November 3, 2003
New program sends humanities graduate students
into local schools
By Scott Rappaport
Literature graduate student Veronica Kirk-Clausen was a little nervous
when she stepped into Martha Dyers eighth-grade class at Mission
Hill Junior High in Santa Cruz last spring.
|Veronica Kirk-Clausen is
one of 20 UCSC graduate students who have given presentations in
Santa Cruz and Monterey County classrooms as part of the Humanities
Divisions new Graduate Student Speakers Bureau. Photo:
|Becky Woomer, a graduate
student in literature, stands outside Mission Hill Junior High School.
She gave a presentation earlier in the year on Mark Twain's Tall
Tales to eighth-graders in one of teacher Martha Dyer's English
classes. "They were very participatory. They were very into
it," she said of the students. Photo:
Im used to teaching undergraduate sections and writing
classes with students ages 18 to 21, Kirk-Clausen recalled. I
didnt know what to expect or how to anticipate their reactions,
but they surprised me by being very interested, excited, and asking
Kirk-Clausens junior high visit was part of the Graduate Student
Speakers Bureau, a new program launched in January by UCSCs
Humanities Division. It offers free classroom presentations to high
school, junior high, and middle school classrooms in Santa Cruz and
Monterey Counties. Graduate students are selected to participate on
the basis of their particular areas of expertise, as well as their ability
to communicate with local students in the community.
The program was proposed and designed by Christopher Connery, associate
professor of literature at UCSC.
We wanted to do more humanities outreach through the Institute
for Humanities Research, Connery said. We have great reserves
of talent here in the division and wanted to do more to share that with
Connery added that one of the goals of the program is to introduce
middle and high school students to the idea of graduate school and research
in the humanities. It is also intended to give graduate students experience
in sharing their knowledge with diverse, nonacademic audiences, as well
as to strengthen ties between UCSC graduate programs and area teachers.
The presentations cover a wide range of topics in the fields of English,
language arts, history, literature, linguistics, philosophy, and cultural
studies. Kirk-Clausen gave a talk on California literature, comparing
descriptions of the states landscape from both a Native American
creation myth and John Steinbecks classic novel, East of Eden.
A native of Pacific Grove, Kirk-Clausen earned her bachelor of arts
degree in English from UC Davis. Now in her third year of graduate studies
at UCSC, she specializes in 19th- and 20th-century American literature
with a focus on California, as well as medieval French literature. Although
her ultimate goal is to teach at the college level, she found her experience
at the junior high to be particularly beneficial for everyone involved.
It was good for me to take my ideas off campus and to see how
I would have to rework them and reexamine them in order to present them
to a completely different audience, Kirk-Clausen observed. And
I know the students learned about the subject, but they also learned
about what it means to go to college, and what studying the humanities
is all about. Choosing a profession like law or medicine is easier to
understand for junior high schoolers than becoming a researcher in the
humanities, she added.
Program administrator and Ph.D. candidate in literature Sherri Helvie
noted that teacher response to the new program has been overwhelmingly
positive. She added that graduate students work closely with teachers
in developing the presentations so that they are appropriate for the
age groups and student interests.
Junior and high school students often dont know that they
may pursue a career based upon their interests in history, literature,
philosophy, or linguistics, Helvie said. Having access to
graduate students who are doing just that opens up a whole field of
possibilities to our local students.
This fall, the Humanities Division has also launched a new program
connecting UCSC faculty members with teachers in Santa Cruz and Monterey
Counties. The Teacher Scholar Program will offer a series of seminars
on topics in the humanities that will help middle, junior, and high
school teachers with curriculum enrichment. Presented in partnership
with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and UCSC Extension, the
program allows teachers to explore a variety of subjects in a university
Seminars scheduled for the near future include: Not Your Grand-Daddys
Civil War, with history professor Bruce Levine on November 8;
Reimagining Western Civilization: Contact, Commerce
and Crusades in the Medieval Mediterranean, with associate professor
of world literature and cultural studies Sharon Kinoshita on February
25 and March 3; and Jazz Cultures, with associate professor
of American studies Eric Porter, on May 10 and May 24.
For more information about UCSCs Graduate Student Speakers
Bureau or the Teacher Scholar Program, e-mail program administrator
Return to Front Page