“New Directions: New Senior Seminar Fosters Sense of Academic Community”


The fall semester of the 2009-2010 academic school year marked an important change in curriculum regarding the English department′s 400-level senior seminars. The newly revamped program, engendered by recent student and faculty input, was designed with the aim of providing senior English majors a more efficient and fulfilling approach to their capstone work. Building on the foundation of the 300-level "Critical Theory and Methodology" junior seminar (also required), the new 400-level "Senior Research Seminar" focuses on substantial in-depth research in literary criticism and theory by integrating an upper-level literature course with a 25+ page research paper on a text or collection of texts of the student′s choice.

Under the old curriculum, English majors were required to take the 400-level literature class and produce a research paper (or, for those with the optional creative writing concentration, a final portfolio of short stories or poems), but the two were not explicitly linked, as the research paper was to be written independently outside of class-time. The problem with this separation was two-fold: (a) students often floundered in a mire of independently-collected research and literature and did not feel a strong sense of support and (b) professors often felt disconnected from their students′ paper-writing and thus were not able to be as helpful or involved in the process as they would have liked.

The new synthesis of class and paper appears to be the remedy to both problems. Instead of being entirely on their own with their capstone papers, seniors now have a built-in support system (through the literature class) of roughly fifteen students and one professor who can aid in everything from the selection of a topic to the teasing-out of nuanced arguments to the polishing of a final draft. Likewise, as they have each student in class at least twice a week for an entire semester, professors are able to be more involved with their students′ final papers and can offer more feedback along the way.

In addition, several minor alterations have been made to the creative writing concentration. Although in years past creative writing majors have been able to appeal for the opportunity to replace the 25+ page research paper with a creative writing project (a popular option, as one might expect), under the new curriculum every student, both in literature and in creative writing, must write the research paper, with creative writing students being required to produce a subsequent fiction or poetry project at the conclusion of their 400-level writing workshop.

Initial student-response to the new changes has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It′s nice not feeling like I′m drowning out there,” senior major Halley Johnson said, “but no one is holding my hand either."

“[The new program] lets me be as independent as I want to be.”

--Michael Gossett ‘10