Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Amanda Tucker
Dr. Amanda Tucker, associate professor of English, has been at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville since 2008 and has become involved outside of the classroom. Tucker is seated on Faculty Senate, the University Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, Dean’s Fund Committee, the College of Liberal Arts and Education Awards Selection Committee, and chairs the Department Assessment Committee. Tucker is originally from Irving, Texas and received her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. Her dissertation, “At Home in the World: Globalism in Modern Irish Writing,” won the 2008 Bernard Benstock Dissertation Prize by the University of Miami English Department. She received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas.
How did your interest in the field of English begin?
I’ve always loved stories, and as a child and young adult, reading was a source of great pleasure. When I began studying English more formally in college, I became fascinated with the way that stories are connected to representation. How do the novels of a certain time and place depict the challenges of that historical moment? What kind of stories are we as a culture most interested in, and what does that tell us about ourselves? Essentially, studying literature allows us to better understand the past, to create meaning in the present, and to speculate about the future.
What do you hope students take away from your classes?
Unless the student is going to be teaching English, I’m not that concerned that he remembers the definition of an ode or the structure of a sonnet. Rather, I want my classes to address what I see as growing deficiencies in our society. Multiple studies show that, amongst college students, empathy levels are dropping and narcissism is increasing. Sherry Turkle’s work about digital culture shows that students who grew up with iPhones, with Facebook and other forms of social media have a hard time having real, unscripted conversations. Employers are increasingly vocal about the inability of recently hired college graduates to work collaboratively and to communicate effectively.
However, research also shows that reading creative texts is one of the best ways to increase social cognition: readers can try to determine motivation, predict behavior, and create plausible mental states for the characters. Over the past few years, I’ve developed pedagogical strategies to help students focus on developing social cognition. Ultimately, I want my students to be able to think more complexly, to better understand other people and themselves, and to be more effective and confident communicators. These abilities will enrich their professional and personal lives.
What is the most challenging part of teaching English?
At our particular moment, we tend to value scientific and technical training and applied fields of knowledge over humanities-oriented fields like English. This value system makes sense in a lot of ways, especially given the incredible cost of college and the anxiety that many students feel about their professional futures. But this mindset can also create a sort of unfortunate tunnel vision that causes students to miss out on the many benefits of courses that might not directly link to the career they anticipate having.
I firmly believe that English studies has a lot to offer students. In fact, in an age in which social cognition and our basic ability to talk to one another seems to be rapidly decreasing, I’d say it’s more important than ever. But I think that English instructors need to be direct about communicating the value of our field – and in terms that students can appreciate. And I’d like to see students be willing to engage.
You’re involved in many campus committees, why do you believe it is important to sit on these committees as a faculty member?
It’s easy as a faculty member to get bogged down in silos like the individual classes you teach, or the specific program you’re in. However, ideally, a university is a community and we have an obligation to come together in order to make collaborative decisions about our community. Committees are often where those sorts of discussions occur. Given the legislative changes made last summer, there’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about the role of shared governance, as faculty now only have an advisory role over issues like curriculum. But I continue to think that it is the best way to make sound decisions about the university, and that faculty (and student) participation is crucial to the health of our institution.
What do you do in your free time?
I very much value my roles as wife, mother, friend, etc. I love to talk to people – whether it’s a conversation with my son about the coolest kinds of dinosaurs, a discussion about parenting in a small town with my closest friend, or speculating about the “Gilmore Girls” revival with my husband.
Interview conducted by Sydney Bend, University Information and Communications. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.