Category Archives: Alumni

Alumna Cherie Chevalier on Why Arts

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Did you know Cherie Chevalier, worldwide sales leader for marketing solutions at Microsoft, is also a UWaterloo English, Rhetoric, and Professional Writing alumna? Chevalier was recently interviewed for the Macleans article “Yes, you will get a job with that arts degree” addressing the desire for Arts graduates in industry. From the article:

In her industry, says Chevalier, “things move so quickly and the pace of innovation is so high that we need people who can think critically, react, solve problems and have that high level of intelligent agility and adaptability that will enable them to be successful in any role.” She says she looks for candidates who “can work with each other across groups and divisions . . . and are able to see things from other people’s perspective and who are able to communicate clearly and build relationships.” By those criteria, “liberal arts graduates are particularly well-positioned.”

For more see: Yes, you will get a job with that arts degree.”



Learning with Machines

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Today, at 6pm, the UWaterloo English Critical Media Lab is hosting “Learning with Machines.”

What does the future of work and learning look like for educators and students? For entrepreneurs and startups? Join Diana Moreno Ojeda, a UWaterloo PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Waterloo and Mitacs researcher with Deloitte, and UWaterloo PhD alumnus Dr. Robert Clapperton of Ryerson and co-founder of Ametros Learning, a machine learning pedagogical company, for a conversation of the role of AI in classrooms and skills we can learn alongside and from these technologies.

The Critical Media Lab is located in Area 151 of Communitech, 151 Charles St West, Kitchener, Ontario, N2G 1H6. A Q&A and light refreshments will follow the talk.

Attention X-Men Fans! Or, why is Neil Gaiman tweeting a UW researcher?

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In case you missed it, last month beloved author Neil Gaiman tweeted about a UWaterloo research project by UWaterloo English faculty and PhD alumnus Dr. Andrew Deman. Gaiman shared a recent article in Salon (and picked up elsewhere) in which Andrew Deman discussed some of his recent research. Now Dr. Deman has received a SSHRC Insight Development grant to further that research. So what was Gaiman so excited to share?

Well, fans of comics will know that the record for the longest run as a single writer on an American comic book title is held by Chris Claremont, author of the Uncanny X-Men for sixteen years. Dr. Andrew Deman is studying just what this has meant. His research project is titled Counting Claremont: Sexuality, Subversion and Symbolic Capital in Comics’ Longest Single-Author Run. The project deliverables include two media articles, four conference presentations, a book proposal, and a website.

Currently there are four UWaterloo research assistants working on amassing data: Rebeccah Redden, Sabrina Wasserman, Tristan Chen, and Lauryn Watters. The project uses quantitative content analysis to build an expansive data set which tracks the progressive representations of female characters, the kind of long-continuity storylines that we now see in binge-worthy television, and character melodrama. The data will be made available to other scholars via a website that launches next month.

Alumna Sara Kannan: Making a Difference


There are some students whose names you hear over and over, even if you’ve never taught them: Sara Kannan is one of those students. Read on to find out why we all know of her, how she made her co-op degree work for her, and how she is giving back to the department. Thank you to Sara for participating in Words in Place! –JLH

JLH: What made you decide to attend UWaterloo?
SK: It’s actually a pretty great story – I was born in Canada but moved to the U.S. as a child and grew up just outside of Washington, D.C. During Grade 12, I focused on applying to U.S. universities in the northeast so that I could be between my parents and my maternal grandparents in Waterloo, who I’m very close with. I never considered applying to university in Canada because I did all my schooling in the U.S., from Grades 1 to 12, and because all of my friends were also going to university in the same area. During spring break, I visited my first choice school in New York (on the way to Waterloo) and found that it wasn’t what I expected. We finished the week by visiting my grandparents in Waterloo, who immigrated to Canada in the 1960s because my grandfather was offered a professorship in the Pure Mathematics Department at UWaterloo. With my grandfather as a professor emeritus and all five of his children (including my mom) as UWaterloo alumni, I was persuaded to at least visit UWaterloo before ruling it out. I went on a campus tour and immediately fell in love – I was so sure that I wanted to attend UWaterloo that I actually declined all my acceptance offers to U.S. universities before applying to UWaterloo!

JLH: How important was the co-op stream to you in thinking about your potential future career?
SK: Co-op was essential to my career path. I initially applied to the co-op stream with the comfort of knowing that I could always change my mind later, but ended up completing four co-op terms. The skills and experience I gained in going through the job application process and working in a professional setting were invaluable and highly transferable. Additionally, I was able to try out several different jobs to find what I liked and what wasn’t a good fit for me, which helped me focus my efforts when applying for a full-time job post-graduation. Having about 1.5 years of full-time, professional experience in various jobs related to my degree (before I even graduated!) was absolutely necessary to finding a job in the “real world.”

JLH: Some people will know your name from our posts on awards ceremonies: you received numerous awards from the English department, including the Albert Shaw Poetry Prize, Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award, English Society Creative Writing Award for Prose, Quarry Integrated Communication Co-op Award, and others. Can you talk a bit about how those were important to you?
SK: Honestly, winning those awards meant the world to me. To receive tangible evidence in recognition of my writing abilities, from my professors and in front of my peers, really validated my confidence in my skills and the worth of my degree. I’ve known that I would be a writer since I was 6 years old, but not everyone has been supportive or encouraging. Winning these awards almost every year felt like proof that my lifelong dreams could become reality – some of them, at least (I don’t think that I’ll end up a princess, but hey, it happened to Meghan Markle!).

JLH: Fewer people might know that you decided to fund an award, and quite soon after graduating. What made this a logical choice to you?
SK: I became very passionate about postcolonialism during my time at UWaterloo, taking postcolonial literature classes and bringing postcolonialism into traditional literature/rhetoric classes. I started writing about things like magical realism as a method of resistance in understanding the Haitian Revolution or the Dreaming as a way for Aboriginal Australians to displace colonizers, but quickly noticed that my essays didn’t fit into any of the existing awards categories and couldn’t be submitted. Since winning awards was very important to me personally and professionally as an undergraduate student, I wanted to give back to the English Department and future students by filling the void.

Once I was no longer eligible to receive awards and in a position to pay it forward, I collaborated with the English Department and Sherri Sutherland from Arts Advancement to establish and sponsor the annual Diaspora and Transnational Studies Prize. To me, the significance of this award lies in recognizing the importance, relevance, and pervasiveness of diaspora, transnational, and postcolonial topics – topics that are increasingly acknowledged, studied, and explored through a variety of methods and mediums, in an effort to understand our world and the people in it. My goal was to make the award as inclusive as possible to reflect the nature of postcolonial studies, opening submissions to essays and projects submitted by any student or professor, as long as it is related to postcolonial studies (which can be very broadly interpreted).

JLH: If you were to imagine your dream course in postcolonial literature, what texts would be on it?
SK: That’s a really difficult question, because so many texts (not just literature!) can be interpreted as postcolonial. I think the three most important books to establish the framework of postcolonialism as a literary theory are Orientalism by Edward Said (who is considered the founder of postcolonial studies); The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin; and Decolonizing the Mind by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. From the classes that I took at UWaterloo, my favourite texts to analyze were Frida Kahlo’s paintings, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Spanish flamenco music.

At its heart, postcolonialism is about intersectionality (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, religion, etc.) through the lens of historical imperial-colonial power struggles. Almost any text post-contact can be analyzed for these influences – I challenge everyone to find the postcolonial in their favourite text!


Nomination for Dr. Lamees Al Ethari

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Congratulations to English’s own Dr. Lamees Al Ethari, who has been nominated by The New Quarterly for a National Magazine Award in the poetry category. The shortlist will be announced in early May and the winner will be announced at a gala in Toronto. She is the author of From the Wounded Banks of the Tigris (London: Baseline Press, 2018) and Waiting for the Rain: A Memoir (Toronto: Mawenzi House Publishers, 2019).

Alumna’s new memoir: Bird-Bent Grass

University of Waterloo English alumna Kathleen Venema is an Associate Professor at the University of Winnipeg. But it is her experience in UWaterloo’s English program, where she completed both an MA and a PhD that she credits with shaping her new memoir, Bird-Bent Grass: A Memoir, in Pieces. Writes Dr. Venema “From start to finish, Bird-Bent Grass evinces critical, analytical, and creative skills and deft rhetorical shaping that honours what I learned throughout my studies at the University of Waterloo.” The press describes the work as follows: 

Bird-Bent Grass chronicles an extraordinary mother–daughter relationship that spans distance, time, and, eventually, debilitating illness. Personal, familial, and political narratives unfold through the letters that Geeske Venema-de Jong and her daughter Kathleen exchanged during the late 1980s and through their weekly conversations, which started after Geeske was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease twenty years later.

In 1986, Kathleen accepted a three-year teaching assignment in Uganda, after a devastating civil war, and Geeske promised to be her daughter’s most faithful correspondent. The two women exchanged more than two hundred letters that reflected their lively interest in literature, theology, and politics, and explored ideas about identity, belonging, and home in the context of cross-cultural challenges. Two decades later, with Geeske increasingly beset by Alzheimer’s disease, Kathleen returned to the letters, where she rediscovered the evocative image of a tiny, bright meadow bird perched precariously on a blade of elephant grass. That image – of simultaneous tension, fragility, power, and resilience – sustained her over the years that she used the letters as memory prompts in a larger strategy to keep her intellectually gifted mother alive.

You can read an interview with the author here, where she talks more about the experience of writing such a book, as well as the events that inspired it. Or follow the CBC coverage here.

Top Ten Words in Place Posts of 2018

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Welcome to 2019! Curious about what we celebrated in 2018? Publications, awards, students, and alumni. But which ones were the most read? Read on and find out what were our top posts of 2018.

10) Amazing News x2 from Tommy Mayberry

9) Welcoming Dr. Megan Selinger

8) Jack Halberstam: TRANS* Visual archives of the transgendered body

7) Our Newest PhD: Dr. Sarah Whyte!

6) I asked about the best book and…

5) Five odd questions: PhD candidate Jin Sol Kim

4) Our newest PhD, Clare Bermingham, on “Feeling Queer Together”

3) Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher for President!

2) Welcoming Dr. Carter Neal

1) Award for undergrad Danielle Bisnar Griffin