Why Bedford New Scholar Karen Trujillo designs each writing activity to be a tool students can use "whether they stay in college or not"

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Karen TrujilloKAREN TRUJILLO (recommended by Lauren Rosenberg) is pursuing her PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Professional Communication at New Mexico State University. She teaches Rhetoric and Composition, Business and Professional Communication, Technical and Scientific Communication, and the Rhetoric of the Horror Story. Karen also serves as a Writing Program Coordinator, Writing Program Mentor, and she has spent three years as a Writing Center Coordinator. She has taught both face-to-face and online in English and Education Leadership and Administration Departments. Her research interests include feminist theory, pedagogy, dissident literature, expressions of emotion, and enactments of resilience in the composition classroom. She expects to graduate in December 2019.

What is your greatest teaching challenge?

The challenge of knowing that a handful of students in my English 111 – Rhetoric and Composition won’t return after their first year of college is one of my greatest. New Mexico grants new graduates with a Lottery Scholarship that requires 2.5 GPA while taking 15 credit hours (5 classes). These requirements can be stressful for first-year students who have outside obligations and struggles that are unseen by teachers. Each move I make begins with the knowledge that each writing prompt, essay, and project is an opportunity to give students resources they can take with them, whether they stay in college or not. 


I often think about Pegeen Reichert Powell’s Retention and Resistance: Writing Instruction and Students Who Leave and the recognition that there is not one single thing that universities can do to reduce attrition rates. Powell further asks that administration and faculty focus on the students who are enrolled at present, rather than working to try to assure that they do not leave. Keeping this in mind, I consistently work to create and maintain a space in which students are given opportunities to write often, and to write about present interests, experiences, and what they feel are relevant topics, rather than preparing them to transfer learning to the next courses leading to graduation.


How does the next generation of students inspire you?

The next generation of students inspires me in a way that speaks to my position as a nontraditional student. While I recognize that there is not an ideal classroom, my students bring behaviors and perspectives that I didn’t often see when I first attended college in the early 1990s. The classroom was a quiet place for me. I did not choose a rhetorical silence but chose not to speak because I didn’t feel included. I am inspired by the next generation of students who I believe are and will become more accustomed to actions that are inclusive and to choosing words that unite with the efforts of dedicated composition teachers. If the next generation of students that becomes more accustomed to conflict, the composition classroom can be a place where students learn to share experiences of difference in ways that I don’t feel would have been comfortable when I took first-year composition. With time, practice, and facilitation of thoughtful composition teachers, the next generation gives me hope that we will spend less time searching for things we have in common, and spend more time acting as listeners, thoughtful speakers, and those who choose to and are comfortable with others’ silences.


What's it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program?  

Anyone who has written a dissertation, prepared for, or joined the academic job market search knows that it can be a scary time. Although committees and peers are reassuring, it can be a lonely process. Being part of Bedford New Scholars reassured me that there are others who not only understand the struggles, but are also there to listen, give advice, and become cheerleaders. I have to say that, undoubtedly, each of us is from unique learning and teaching experiences, which I think ended up being what drew us together. With each new activity, I found that it was our differences that encouraged unpacking of new ideas and provided opportunities to step outside our usual line of thinking and onto a new track. Being part of Bedford New Scholars is like having someone hand select a support system for you and give you the gift of new friends at a time when you had no idea you needed it most. 


What did you learn from other Bedford New Scholars?

I sometimes need to be reminded that teaching is what I am called to and I can’t imagine doing anything else. The Summit at Bedford St. Martin came on the heels of a trying semester during which I had just completed the first chapters of my dissertation. At the risk of drenching you in sap, receiving responses such as, “I totally get that,” or “Ugh, I’ve felt that way too,” renewed my energy and hope. I gained a reading list from Nina Feng, a reading response assignment from Misty Fuller (that I used this semester), love for Canva (and hopes for creativity) from Caitlin Martin, and a new approach to rhetorical analysis from Marissa McKinley. Along with these contributions, I learned that no matter where we are coming from, we all share the experience of being a “Border” university of some type. I learned that while my experiences are unique and valuable, I have a diverse support system who will do their best to listen and give meaningful, well considered feedback. The Summit was the best possible place I could have taken time out to learn that the loving energy of my peers is only a few clicks away.  


Karen’s Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Karen’s assignment. You can view the full details here: Advocacy Project 

My Assignment that Works is a four-part assignment titled, The Advocacy Project. Originally, this project was created by Dr. Christopher Burnham. After working as a research and teaching assistant using this assignment for six years, I modified this project for my own use in first-year Rhetoric and Composition. This is a social justice project that can be scaffolded over the course of a 15-week semester, culminating in a final exam in the form of a project. The final project consists of a written portion, a handout, and a presentation using the media that best serves the aims of the project. The assignment itself is broken into an exploration, local research, global research, and numerous other considerations such as stasis, and concessions and rebuttals on one’s position. The big idea is that the student will find something that they are passionate about, will research, and will advocate action or policy to further the passion. Each semester, I find myself re-writing this assignment in small ways in response to my teaching reflections and student responses. I love that it’s a living document that seems to be growing up alongside me on my journey toward completion of doctoral studies.

Learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board on the Bedford New Scholars Community page.

About the Author
This is the shared account for the Bedford New Scholars TA Advisory Board.