Meet Visiting Assistant Professor Matt Gilchrist
Dr. Matt Gilchrist is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the English Department at Western and he is serving this year as the Director of the Writing Program. He earned his Ph.D. at The University of Iowa, and he also holds an M.F.A. from the The Iowa Writers Workshop. His scholarship focuses on multi-modal writing, writing program administration, and writing pedagogy.
M&L: As an undergraduate, what drew you to the study of English?
MG: I was a math and science kid in high school. The science department chair even gave me the science award in my graduating class! I entered college as an undecided major and I enrolled in honors chemistry and calculus. But being good at math and science didn’t mean I had a strong interest in the subjects. In my second semester, I enrolled in Professor La Vinia Jennings’s short story class. It checked off a general education requirement and must have looked interesting in the catalog. I knew nothing going in. The class was challenging, and professor Jennings was inspiring. She helped me see that literature was a challenge equal intellectually to calculus and chemistry, but more deeply meaningful for me. I had been praised for my writing, but I had never invested in it until Professor Jennings pushed back on my unsupported claims. Hers was the first class that made me work to the full extent of my abilities. I was in the library reading criticism several times a week learning how to make sense of literature. I was also learning about myself, about new ways of thinking, and about a range of human experiences. I dedicated significant effort to the class, yet I did not acheive what I considered to be excellence. Nonetheless, I felt like I was close to being able to understand something really important, and I wanted to keep trying. I soon found myself in the English office declaring a major on the creative writing track.
M&L: As a scholar, teacher, and administrator, you’ve devoted yourself to writing programs. What do you love about writing programs as both a teacher and an administrator?
MG: As a teacher, I love setting challenges in front of my students and helping them navigate their own unique ways of addressing those challenges. I want to give students opportunities to explore their identities and to learn more about how they fit within the communities that surround them. And I most love to see students writing for audiences outside the classroom, which is something I will be encouraging students in ENG 281 to do this semester. As an administrator, my most cherished moments are conversations with writing teachers–especially new teachers–about their students’ brilliant voices, inspirations, or unique perspectives. It’s been great to have those conversations with the long-time faculty, the newly-hired faculty, and the teaching assistants at Western. The English Department clearly has a strong dedication to Western students’ success.
M&L: What are you writing yourself these days? Are you working on a scholarly article, a book, or something creative?
MG: I have started a writing project rooted in the life of my recently-deceased grandmother. She grew up in a large extended family in Marshalltown, Iowa. Her life was filled with joy and struggle, out of which she told stories and wrote poems. I don’t know yet what the project will end up looking like, but I’m thinking of it as partly a literacy narrative and partly a chance to tell a story about the midwest from the 1930s until today.
M&L: What has been the best part of your experience at Western so far?
MG: The new Teaching Assistants brought great energy and student-focused optimism to campus in early August for their pre-semester orientation. Now they are working with their students and achieving great things. I am glad to be working closely with them during their first semester of teaching. It feels wonderful to support their success in the classroom.