity. . . . the Woman of the Year exemplifies the abilities and qualities that improve the campus climate for women.”
As chair of the Department of English and Technical Communication, I’m proud of Dr. Drowne and delighted that she has received this well-deserved award. I am also

Celebrating the Humanities at Missouri S&T

We do have Humanities at Missouri University of Science & Technology.While some may think of the Humanities as an ornament to educating engineers and scientists, the areas in Humanities – English, History, Philosophy, the Arts, Languages – are important areas of research in their own right. Scholars and creators in these areas create knowledge and experiences that benefit society beyond the bounds of the campus.

On March 18, the second event Celebrating Excellence in the Humanities will be held in St Pat’s B in the Havener Center. The event starts at 2:00 and ends about 3:00. The scholars being celebrated are Michael Bruening, History and Political Science, Kate Drowne, English and Technical Communication, Eric Bryan, English and Technical Communication, and Audra Merfeld-Langston, Arts, Languages, and Philosophy.

Each scholar will speak briefly on his or her research, topics as diverse as the Reformation, the flapper in American culture, Old Norse mythology, and responses to globalization in rural France. Publications by other members of each department will be on display.

Members of the public, as well as the campus community, are welcome. See you there!

Floating Blue Squiggles

Really! A week ago – on Wednesday, February 25 – my wife and I saw blue forms – not exactly squiggles, what artists call “biomorphic forms” – forms that suggest living shapes.We saw shapes suggesting the human form -glowing blue shapes – shift, glide, float, zoom in a dark space. These blue shapes glowed as they moved individually or in combination.

We saw a performance by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, an even in Missouri S&T’s Campus Performing Arts series in Leach Theatre. The company performed three pieces, each quite different from the other.

The first, “Sweet Fields,” choreographed by Twyla Tharp, used music from William Billings, the Shaker tradition, and Sacred Harp, a shape-note hymnal. The second, “1st Flash,” choreographed by Jorma Elo, to music by Jean Sibelius,

The third, Noir Blanc, is the one my opening paragraph deals with – a performance that is a culmination of movement arts over the last 100 years. (I’m thinking of Diaghilev and Nijinsky.) Those float blue biomorphs, were, of course, the dances of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. The skillful use of costuming and lighting gave the audience an experience difficult to represent in words. So I will stop with that; no, let me add that, if you have the opportunity to see this ballet company perform, I recommend that you do just that.

“And zero at the bone”

The title phrase comes from a poem Emily Dickinson wrote about suddenly encountering a snake while walking in tall grass. It’s always resonated with me because I had the same experience more than once, encountering a variety of snakes, including rattlers, in the grasses of the Kansas Flint Hills.

“Zero at the bone” also seems appropriate to the week ending today. We’ve had some very cold temperatures accompanied by dangerous wind chills. At the same time, this week opened the spring semester here at Missouri S&T. Starting a new semester is somewhat like taking off in a jetliner: there are some jolts and shakes, a bit of nervousness, but also the excitement of beginning a new journey, of meeting new people.

Speaking for myself, the new semester is off to a good start. I’m teaching World Literature I, from the beginnings to the Renaissance. The beginnings go way back to Sumerian and Akkadian syllabary script inscribed on clay tablets, Gilgamesh, in other words. This is one of my favorite courses, so it’s appropriate as the last course I expect to teach at S&T.

My retirement is scheduled for 1 July 2009, so this is not only my last semester to teach but also my last as chair. I hope to post more frequent entries here in these last few months, so come on back!

Weathering the Storm

Surely everyone knows by now that a series of economic catastrophes are shaking up our lives. Everyone I know has more questions than answers, and the answers seem to shift each day–or more often. The University of Missouri system faces serious budget cuts; the amount isn’t known yet.

This post expresses strictly my own views, stating my attitude more than what I know, because what I know isn’t much. The serious budget cuts that the University of Missouri system faces will affect the way each campus, each department, and each faculty member functions. The cuts will affect the educational process of students.
As chair of the Department of English and Technical Communication, my goal is to do all I can, and to support the department’s faculty and staff to do all they can, to ensure that we come through this storm with the least possible damage. The quality of our courses, our degree programs, our research will remain as high as before the crises.

Education in Winter

We’re experiencing our third winter storm of the year — with sleet mostly, but also a little snow. The sleet verges on freezing rain. What happens at Missouri University of Science & Technology when we have icy, slushy streets and sidewalks, with more sleet falling as I type?
Many faculty and some students live where it’s dangerous or impossible to drive to campus. Walking, too, is hazardous when everything is coated with ice. It’s fairly quiet in the department this morning, although I’ve seen four faculty members, and talked with three or four students. The department’s administrative assistant, Linda Sands, lives several miles out in the country amid hills that, when the roady is iced over, make driving very hazardous. She’s not here today.
The quiet and relatively few people are somewhat disconcerting. It’s almost lonely.
I drove to campus, as I usually do, although I live within a 15 minute walk. I have walked to campus in worse weather than this, but . . . perhaps I have more (or less) sense.

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Just a Couple Days Before Classes Start

The spring 2008 semester for Missouri University of Science & Technology starts on Monday, January 14. Here it is, Saturday, January 12, and I’m putting together course materials. (I suspect I’m not alone in that!)
This is the university’s first semester as Missouri S&T, rather than the University of Missouri – Rolla. We’re all making the transition in how we refer to the campus, with some uncertainty whether it is "MST," "MS&T," or "Missouri S&T." Officially, "mst" is reserved for our email and Internet domain, not for print or speech. However, it’s only three syllables versus four or seven in the other possibilities.
"S&T" is a good designation but a little too obscure right now. The Rolla Daily News uses it, so maybe it will spread.
I did quite a bit of class preparation back in December but still have plenty to do. I’m teaching Creative Writing for the first time in several years and using Blackboard for the first time for that class.
For a department chair, preparing for a new semester means much more than writing up (or revising) the course syllabus. It also means making sure all the courses taught by the department have teachers assigned to them, that everyone has appropriate office space, that the courses have sufficient enrollment.
In fact, I’ve been constructing the class schedule for the fall 2008 semester.
My colleagues in the department are doing their preparations (or have already completed them); some of my students have already visited Blackboard. Unfortunately, there won’t be much there until sometime late today or tomorrow.
Enrollment for this spring semester is slightly higher than for last spring. This weekend, the population of Rolla will expand by several thousand. The campus has felt very empty recently; that changes soon.

It Takes a Team to Pedal Fast

This afternoon, Missouri University of Science & Technology’s chancellor, John F. Carney III, delivered his fifth semi-annual State of the University speech. A high point was Tom Shipley‘s brief documentary on Missouri S&T’s entry in last summer’s human-powered vehicle contest. The vehicle was designed and built by UMR — pardon me — Missouri S&T’s Human-Powered Vehicle Team, a part of the campus’s Student Design and Experiential Learning Center. Shipley’s film is tight and clean and the source of the title of this entry: it takes a team and a lot of effort for someone to pedal a little over 59 mph.

Yes, I jumped the gun on the name-change from University of Missouri – Rolla to Missouri University of Science & Technology. But that particular gun is being jumped more and more often. Why not me?

Wait a minute! Why am I writing about student design teams? I’m chair of English and Technical Communication, not an engineer.

  • First, I admire the student design teams, having known students in them in my own classes.
  • Second, our department is a vital part of the campus and its endeavors, as Chancellor Carney noted early in his state of the university talk. The chancellor reminded the audience forcefully that, while he would talk mostly about scientific and technological matters, he did not want to overlook the humanities, the social sciences, or the business program.
  • Third, there are numerous ways, many yet to be discovered, in which the scholars, teachers and students of our department can relate to the campus’s major thrust. One important way is to pursue our own research and teaching interests with energy and imagination. Our efforts do contribute to the overall accomplishments of the campus. Another way is participation of our students and faculty in projects of other departments and organizations.

Enough with metaphor and analogy! The university is not a bicycle in an aerodynamic cocoon, with its power-source, a student, concealed inside: the university is a complex enterprise, dependent on everyone, everything, every place that make it up. Ending his talk, the chancellor called on the university to focus on our world’s needs for energy and environmental renewal. Those of us who work with words and images can contribute our knowledge, skills, wit, and wisdom to that project.

Dancing in Unity

Yesterday was Unity Day on the UMR (MST) campus. The event celebrated diversity through the arts — including the art of cooking, one of my favorite arts.
I was vaguely aware of Unity Day, something that happens around twice a semester. The event was in the atrium of the Havener Center; I had a 12:00-1:00 meeting in a room on the second floor, close to the atrium. When I walked into the Havener for the meeting and saw the tables of food, I knew I had come too late. The meeting went well, but we could hear music, cheers, and singing from the open space just outside the closed doors to our meeting room.
When the meeting was over, I walked out and looked over the railing, into the atrium. Two young women were dancing. I couldn’t see well, being above them at a sharp angle. They were dressed in soft gray and white clothing. The dance involved their mirroring each others’ gestures as far as I could see. From my impression, the dance expressed a kind of focused grace, a strong quiet.
After that dance, I walked down the stairs, still hoping for some food. The next act was a step show by the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha. Stepping is an African American art form, the steppers moving in unison, often in a close line. The moves are strong, with stamping and powerful arm gestures. The steppers express strength and unity. If you’ve never seen a step show, I recommend you do if you have the chance. There’s a stepping contest in Spike Lee’s movie, School Daze. (I googled Spike Lee and
School Daze and decided to let you find your own links if you’re interested.)
And, yes, I did score some food: two wonderful egg rolls.