The English Department That Could — When I was a young boy, my favorite picture books were those featuring anthropomorphic machines. This preference is not that surprising since my favorite toy was a bulldozer, which I still have. I liked Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (1939) by Virginia Lee Burton. I also liked Burton’s Katy and the Big Snow (1943) in which a snowplow named Katy saves the day. However, the anthropomorphic machine book that I liked the most was The Little Engine That Could (1930) by Watty Piper. Well, I thought it was by Watty Piper until I became a children’s literature professor and learned that Watty Piper is actually the pen name of Arnold Munk. I felt a bit disappointed when I made this discovery, but my disappointment did not undermine my fond memories of reading this book over and over again during my early boyhood. There was something about the Little Blue Engine’s willingness to help others and her sense of determination that appealed to me as a boy, and it still appeals to me. Even today, when I am tackling a difficult task, I sometimes find myself repeating the Little Blue Engine’s mantra: “I think I can–I think I can–I think I can.”
The Little Engine That Could popped into my head last week as I was going over some of the student numbers related to the current state of the English Department. These numbers are still preliminary, but they are encouraging. This semester we have about 425 majors, which is up by about ten students compared to last fall. This increase is noteworthy given that the overall enrollment at the university is down this fall when compared to last fall. Most of the other departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are seeing declines in the number of students in their majors, but not English. Some of the other numbers are also encouraging. Our English Learning Community, for example, has 26 students participating in it this fall, which is a significant increase over last year’s total of 19 participants. The number of students in our graduate program is 55, which matches last year’s figure, and last year’s numbers were way up from the year before. It’s too early to tabulate numbers for our English Honors Program, but all indicators suggest that our Honors Program will continue to be one of the largest departmental honors programs in the university.
When viewed together, these numbers tell a story. It’s the story of a determined and dedicated department that meets challenges and overcomes obstacles. It’s the story of a department that thinks it can. It’s the story of the English Department That Could.
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Boyd Davis recently published a co-authored article titled “Mode Shifts in Conversations with People with Dementia Can Cause Confusion” in Gerontology and Geriatric Studies.
Liz Miller recently had a co-authored chapter appear in the edited volume Qualitative Research Topics in Language Teacher Education (Routledge). Her chapter is titled “Emotions in Language Teacher Education and Practice.”
Becky Roeder together with Elsie Berman from the Anthropology Department recently presented a paper titled “Non-standard English Speakers as English Learners: Marshallese Students and the Effects of Language Policy on Neocolonial Subjects” at the Multidisciplinary Approaches in Language Policy and Planning Conference in Toronto.
Upcoming Events and Deadlines — Here is information about upcoming events and deadlines:
August 26— Last day to register, add, or drop classes with no grade.
September 2— Labor Day (no classes, university closed).
Quirky Quiz Question — In addition to writing Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel and Katy and the Big Snow, Virginia Lee Burton wrote a famous picture book about an anthropomorphic building. This picture book won the Caldecott Medal. What is the title of this book?
Last week’s answer: Slade
Toni Morrison co-wrote several children’s books with her son, including The Big Box (1999)and Please, Louise (2014). What is the name of her son?