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*AMERICAN STUDIES M.A. PROGRAM QUESTIONNAIRE*

When were you enrolled in the program?

Respondent #9: Aug. 94 - Aug. 95.

How did you learn of the program?

Since I was in the first class, the program was not yet being promoted when I applied. I had applied generally to UVA for an MA (and at the time I was also thinking of a PhD) and then got a call from Alan Howard, asking if I'd be interested in joining the first group for this experimental program.

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

I entered it because I liked the idea of trying something new, because Alan was persuasive and flattering :), and because I wanted to do a more interdisciplinary degree that included American history.

What did you find most valuable about the program?

First: the technology skills I learned -- and the way that the technology opened my eyes to the potential of the Internet. A close second: the conversations with Alan and classmates that helped me grasp how 'hypertextual' life really is. I hadn't thought about the context behind things very much before. I hadn't asked questions like, who is writing this? what is his or her background? what about the time period influenced the way this writing was conceived by the writer and perceived by the reader? Before the program, I didn't know how to dig -- how to ask the interesting questions.

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

Yes. It was more team-oriented than anything I'd experienced before. It required much more patience. And it required failing -- failing at projects before getting them right. I'd always had a roadmap before, to avoid pitfalls. That didn't exist for us in the first class.

Did the program help you develop any of these aspects of your life?

-Thinking and communicating?

very much. see above.

-Work habits?

i learned how to juggle tech work with more abstract intellectual work.

-Research abilities?

this was one of the weaker aspects -- one of the areas I felt a little bit on my own. Because my final project was very interdisplinary, there wasn't a clear research path to follow. I felt my way through. I'm not sure how it could have been otherwise, though.

-Technical abilities?

absolutely. I didn't know what the Internet was, back in the spring of 94 when I got the first call from Alan. Finding out about the Web in its early days has made all the difference to my career.

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

We were a fairly tight group. I stay in touch with three of the six of us regularly. They strengthened the experience.

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

It made it much more real. And more difficult. But at the time I was also freelancing for a magazine, and already knew how much having a real audience could improve my work. I have heard from people around the country who have seen the Web sites I created for the program. I was even invited to write an intro to a museum exhibit book, based on one of the projects I put on line.

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

I thought so. But I had to actively push to two together -- I had to actively merge the technology and the more traditional goal of writing a thesis. It wasn't an obvious match.

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

Yes, as part of the English department. But I also had a work-study stint in the English Department graduate office, which helped me feel a part of things.

How well was interdisciplinary study integrated in the program?

Again, this was something I had to actively make happen. Just taking courses in different subjects didn't make it interdisciplinary. I had to push them together in my mind, and work through connections that weren't part of my traditional studies.

Were the following resources (and any other ones) adequate for your work?
-Libraries? yes.
-Computers and technical support? no. but at that time we didn't even have an American Studies lab yet. It was just being developed.
-Work space? yes.
-Classes? yes.
-Faculty? I would have liked to have had another faculty member to lean on, one who was into intellectual history and higher education -- two topics of my thesis. I found some helpful hands in the Ed School, but they weren't completely tied in to the research ethic I was accustomed to from the English Department.
-Financial support? Work study helped me pay for it.
-Other?

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

Yes, I was doing work study for 30 hours a week. And freelancing for Albemarle Magazine.

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):

In 1995, I got a job at The Chronicle of Higher Education, helping to develop its Web site. From there, I moved into more reporting, and eventually became a full-time reporter for the Information Technology section.

Last winter I was recruited by the New York Times to come work in Circuits. I got here in March, as a full-time reporter.

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

There wasn't much at all back in 1994-95. I knew that Alan would do what he could, but I basically fell back on my experience from a few years before, sending resumes to newspapers and doing informational interviews with community college english departments.

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

Absolutely. I wouldn't have made the leap into Internet culture if it had not been for the program. And my understanding of Internet culture is one of the primary things that got me both my jobs after the program.

How might the program be strengthened? It's hard to say, because I imagine that it has changed a lot since 1994.

Any other reflections?

I have heard that there have been conversations about whether the program should be more pedagogical -- possibly part of the Ed School. Or possibly more technically oriented. I can see that it might be necessary to make the program more tech-oriented, since creating new things on the Web these days requires a much higher knowledge of HTML than what a person can learn in a few months. But I think the program would lose a lot if it didn't continue to have an intellectual pursuit at its heart. That is what I loved about it. I wouldn't have even signed up if that hadn't been the program's main mission.

Maybe one solution would be to have everyone take a month-long HTML training course before attending. These courses are offered in every big city, and many of them don't cost all that much.