Kierra Gray #pivot #RayRay

Ahh. To think of my experience in the Minor in Writing and my undergraduate career in general is nostalgic. April 21st, 2014, actually marks the day that I completed by last final exam at the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor. However, life has only begun. I have so many hopes and dreams in regards to my writing and career ambitions, plans, and hopes for the near and far future. Let’s start with the basics. I will be graduating from one of the best schools in the world with a concentration in Women’s Studies, a minor in Writing, and Afro-American & African Studies. I have so many interests that I don’t know what I want to do exactly quite yet. I know for sure that I want to attain a master’s degree, but a master’s degree in what is the question. I want a Master’s in Business Administration to complement my master’s degree in another specialty area, but let’s not jump the gun.

Although this is an exciting time in m life, I cannot speak on my future without speaking about my past. Sankofa. On June 10, 2010, I graduated from Southfield Christian High School. To finalize my senior year in high school, I chose an amazing senior project. I had the opportunity to work at the University of Michigan Detroit Office. It was my responsibility to gather admissions material from some Detroit Public Schools and assisted with the incoming freshman with their transition into the Summer Bridge Program. I was able to transition to the university through the Summer Bridge program two weeks after high school graduation. By the time the fall semester came, I was already familiar with the campus, and this made the transition less challenging. During my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to begin to think about my identity as a Black/African American woman. I have always been interested in writing and people, but this is when I really began to narrow it down. I knew I was interested in Black culture and how my identity fit into my community. At first, I wanted to apply to the Ross School of Business and then I wanted to apply to Communication Studies. After I decided to forgo both of those options, I began taking a couple English classes and Afro-American & African Studies classes. While I was trying to decide if I was interested in public health, I took some Women’s Studies classes. I changed my major and minors over and over again. Fortunately, with the concentration and minors that I settled on, I could use the skills that I would gain in any field. It’s crucial to understand the Black American identity, to understand how that intersects with being a woman, and to have above average writing skills. This was the perfect fit for me. I knew I was going to graduate school anyway.

These last four years have been a crazy ride. I have had many ups and downs academically and personally. I am coming out a better person than how I entered the university, but I still have so much to learn and I am honestly still trying to find myself. I have had a chance to go overseas twice. During my freshman year, I participated in the Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates. My plan was to go to Kenya, but that fell through so I ended up doing the Detroit site. For my next experience, I participated in the Contemporary London Program spring 2013. That was one of the highlights of my undergraduate career. I had a friend that was an exchange student from London living in the same dorm as me travelling back to the London around the same time that I was going. I also have a friend that has family in London that I had the opportunity to visit. Also, I have three other friends that were on exchange at Michigan, one from Japan and two from Australia that were travelling the world and decided to stop and visit me in London. My post-graduate plans involve me going abroad and planning my next big move.

Let’s start with my post-graduate plans for the next two years. I will be graduating from this prestigious institution on May 3rd, 2014. On May 15th I will be travelling to Ghana, West Africa. I have always wanted to travel to the Motherland and experience West African culture. This will give me a sense of returning home despite being generations removed from the continent. I will be conducting research about maternal and child health among women miners in Nangodi. I will be there until June 14th. When I return from Ghana, I will have a break for a couple days to get myself acclimated to the states and then I will begin training for the Michigan College Advising Corps. While I train for the corps during the summer in Ann Arbor, I will be doing an independent study within Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgrander, and Queer Studies to fulfill my final requirement. I will be studying attractionality among women of color. Upon my completion of training, I will move to Grand Rapids to serve at Ottawa Hills High School as a college adviser. This is an extension of my experience as a student leader at the Center for Educational Outreach.

In regards to my writing ambitions, I would love to run a blog about my experience being a Black woman living in the United States. I want to speak about my experiences, Black political and social issues, and maybe advice for Black youth. I want to share my experiences about attending a predominately white institution with youth planning to attend college. I would also have a section speaking about researching Black genealogy. During my freshman year, I began seriously researching my ancestry. With the information that I have found over the years, I hope to write a book. I want to entitle my book Sankofa: A Black American Story. I have in mind how I want to set the book up. It will be divided into three parts. Part 1 will begin in West Africa. Part 2 will be in the United States. Part 3 will be the present day into the future. I want this book to enlighten my fellow Black American’s about the diverse Black experiences and histories and encourage them to reflect on their past to understand their future. Sankofa. 

#Pivot

It seems like just yesterday that I received an email informing me that I had been accepted into the Sweetland Minor in Writing program.  Sorry for the most cliché possible first sentence.  That was intentionally obnoxious and dull.  Let’s try that one again.

Once upon a time, I dreamt of one day becoming a writing scholar.  The Sweetland Minor in Writing has enabled me to live happily ever after.  Forgive me again, I just really like fairy tales.

Let’s forget the introduction.  All in all, I am very pleased with my decision to pursue a writing minor.  To that end, I am also very happy with the way my writing has improved during my four years as an undergraduate.  This journey began by being a part of the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program as a freshman.  To be perfectly honest, I applied to that program purely on the basis that I wanted to live in Alice Lloyd Hall, which would guarantee that I wasn’t going to be one of the many extremely unfortunate freshman that had to live on the dreaded island that they call North Campus.  So that’s how my story begins: applying to a writing community with no intention whatsoever of actually leveraging or engaging in the writing component.  Four years later, it turns out that this was the start of the yellow brick road that led me to becoming a Sweetland Minor in Writing.  During my time as a Lloyd Hall Scholar, I formed relationships with two great Sweetland Professors and realized how nice it was to be a part of a small writing community.  Taking two different writing courses as a freshman also allowed me to discover the merit behind a writing education.  Simply put, writing is a fundamental skill that is a part of our every day lives.  It allows people to communicate, debate, and challenge concepts as we currently understand them.

During my two years as a part of the Sweetland Minor in Writing program, I believe that I strengthened my writing in several different ways.  Among them, I learned how to identify and address a targeted audience, articulate my thoughts in a more clear and succinct manner, and in general write with passion and conviction.

The five specific courses that I took to fulfill the Minor were Writing 220, English 225, SM 217, American Culture 345, and Writing 400.  My professors in each of these classes were outstanding, and I can genuinely think back and acknowledge specific improvement in my writing stemming from each one of these courses.  Writing 220 forced me to think about why I write and how I can make my writing more relatable to people.  English 225 taught me the art behind an argumentative and persuasive style of writing.  SM 217 educated me on writing in a professional manner that is appropriate for business and general career endeavors.  American Culture 345 helped make my writing far more clean, efficient, and reader friendly.  Lastly, Writing 400 forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and make an elaborate web-based portfolio to improve my design skills and overall aptitude for creating pieces that are both purposeful and meaningful.

There are many elements to the Sweetland Minor in Writing that I have greatly enjoyed.  Among them, two in particular stand out.  First, as already alluded to, I really value being a part of a small, close-knit community.  Enrolling in a 20-student seminar as opposed to a 200-person lecture is like night and day.  I also really appreciate the familiarity and continuity throughout the program in general.  I feel as though I know a lot of people and have strong and comfortable working relationships with tons of students and faculty members.  Second, I love how the Minor is largely open.  In other words, with the exception of a gateway and capstone course that everyone student must take, the program is very flexible and allows students to fulfill the remaining branches of the Minor from a wide range of classes and subject matter.  This allowed me to enroll in courses that I was generally excited about being a part of and certainly motivated me to put fourth my best work.

Considering my body of work in Writing 400 specifically, I am happy with the material that I produced.  My Writer’s Evolution essay allowed me to really consider the trajectory of my four-year undergraduate writing career.  I was able to acknowledge areas of great improvement while also identify areas that still need to be addressed.  My final project about summer camps was without a doubt the most rewarding assignment that I have worked on in college.  Although I love sports and have had the opportunity to engage in that realm with countless assignments due to being a Sport Management major, my final writing project easily stood out to me amongst this clutter.  I was able to immerse myself in a topic near and dear to my heart.  I can honestly say that working on something of genuine passion and interest makes a world of difference.  My final project allowed me to be creative and unique in the work that I produced while genuinely enjoying the entire process behind it.

In regards to my short and long-term writing ambitions, they are fairly straightforward.  As I have already stated on multiple occasions, Law School will be the next chapter of my life.  Needless to say, in the horrible and scary legal world, it is essential to be able to write well.  Thus, over the next three years, I will be learning an entirely new form of writing.  Given my experiences and growth as a writer in college, I definitely feel as though I have been well prepared to undertake the challenges and rigors behind a legal education.  Beyond the law, I also want to continue writing as an enjoyable leisure activity.  I take passion in the voice that generally shines through in many of my pieces.  I want to hold on to this voice and continue to develop and refine it.  For me, writing is a lot more than a skill in life.  It is a means of identification that I will always have and forever lean on.

#PIVOT Last Words

I will admit, I only applied for the Minor in Writing initially because I dropped my psychology major. I came into college expecting to study psychology and only that, and my freshman year I enrolled in the ROTC program with the dream of becoming a psychologist for soldiers with PTSD and any other on-site issues. After some reconsideration, my parents did not agree with this decision because of the four-year commitment to the service post-college. As disappointed as I was at the time, I realized that going down that path would not have been the best option for me. Eventually, I grew to loath the classes I was taking through the department because I thought it was busywork. My breaking point, though, was all the low Bs I was getting on my papers. I knew they were well written, and they followed all of the guidelines on the syllabus. However, I quickly learned that in science-related writing, it didn’t matter at all how well written the papers were. It mattered how black and white you could get your point across so as to not annoy the GSI. This is when I decided to double major in English as well, because I thought if I was going to be studying English for four years anyway, I may as well get something tangible out of it. English has always been my favorite subject; I just hadn’t originally thought that there was anything I wanted to do pertaining to it. Soon after that, I just dropped my psychology major because I started loving the English classes so much that all I could do was hate my psych courses even more. So here I was with just an English major, which, at the University of Michigan, I didn’t think was enough.

I researched minors that I could fulfill within two years because I was ending my sophomore year at the time. Eventually I came across the Minor in Writing, which I applied for immediately because I was so excited about the opportunity to take more writing and English courses for credit rather than just electives. I couldn’t believe that being so involved in English and knowing a lot of teachers in the department personally, I hadn’t heard about the MiW before. It took a lot of research to discover it. I applied without knowing much about it, excited to have something more to graduate with and an opportunity to further develop my writing skills.

I then figured out that if I wanted to do the Minor in Writing, I would probably want to do some sort of Spring English classes to get some more requirements out of the way. I had randomly heard about the New England Literature Program through the English department, and, also on a whim, applied for that as well. I figure I love being outdoors and I love writing, I may as well try it out. It would fulfill eight English credits and knock a lot of requirements out of the way for the major. The entire semester leading up to my departure (even after I paid the deposit), I didn’t know if I would actually end up attending. What the hell was I thinking leaving my entire family and life behind, unable to be reached by anything but snail mail? I was so worried that something would happen to my family while I was gone, and I wouldn’t know about it until three days later when a letter would arrive from someone else. But nothing happened to my family. What happened was a transformed view of writing for me. Through letters to and from my friends and family, I learned so much more than any academic writing. I learned the best way to portray feelings through my sentences, be personal, summarize a week’s worth of experiences, and tell exactly what is important, rather than every single detail. I didn’t write a single essay, but rather I wrote in a journal the entire time and that is what our final grades were based on. This journal included academic, personal, creative, and every other type of writing we did there. It felt so great to be a part of an alternative education program because it proved that I could still learn a lot even outside the rigidity of a traditional classroom setting.

I brought my new views on writing to the Minor when I returned. I wrote about extremely personal things for my gateway course, and I had a new confidence that I hadn’t had before. I was no longer scared to include personal details about myself in my writing – these assignments were graded on the writing itself, not the person. My writing became so much more passionate and detailed once I opened myself up to the idea of writing in a more personal, rather than formal, style. The different mediums in which I wrote during NELP also made me realize that a great writer isn’t just great at writing essays, poetry, or novels. A great writer is someone who can compose a unique idea and execute it in the most appropriate way – which is not always through a formal essay. This is something I had never even considered before NELP and the Minor in Writing. I now loved adding photos to my essays to convey more meaning and emotion, I wrote about videos I watched rather than just other things I had read, and overall I had a much more open mind about the ways in which we practice writing than I had before.

Writing isn’t just a way in which to receive a grade. Writing is a therapeutic way to work through your feelings, it’s a way to express yourself, it’s a way to show love toward someone you care about, and most of all, it is yours. Writing shouldn’t always be just an academic essay. Through my experience in the Minor and as an undergraduate student, I have become much more aware that writing is everywhere. It is in the email we write, the letters we send, the magazines we read, the advertisements we see – everything. Writing is an art, not just a way to get a point across.

As far as where I’m going next, I’ll be using my writing skills for more public relations, web content, writing copy, and everything else a launching startup needs a writer for. Long-term goals, though, I’d love to write a fiction novel … it all depends where my passions take me.

#Pivot #RayRay

Looking back on my experience with the minor it is odd to see how much I have grown as a person and as a writer. Coming into the University of Michigan I was sure about two things. I was sure that I hated Biology and that I disliked writing. I can remember searching through the course guide trying to find an English class that had the least amount of writing required for me to pass. My very first English class, an English class that was supposed to be about death, which comparatively speaking was a much better subject than some of the rest, proved to be one of the most annoying classes for me. I worked so hard on my very first paper. I read every page of that J.D Salinger book and even though he can be very hard and obscure to understand I was sure that I understood what he was talking about with his story Bananafish. I was positive. I worked harder on my first paper than I had ever worked on anything only to receive a C.  I was beyond upset. I did not understand how I could have possibly gotten a C. After this experience I went to the professors office hours and made sure to get him to okay and suggest paper topics for me to write about now on. I only wrote about what he gave me ideas for and never went out on a limb. Having this experience only furthered my hatred for writing. It wasn’t until I was later exposed to Academic Argumentation that I fell in love with writing. I enjoyed going to this class bright and early at eight thirty am. I adored my professor. I loved every single writing assignment we were given and even didn’t mind the editing process. I had never enjoyed a class so much because it was the first time I had been given free reign to write about whatever I wanted. It was also the first time I was exposed to argumentative writing, which I view to be one big math formula. There is so much strategy involved in academic argumentation I loved every minute of my writing process. This is the class that when my friends and underclassmen ask me what they should take I always recommend this class. Always. Regardless if they are looking for a writing class or not. I believe there are two classes you should not leave this university without taking. One is Academic Argumentation and the other is Immunology, obviously immunology is geared more towards the science oriented friends of mine but nonetheless a very good class. This is the class that convinced me to obtain a Minor in Writing. Sweetland came into our class and gave a presentation and passed out flyers and I decided to go out on a whim and apply. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be good enough but I figured it was worth a try.

 

Applying for the minor in Writing is one of the best decisions I have made as an undergraduate because my time spent in this program has been so much fun. I have made so many new friends because of the smaller and intimidate class sizes and have shared so many good memories with everyone. As a biology and sociology major there have been very few classes that I have taken that have had a small class size and in which students have actually talked to each other and conversed with the professor about something other than just classroom material.  I can confidently say that if it wasn’t for the minor than I most likely would have gone all four years without ever encountering a class in which I feel like my professor actually cares about me. My absolute favorite part of the minor were the connections that were made in class, in addition to the questions that Ray would ask everyday. I am not sure what it is about these questions that has all of us students so intrigued but I do know that I am going to miss them. Im guessing that they were a way to get us to come to class, because as many of us have said that when we miss class we feel worst about missing the questions as opposed to class itself. I’m sure they were also a way for us to get to know each other because throughout the semester sometimes the questions would be semi-serious and relevant to what we were working on and then other times, the best questions, would have nothing to do with anything at all and would just be about nonsense but that is when we learned the most about each other. The Sweetland Minor in Writing taught me more than how to evolve as a writer, which while is important is not the thing that I am most grateful for.  It taught me how to walk into a room full of people I didn’t now, put myself out there, and make new friends. Writing can be very personal and has always been a thing that I have been terrified sharing with others but throughout the time spent in this minor I have had to get over it. Getting over my fear of sharing my works with others has also allowed me to get over my fear of sharing myself with others. I have always been terrified of being rejected but in my writing classes I have never felt like that was going to be a possibility because everyone has been so nice, and caring. If you need help editing works for another class there is always a classmate that is willing to help, need help with foursquare; David has already uploaded countless videos to help you through the process. Need help with a personal statement; someone out there is or has gone through something similar and is willing to not only lend a helping hand but tell you about their experience. The Sweetland Minor in Writing has been one of the best choices that I have made as an undergraduate because besides for teaching me how to better my writing skills it has been a blast.