Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Terry Burns

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Pioneer Spotlight
January 29, 2016
Terry Burns

Chair of the Department of Humanities Dr. Terry Burns has been with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville for 21 years. She has a Ph.D in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston. In addition to her professional career at UW-Platteville, she has also taught at the University of Houston, Texas A&M at Galveston and at the University of Florida, worked as a technical writer as well as on the editorial staff of several magazines.

What does your day-to-day work entail?

For most of my 21 years here, a typical day was preparing and teaching classes, meeting with students, responding to papers and attending a few meetings. In the evening I’d read or re-read what I was teaching the next day.

While I’ve been department chair, that’s shifted. I advise more students but only teach a few of them. My advising tends to be about course schedules or whether to add or drop a class; I also spend a fair amount of time listening to students who have a concern about a class they’re in, and seeing what I can do to help.

Since I could easily spend all day every day just answering e-mails, writing reports and going to meetings, I make a conscious effort to get out of my office and visit with colleagues and students face-to-face, and to sit in on classes and attend campus events when I can. I hate it when I only know someone’s name from e-mail exchanges but have no idea who that person really is.

When I became chair of Faculty Senate, the reports and meetings doubled. But when times are rough, I think it is actually a lot more important to meet with people face-to face.

What is something that you’ve been able to accomplish while at UW-Platteville?

I directed the Women’s and Gender Study program here for several years, and was even interim director of Ethnic Studies. I helped start the Teaching English as a Second or Other Language program. One thing I’ve loved about being at UW-Platteville is that I’ve been encouraged to do many things.

What kind of research have you done in the past that you are really passionate about?

I love looking at the connections between works of literature and alchemy. I’ve presented many papers on the subject. After I became a full professor, I became more interested in writing about this for a popular rather than scholarly audience, and I’ve also returned to writing fiction. I may retire before I finish any of my partially written books, and with luck the next book I have out will be a novel rather than research.

What do you feel is a common misconception about earning a humanities/English degree?

That one is easy. Most people think you can’t do anything with the degree. At the same time, employers tell us over and over that they want graduates with strong written communication skills.

The English degree itself won’t get you a job, but developing a portfolio of excellent written work will. If you love to write, write well, and have an entrepreneurial spirit, you’ll be able to get a job with an English degree. Come talk to me about my former students, and I’ll show you what some of them are doing now.

What is something that you like to do in your free time?

I write and I read. My favorite novel is “Song of Solomon”  by Toni Morrison; my favorite play is a “Midsummer Night’s Dream” by that British guy, and my favorite poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. I also garden. When I can’t find the right words, I go dig in the dirt.

Interview conducted by Emalydia Flenory, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight email


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