by Alice Asch ’22
Despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, English majors Teddy Holt and Carly Benusa found exciting ways to put their literary talents into practice this summer.
The Words’ very own editor Teddy Holt ’22 participated in Macalester’s Collaborative Summer Research Program, which provides stipends for students to complete ten weeks of work with a faculty member. Teddy was invited by English Professor Sally Franson to help produce an Oral History project with the elderly Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ).
Teddy took Intro to Creative Writing with Franson as a first-year and precepted for that same course this past module, so they were pleasantly surprised when Franson approached them about the research. “She emailed me sort of out of the blue,” Teddy said. “She was like, ‘you are the person that I thought of immediately,’ so that was really, really nice to hear.”
Franson and Teddy filmed interviews with eight members of the CSJ, an order of nuns located in St. Paul, who are known for their social justice work in the fields of healthcare and education—many of the women are former nurses, hospital administrators, and elementary school teachers.
Student and professor each wrote personal essays reflecting on their experiences, and they plan to release a short documentary with a compilation of their footage.
To prepare for their discussions with the sisters about spirituality and “the big questions of life,” Teddy said that he and Franson “did a lot of theoretical prep work where we were thinking about, like, ‘What does justice mean? Like, what is faith?’” They listened to the podcast “On Being” with Krista Tippett, which Teddy highly recommends.
Teddy said that they’ve explored their own spirituality extensively in college, so it was “very meaningful” to hear the stories from people who have “lived a life dedicated to faith.” In a blurb for Macalester’s summer showcase, Teddy wrote that he gained “a deepened appreciation […] for the sweetness of human connection amidst great uncertainty.”
Teddy also pointed out that while people don’t always associate “English and research [as going] super hand in hand,” it can be an excellent way for students to hone their writing skills and delve deeper into their unique curiosities. For Teddy, the process taught them “how I like to work […] which is really useful to know coming out of undergrad.”
Carly Benusa ’22 had a similarly fruitful journey with research this summer, although she came about it in a slightly different way. Responding to students’ employment needs arising from the virus, the English department created a limited number of virtual, paid Summer Research Assistant positions. After she received an email with an application in May, Carly jumped at the opportunity, and was placed with English Professors James Dawes and Rachel Gold, each of whom she worked with for five weeks.
Carly helped Dawes create the curriculum for his Module 2 course, Video Games: Coding, Narrative, and Life in VR. Co-taught by Professor Bret Jackson, the class is cross-listed with the Computer Science and English departments, and navigates world-building and storytelling in the context of virtual reality (VR) gaming.
Though Carly was initially nervous because she didn’t have a background in video games or coding, she found herself truly enjoying assembling course materials and designing lectures. “It’s this medium that’s never, or very rarely been, considered an art form,” she said. “Spending hours and hours poring over these texts […] I learned so much.”
As an Educational Studies and English Literature double major, Carly hopes to eventually be a high school Language Arts instructor. She happened to work another summer job in addition to her research, where she taught fifth graders. Two of them were interested in video games, so Carly was thrilled at the chance to apply what she had learned and engage the passions of her students.
For Rachel Gold, Carly served as a beta reader for the professor’s forthcoming YA novel. Beta readers are used as “test” reviewers for early versions of manuscripts, so Carly recorded her thoughts on the draft and gave feedback about characters and plot.
The book—co-written with poet and literary critic Stephanie Burt—is from the perspective of two transgender teens in Minnesota, and features themes of fantasy role playing games and Shakespearean theater.
“I got, like, so attached to their characters, honestly,” Carly said of her reading experience. “Being some of the first eyes on [the story] was really an honor.”
Carly said that Dawes and Gold were both wonderfully supportive advisors who bolstered her confidence and strongly valued her input.
She noted that working alongside a professor—or even just being at Macalester in general—can feel daunting, but we should remember that we deserve to be here.
“Trust that you are where you are meant to be,” she said. “This isn’t some fluke.”