Pioneer Spotlight - Dr. James Romesburg

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Pioneer Spotlight
Dr. James Romesburg
May 30, 2014

Dr. James Romesburg, assistant professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville since fall 2013, has been teaching first-year composition, professional writing and literature at the university level for 14 years. He currently teaches Freshman Composition I and II.

Romesburg completed his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in English at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., and received his Ph.D. from the Rhetoric and Composition Program at the University of Louisville, Louisville, Ky., in August 2011.

Romesburg’s research interests focus mainly on the role formal literacy education plays in working-class lives — particularly the literacy practices first-generation and non-traditional students bring to their college writing classrooms and how literacies that deviate from the academic/rational rhetorical paradigm are received in higher education.

What did you most enjoy about teaching freshman composition?

That’s easy: talking with my students, getting to know them as people and not just producers of texts, and of course reading and responding to their writing. Our class sizes are relatively small, as they should be for writing-intensive courses, which gives students and instructors the opportunity to get acquainted simply by the frequency of our face-to-face interaction. It’s no coincidence we’re in the department of humanities.

What impressed you the most about your students?

I have been impressed by my students’ intellectual curiosity and genuine enthusiasm for learning. My last school was a large, urban university with increasingly competitive admissions, and I’ve forged great relationships with many of those students over the years. I’ve found that my UW-Platteville students not only possess all the academic skills my former writing students brought to class, they are also remarkably earnest, patient and cheerful by nature. It may be a cultural, Midwest phenomenon, but my UW-Platteville students make it impossible for me to take a cynical approach to my job, and I love coming to class each day.

How do you hope your classes help prepare students for their careers and life?

Thank you for asking, because I think the work we do in First-Year Composition is sometimes misunderstood and undervalued. In our courses, we work with students for a very brief time — one to two semesters at the very start of their college careers — and in that brief time, we try to build on the foundations of the literacy and communicative practices those individual students have brought to the classroom.  

Once instructors get a feel for where their students are as writers, we try to help them develop their academic literacy dispositions, or habits of the mind, so they can feel confident when they encounter new academic reading and writing situations. We want first-year writers to understand that, although they don’t yet have a lot of practice writing college essays, they are already skilled communicators and have a foundation to build on as they cultivate and begin to trust their academic literacy skills.  

Our students learn about audience, context, and purpose and also take some chances with their authorial voice while writing in a lot of new situations. They should also know that sometimes they’ll have to guess and screw up (who hasn’t?), and that when that happens it isn’t the end of the world but rather an opportunity to figure out why it happened and to take a different approach next time.

To put the purposes of first-year writing another way, I don’t try to teach my students to write like an engineer, or biologist, or accountant because I’m not an engineer, biologist or accountant. But we do work on developing an increased rhetorical understanding of writing: its many genres, purposes, contexts and audiences, so when students encounter all the new writing situations they will face in school and beyond, they are able to analyze those new situations and approach each one deliberately, with a unique sense of purpose and audience awareness.

Interview conducted by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education.
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