A group of Utah State University students representing the local chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society, traveled to St. Louis to attend two days of the International Convention in late March. The annual gathering brings together several hundred undergraduate and graduate students in English Studies from four-year universities around the world to present creative and scholarly work and share their passion for the English language, literature and writing.
With eleven students attending (ten undergraduates and one master’s student), USU had the third largest contingent of any university at the 2019 convention.
USU’s Rho Tau chapter members distinguished themselves not only through their numbers, but also through the quality of their scholarly and creative work and the professionalism of their presentations. Shane Graham, associate professor of English and faculty advisor for the chapter, accompanied the students to St. Louis, and was highly impressed.
“I’ve been to the Sigma Tau Delta convention more than half a dozen times,” he said. “The quality of student work there is always very high, and it’s gratifying to confirm that USU English students are doing work that compares so favorably to what their peers around the world are doing.
“This year, with eleven students presenting, many of them at the same time, I had to miss several of their panels. Fortunately I had seen most of them give practice runs and I knew how polished and professional they were. And what I saw before and during the convention convinced me once again that USU English majors can hold their own with students anywhere.”
In addition to all eleven students reading individual papers or creative pieces, four of them (Shaun Anderson, Jackson Bylund, Whitney Howard and Stephanie Pointer) also organized and conducted a roundtable entitled “Not Just Pretty Faces: Writing Female Characters.”
Four of the students presenting scholarly essays were grouped into two panels: one focused on contemporary African fiction and another on Shakespeare’s tragedies:
- Whitney Howard, “Silence in Adichie’s ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’”
- Madison Vaughn, “Complex Silence in Adichie’s Novels”
- Abby Ensign, “Identity and Legitimacy in King Lear”
- Stephanie Pointer, “‘A Rooted Sorrow’: Macbeth’s Tragic Illness”
Elsewhere, another student discussed Benjamin Franklin’s religion and autobiographical self- fashioning, while another used rhetorical analysis to read a classic of comic art:
- Spencer Skeen, “Franklin’s Autobiography, Self-Fashioning, and Deity”
- Katie Myler, “Calvin & Hobbes: Breaking Down the Walls of Incongruity”
Two of the students read works of original creative nonfiction:
- Shaun Anderson, “David’s Body”
- Ashley Tolman, “Cantaloupe”
Finally, one of the students presented a piece of original horror/suspense fiction and two others read collections of their original poems:
- Jackson Bylund, “The Monster of Wickit Village”
- Nate Hardy, “Caught”
- Lexy Roberts, “Baseball and Post Impressionism”
The students afterward gave heartfelt testimonials to how valuable the convention experience was to them.
“St. Louis was amazing,” said Ashley Tolman. “I learned so much. It was a great experience.”
Madison Vaughn (whose paper on Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie led to a master’s thesis on the same author) commented, “I enjoyed the opportunity to present my research, but it was even more rewarding to engage in conversation with passionate and talented peers within my field and gain their new perspectives.”
Whitney Howard concluded, “It’s nice to have a reminder of how valuable the humanities are.”
One benefit of the convention is that students get to take their written work out of the classroom and into a public venue.
Stephanie Pointer remarked that “presenting at the convention gave me a new way to interact with the writing process.”
Spencer Skeen said, “I am encouraged as a thinker and a writer to know that strangers read and liked my work enough to invite me to present it.”
Katie Myler, representing the English Department’s Professional & Technical Writing emphasis, declared the “convention had a unique way of combining people in varying areas of the English major together to showcase and discuss their research and creativity.”