To any student who loves literature and the English language, I say: Don't be satisfied with a Bachelor's degree. If you've come that far (and indeed that is an achievement), go for greater specialization and begin your Master's as soon as you are able. You will find a gold mine in the English Department at Angelo State University.
A few things I gained here: knowledge such as what a dangling participle is (somehow I missed this in high school); where to find just about anything in the Porter Henderson library (I thought of pitching a pup tent and just staying there, back in the day before electronic research tools); what archetypal symbolism is; how to use various approaches to literary criticism; how to understand Walt Whitman without straining so much; how to look for imagery in poetry; and how to write carefully-crafted, well-documented analytical essays about literature. Also, I was rewarded by close encounters with dozens of authors and their works that I hadn't yet gotten to know. The list could continue for miles.
Graduate study provided options, enabling the many “hats” I've worn in the field of education. At the moment, I am teaching as an adjunct instructor for the ASU English department. Over the years, I taught public school, from sixth-graders to seniors, as well as worked as a high school and elementary counselor. I also served a few years as a full-time teacher at ASU, instructing freshman English and several sophomore literature classes. I retired from full-time work in 2004. Thanks to my education, I was able to get wonderful jobs and the best teaching assignments. I also developed a scholarly mindset that would have been impossible had I discontinued my education at the Bachelor's level.
When my family moved to San Angelo in 1978, I was thrilled at the idea of living in a “college town,” after spending several years on my first teaching junket in a small Texas hill country hamlet. I was even more thrilled when ASU added the M.A. in English to its curriculum. I had earned other degrees at other universities, but I wanted to improve my résumé as well as my knowledge, so I enrolled and received the M.A. degree in English in 1985. I know—that was a long time ago, but the same good vibes persist here and have even gotten better as the program ages.
I learned more from my experience in graduate school at ASU than I did in any other pursuit. Small classes offered the opportunity to work up-close with dynamic professors with impressive credentials and backgrounds. Experiences in research, literature, and writing broadened my expertise. The student-centered tradition still lives on today in our English Department. I can testify to the quality of instruction here.
ASU's English Department supplies skills needed to be a teacher, a journalist, an editor, or a professional writer. But even more valuable is the broadened world view to be gained through such study. Achieving the confidence and expertise to teach Advanced Placement classes—or grade-level, for that matter—at the high school level is a good payoff, but the experience in study and critical thinking gives less tangible gains. For example, I have always been fascinated with how authors tell stories. My Master's experience provided exposure that has been percolating for years, and I now enjoy experimenting with fiction writing. This new interest helps me realize how much I have mined from my education at Angelo State. I'll never be famous, but writing short stories is gratifying in itself. Recently, I have been privileged to read my short stories at the English Department's annual Writers' Conference in honor of Elmer Kelton.
Today I reflect on the opportunities gained from having a Master's degree in English from Angelo State University, an accomplishment that has been the most life-enriching path I have pursued. The education gave me career options and opened doors in my life's work and in my personal journey.