Last semester, Dr. Amy Watkin stepped down from her position as English department chair to assume the role of Director of First-Year Experience. On Jan. 1, Dr. David Sprunger was selected to finish out the final three semesters of her three-year term.
Sprunger is familiar with the responsibilities of a department chair, which involves handling complaints, setting the schedule for the coming semesters, and creating an overarching goal for the department. Sprunger held the position from 2001-2007.
“We had a discussion in one of our department meetings where we thought about what are some goals that we wanna pursue as a department, and we also looked at what I call some strategic abandonment. What are some things that we’ve been doing, that maybe could be set aside?” Sprunger said. “We want to keep doing new things.”
Because he stepped up during the middle of her term, Sprunger will be continuing the projects Watkin began rather than creating his own. These include incorporating integrative learning and PEAK throughout the department as well as rebuilding the English major from the ground up.
“We’ve started this thing I’ve called secret code name EM22, the English major of 2022,” Sprunger said. “Our program that we’re working with now is about 15 years old.”
The major is currently designed to help students to end up in competitive graduate programs, which Sprunger says is less of a priority for students now.
“I’m not sure what the major might look like by the time we’re done with this process, but we’re starting it,” Sprunger said. He added that the department hopes to have an active opportunity this semester to receive feedback from current English students to help construct the new major.
Now a few weeks into her duties as FYE director, Watkin is working on gathering feedback, too.
“I’ve met with first-year students in focus groups to gauge how they perceive their first-year experiences, particularly in the INQ/IOC/IWC courses,” Watkin explained. “It’s fun to talk with them and feel I’m in a position to hopefully help.”
While Watkin is enjoying her new responsibilities, she says she misses some aspects of being a department chair.
“Being chair is an interesting position that allows a person to learn a lot, so I do miss that. I also miss some of the interaction with my departmental colleagues, as I don’t talk to all of them quite as often,” Watkin said. “But I’ve gained an inter-departmental community of colleagues who work on First-Year Experience matters, so that balances out nicely.”
One other thing Watkin is trying to balance is her time, something both students and professors struggle with.
“I love everything that I do in both my role as teacher and my role as FYE director, so I need to be creative and find methods of doing both things really well,” Watkin said.
Fortunately for Dr. Watkin, she has a lot of support.
“What makes it easier is colleagues who are helpful and funny, insightful and energetic, as well as students who are eager and hard-working, engaging and dedicated,” Watkin said.
Some students feel hopeful regarding the change in department leadership. California Thorson, a senior English literature major, and Colin Johnson, a senior English writing major, both think Dr. Sprunger will perform admirably in his duties.
“I only took one class with him, but the impression was … he’s got that detail orientation, he reads the fine print,” Thorson said. “He’s got a very even-keel, mellow disposition, which I think would be very helpful in a position like that.”
Johnson also drew from his classroom experience.
“Their teaching styles are very different, but I think they’re both well suited for the position. I mean, they’re both pretty well organized, both made it clear what was expected of us, in the classes themselves, so I think that will transfer well to the position,” Johnson said. “I could see Sprunger doing a good job of it, and I had no complaints for Dr. Watkin.”