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Alumni Profile: Mellisa Huffman

Describe your current position.

Currently, I work as a teaching assistant in the University of New Mexico‘s English Department as I pursue a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing in order to become an English professor. As part of my job, I plan and teach first-year English courses. Getting my B.A. and M.A. in English at ASU greatly informed my decision to pursue this career and provided me with the necessary skills to do so.

Why did you choose to attend ASU?

I grew up in San Angelo and attended a small Christian school. Although I earned excellent grades in high school, applying to college intimidated me because I thought my education may not have prepared me for college-level work. However, my older brother who had graduated from the same school and was attending ASU at the time allayed my fears when he explained how helpful most ASU professors were and listed all the tutoring services available. He also pointed out that I could save money on living expenses by staying with family and that a Carr Scholarship would finance most of my tuition. I really had no good reason for not attending ASU. So, I applied and soon realized I had made the right decision. The coursework was doable, if I managed my time wisely. Plus, if I had a question/issue concerning class work, all my professors happily assisted me. Most held convenient office hours and welcomed student visits. The combination of helpful professors, funding, and location influenced me to complete both a B.A and an M.A. in English at ASU.

What were some valuable things you received from the ASU English department?

If someone had told me my first semester I’d graduate with an English degree, I would have scowled because in high school, English was NOT my favorite subject. In fact, I was originally a Business major and wanted to get my required English courses out of the way. However, ASU’s English Department faculty members cultivated my love of literature and helped me discover my calling in life. My second year at ASU, I took a sophomore literature class with Dr. Mary Ellen Hartje. Her take on Chaucer, the metaphysical poets, and Shakespeare made literature accessible and relatable. I knew this woman loved her job. Dr. Hartje’s class quickly became my favorite, and I think she could tell because one day, as she passed back an exam, she said, “You’re good at this—you should be an English major; it’s not a bad life.” Her little bit of encouragement inspired me to switch majors and pursue a career as an English professor. Every English class I took with the other excellent English professors at ASU reinforced my decision to devote my life to studying English.

How did you translate your degree in English into your present career?

The versatile skills I learned as an English major are numerous, but perhaps working as a teaching assistant at ASU has benefited me the most in my present career. Learning composition theory and teaching strategies under the guidance of Dr. Jeffrey Schonberg prepared me to teach writing at UNM and inspired me to specialize in Rhetoric and Writing. In fact, because I had taught freshman composition before, a professor at UNM asked me to share some of my experiences and strategies with new teaching assistants in a pedagogy class.

Why should a student become an English major at ASU?

What makes ASU’s English Department more inviting than those at larger universities is the personal attention students receive. Because classes are relatively small, the professors are more available to answer questions and develop relationships with their students. When I attended ASU, I felt the professors cared about my academic and professional success. And even when I visit the Department now, they take time out of their busy schedules to chat about how my studies are going. Students who attend larger universities do not always have this experience. For example, one of my friends who graduated from UT Austin said after studying literature four years, few of her professors knew her well enough to write her recommendation letters because teaching assistants had taught most of their classes, and the classes were quite large. She couldn’t believe the English professors at ASU knew me by name and held conversations with me outside of the classroom.

What are you doing now OR other fun facts our students will find interesting?

ASU’s English Department strongly supports students’ scholarly endeavors. When I was a graduate student, a couple of the professors provided revision suggestions on a paper I read at a conference; plus, the Department supported me financially with travel grants. In addition, they gladly wrote letters of recommendation when I applied to Ph.D. programs. The faculty in the English Department does everything it can to ensure students’ success.