Headshot of Shannon Kelley

MAWRD Alumni Spotlight: Shannon Kelley

Shannon Kelley, a 2014 graduate of the MA in WRD program, currently resides in Portland, Oregon where she works as a writing instructor at Chemeketa Community College and Clark College. After graduating from DePaul she went immediately into work teaching various levels of writing, allowing her to mix her WRD education while drawing on her past experience in corporate communications. We had the pleasure of getting in contact with Shannon to hear all about her time at DePaul and beyond. Read on to hear more about Shannon’s experience. 

What is your “typical day on the job” as a writing instructor?
One of my fears going into teaching was that it was going to be monotonous, but that’s not been the case. The students change, the class schedule changes, the content evolves, and I continue learning. I generally teach four to five writing classes per term at two colleges. Teaching at two colleges has afforded me the opportunity to teach six levels of writing, from developmental writing to technical writing. Each day is unique; there is a lot of preparation that goes into each class. I teach a lot of 100 and 200 level courses and I offer multiple rounds of writing drafts, that process requires a lot of feedback. Some of my classes are two hours long, others are four hours. So learning time management was the biggest hurdle for me. Teaching the content is the easy part of my day. Grading is the most challenging. And there is always more grading. Ultimately, I want my students to be resourceful and curious professionals.

Can you tell me about any particular projects you’re working on at the moment?
I’ve contributed to two books through the Chemeketa Press. One is Empathy: Reading for Writers—it is an anthology of open source materials related to empathy. I also helped write a reference guide called What Where How: A Practical Handbook for College Writers. I’m currently co-leading a team of writers for a technical writing/communications textbook. Our goal is to have a beta version by fall of this year. Each book project came out of a need on campus to have more targeted materials and more affordable options for our students. It’s been an amazing opportunity to be only four years into my career and be able to participate in knowledge creation.

What was your educational and professional experience coming into DePaul?
My undergraduate degree is in English Education. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree at Trine University in Angola, IN and received a secondary education teaching license. After graduating in 1998, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I kind of fell into marketing and became a technical writer in marketing communications for the next 15 years. I traveled all over the world and I had a good run until the economic crisis of 2008/9. After taking some off, I decided to return to school and my first passion – teaching. DePaul’s MA in WRD had everything I was looking for and more than I could have imagined at the time. It allowed me to sharpen my professional writing skills while also preparing me to go back to teaching.

How did you customize the MA in WRD program to fit your goals and interests?
I wanted a global perspective on language, gender, cultures, and education, so I applied for the TESOL certificate and the Women’s & Gender Study certificates to complement my WRD degree. That combination resulted in a content-rich program for me. Additionally, I wanted to combine my years of corporate communications with advanced educational training in areas of interest to me. I didn’t know at the time how powerful that combination was going to be, but Dr. Jason Schneider did, he told me, “The skill set that you have from your corporate experience plus this training is going to make you so marketable when you walk out of here.” He was absolutely right, my first teaching job was a technical writing class.

How was the job search after you finished your degree?
I got really lucky in some ways. I moved back to the west coast and was hired to teach only two months after I received my master’s degree. However, I want to be realistic and say that it did, and continues to, take some “hustle.” I was hired to teach one class, then two, then four. At times I had to supplement my post-secondary teaching with substitute teaching in the area schools. Then, I started teaching at two colleges. After that, I accepted a temporary full-time faculty contract. I just keep building on every opportunity that comes my way.

“My professors at DePaul were great mentors while I was in school and many remain professional mentors to me, and I have come across several DePaul alumni in my job search and that makes me feel at home.”

Any advice for current students who might want to follow a similar career path?
Dr. Jason Schneider gave me some of the best advice that still applies years later. He said: “Say yes to everything that’s related to education or a classroom. If you want to teach, say yes.” I took that advice even when I was scared or doubted myself, I said yes. I leaned into my degree and trusted my training and previous professional experience. My DePaul cohorts and I used to say (and still say to each other), “the hustle is real.”

I also want to add something I learned from my corporate experience, network yourself. I took advantage of every opportunity and every event the WRD program offered. If they had a round table talk, or an event, or a breakfast, or a meet and greet—I went. I got to know all my professors. Make the connections with your peers, with your professors, with other professional contacts. Volunteer, network, take internships. Once I started teaching I did the same thing. I went to every meeting I was invited to, I attended every in-service training, and I got to know all of my colleagues. In short, make yourself visible.

(Photograph Credit: Meg Allen Studios; provided by Shannon Kelley)

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