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Dr. Mary Ellen Hartje: Woman of Letters

February 24, 2009

The secret to success as a teacher is enthusiasm for the work, said Dr. Mary Ellen Hartje, an ASU English professor.

“It’s like inspiration,” she said. “It’s either there or not.”

Hartje said students feed off enthusiasm and absorb whatever the teacher is trying to impart to them.  She tries to instill in students an interest in English literature and writing skills, and hopefully, her passion for language arts.

“My desire to teach is just a part of who I am,” Hartje said.  “It’s a natural thing that I do that fulfills me.  If you are going to spend most of your days doing what you choose, it is so much better if it’s something that you truly love.”

Hartje loves literature and teaches it from the sophomore level up to graduate classes.

“At any level,” she said, “I try to get students to have an open mind and read literature analytically; I want them to engage in a discussion between themselves and what they are reading – to really get at what’s there.”

Her passion for teaching has earned her multiple teaching honors.

Hartje was the Distinguished Faculty Achievement recipient from the College of Liberal and Fine Arts for 2008.  She received the ASU Teaching Excellence Award in 2002 and was named to “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers in 2004-05.

Hartje tries to impress upon students that literature is more than class work.

“Literature is a reflection of our lives, no matter when it was written,” she said.  “It reflects the human experience.  Students come to literature class thinking it is just stuff they have to read.  They do catch on that it is really about them and it becomes very relevant by the end of the semester.”

Hartje’s specialty is 19th century British literature with a focus on the romantic poets, such as Wordsworth, Keats and Coleridge.  She is also partial to Victorian poet Robert Browning and teaches Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” at the sophomore level.

“What inspires me is literature – poetry, novels and nonfiction,” Hartje said.  “It tells us about our lives, our history and the choices we make as human beings.  It tells us about relationships.  It’s the world recorded for us in story form or poetry.”

She looks forward to each new term.

“Every semester, I have a new set of classes and a new set of students,” Hartje said.  “I like teaching some of the same things over and over, but I also like to teach new things I haven’t taught before, so I challenge myself.”

Besides her favorite 19th century British literature, Hartje also can teach American literature, contemporary works, novels and poems.

“That’s very challenging to me since my area is British literature,” she said, “but it’s great fun.”

If it sounds like Hartje loves to teach, it’s because she does.

“I do love it,” she said.  “I’ve loved it since I was a little girl.  That’s what I’ve always wanted to do and that’s what I’ve always done.”

Hartje taught high school English at Miles and San Angelo Lake View high schools before coming to ASU to work on a master’s degree.  She taught at ASU for a couple of years and then went to Baylor for a Ph.D.

In addition to her teaching, Hartje serves on numerous departmental and university committees.  She is the Chair of the ASU Writers Conference in Honor of Elmer Kelton, and she is the General Editor of Concho River Review, a literary journal.

When she isn’t teaching composition and literature, Hartje enjoys spending time outdoors, particularly puttering around in her yard.  She also loves sharing as much time as she can with her family – three grown daughters, three sons-in-law, and her 2-year-old grandson.