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“Student Outcomes”: Karissa Kilgore

June 24th, 2008

“Student Outcomes” is a new, ongoing series of interviews with my former students who are now living life after college. Considering how much of our work is based on the assumption that “learning outcomes” will be met, I thought it would be a good way to catch up with them and to see what sort of impact college has had on their lives in the long term. Past students interested in participating should e-mail me. Comments, as always, are appreciated. — Michael Arnzen
Karissa Kilgore, Seton Hill U class of 2007
Start with a brief bio that tells us first where you are now, then what your status was in college (e.g. “Creative Writing major, Volleyball player, Tetris fan, whatever.) Let your personality show.

I am currently pursuing my master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), but I will also be starting as a full-time technical writer at Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc. this summer.
I graduated in May 2007 from Seton Hill University (SHU) with a B.A. in English literature as well as minors in creative writing and new media journalism. I was the Literary Editor for Eye Contact, the literary/art magazine at SHU, and published several creative pieces in the magazine. I also wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Setonian.
Most notably, perhaps regrettably, were my experiences on crutches—having broken my left foot twice between the beginning of my junior and senior years, it seemed like I was always crutching around campus. Beyond that, I would like to think that I was a jovial, thriving, active member of the student community and especially of the Class of 2007.

Tell us where you thought you’d be now, back when you were a college freshman.

I initially thought that I wanted to teach high school… but that changed after the completion of my freshman year. As I continued my studies at SHU, I eventually discovered the splendor of composition, writing, and the English language, and decided I would continue my education in hopes of some day teaching ESL or writing at the college level or running a writing center.

Describe your college experience in one word. Then elaborate in no more than five sentences.

Networking. I met the most wonderful people during my college years and I am still in contact with the ones who are most dear to me. They are more than just friends, though; I have true resources and mentors within my human network. Opportunities and encouragement alike have come from my network. But more than these, I value the personal connections I’ve made.

Describe one very specific lesson from the college classroom that you’ll never forget. Give us concrete details. Tell us not only what it taught you, but also how and why it worked.

In my senior year I took a figure drawing class. The teacher loved that I wasn’t an art major. (He told me my lines and strokes were poetic and lyrical. “Very Matisse,” he said.) It was a three-hour studio course, so the pace was rather relaxed, but the teacher gave periodic lessons about using guides to draw symmetrically, noticing nuances in light and shape, and including or ignoring detail.
When I drew, I saw shapes and light but at first I tried to draw everything. It was frustrating and when the model changed poses I usually hadn’t even finished one drawing. The teacher saw this and reminded me to notice what is there, but also to notice what is not there. He suggested that in my next drawing I shade in the shadows and voids before focusing on the physical matter. I tried it and loved it. My drawing wasn’t something you’ll find in the Met, but it taught me about my own way of seeing. Learning that I had a choice to recognize details changed my perspective of a variety of things in my life, including writing.

What do you know now that you wish someone would have taught you in school? How might that lesson best be taught?

In general, I wish that Compassion 101 was a subject in schools… the world could use it. But for myself, I wish someone taught me more about real studying and note taking. My middle school years were plagued by notebooks filled with Exactly What the Teacher Wrote on the Board, and my high school years were spent experimenting with my own methods. Eventually I found things that worked for me, but I don’t feel like I ever knew how to study.

What teaching method(s) were you subjected to that never made a dent on your learning?

I’m going to answer this one from a different (and perhaps more positive) angle…
I recognize that my teachers used a great deal of scaffolding within (specifically) the English courses that I took. I trusted that I would be able to get a grip on what we were studying before stepping into unknown territory and that always gave me confidence. Courses that did not build up to acquisition and use of new knowledge proved to be frustrating from start to finish.
I appreciated when teachers allowed students to take leadership roles in the classroom. Leading discussions, teaching a lesson, and giving notes helped me remember (and apply) the things I was learning. Lecture is okay, but in measured doses. I don’t recall having many long lectures, but perhaps that’s because they didn’t make an impression on me. When the classroom was student-centered and student-driven, I was a satisfied student.

What college experience did you find most displeasing at the time, but now recognize as an important contribution to your learning?

Ugh, I got a B. It was horrible because I was an A student all my life. It wasn’t that I thought I knew it all or always deserved the very best grade; my perfectionism was getting the best of me. I recognize now that getting that B helped me loosen up a little and see coursework as real learning and not just a competition or a conduit to a pristine grade point average.

What habits — good and bad — did you pick up in school, that you still continue to apply?

The good habits:

  • Planning ahead
  • Writing every day
  • Reading something for yourself (and not just for class)
  • Trying to see the positive in every situation (no matter how grim)
  • Having realistic expectations of others
  • Reaching outside your comfort zone
  • Considering different points of view than your own

The bad habits:

  • Planning ahead (sometimes to the point of absurdity)
  • Relying on technology too much
  • Forgoing food or sleep to focus on work
  • Not making enough time for myself to “live”

What do you miss about the college classroom, if anything?

I don’t miss much at all, really, because I’m still in the college classroom! I’m just at a different level now, so of course it is not exactly the same as my undergrad experience.

If there was one suggestion you would make to college teachers everywhere, what would it be?

Get to know your students. Having a personal connection with someone whenever possible helps me in innumerable ways, and I know I can’t be the only person who feels this! The best experiences through all my years of schooling have been with teachers who loved not only their subject material and their jobs, but also their students.

THANK YOU, Karissa! Great reflection and advice!
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  1. June 25th, 2008 at 22:12 | #1

    Karissa, this spring I’ll be teaching Lit Crit again. I didn’t spend a lot of time on note-taking or the mechanics of studying, probably because I figured that students who had made it to that class had probably already mastered that skill…
    How would you approach the task of reading and studying challenging critical texts, if you were to teach a similar class some day?

  2. June 26th, 2008 at 23:32 | #2

    While I never had any solid training in note-taking or studying, I think I’ve done an okay job in school to this point… So while I might have had to find what works on my own, I think other students would benefit from learning methods to then deviate from as they grow–but early on in their schooling.
    But, since it’s totally possible that even someone who has had formal training could have trouble grasping concepts of studying or note-taking, at the college level I would try to teach students the importance of knowing how they learn (e.g. visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning). I used to think that I remembered things better when I wrote them down, but I realized it was only the -visual- part that helped, not the act of writing. So I started doing other visuals with myself to study–charts, webs, color-coded notes, etc. Those helped me to study AND to be a better note-taker because I realized that whatever notes I did write could be like raw material for my studying. I got to rework information, move it around on pages, and make it make sense.
    When I’m taking on a challenging text, if there is an introduction, abstract, or summary, I read that first. I try to get a skeleton of the article in my head so I can build on to it as I read, noting things that help me see the whole picture. I do this most of all when I start new classes and might be seeing terms/theories/concepts/acronyms for the first time. This really helped me feel more confident about going into class with something intelligent to say, instead of having read the article/chapter and losing it in my memory along with what I had for lunch the previous day… :)
    Does that answer your question, Dr. Jerz?

  3. June 27th, 2008 at 08:18 | #3

    Yes, it does. When I teach Basic Comp I typically ask the students to determine what kind of learner they are (visual, tactile, kinetic, etc.) and suggest some tips for how to tap into their preferred learning method, but the content in Basic Comp is very different from the content in Lit Crit (even though students in both classes can feel similarly overwhelmed, because the type of thinking required differs from that in similar courses they’ve taken).

  4. July 9th, 2008 at 18:37 | #4

    What a great series. I can definitely relate to Karissa. I wish that I lived more during college and not just studied the whole time.

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