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English major to include specializations, new course

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By Rynd Morgan     3/19/19 11:35pm

The English major will include specializations and a new course for senior English majors beginning in Fall 2019.

The English Department will add the Senior Seminar and Workshop Experience, a two-semester, six credit hour course, according to Associate Professor Sarah Ellenzweig. The class will be optional for English majors who matriculated before Fall 2019, and the previous English senior capstone courses will still be available for students who matriculated before Fall 2019.

The Senior Seminar and Workshop Experience will consist of ten large group meetings and two small group meetings each semester, according to the department’s sample syllabus. During the fall semester, the students will be required to compile annotated bibliographies, a research prospectus and some completed written work. 



The course was created in part as a response to student concerns about the current senior capstone courses, according to Ellenzweig.

“There was a sense that the capstones could be frustrating, that it seemed like there were never enough of them offered, and that the topics seemed really narrow, and that because of that [English majors] weren’t necessarily in this final research opportunity doing the research that [they] would want to do,” Ellenzweig said.

The new areas of specialization include culture and social change, literature and literary history, visual and comparative media and science, medicine and the environment. One of the purposes of the new specializations, according to Professor Krista Comer, is for students to discover what specifically they are interested in as they progress in the major.

“We thought of the areas as a way to help you think about what you’re doing, and to make choices along the way to help you define for yourself what you’re doing, so that you have a sense of design or shape to your interests …  [and] ultimately have some relationship between your area of specialization and career prospects down the road,” Comer said.

The Senior Seminar and Workshop Experience is also meant to compliment the four new areas of specialization within the updated English major, according to Ian Schimmel, Lecturer in Creative Writing.

“The broad goals of [The Senior Seminar and Workshop] and the reason why we felt we needed something like this is because the specializations need to go somewhere,” Schimmel said. “By three years of study, you’re ready to do something, you’re ready to make something, and say something, or experiment with something.”

According to Schimmel, the department intends for the Senior Seminar and Workshop Experience to serve as a source of community and support, in response to English majors who expressed the major does not provide as many community-building opportunities as other majors.

“I hear a lot from our majors that, ‘Oh, you know we don’t have a lot of community because we’re not like MECHEs, we don’t have study groups,’ and I think that’s true, we don’t have those opportunities that form early on that form those bonds,” Schimmel said. “I think [the Senior Seminar and Workshop Experience] is a space where you can all get to know each other and feel like you’re united in a common, productive cause.”

The course also provides a way for students to pursue less traditional and interdepartmental forms of research, according to Assistant Professor of English Lacey Johnson.

“Research is a process, but the product that it makes can take many, many forms,” Johnson said. “There’s a sense of devaluing of the kind of research we do. But I think an opportunity like this, where we dedicate not just time and attention but a whole year to the questions that are urgent and pressing for you is a tremendous opportunity to conduct research and to share it.”

For students who intend on graduating in December or plan to study abroad during their senior year, the course can be started in their junior year and completed in their senior year. 

The English Department will also be teaching Rice’s literary magazine, R2: The Rice Review, as a course next fall. Since 2004, the literary magazine has been operated as a student organization. This year, R2 more than doubled submissions by accepting artists Houston-wide.

Ellie Mix, one of the current editors-in-chief of R2, said that she is thrilled that Schimmel will be teaching the R2 class.

“As one of the EICs of R2, I have learned so much about the intricacies of the publishing industry,” Mix, a Martel College junior, said. “Following the magazine from start to finish has been such a fruitful experience — this course will give you a glimpse of all the things that happen behind the scenes.” 



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