Ask an Antelope: Teaching turns Janet Graham’s passions into an impactful career

Teaching college English was a natural transition for UNK assistant professor Janet Graham. The Bellevue, Washington, native learned she loved teaching while working as a writing tutor at The Evergreen State College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in world literatures and cultures in 1992.

Graham completed a master’s degree in secondary English education with teaching endorsements in English, social studies and English as a second language at Western Washington University in 1995 then taught in middle and high schools in the United States and abroad before attaining her doctorate in English from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2019.

She has worked in the UNK Department of English for the past three years.

Why did you choose this career path?
Teaching has allowed me to blend everything I love into a career. First, I love getting to think about and discuss reading and writing with my students. Teaching English overseas allowed me to fulfill my love for travel, which enabled me to gain knowledge of and a deep appreciation for the diverse cultures of the world. Earning a Ph.D. and becoming an English professor was a natural extension to my career as a teacher, allowing me to delve into the questions I want answers to, especially related to literature, critical theory and migration. Publishing writing that reflects the results of that deeper study is very exciting.

What brought you to UNK?
I fell in love with the English Department on the campus visit because of the excitement the faculty conveyed about their teaching, writing and research, so I gladly accepted the job offer. The job description interested me immediately because of the variety of courses involved in the position, most notably the opportunity to help prepare future English and English language arts teachers for the classroom as the designated Secondary English Methods instructor.

How do your courses prepare students for their future careers?
There are both general and specific ways that English courses or a degree in English prepare students for their future careers. Specifically, I teach pre-service teachers how to plan lessons and facilitate the development of literacy in their students. I also teach in-service teachers in graduate courses who are very satisfied with the practical applications of what I teach them. All my courses invite each person to join a community of learners who consider how they are tied to people across the street, town and globe.

English courses are highly effective at creating critical thinkers and skilled writers. The courses we offer in the UNK English Department teach people how to communicate effectively while honing sharp analytical skills, which spell success in careers in business, education, law, medicine, the arts or any other field they might choose. As a result, wherever their careers take them, they will be able to work well with others to get things done and to solve problems, big and small.

Additionally, an English degree is a great starting point for graduate or professional education in a number of fields. Our undergraduates often pursue advanced degrees, many of whom have completed the Master of Arts in English that our department offers.

Tell me about your other roles on campus:
Like my colleagues, I enjoy being of service by working on committees that help our university make decisions, develop enriching courses, create extracurricular learning opportunities and recognize outstanding students. I advise and mentor students through office hours, directed reading courses, the Undergraduate Research Fellows program, Summer Student Research Program and master’s theses. Starting in August I will serve as the English graduate program chair. This is an exciting new way to support my department and our students.

What sets UNK’s English studies apart from other colleges and universities?
Students may choose multiple pathways to pursue their interests, such as creative writing, English pedagogy, literary studies and writing. In many colleges and universities, these might be separate programs. In our department, these areas are integrated so students can pursue more than one pathway. To that end, we offer minors in childhood and youth studies, creative writing, English, film studies and popular culture. We recently created three experiential learning courses: Creative Writing Professionalism, Critical Writing Professionalism and Nebraska Life Writing. From Beowulf to Shakespeare, Melville to Morrison, from Arthurian legends in poetry, music and film to graphic novels and medical humanities, we have so much to offer for a small department.

Like many English studies programs at other colleges and universities, we have excellent and award-winning faculty. Unlike many English programs at other schools, we have two faculty with a research and publishing focus in childhood and youth studies. Because we are a small department, students can take more than one course from their favorite professors, which allows them to grow in their skills as writers and literary researchers, especially from focused feedback on their writing over time, often as Undergraduate Research Fellows (URF). The URF program sets UNK apart from other colleges and universities. As evidence of this effect, an English alumni published a collection of poems last year and an undergraduate published four flash fiction pieces in online journals and literary magazines in the past year. Two students are starting their own literary journal. Once students find their way to our department, they find an academic home.

What’s your favorite book to read?
Among my favorite novels is “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry. The characters in this book stay with you. It’s an honest, funny and horrifying epic that tells the story of marginalized people creating chosen families. Reading this book is what convinced me that I needed to earn a doctorate in English. Ironically, I haven’t written about or taught with this novel yet.

What do you love most about UNK?
It’s all about the students at UNK. They are so excited to learn new things from the literature and essays we read and discuss together. For any students who are reading this, I hope you will consider taking an English class at UNK. You don’t have to pursue a degree in English to enjoy the chance to read and discuss words that move you or make you think in a supportive and intellectually stimulating environment.

Share a fun fact about yourself:
My spouse and I spent a decade teaching English as a foreign language and English for academic purposes throughout Asia in the People’s Republic of China, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and Kazakhstan.

“Ask an Antelope” is a Q&A series highlighting UNK faculty and staff and their impact on the campus and community.