“GEORGIA ON MY MIND”: AN INTERVIEW WITH CURRENT PEACH STATE RESIDENTS, JOSH JACKSON (M.A. ’15)
AND MEGAN VALLOWE (PH.D. ’17)
For this blog profile posting, we lucked out — we got to visit with two of our alumni, both presently living in the Peach State! Josh Jackson (M.A. ’15) is pursuing his Ph.D. in English at Georgia State University, and Megan Vallowe (Ph.D. ’17) is working as an Assistant Professor in Multicultural Literature at Dalton State College in Dalton, Georgia. In this interview, Josh and Megan discuss the benefits of taking time off after completing one’s M.A. and before pursuing one’s Ph.D. (to explore alt-ac work, for example); supplemental funding opportunities graduate students can apply for to expand and enhance their opportunities for research; favorite courses/assignments designed previously and dream courses to be taught in the future; and most valuable non-teaching experiences so far.
First, thanks for letting me interview you together for the blog. Josh, let me start with you. In 2015, you defended your M.A. thesis, “Architectures for a Future South: Posthumanism and Ruin in the Novels of Cormac McCarthy,” then took several years to explore an alt-ac career as a freelance data journalist, and ultimately returned to academia by the fall of 2017 when you started your Ph.D. program in English at Georgia State University. Could you talk a little about why you initially took a break from graduate study, after earning your M.A. at the U of A, but finally resumed a path toward an academic career?
JOSH: Absolutely. I’m fortunate that my non-linear career path has been so rewarding. I think my luck began during my final semester at Arkansas, when the English department arranged an internship with Explainify, a local explainer video company, whose founders gave me work and experience writing for an online audience. That experience helped me to see where my writing and research skills apply more generally outside the academy and more specifically within the context of digital marketing and data journalism. It also laid the groundwork for me to reach out to a friend in those industries after I finished my M.A. at Arkansas. That friend, Merrill Cook, is a wonderful example of someone who has made great use of the critical and analytical thinking skills that he gained from double majoring in the humanities (English and Philosophy) in order to teach himself how to code, manage projects, and find work in the gig economy.
While working remotely with Merrill on his site, OnlineCourseReport.com, I refined my research skills to include data mining, trend reporting, search engine optimization (SEO), and HTML coding. When I attended MLA in 2016 and saw there was a demand in the humanities, and specifically English departments, for people with skills like these to spearhead initiatives in the digital humanities, I decided to find a place to build those skills and become a practitioner of the digital humanities. I also decided I would continue studying the U.S. South using these methodologies, so going for the Ph.D. in English was a logical next step. Georgia State University is a perfect place to hone those skills because it is the South’s largest urban campus, is pushing a digitally innovative curriculum, and has a number of pedagogical initiatives that cut across disciplinary boundaries and encourage experimentation in the classroom. During my first year at Georgia State, for instance, I had classrooms full of diverse groups of first-year writers who, due to the school’s reputation for innovation, were quite receptive to learning search engine optimization (and a little bit of HTML) for the purposes of reading and composing digital writing.
So I guess the long and short answer to why I took some time to explore an alternative academic career path is because I wanted to have an educational experience outside the classroom, which, in my case, still applied to higher education. I returned to the classroom less to pursue an academic career path than to go where I perceive my skills to be needed or desired, apply what I learned outside the classroom, and show others that not every educational experience need be confined to a classroom or even a conventional student-teacher-institutional relationship.
I returned to the classroom less to pursue an academic career path than to go where I perceive my skills to be needed or desired, apply what I learned outside the classroom, and show others that not every educational experience need be confined to a classroom or even a conventional student-teacher-institutional relationship.
– Josh Jackson
Megan, before you graduated with your Ph.D. in 2017, you applied for and received multiple awards on the U of A campus, including the ARSC Dissertation Research Award and the James J. Hudson Doctoral Fellowship in the Humanities. You also were accepted to and attended the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Could you explain how these opportunities for supplemental funding and off-campus research allowed you to enhance the completion of your dissertation project, “Indigenous Resistance: Settler-Colonialism, Nation Building, and Colonial Patriarchy,” in specific ways?
MEGAN: More than anything, those awards fostered my passion for archival research. Through the NEH, I was able to research at the Library of Congress for a month, and the ARSC and Hudson awards allowed me to return to DC to do more archival work, as well as spend some time with the really exceptional indigenous American collections at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Some of that research was included in my dissertation, but I would say that it has had a more significant impact on my research since finishing my doctoral work.
In the past few years, I’ve continued working with a lot of the research I started at the Newberry and the Library of Congress. A portion of that research appears in my recent publication on the Cherokee Phoenix found in this past summer’s issue of American Periodicals. More recently, I’ve been working with manuscript speeches and lecture notes at the Newberry for a forthcoming chapter on 19th century indigenous orators that will appear in an edited collection from MLA Press.
I think the biggest impact of those awards and the opportunities they allowed me will ultimately be found in my book project, Indigenous Women’s Resistance in 19th Century Popular Media. About half of my book comes from my dissertation and half is new material that more intimately focuses on archival findings and indigenous women’s writing in the long 19th century.
Josh Jackson and Megan Vallowe
These questions are for both of you: What has been your favorite course to teach so far, and why? And what is a dream course that you would love to teach in the future?
JOSH: My favorite course to teach has been my version of Comp 1 at Georgia State, which I like to teach as an Introduction to Digital Writing. The class starts with a personal narrative assignment in which students read and view digital literacy narratives before writing a story about the most important lesson they feel they’ve ever learned. They then perform a field observation and write a Micro-Ethnography about another person or place that interests them. This assignment models both primary research and writing about others. Next, students model secondary research and write a research paper that analyzes a work of digital culture and makes an argument that ties that piece of digital culture to a current issue. Finally, students revise that research paper into a webpage, which makes a call-to-action about a current issue or event and links their argument to other websites that are affecting that action. I like teaching this class because it allows students to see how their personal story has professional value, such as for a job interview or a cover letter; their observational writing has professional value, such as for an evaluation of another organization or individual; and their academic research has professional value, such as for a socially or politically active cause or movement.
As far as dream classes go, I’d love to teach a class on Literature, Marketing, and Media of the U.S. South, but they tell me I need to finish my readings list and dissertation first.
MEGAN: I don’t think I necessarily have a favorite course, but rather favorite types of assignments, which I try to integrate into all of my courses. Often these assignments get students working with primary sources and producing different genres rather than the standard academic essay. For instance, this semester at Dalton State, my American Lit I students are producing Collaborative Archival Teaching Projects. First, they collect archival or primary sources on their group’s assigned topics, like Captivity Narratives or Early Civil Rights Leaders. They submit that archive to me as an annotated bibliography with an appendix of images. Then their group uses that research to create an interactive method of teaching their classmates about their topic. I find these types of assignments get students, even in surveys or first year writing courses, thinking about research as an interactive and evolving process. Having them work together to teach their classmates in a genre of their choosing also gives them more ownership over their work, rather than a formal essay that only I will read.
As for my dream class, I would really love to teach a Native Science Fiction class that also gets students engaged in the surrounding area. Dalton is a great place for this as we are situated in the heart of Cherokee homeland, yet few students are aware of the rich indigenous history that surrounds them. In Indigenous Studies, I think getting students to pay attention to the indigenous spaces around them is critically important, regardless of where they are. Integrating those sites into class really gets students more engaged with the literature as well.
As for my dream class, I would really love to teach a Native Science Fiction class that also gets students engaged in the surrounding area. Dalton is a great place for this as we are situated in the heart of Cherokee homeland, yet few students are aware of the rich indigenous history that surrounds them. In Indigenous Studies, I think getting students to pay attention to the indigenous spaces around them is critically important, regardless of where they are.
– Megan Vallowe
Both of you kindly provided me with copies of your CVs. I’m so impressed by the professionalization work beyond teaching that appears on these documents (e.g., publishing, presenting, grant writing, journal editing, serving on college and organizational committees, mentoring). What would each of you consider to be the most valuable non-teaching professional work you’ve done so far, and why has that experience been so important?
JOSH: So far, the most valuable non-teaching professionalization experience that I’ve had has been the internship I did with Explainify and the subsequent experience I gained while making a living by writing and researching for audiences outside the academy. But I’m also very excited about the work I’m currently doing in my capacity as Chair of Networking and Outreach for the Society for the Study of Southern Literature’s Emerging Scholars Organization, which is developing connections with organizations who are oriented toward community service and non-profit education. We hope these service-oriented connections might eventually create greater professionalization opportunities beyond our organization and the academy. Inasmuch as I’m interested in creating alternative and post-academic career paths for people inside the academy, I think this non-teaching professional work is shaping up to be quite valuable!
MEGAN: For me, the most valuable experience beyond teaching would also be my work freelance writing for some online marketing firms, in combination with my work as an editor. Because of those experiences, I am better positioned to market myself, my research, or even my current department to broader audiences in a wider variety of digital forms. For instance, as a part of my department’s Recruitment Committee, I frequently write and design our flyers and social media posts and will be redesigning the online presence of Dalton’s two undergraduate journals before the end of the year.