Coming Up for Air: Surfacing in Chicago

I’ve not been all that public about my new position at Columbia College Chicago. Fifty years ago, people would have called it radio silence. But in this age of the always-on newsfeed this silence merits little note. Except my own. Because the silence has been mine. And hopefully, now it’s over. Moving is complicated. So is a new job. And a new city. And saying goodbye to friends. And a slew of garden-variety complications exacerbated by any move. Needless to say, I’m somewhat settled again.

And the first thing I want to say is that I’m incredibly proud and thankful to be working at Columbia College Chicago (which I’ll now refer to as CCC). So far, the students have been a revelation. Most coming from a lower-middle class background with a career-focuses embedded somewhere within the arts or arts-supporting-professions. I’ve got dancers, radio producers, set designers, fashion majors, music agency, etc. A solid percentage of my students’ experience of academic environments is that of the outsider with plenty of brains and ambition, but little correspondence between their own investments/preoccupations and the most standard academic focuses of high schools and larger academic institutions. To some degree–and I’ll admit I’m a newbie just trying to get a foothold–I get the sense that this is a place that attracts academic “outsiders.” But of a relatively specific sort. Not the sort who arrive at an institution ill-prepared to dive-in to the rigors of a traditional four-year university. And not the sort who lack the focus to succeed. Rather, I’m getting the sense that most of my students are young men and women who’ve finally found a place that has institutionalized and certified the professionalization and career tracks in which they are interested.

It’s basically a large, urban college for creatives. Smart, motivated, and surprising students. To some extent, I can’t believe how lucky I am.

As an undergraduate, I majored in Architecture for a year, ended up only a credit short for a studio-arts minor, and majored in English Literature. My master’s degree is in Creative Writing with an emphasis in poetry. And after graduate school, I spent four-years as a full-time potter. The fine arts have always been a part of my life, and that background provides me with a wealth of knowledge–and surprising street cred–with these students. It’s something I’ve not experienced before.

While I’m here, I’m going to be making some major changes to my teaching practices. Not at all re-inventing myself. Rather, I now feel I have the freedom (from the administration) and the trust (of my colleagues and students) to push the limits of this particular institution in terms of digital writing practices in the first-year composition classroom. My first-semester course  students will be producing both audio-projects and audio-visual digital projects. The texts we’ll be “reading” will encompass audio texts, online video, blogs, and selections from longer graphic texts.

I’ll soon be posting my course website for anyone who’s interested. Thanks for stopping by.

This article has 4 Comments

  1. So happy for you Ryan! Sounds like a really interesting, enticingly motivating position for you! Chicago is my hometown area you know. Keep in touch AND come up to visit sometime when you want a break. Hugs, Judy J.

  2. Thanks so much, Judy. I’ve been thinking about the note you sent me this past summer and trying to figure my response. I will send something eventually. I just want to get it right. In the meantime, just know that I’m trying to figure out if I can get back to the Red River Valley for Christmas. If I do, I’ll be sure to pay you all a visit. Hope your fall is going well! Please say hello to Jim for me. Soon, then…

  3. I’m really excited for you, Trauman Your position at Columbia College Chicago sounds like it’s filled with creative possibilities. In many ways, we’ve walked similar paths. I was a music major my first year as an undergraduate. Then I switched to English Literature and, like you, came up short of a Studio Art minor. After my B.A. I applied to Kendal College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was accepted and received a scholarship, but I decided to pursue a M.A. in English, Written Communication at Eastern Michigan University. Now I’m on a path toward a PhD in Rhetoric & Writing, a little behind you. I’d love to hear more about your first semester course and the audio and audio-visual projects.

    1. Thanks for the note, Timothy. I already knew you and I had been following similar paths, but it’s nice that you mention it again. And yes, I’d be happy to post my course website here, although I gotta double-check that it’s ready-for-public-display. I’ll keep you updated.

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