Creative writing alumni leave Western prepared
By Jourdan Ryan
March 5, 2013
We all know about the four year degrees, the stresses of college life, and the constant anticipation of graduation. What we don’t hear enough about is what happens after college, after the graduation party is over and real life begins. For three English alumni students, their journeys into the professional career world are underway, and it’s Western and its professors that gave them the tools to get there.
For Mercedes Lucero, who graduated in May of 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a minor in creative writing, her background at Western definitely prepared her for her new life in Evanston, Illinois, a college town not far from Chicago. Lucero is currently a graduate student at Northwestern University, where she is in their Master’s of Fine Arts program on the fiction track. Her roots at Western are what made her the motivated graduate student she is today.
“Bill Church and Dana Andrews really had the greatest impact on me during my time at Western,” Mercedes Lucero said. “At the time, I was really unsure of which direction academically I wanted to go. These teachers really reached out to me and genuinely cared about my success as a student. I feel like they believed in me before I really believed in myself.”
In her free time, she makes a little money on the side by working as a private tutor in the Chicago community. The tutoring company that she works for is called Nurturing Wisdom. Lucero works there part-time. She did a Skype interview with the company the summer before she moved to the Chicago area and was given the job, which she found through Northwestern’s career website. The job was a definite bonus, especially since her new school is much bigger and much more expensive per year than Western.
“I definitely miss the familiar faces at Missouri Western,” Lucero said. “I miss the small community of the English department and being able to drop by a professors office with ease. Now, I attend a much larger school where it’s not always easy to schedule time with professors or find a familiar face on campus.”
Another alumni student who is using his Western education to pursue his dreams is Levi Smock. Smock graduated from Western in 2010 with a literature degree and a minor in video production. He is currently a graduate student at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, California and he is pursuing a career in screenwriting and filmmaking.
“Living in LA is expensive. For a young filmmaker, living in LA is simultaneously overwhelming and exciting,” Smock said. “You have all of this access to talented people, equipment, anything seems possible. At the same time, it’s a very competitive place.”
Currently, Smock is filming his twelfth short film. He has produced all of his short films over the course of the last three years. Simultaneously, he is developing and beginning to work shop a number of feature-length scripts he is working on. For Smock, it was his professors at Western and his drive to succeed that gave him the confidence to move to LA and get moving on his goals.
“I have a great support system at Western. It’s really nice to have people who root for you and wish you well,” Smock said. “So many professors at Western really supported me. Patricia Donaher was my adviser and was there for me, no matter what I needed. Kelly Wittenberg pushed me to look outside of my comfort zone for success in the world. Bill Church is a real mentor and friend. Dana Andrews continues to dispense advise and guidance. Stacia Bensyl helped change the way I analyze media and text. Don Lilie, I could go on and on.”
The English department professors at Western also made a lasting impact on English alumni student Brett Kiser. Kiser graduated in December 0f 2010 with a degree in English Literature.
“The professors that helped me the most were Dana Andrews and Bill Church. They always seemed genuinely eager to assist their students. However, the professor that had the greatest impact on me was my adviser Dr. Ian Roberts. His classes were always the most intellectually stimulating, and under his tutelage, I developed an interest for writing critical essays.”
Kiser tries to find the time to write when he can, though after he graduated, he had to focus on something other than his own pursuits. His grandfather became unable to run the family farm alongside Kiser’s father, so he had to step in and “take to the trade of tractors,” he said.
For Kiser, who says his a “pursuit of leisure,” he doesn’t have a lot of time to get lost in his dreams. Instead, he takes a more realistic approach, knowing that even though farming is his priority right now, he can still chisel out some time to do what he loves, write. He has published a few freelance works. His most notable work was published last spring. It is a baseball reference volume titled “Baseball’s War Roster.”
“Farming is my primary occupation, however, I have earned a small income via freelance writing,” Kiser said. “As a freelance writer, my time at Western removed some of the rough edges I had on my writing. Whether we care to admit it or not, we all, as writers, have room for improvement and much of the improvement I received came in the classrooms at Western.”
Ultimately, Western was a launching pad for each of these creative writing alumni students to succeed, in whatever form that may be. Their stories are different, but the lessons they learned are somewhat synonymous. They learned that life beyond Western isn’t without its struggles, that making time to write is crucial, and that pushing full force into their futures can be scary, but that in the end, it’s worth it.
“I think that being a writer requires growth, that if you’re writing, you’re growing,” Lucero said. “I think that you are never the same writer as you are today, that you were yesterday, or will be tomorrow.”