Educated Woman of the Week- Erin Jensen

Erin Jensen
Teacher, Coach, PhD Candidate

Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Moorhead State University, University of Utah
BA in English, MEd in Education: Teaching and Learning,
PhD candidate in Education, Culture, and Society with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Composition

Tell us about your school/work life:
I am currently a PhD candidate in Education, Culture, and Society at the University of Utah. I have been teaching writing composition courses at the U of U, as well as a variety of other English, communication, general education, and writing courses at several other local universities and colleges. I am actively involved in research and am currently working on a few journal articles that I hope to submit in the next few months to academic journals. I spent two years as the Assistant Director of the Writing Center and also work as an independent editor where I have edited dissertations, conference papers, journal articles, etc. Before beginning my PhD studies, I was a high school English teacher and swim coach. In addition to attending school and teaching, I also am involved in various other jobs and volunteer opportunities. I coach an adult swim team, and I teach swimming lessons. I also help run several Facebook support groups for women in college where I provide help with graduate applications, resumes, and class papers while encouraging women to pursue their dreams and goals. I also am a divorced mother of an active and energetic 4-year-old who keeps me constantly moving, and I appreciate him in my life.

Tell us about your life outside of school/work:
School and work take a significant portion of my life, but I do have four other main passions in life which are: reading, teaching, swimming, and being a mom. I love to read and read everything with the exception of horror. I usually joke that I will read shampoo bottles if I can’t find anything else to read. My PhD program has limited the amount of “fun” reading that I am able to do, but I like nothing better that to just get lost in a book for a break from reality. I am also passionate about teaching and have been involved in teaching since I was a teenager. I started with teaching swimming at 16 and still am a swim coach and swim teacher in addition to teaching writing composition. I swam in college and I still swim competitively and attend several swim meets a year. I’m also a triathlete and have competed in many competitions despite being a horribly slow runner. My ultimate passion is being with my son; I try to spend as much time as possible with him, and we love to go to parks, museums, swimming pools, or just play at home.

Are there major obstacles still limiting your achievement? What are they, and what could be done about them?
I did not fully realize how hard and time consuming a PhD program would be before I started one. I think of myself as a confident woman, but have definitely experienced moments when I felt I might not be able to finish my program. Reminding myself of why I started the program, what my end goal is, and what I have accomplished is one way that I can counteract my self-doubt. Having a support network has been really helpful as well in counteracting doubts. My parents are incredibly supportive of me and are always willing to help out with childcare, so that I can go work on my dissertation. Through Facebook, I have become involved in various support groups for women in college and have loved the opportunity to help other women succeed in their higher education pursuits. I really enjoy helping other students and mentoring them and have also received help and support from these groups. Another major obstacle is finding the time to do everything I would like to do. It has been difficult finding a balance between being a full-time student, working several jobs, being a single mom, training for athletic competitions, and still having time for myself. I have found that I am more successful when I figure out what I need to focus on and prioritize what I need to work on. I have also realized the importance of self-care; taking care of myself and my needs helps me succeed in all areas of my life.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
My dissertation is the most exciting project that I am currently working on. I am focusing my study on the experiences of Chinese international students in first-year composition courses at the university level. Institutions of higher education in the U.S. are increasing their efforts to attract international Chinese students in an effort to increase revenue and student diversity, but typically are not increasing the amount of academic support they provide for such students. Research has identified that many students feel that they are involved in a “sink-or-swim” approach within their course, as they either sink and fail the course or swim and learn to navigate the rough waters of a course in academic discourse designed for native English speakers. My study focuses on the experiences of these students, particularly identifying how they “talk” about their experiences in writing classes. My hope is that this research will have pedagogical implications as first-year composition instructors, along with the English and Writing Departments that oversee the courses, will gain a better understanding of Chinese international students and their experiences and will be able to better support the students.

How have your career passions changed over the course of your career, and how have you managed transitions?
I was always one of those people who knew exactly what they wanted to major in and what profession they wanted from the time they were a young child. I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, and I felt that teaching was a part of me. My mother, grandfather, aunts, uncles, and other extended family members were teachers and I planned on following in their footsteps. My dream job had been to be a high school English teacher and swim coach as I loved to read and I loved to swim. After earning a master’s degree, I moved to Taiwan and taught English there. When I returned to Utah, I obtained a job teaching English and coaching high school swimming. After a few years of teaching English, I came to several startling realizations that included that while I loved to read, I did not particularly like teaching about books and would much rather focus my efforts on teaching students how to write academic style essays. I also realized that while I loved coaching swimming and enjoyed working with swimmers, I did not enjoy 4:30 a.m. practices or all the paperwork and stress associated with coaching. At this point, I realized that I might enjoy teaching more at the college level. I applied to a PhD program in Education with an emphasis on Rhetoric and Composition, was accepted into the program, resigned from my high school teaching and coaching job, and started my PhD program. When I first started my program, my research interests were still deeply rooted in secondary education issues. However, as I began to take more classes and broaden my knowledge base, I began to shift my focus to the experiences of international students at the university level. I had taught English in Taiwan and had some experience working with international Chinese students. My research interests continued to evolve through a variety of experiences with teaching various classes, and I am currently working on my dissertation that is primarily focused on the experiences of international Chinese students. My research and teaching interests have evolved; while issues related to secondary education will always have a place in my heart, my current interests are more focused on higher education. I continue to have a variety of research interests and am currently working on articles about online writing pedagogy, technology in the writing classroom, the experiences of international students in writing workshops, online support groups, and methods of encouraging undergraduate research.

Now it’s your turn! Nominate an Educated Woman, click here!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *