Dear Mr. Vander Meulen,
I will be happy to speak with any member of the review committee
should more information be desired. My home telephone number is
xxx.xxx.xxxx; I may also be reached via this email address at any
time. I hope my responses to the following questions prove useful for
your purposes. Please feel free to use my name if necessary during the
When were you enrolled in the program?
August 1998-August 1999; M.A. 1999.
How did you learn of the program?
I learned of the program from the primary UVa Graduate English
departmental brochure for prospective students.
Why did you enter the program, and did it meet your expectations?
In my search for graduate programs I was looking for a program which
combined literary study with technical proficiency and the ability to
post/publish work and academic projects using emerging technologies,
especially web technology. The only other similar program which I
encountered is a program at the University of Texas at Austin called
"Ph.D. in English and Computer Studies." I had originally applied to
UVa's Ph.D. program and was not admitted but did accept the offer into
the AS M.A. (having requested to be considered for the AS track if not
admitted into the Ph.D.). In all likelihood I would not have attended
UVa for another of the M.A. tracks due to lack of financial support -
I chose the American Studies program with the belief that it might
lead me to more gainful employment than the other M.A. tracks due to
the technical expertise I believed I would earn.
The program met and exceeded my expectations in many ways. I was a
novice to American Studies prior to entering the program, and I would
advise against entering it to students interested in the program who
believe that they are going to be studying American literature
specifically. One student in my M.A. class seemed to lose interest in
the program or thought it deficient in methodological rigor due to the
fact that the program requirements consist only 1/3 of literature
courses. From a specific content perspective, once I gained a more
thorough working knowledge and vocabulary for American Studies as a
discipline, the academic side of the program became more valuable for
me (this occurred throughout the first semester). Frankly, I believe
the AS track is popular to students who want to study American lit at
UVa and merely want to get their foot in the door. I recommend that
future admission procedures and prospective applicant
brochures/literature emphasize more stronlgy that, despite the
program's existence in the English department, it is an
interdisciplinary American Studies program.
I expected to work with a small group of dedicated students with
excellent technical resources and an adviser committed to the personal
and professional growth of each student and his/her work. Those
expectations were most certainly met. The program existed as
advertised by Alan Howard. I expected to learn much about web
technology and creating and promoting instructional websites with an
emphasis on American history and literature. Again, my expectations
were met. I expected to be able to find a job in the publishing or
instructional technology industry with little difficulty (though this
was not promised as a guarantee by the program adviser when we talked
prior to my decision to enroll). It was a little more difficult than
I had anticipated.
What did you find most valuable about the program?
Alan Howard's wealth of knowledge - both regarding American Studies
and web technology - as well as his commitment to the program, is far
and away the strongest aspect of the program. Close runners-up are
access to top-notch technical facilites (both the AS lab and
throughout the University) as well as support from various other
departments on grounds, particularly from faculty in Art History,
Architectural History, and the library system.
Was the program different in any significant ways from your earlier
Again, in hindsight I am pleased that the program was very
specifically American Studies-based and not merely American
literature, but it was different from my previous education in its
interdisciplinarity. Obviously the medium for expression (the
web)differed from my previous "publishing" experience (papers simply
turned in to professors for courses). There is a certain amount of
academic/professional responsibility for your work that can't be
ignored when placing it online for everyone's criticism and supposed
benefit (the "showering in public" phenomenon). It creates more
responsible scholarship and more creative teaching opportunities.
Did the program help you develop any of these aspects of your life?
-Thinking and communicating?
-Technical abilities? As mentioned previously, the program significantly developed my vocabulary/scholarship for American Studies as opposed to specifically American literature. While at UVa I heard rumblings from other graduate students (though infrequently) about a lack of methodological rigor for the program, perhaps due to its emphasis on technical proficiency. To that I can only respond that our class produced work strong enough to be recognized by various online journals dedicated to the humanities, as well as recognition by publications such as The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times. Obviously our ability to communicate our work was effective. I approached the program with perhaps a more 9-to-5 mentality than an "exploratory student" mentality; in that vein it certainly strengthened my work habits. The thought of producing work for wide scrutiny will strengthen one's work habits. My research abilities were enhanced by the English department's ENCR 801 course; I had not attended a major research institution as an undergraduate and really needed to come up to speed quickly in order to produce graduate level research. My technical abilities went from nil (I knew how to send email, browse the web, and run word-processing applications) to programming, compressing files, working for the University's digital media centers, and eventually working for a software development company (now). They improved dramatically within one year. To what extent did your classmates affect your experience in the program? I firmly believe it's impossible to gain as much as possible from this program without a commitment to it as a member of a large team. Of roughly 10 people in the program, about 8 were very committed to it. As such, each person had 8 other editors of his/her work, making critical suggestions and providing useful technical and content information which aided the project at hand. Furthermore, the students for our M.A. class appeared to be selected to include people from specific disciplines and areas of specialization - i.e. art history, American history, African American literature, etc. - to provide a whole stronger than the sum of the individual parts. The size of the program, in addition to my fellow students, was crucial to its success. Smaller was better, but 8-10 is just about right. To what extent did the public venue (the Internet) for much your work affect your experience in the program? Please see the aforementioned reference to producing thorough and responsible work. I approached a project as the chance to create the definitive online resource for the subject at hand, and I believe that commitment to quality was a great motivator to produce good scholarship. Was the course work appropriate to the goals of the program? There is a lack of good graudate-level American literature courses offered by the English department, with frequency. Frequently the best American Studies-related courses were found in other departments. Did you perceive yourself as part of any university department or community larger than the American Studies Program itself? I definitely perceived myself and the program as part of the English department academically and socially. Furthermore, when I sought assistance from various university offices - libraries, media centers, etc. - and mentioned the type of work I was doing for the program, my needs were well-received. How well was interdisciplinary study integrated in the program? Interdisplinary is integrated into the curriculum, with one departmental course, the AS seminar, and one course from outside the department required for each term. We were encouraged to take courses which would complement each other well to provide more thorough background and research for our projects; i.e. in the spring term of my year we created a site on America in the 1930s and many students selected Richard Guy Wilson's 20th Century American Architecture course to enhance our perspectives on the era for our web projects. Were the following resources (and any other ones) adequate for your work? -Libraries?
-Computers and technical support?
-Other? The library system was superb. Work space for the lab was adequate; you can never have too many computers. Knowing what I know now I'd like to see Zip and Jaz disks in the lab for easier transport of information as well as larger UNIX accounts on the University's server. Technical support was above average, any minor problems in the lab did not linger. Emerging web technology appliecations were upgraded and introduced frequently, an important move to remain current in the field. There should be a course or several lessons on advanced web languages, including JAVA, DHTML, even some C - at least an introduction to how these languages are used professionally can set a framework from which to speak when interviewing to enhance career opportunities. Again, increase the American lit graduate offerings, especially Southern literature. How can there not be a Faulkner course offered each term? Faculty support was, in general, excellent. My only criticism is that the combined grad-undergrad American lit survey course offered Fall 97 was poorly taught - haphazardly organized and with ridiculous lack of depth. Funding for the program, as for all M.A. programs at UVa, is nonexistent and a highly unprofessional and irresponsible move on the part of the department and the University. I would be in favor of extending the program to 2 years for enhanced student and project development if funding were offered. I believe an extra year or term would greatly enhance technical abilities particularly (and as such, job opportunities). However, with no funding, all M.A. programs should be only 1 year programs at UVa. My choice to attend and finance the program through student loans was a calculated risk with the belief that I would be able to work in a technology-based area upon graduation. The risk has worked, but I can't begin to imagine being in the position of students who have taken 1-2 years of graduate study, financed it with loans due to lack of support, and (given the current academic market and admission trends for other programs) either cannot find work or earn admission to a Ph.D. program. Yes, students know what they are getting into when they enter graduate study at UVa, but that does not absolve the department of its responsibility to those students or the academy at large. The English department at UVa cannot continue to enroll 10-20 funded Ph.D. candidates and 50-80 unfunded M.A. candidates each year without losing its credibility as a department committed to the quality and integrity of students and the profession. During the program did you have any relevant part-time employment? I worked as a lab consultant for the Digital Media and Music Centers and the Digital Image Centers, gaining crucial skills in media production. Please describe briefly your major forms of schooling and/or employment since your time in the program (giving dates, name of organization, and chief activities there): My job search lasted 5 months, during which time I completed various small web projects on a contract basis. I relocated to Columbus, Ohio and restricted my search to that geographic location because my fiance is in graduate school at Ohio State. I am Editor of the Publications department for a local software development company, auto des sys, Inc. (www.formz.com), which produces a 3D modeling application called form Z, used by architects, designers, engineers, artists, and anyone with ties to the design fields. My primary duties have included writing and editing manuals and advertisements, but they will also include website development and writing/editing for newsletters and for a major catalog for the Joint Study Program, a program in which auto des sys provides reduced cost licenses for form Z to nearly all the architecture/design schools in the world. The benefit to us is that it builds the user base drastically and provides us with numerous images for promoting form Z. The catalog serves as a forum in which professors may share student work as well as their methods for integrating form Z and other technical tools into their curriculum. (The President of the company is a former Professor in the School of Architecture at Ohio State; hence his commitment to academia.) My background in web development, writing, image manipulation, and architectural/art history contributed to my receiving the job offer. Did you find advising and placement support in the program to be adequate? Advising was outstanding; placement was supported very strongly. I believe that the supply for people in the web industry is catching up with the demand, therefore producing slightly longer job searches for graduates of the program each year. Has your involvement in the program made a discernible difference in the subsequent steps of your career? It has provided me with a technical foundation upon which to build and develop a career as an editor/writer. I entered graduate school with notions of continuing my studies, either immediately after AS@UVa or after more work experience in the web industry. I enjoy the work and culture of academia, and I believe I produced a quality of work and developed well enough as a student that I could earn admission to a top American Studies, History, or English Ph.D. program. However, the prospect of completing such a program and not finding gainful employment in academia is petrifying to say the least. Really, for me, it is not an option. Going through AS@UVa was a way to explore my interest in graduate study and the possibility of teaching at the collegiate level while hedging myself against the trends in the academic job market. If, in future years, I decide that the lure of teaching is too strong, there is absolutely no way I will attend a graduate program that does not demonstrate a major commitment (and not just lip service) to promoting teaching and research opportunities through emerging technologies. It provides better scholarship, it is a way to share the wealth of information, and it provides jobs for people to help filter that information. How might the program be strengthened? I see a growing trend between the technical haves and have-nots in the web industry. I believe that the current curriculum for the program (or at least the one when I attended) is strong, but I'd like to see an extended lab period (or 2), offered both fall and spring terms. While the nature of the web environment is one in which works are continuously updated and re-developed, I'd like to see a more strict adherence to production schedules and more stringent guidelines for site design/production to be followed. Given the structure of this program, incompletes and late projects really are not an option.Also, Wired magazine and others like it should supplement academic journal readings and be required reading for keeping on top of industry trends. Again, more American literature course offerings, especially graduate-level-specific (not combined with undergrad), would be crucial to strengthening the program's literary sites as well as promoting the work of the English department. Any other reflections? Two more thoughts. I'd like to reiterate my belief that the lack of funding for M.A. students will come to some critical threshold in the near future. I believe that students will probably stop coming to the larger M.A. program at UVa, which will result in larger departmental cutbacks. It is inevitable unless changes are made. Admit fewer students or increase funding. Teaching opportunities would be a wonderful way to provide funding. This issue is not specific to the American Studies program, but it seems shocking to me that this program might be discontinued when it provides the strongest training for gainful employment for students in the M.A. tracks only. If anything, the technical courses should be offered department-wide, perhaps in conjunction with Curry. Finally, I've tried to complete this evaluation as objectively and critically as possible without considering my loyalties to it and to Alan Howard. It is impossible to underestimate his impact on the program. His commitment to students is unsurpassed; he is tireless in his dedication to each student's intellectual, personal, and professional development; he is a thorough scholar, an amazing source for information in the field; he is a tough negotiator who gets from the university and department what students need to be most successful; among all the professors I have ever had, he remains one of few committed to keeping the pulse on changes in technology and his academic area of expertise; he is the program's CEO, CIO, and COO; he is also a confidant and trusted friend. The program should continue, with an eye for continuous improvement, regardless of Alan's choice to remain part of it or not. I hope he will stay as long as he is able and that professors from the English department and other departments will lend him their talents. The program contributes significantly to high quality scholarship in American Studies, it provides excellent training for a number of academic, technical, business, and information industry professions, and, perhaps most important, it contributes significantly to the larger understanding of how this nation has developed, in a medium arguably more accessible than any we have ever seen.