Celebrating Recent PhD Doctorates’ Contributions to Composition, part 2

by Emily R C Staudt

Celebrating Recent PhD Doctorates’ Contributions to Composition, part 2

In May 2019 and 2020, our Composition program celebrated the graduation of several PhD students from the Writing and Rhetoric program: Kellie Gray and Elizabeth Ferguson, Teaching Assistants in Composition, and Jennifer Messier, Assistant Director of Composition. We are excited for what lies ahead for this exceptional group of graduates.  We want to highlight their contributions to the field and congratulate these recent grads on completing their dissertations!

In April, Kellie Gray defended "'It wasn’t supposed to be hairy': From Variant Glyphs to Rendered Ecologies of Code, Constraint, and Culture," her dissertation.  Using an ecological approach, Gray studied emojis, which though used internationally in a new type of hybrid writing “also [present] technological and cultural constraints, such as (1) unexpected design variations across platforms (as suggested in the title of this dissertation).”  Gray sought to build on scholarship in digital and visual rhetoric “as well as circulation studies in order to create the sorts of digital rhetoric methodologies that are necessary to theorize the rhetorical affordances of emoji and to account for the technological, cultural, and political factors that mediate those affordances.”  The majority of our students are, of course, using emojis in their everyday writing.  Gray’s research helps them (and us) think about how emojis function creatively in their rhetoric and how they are circulated or constrained, representing “a convergence and expansion of the field’s established interests in digital, procedural, public, algorithmic, visual, and machinic rhetoric(s).”  Gray is a senior lecturer and coordinator for the intro to technical writing course at Texas Tech University.

The teaching experience I gained as a GTA while doing my PhD was valuable because the program supported me as I gained experience both teaching on-line and developing my own course designs to fit the English 101 and 302 learning outcomes. -Elizabeth

Elizabeth Ferguson defended her dissertation, "Decolonizing Epidemics: Power Structures that Define, Name, and Frame Medical Disasters," in June 2019.  This dissertation focused on the 2014 Ebola Epidemic to argue “that international technical communication needs to take a critical approach to studying cites of medical disasters because the historical colonial power structures have not been sufficiently disrupted.”  Through three case studies, Ferguson sought to outline the dynamics of power as it is established and broadcast during medical disasters.  “Power rests,” Ferguson concludes “with those who have the clout to define, name, and describe an event because those three elements shape the type of response.”  Our Composition students need to understand these power dynamics, too, not only as they live through our current global pandemic, but as they learn to use writing to communicate—both at GMU and beyond.  Ferguson is currently a full-time term assistant professor in the program. 

Mason has been my home for over a decade now, during which time I earned two degrees, the most recent of which was my PhD in 2020. My doctorate work focused on two areas of study—composition pedagogy and labor—upon which my current dual position (as both composition professor and program administrator) greatly relies. It is a privilege to hold positions directly associated with my expertise at the very institution that facilitated my learning. -Jennifer

Jennifer Messier defended her dissertation, “How Contingent Composition Faculty Members Reframe Professional Identity Through Faculty Learning Communities,” in April 2020.  Messier’s work highlights the marginalized majority of contingent faculty.  In her study, Messier addressed the gap in research on contingent faculty’s engagement with FLCs, by examining “how eleven contingent Composition faculty members…understood professionalism and their own associated professional identities during and following their participation in” FLCs.  Surveys, reflections, course documents, and semi-structured interviews were collected and analyzed via grounded theory methodology.  Though their professional identities remained largely inaccessible, participating contingent composition faculty members conceived of these identities as connected to membership and respect.  Findings also indicated that this sense of membership was perceived as temporary in later semesters because it was rarely experienced in the larger context of their work.  Messier concluded that attempts to develop the professional identities of contingent faculty through PD like FLCS “treat the symptoms rather than the underlying conditions of contingency, and thus only allow for professional identity through a fleeting semblance of membership.” As assistant director for Composition and full-time term faculty in our program, Messier applies this work as an advocate for contingent faculty.

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

The program looks forward to many other success stories, as more of our graduates make further research contributions to the field and serve as instructors at Mason and beyond.