Class is in Session for Creative Writing M.F.A. Program; First group of students on campus
July 28, 2010 -- Eighteen graduate students began studies in the new Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) program at Western State College (WSC) this past week.
David Rothman, visiting professor of creative writing, teaches at Western State College (WSC). Rothman is one of the faculty members within the poetry emphasis of the new Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) Creative Writing program at Western.
They are the first in a new era of graduate students to study at Western since 1989 when graduate studies were discontinued.
The students are on-campus for a two-week, intensive session, which kicks off their studies. During the session they have been starting the initial coursework, getting to know their professors and fellow students, as well as attending co-curricular performances and readings at Western and in Gunnison. Additionally, writing assignments are given, which often have to be completed at night after the performances and readings.
The longtime Writing the Rockies creative writer’s conference also was planned around the intensive, which gave students time to interact with some of the players in the publishing world, including publishers and agents, as well as established writers.
Within the M.F.A. there are three concentrations: mainstream/genre fiction; poetry with an emphasis in formal verse; and screenwriting.
“All three concentrations offer unique niches in the writing market that are not offered by other programs,” said Mark Todd, creative writing M.F.A. program director.
Geographically, the student body looks similar to the undergraduates that study at Western, with students from all across the country.
“We’ve got students from the east and west coasts,” Todd said. “Additionally, about one-third of our students are alumni from Western.”
Cara Guerrieri, from Blue Hill, Maine, is one of the students in the M.F.A. program. Originally from Gunnison, Guerrieri returns to the area every summer to visit her parents and family. After raising three children with her husband, she was interested in furthering her education and pursuing a writing program.
When she heard about the program last spring, she was interested but was unsure if it would be a good fit since it had been 27 years since her last college course.
“Mark Todd assured me that I would be about the average age among students and he was right,” she said. “The intensive has been challenging, especially when I have a writing assignment at night that is due in the morning, and I’ve been in class and at various events all day.”
Guerrieri is also a third generation WSC student whose grandmother, Ernestine Spann, graduated from Western in the 1920s. Her mother, Phyllis Guerrieri, also attended Western.
Following the intensive, which ends on Friday, students will complete four academic semesters to earn their degree, with two additional summer intensive sessions. The program will take a little more than two years to complete. Since the program is low-residency, students are only required to be in Gunnison for the summer sessions. Most will continue to hold down day jobs while completing the program.
“The model for our program is based around what it is like to be a writer,” Todd said. “To work and write is the life of a writer and we feel students will be trained for the lifestyle through completing our program.”
The demographics of six faculty members are similar to the students, with professors who hail from places ranging from New York to California. Again, the low-residency format allows for professors to teach their coursework from abroad, primarily delivered in the on-line format. One particular guideline for the professors was that they had a history of being published.
“Additionally advisors will be writers who have agents and understand the business of becoming published,” Todd said. “This is important because the business side is an essential part of becoming a successful writer.”
Todd reports that the program has lofty goals of increasing enrollment steadily throughout the next few years. He shared that because the accreditation process was not completed until March of this year, they weren’t allowed to advertise the program to prospective students until then.
“Eighteen students was actually our goal for this year and we met it,” Todd said. “Next year we are looking to double that number to 36 and in four years we would like to be at 108 with 18 faculty members.”
On the heels of the M.F.A. students are the Master of Arts in Education program students, who start a one-week intensive at Western on Sunday. Ninety-four students are enrolled in the program. The program is also set up in the low-residency format. Both master's programs are self-funded and operate through the Office of Extended Studies at Western.
Both programs mark a new era in graduate studies at Western. The college began awarding master’s degrees in 1923, but the program was discontinued per state legislation in 1989. A bill signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in March 2007 granted Western authority to again offer graduate degree programs. Rep. Kathleen Curry originally drafted the bill and Sen. Gail Schwartz carried the bill in the Senate. A lengthy curriculum approval and accreditation process followed the initial signing of the bill.
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations