Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Mary Pat Dalles

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Pioneer Spotlight
Dr. Mary Pat Dalles
May 15, 2015

Dr. Mary Pat Dalles, senior academic staff in the department of humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, has been teaching at UW-Platteville for nearly 25 years. Dalles earned her master’s degree in English from UW-Madison and her Ph.D. in British literature-Romanticism from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Dalles currently teaches Freshman Composition. In the past, she has taught courses in British literature and modern and traditional grammars. In her free time, Dalles enjoys hiking, cooking, gardening, playing the piano, running and yoga.

What do you enjoy about teaching Freshman Composition?

I enjoy encouraging freshmen students to question, think broadly and critically, and implement balance in many ways, i.e., content and structure, reason and emotion, vulnerability and confidence in their writing, and awareness in the midst of intellectual change.

Why is it important for all incoming UW-Platteville students to take two composition classes?

Learning to write is an on-going process. It is a practice, in the sense of a constant and steady discipline. The two-semester sequence in writing has value in two ways: first, it structures the skills of writing in a sequenced way so that students can more readily build proficiency; and second, it allows the time for additional practice and growth. This latter is particularly important in academic settings where writing across the curriculum is not widely or effectively implemented. I actually recommend a third required writing course in the fourth year — to demonstrate continued proficiency in professional areas and perhaps to include writing that would assist in assessment of the general education requirements.

Why is hands-on, applied learning so important to prepare students for their future careers and lives?

Hands-on, applied learning is important. I generally think of writing, however, as a more intellectual kind of learning — one which involves building structures of meaning, learning to make finer and finer distinctions, using ideas to create rich, dense mental connections, and enlarging the capacity for deep and sustained reading, thinking and communicating. These skills are especially needed to balance the increasing emphasis technology places on simple information gathering and content surfing. These skills that are the foundation for good writing and that have such a wide-ranging sphere of influence are crucial for high-end careers and more satisfying lives.

You received the Academic Staff Excellence Award, which recognizes academic staff who demonstrate excellence in teaching and a commitment to the department, college and university. What did receiving this award mean to you?

Winning the Academic Staff Excellence in Teaching Award was important to me; it validated the work I have been doing here. It was especially meaningful because Terry Burns, chair of the department of humanities, nominated me; I did not nominate myself. This “having been seen” by a colleague and others who selected me quite frankly brought me to tears. 

What qualities do you think are most essential for teachers to possess?

Good teachers must be experts in their discipline, enthusiastic about teaching, and genuinely care about their students. I see the classroom as, in Parker Palmer’s words, a “relational container,” in which teaching and learning stew in the pot of who we are. It seems to me that not only do we teach course content, but we also teach who we are. Marshall McLuhan says, “The medium is the message.” So what emerges from the classroom, and I’m talking about the sum total, takes on the luster of the relationships we have forged in the process of educating, the connectedness of each classroom community, and the support and holding up of each person there.

One of the writing projects you are currently working on is writing a manuscript of haiku. What inspired you to write haiku? How did you become interested in it?

I enjoy working within the constraints of form to create beauty of sound and profound meaning. It demands discovering the extraneous and eliminating it. When all else is stripped away, is the core of meaning enough to elicit an awakening of sorts?

Can you share one of the haikus from your manuscript? What do you hope it elicits in readers?

       who is to say it
is not the perfume that gives
      rise to the flower?

I would hope that readers use the haiku as a starting point, a beginning. 

Interview conducted by Connie Spyropoulos, College of Liberal Arts and Education. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email


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