graduate studies Archives - Kendall College of Arts and Sciences

graduate studies

Alumna spotlight: Kate Williams’ bountiful writing life

Kate Williams (PhD ’15) took the skills and knowledge she developed pursuing her doctorate in English at The University of Tulsa and transformed them into a career of bountiful opportunities as a professional writer and communications business leader. In fact, ValiantCEO recently profiled Williams in its series on inspiring entrepreneurs.

New beginnings

woman with long blonde hair standing outdoors
Kate Williams (PhD ’15)

While early in her undergraduate studies at Oakland University, Williams already knew she wanted to pursue university-level education beyond a Bachelor of Arts. Around the same time she arrived at TU in 2009 to pursue a Ph.D. in English, Williams also started content writing. “This was a time when blogs and content writing were just sort of starting to become a mainstream thing and a way to make money,” she noted. “I had young kids, so I followed a lot of mommy blogs and was inspired to create my own!”

These blogs gave Williams an outlet for creativity outside of graduate school and allowed her to make extra money on the side. Writing blog posts also helped her learn a great deal about building and managing websites — skills that are helpful to her current job as a professional business writer.

Blogging as a segue to professional writing

While attending a conference for bloggers in 2012, Williams was introduced to the idea of writing professionally for other companies. “I immediately dropped the idea of mommy blogging and started freelancing in my spare time over the breaks,” she recalled. Through freelancing as a writer, Williams found she loved the medium of writing more than academic writing: “It was so concise and short, plus I could write on really fun topics, like food and traveling.”

After graduating in 2015, Williams went on the hunt for a professorial job in academia. Knowing it would take her a full academic year to get hired, she sought other forms of employment. Through connections, Williams knew a CEO who was looking to experiment with hiring in-house writers. “I was freelancing still and we made a deal where I could come on for six months as a contract worker and then we’d decide if I’d stay or not,” she recounted. “I ended up staying there full time for three years building and managing a content team.”

Through this experience, Williams learned skills about product placement and promotion, website development, search engine optimization, sales and leadership. Most importantly, Williams learned the fundamentals of building a business, which has helped her tremendously.

Building a thriving business

In 2019, Williams had the idea to build a business specifically for companies that needed exceptional content but did not have the bandwidth or budget to hire in-house writers. She started freelancing again to see if there was a market need for this specific business model.

“After about nine months, I had enough clients — and enough money saved up — that I felt confident going full time with my business, People First Content,” she explained. Her business provides writing services for small businesses and individuals who value accurate, quality content. She and her employees specialize in writing non-fiction books, blog posts, articles, papers and social media. Through this enterprise, Williams noted, “we’ve written for everyone from Emmy Award winners to one-person operations in niche industries.”

Since 2019, Williams has expanded People First to bring on two more employees, including another TU graduate. Her business is looking to expand more in the next 12 months and to continue hiring.

Advice for getting into freelance writing

For anyone who wants to start freelance writing, Williams gives five pieces of advice.

  1. First off: “You’ll have to get humble. Businesses want to pay writers who have proven track records of success. You may not get paid much in the beginning, but, if you’re talented, it won’t take long for you to build up a portfolio and be able to make what you’re worth.”
  2. Williams also emphasizes that you have to read tons of online content in order to get a sense of how to write online content. “Writing online content is way different than writing academic papers. It’s a lot more casual and to the point.”
  3. She stresses that freelance writers must prepare for rejections. Even the most talented writers will get rejected from time to time. “I’ve learned to accept rejection as a sign that I’m not a good fit for a particular client, not that my writing is terrible.”
  4. It is important, as well, to look for companies that hire freelance writers. “I started getting paid to write with a company called Verblio. It’s on a tiered system, so you can make more money as you gain experience and it’s flexible.”
  5. And Williams’ final piece of advice: Put together an online portfolio. “If you’re serious about freelance writing then I highly recommend putting together a website that showcases your best work. It also helps you to write original content and learn search engine optimization to write blog posts and website content.”


Digital Modernism

For University of Tulsa Associate Professor of English Jeff Drouin, studying Modernism goes beyond analyzing what we already know about literature. It is about formulating new questions and challenging what we understand about the period. The Department of English and Creative Writing’s Modernist Journals Project (MJP) offers graduate students, faculty and researchers outside TU abundant opportunities to engage in these fresh scholarly activities.

New England meets Tulsa

man with grey hair and glasses seated at a desk gazing at a computer monitor
Associate Professor Jeff Drouin

Originating at Brown University, the MJP is the first digital archive of literary magazines from the early 20th century that digitizes complete runs of fully intact magazine issues, including the covers and the advertisements, as primary sources that are free to the public. The MJP was founded by Robert Scholes in 1995. TU Professor of English Sean Latham worked closely with Scholes during his graduate studies and became a project manager for the MJP at Brown. In 2003, the MJP launched the Tulsa location, where Latham became the co-director. Latham stepped down from active involvement in 2014 and is now a senior advisor for the project.

Drouin began his work at the MJP as a freelance coder for the project when he was a Ph.D. student at the City University of New York. He became the director of the MJP at Tulsa in 2014. Drouin works beside Susan Smulyen, the MJP’s director at Brown, in order to digitize the texts in Tulsa. Currently, Brown hosts the digital repository that stores the magazines’ data, while TU provides physical texts from McFarlin Library’s Department of Special Collections. This archive includes magazines from all over the world, such as the Little Review, which contains works from influential Modernist authors. Special Collections also contributes works that contain artifacts, such as authors’ margin notes, to the MJP for digitization.

Discoveries through digitization

young woman smiling while seated at a desk
M.A. student Danika Bryant

The MJP has made many discoveries that have enriched scholars’ understanding of Modernism. “Some of the most important discoveries have been the content itself,” Drouin remarked. “The purpose of the MJP was to uncover content that was lost. Going back to magazines during that time allows us to have a clearer picture of authors who contributed that have been left out of the literary record.”

By digitizing fully intact magazines, Drouin and his MJP colleagues at Brown, as well as TU graduate students involved with the project, have been able to reveal and acknowledge oppressed and marginalized Modernist writers who are missing from the current Modernist narrative. Digitizing these magazines also allows researchers and students to experience the texts’ materiality. “By including advertisements and covers, we can see the different social climates of the era and develop a new perspective on the period’s literature,” Drouin noted.

The language of coding

man gesturing toward a white board while a man and a woman sit at a long table
Graduate assistants learn about coding at the MJP office

Digitizing magazines entails coding and translating text into XML in order to create an electronic transcript. Coding bibliographic information makes it searchable and sortable. Coding, however, benefits not just users. It also allows Drouin and users of the journal to deploy software to discover patterns and see what authors have contributed to the period through SourceForge.

“The natural language processors find linguistic patterns throughout the language of Modernism,” explained Drouin. “These software have given us data sets to analyze that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Natural language processing also helps us discover patterns that we wouldn’t perceive during the normal act of reading, and to ask and answer questions about the magazines and about Modernism as a whole.”

Opportunities for students

The MJP gives opportunities for both English undergraduate and graduate students. The latter, for example, can undertake graduate assistantships with the project. These students learn electronic editing, text and coding as a gateway to digital humanities.

young man in a white shirt seated at a desk
M.A. student Nathan Blue

This semester, M.A. students Danika Bryant and Nathan Blue are working at the MJP to ensure that the magazines are being properly processed through ABBYY, a software used for digitizing texts in order to prepare them for coding. Bryant is currently working through one of the issues of transition magazine, a Modernist journal from the 1920s. “Being able to code again, with results that are tangible this time, gives me a focus that allows me to relax just a bit from my coursework and other jobs,” Bryant commented. “So far, I really enjoy the work that I do with the MJP and I don’t see that changing!”

a paper copy of Scribners Magazine showing the cover
One of the journals being coded by the MJP

Blue also enjoys researching Modernism and seeing where the MJP opens up new doors to new theories. “Modernism was born and grew up in these magazines,” Blue noted. “It is immensely valuable to allow people access to see where Modernism really thrived in their original context: these magazines and journals.” Blue is currently working on using OCR software to train the computer to “read” English, so to speak. Blue then encodes the text with metadata. “These skills allow me a deeper understanding of the nuts and bolts of literature in the digital age”.

Involvement with the MJP helps to teach undergraduate students about periodical culture, which is crucially important in literature and media evolution studies. In Drouin’s view, “physical experience helps students to connect with the physicality of the texts, such as paper texture, print quality and color gradients. The physical aspects provide a perspective on the literature and on the Modernist movement that doesn’t come across in the digital surrogate. Some of the texts have marginalia from the authors who owned them and let us see the authors as people who have lived and loved, instead of just 20th-century writers.”

Recent developments

The MJP continues to transform new ways of working with old texts. For example, the project recently launched a new website with advanced functionalities for teaching and researching. Graduate students are also inventing new analytic modes and the project’s data were migrated to a new virtual repository.

These changes are opening up the computational possibilities for Drouin and his team and will allow researchers to extract data directly from the MJP for their projects. The MJP will also shortly release a new set of material from transition Magazine, a surrealist magazine published in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. “My hope,” said Drouin, “is that the MJP and other projects like it will help researchers break free from constraints and create more accuracy within the study of literature.”

If you are intrigued by the work of the MJP or about digital humanities in general, reach out to Jeff Drouin at

English graduate studies update (fall 2021)

This year has been one of the most vibrant for Department of English and Creative Writing graduate students.

Virtual innovations

Having to study, teach and interact virtually has, at times, been challenging. But this makes it all the more inspiring to recognize the new technologies and forms of collaboration with which our students have become familiar. Even more valuable, we have all come to appreciate the crucial benefits of face-to-face engagements and being part of a community. Our graduate students have taken the opportunity to engage in virtual online events, become part of international academic networks and build portfolios characterized by pedagogical innovation.

a web banner promoting a student conference entitled Panic! Textual Reactions to Extreme Moments in Time
Call for proposals for EGSA’s 2021 symposium

The English Graduate Student Association even hosted its own virtual symposium, inspired by recent research and creative events addressing the Tulsa Race Massacre. The conference – on the theme of “Panic!” – brought together graduate students from Oklahoma and beyond to address issues of crisis and anxiety in literature from across the centuries.

A bounty of work experiences

woman in an orange blouse and glasses smiling while seated at a desk
First-year M.A. student Angela Ray preparing to teach her first class

A dozen new students joined our graduate program in September 2021, and the TU community stepped up with perhaps the most diverse set of employment offerings ever. We wish to thank everybody who committed the time and money to make this happen.

Most of our students are employed and getting much-appreciated training as teachers and tutors through the University Writing Program, helping all TU students gain confidence as effective communicators and diligent researchers. Other students, meanwhile, are getting experience in fields such as administration, marketing, communications, digital humanities, professional writing and editing. TU departments where our students are currently employed include the Dean of Arts office, the creative-writing journal Nimrod, the Office of Integrative and Experiential Learning and Strategic Marketing and Communications.

Major milestones

Our students continued to have the wind in their sails for another successful year with graduations, scholarly events and a string of professional opportunities. Congratulations to all the students who have recently defended their comprehensive exams, completed coursework, submitted their thesis abstracts and proposals and made headway on their dissertations.

The heartiest of congratulations go to our graduates from the past year. The 2021 M.A. graduates are Danielle Calhoun, Amber Drew and Muriel Unseth.

The Ph.D. graduates from the past academic year, along with the titles of their dissertations, are:

  • Clay Cantrell (PhD ’21), “Features of a New Lyric in Nineties Language Poetry”
  • Blake Connelly (PhD ’21), “Their Bonds Asunder I Shall Tear”: Female Romantic Voices and the Structures of Hierarchy”
  • Annie Page (PhD ’20), “Party Girl: The Modernist Party and Women’s Social Performance”
  • Marie Sartain (PhD ’21), “Team Up: Superhero Comics, Collaboration, and Convergence”
  • Laura Thomas (PhD ’20), “William Dean Howells in Transition: Realism, Regionalism, and the Search for an American Aesthetic”
woman standing next to a large statue outdoors
Muriel Unseth (MA ’21) and a statue of the god Radegast in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm, Czech Republic, where she is currently a Fullbright fellow

Congratulations to Muriel Unseth, who is now studying and working in the Czech Republic on a Fulbright Fellowship, as well as to Dayne Riley (PhD ’20) and Laura Thomas for being chosen as postdoctoral fellows in the department for 2021-22.

And we couldn’t be happier for those grad students who have most recently found employment, including Carlos Acosta Ponce (PhD ‘20) – assistant professor at Buena Vista University; Marie Sartain – senior copy editor at the American Pharmacists Association; and Danielle Calhoun – undergraduate academic advisor at the University of Texas.

Congratulations all! Your success is our pride and inspiration.

Are you interested in exploring your passion for literature and culture at the graduate level? If so, an M.A. or Ph.D. in English at TU could be ideal for you.

Getting the word out: The busy lives and accomplishments of TU’s English graduate students

The Department of English Language and Literature’s graduate students’ greatest success story this past few months has to be the amazing effort they have put into ensuring that The University of Tulsa’s Helen N. Wallace Writing Center and Writing Program transitioned to a virtual format. They helped dozens of other students adapt to a new virtual reality, enhance their communication skills and feel proud of the quality work they produced for their different courses.

TU couldn’t have made it through the transition without them, and we are all extremely grateful. As a sign of our students’ pedagogical innovations, one need only turn to Jamie Walt’s work last semester as a TU success coach, where she helped develop and teach a Strategies course for struggling students. It was aimed at helping students develop effective study, memory and comprehension skills.

Major milestones

Nine English graduate students wearing masks while on a Zoom meeting set inside a computer screen
English graduate students embrace virtual learning during the pandemic

Congratulations to all of our students who have recently defended their comprehensive exams, completed their abstracts and proposals, and made headway on writing their dissertations. The heartiest of congratulations go to those who have graduated: Caleb Freeman from the M.A. program and Carlos Acosta Ponce, Al Hurlock, Amy Pezzelle, Dayne Riley and Laura Thomas from the Ph.D. program. Congratulations to Carlos and Dayne for being chosen postdoctoral fellows in the department for 2020-21, and to Amy Pezzelle and Annie Paige for being hired as instructors at Tulsa Community College (TCC). Caleb will also be working at TCC as an adjunct instructor, while recent M.A. graduate Harrison Brockwell has taken a job as a production assistant at News on 6.

The jobs our students and past students take up couldn’t be more diverse or rewarding. Wendy Voss, in addition to being the community engagement coordinator for the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, has started up a co-run business called Ready, Set, Apply, which helps students navigate the complex processes of college applications. Jamie Walt, as coordinator of TU’s Institute of Trauma, Adversity and Injustice, helped put together a training session on nightmare therapy. Meanwhile, Ph.D. student Jake Crystal used some of his summer to write a technical manual for the new software “Prestige Accounting,” scheduled for release in 2021.

Awards, accolades and publications

Awards and accolades are rolling in as well. Ph.D. student, Bethany Csomay received a bursary from the University of London’s School of Advanced Study to attend the T.S. Eliot International Summer School, which she will take up in summer 2021. Seona Kim received the 2019-20 award for Outstanding Writing Center Consultant and Annie Paige won for Outstanding Writing Program Instructor. Layne Farmen received the Women’s and Gender Studies program’s Graduate Essay Prize for his essay “Ursula Le Guin and Jokes for Plants.” Oh, and M.A. student Shelli Castor was honored with a spot on Jeopardy. Yes, that Jeopardy!

Finally, a sample of their diverse publications: Seungho Lee’s personal essay “What Home is Not” appeared in Oklahoma Humanities Magazine and this fall we’ll see two of Clay Cantrell’s poems published: “Ever Since the Rubbing Alcohol Incident” in Slipstream and “Monsters” in Packingtown Review. Meanwhile, Marianna Albom has completed a draft of her novel Epic Men, the first in a detective series about a man with the power to create things with his mind — but only things he finds amusing. Layne Farmen helped prepare materials for “Finding Our Voices: Six Renowned Composers Discuss Their Path Through the World of Music,” a virtual conversation co-hosted by the Tulsa Chorale and Oklahoma Center for the Humanities. And Nathan Blue, a new M.A. student, co-presented on Bob Dylan fan letters from TU’s Dylan Archive. Our students are truly getting the word out!

Are you interested in exploring your passion for literature and culture at the graduate level? If so, an M.A. or Ph.D. in English at TU could be ideal for you.