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*AMERICAN STUDIES M.A. PROGRAM QUESTIONNAIRE*

When were you enrolled in the program?

Respondent #8: Fall 95 - Summer 96

How did you learn of the program?

Summary description in literature mailed to me by the English department.

Why did you enter the program, and did it meet your expectations?

I entered the program because I wanted to focus on American Studies. I wanted an interdisciplinary program, one that would take me beyond the bounds of the English dept. I was very interested in using the Internet as a display case for my work, and the thought of reaching a different and wider audience than is traditionally reached by graduate students was a big factor in my decision.

The program surpassed my expectations in some ways and fell short in others. The curriculum wasn't quite as organized as I'd hoped; at times it seemed almost improvised. However, the occasional disorganization also contributed to a sense of breaking ground and blazing new trail. After all, since much of what we did hadn't been done anywhere else, we were figuring it out as we went. I enjoyed the reading lists, and the class discussions were often very rewarding. I was also able to make good use of the freedom to take courses outside the English department, which broadened and enriched my academic experiences during the year. Overall, I got much more out of the program than I could have imagined.

What did you find most valuable about the program?

I think the most valuable thing about the program for me was the ability to practice writing about the humanities in an broad, general, intelligent way--avoiding the jargon, specialized vocabulary, and funny code talk so integral to traditional graduate-style writing. I appreciated being able to present my work in an exciting new medium. I also thoroughly enjoyed my colleagues and professors; it is impossible to separate my experience in grad school from the people involved in my time in Charlottesville.

Was the program different in any significant ways from your earlier education?

Yes. The knowledge that whatever we wrote was going to be accessible to a potentially large and diverse audience pushed my research and writing into different areas than I might otherwise have travelled. I felt like I was appealing to a much different audience than just a handful of experts. Getting feedback from people all over the country about my sites was very new and exciting to me, and added a very pleasant dimension to my studies.

Did the program help you develop any of these aspects of your life?
-Thinking and communicating? My writing changed forever after going through the Am Studies program. I never again wrote like a grad student, which is to say I learned to write more in my own voice and in a vocabulary that didn't alienate readers outside Bryan hall. I learned to appreciate the way a new technology could revolutionize an industry, and I also learned a great deal about graphic design, about how to read images and how to organize text and images together.
-Work habits? I worked very hard during the program. I learned a great deal about the value of doing the best work you can for your own reasons, not just to please an advisor or professor. Prof. Howard allowed us to follow our own lights, by and large, and write about subjects that we cared about. As a result, we all worked hard. The thesis summer was a long one, but very rewarding.
-Research abilities? The Web is now an incredibly more valuable resource than it was back then, and I've continued to build on the research skills I developed during that year. My current job requires me to do quite a bit of research, and I use the tools gathered in classes that year on a daily basis.
-Technical abilities? I didn't know a lot about computers when I began the program, and I knew even less about the Web. We were pretty much thrown in headfirst, though, and I learned so much I surprised myself. I became proficient in HTML, learned to operate a scanner and use OCR software, designed and maintained web sites, and--perhaps because we used we used PCs rather than Macs--learned to troubleshoot various tech-related problems.

To what extent did your classmates affect your experience in the program?

My classmates were a huge part of my experience in the program. I remain in touch with most all of them, and have visited several of them since leaving the program. They were intelligent, thoughtful, articulate people who improved my own work and enriched my time at UVa. It was perhaps the most intellectually satisfying year of my life. I have fond memories of the people themselves, as well as the things we studied.

To what extent did the public venue (the Internet) for much your work affect your experience in the program?

I think I've answered this in above responses. For my part, this may have been the single most important factor in the program. The sense of audience really affected my feelings about what I was doing in the program. Friends, family, and strangers kept track of my work online and I got feedback from folks all along the way. I don't know for a fact, but I'm guessing not many other first-year grad students felt this way about what they were up to in Bryan Hall.

Was the course work appropriate to the goals of the program?

Largely, yes. We read works related to the new technologies we were working with, as well as standards from Am Lit and History. Some of the course work was a bit off-the-cuff, but all of us understood that it pretty much had to be that way. The program was young and we were trying to figure out, together, how it could grow older and wiser.

Did you perceive yourself as part of any university department or community larger than the American Studies Program itself?

Well, yes, I think we realized that we were part of the English department. Many of us had friends outside of the program, in the English department and in other departments, too. But the Am Studies group really did have a strong sense of solidarity, an identity that we were proud of--even though some of the rest of the Eng grads sniffed at us as sort of Voc-Tech types.

How well was interdisciplinary study integrated in the program?

Fairly well. Many of my peers did work for Prof. Howard's program that was based on topics studied in classes from other departments (art history, women's studies, philosophy, etc.). Our own reading list covered a lot of ground, and though some of the books weren't necessarily integral to the program, they almost always related to what we were doing in Am Studies.

Were the following resources (and any other ones) adequate for your work?

-Libraries? Great. I found everything I needed. (Except for this one mystery novel, but it didn't have anything to do with my work for Alan.)

-Computers and technical support? Pretty good. The machines in our lab were just average, but the campus labs were great. ITS was helpful and I also had some computer-savvy classmates.

-Work space? The Am Studies lab was a great place to get work done at all hours. We all grew to love the "Tree House."

-Classes? I had a great time in classes. My professors were consistently excellent and I learned more in one year than I thought possible.

-Faculty? Excellent.

-Financial support? Is there ever enough?

-Other?

During the program did you have any relevant part-time employment?

No. I worked as a lackey in the English Department office.

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):

I have worked as a writer, editor, and designer in the product development department of the Edmark Corporation. We make educational software for K-6. I've written columns for our web sites, written and edited product manuals, worked with teachers to design supplementary educational materials for the software, and written and edited dialogue and scripts for programs.

Did you find advising and placement support in the program to be adequate?

N/A.

Has your involvement in the program made a discernible difference in the subsequent steps of your career?

Depends what you mean by 'discernible.' I don't work in a field that's specifically related to American Studies, but it is related to technology and the Web. The kind of writing I did for Prof. Howard, learning to write for the Web, prepared me well for the kinds of writing I've done here at Edmark. Without the experience I gathered at UVa, its unlikely I'd have been hired to do this job.

How might the program be strengthened?

I'm not sure how the program might be strengthened. The program wouldn't seem nearly as novel today as it did four years ago; the Web is a fact of life now rather than an exciting new vista to be explored. However, there's still a need for liberally educated

Any other reflections?