As many know, UWaterloo English hired several new faculty this year. Oddly, the people who assessed the needs of the department and proposed this particular position were unaware of Dr. Brad Mehlenbacher, his close ties to the institution, and his motivation to return to the region. Read on for more–including his comments on when Fed Hall. was “the largest dance hall on any university campus in Canada.” Welcome Dr. Brad Mehlenbacher!
JLH: Welcome to UWaterloo—we know you have a history with the institution. Can you tell us a bit about that, and how it feels to be returning?
BM: I’m absolutely thrilled to be returning to UWaterloo after many years away from what’s always felt like my educational home. Being Canadian and growing up in Southwestern Ontario, I spent the bulk of my childhood in Stratford and in and around Toronto, Ontario. During my visits home, I’ve watched Kitchener-Waterloo grow from a small university town to what feels like a futuristic high-tech hub and cultural centre. I completed my BA and MA in English Co-Op at UWaterloo, and then moved to the United States to earn my PhD in Rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University, before taking a position as an Assistant Professor of English at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. After receiving tenure, I moved from the humanities to the College of Education at NC State.
In 2015, my wife, Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, took a tenure-track position in the Department of English Language & Literature at UWaterloo, and we’ve been enjoying re-acquainting ourselves with the university, city, and region ever since. During my last few years traveling back-and-forth between Raleigh, North Carolina, and Waterloo, Ontario, I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to join the department and to give back to the Canadian research and teaching context what’s been so generously given during my university years. It’s wonderful to be home again.
JLH: What do you see as the biggest change at UWaterloo since you graduated?
BM: The 1980s and 2018 feel dramatically different, particularly in terms of campus resources and architecture (and my lack of familiarity with it!). For example, when I attended UWaterloo, Fed Hall, “the largest dance hall on any university campus in Canada,” was lined up at the door every night of the week. It hosted the likes of Billy Bragg and The Indigo Girls, students danced till 1 AM, and in those days you could smoke inside. The University Club was an unknown to me, and the Bombshelter played “Leave it to Beaver” re-runs every Friday afternoon. Thankfully, they appear to have upgraded the furniture we routinely slept on in what was then called the Campus Centre. I recall there being less food available on campus and many of the spaces between buildings are now filled with new buildings. Fed Hall, the Bombshelter, and the Grad House were where most students ate, studied, and built life-long friendships, or at least that’s my happy memory of the time. I also have vivid memories of Hagey Hall, where I spent the majority of my time and shared an office with three other MA students.
JLH: You’ll be teaching English across faculties: what do you see as the most rewarding part of teaching non-English majors?
BM: I’ve been teaching non-English majors for most of my career, a lucky byproduct of being an English major interested in computers in the 1980s. Working with Dr. Paul Beam on computational analyses of Alexander Pope and Thomas Hardy, and with Dr. Phillip Smith as a TA for Introduction to Computing Technology for Arts majors, I had unique experiences that led me to teach courses enrolled by students across disciplines. Later, at North Carolina State University, I taught engineering communication, science communication, and business communication. And even later I taught training and development and education majors at the graduate level. Personally, I’ve also learned a lot from hearing my eldest daughter talk about her own experiences as a Computer Science major at Duke University, and now, working in the high-tech industry. I have also enjoyed working on numerous grants and dissertation committees that involved non-majors. I haven’t taught first-year students since I was at Carnegie Mellon University, so I’m looking very forward to reacquainting myself students new to their disciplines and to University of Waterloo in general. It’s an exciting time for me to begin teaching first-year students again, as my youngest daughter is just beginning her first year in college this August at UNC-Asheville.
JLH: Can you share a bit about your current research projects?
BM: I am currently working on a book-length manuscript, tentatively entitled “Learner,” an exploration of the rhetoricity of learning across the life span. Drawing on research from education and contemporary rhetoric, I explore the movement from behavioural to cognitive to social theories of learning.
I’ve also been collaborating with Ashley Mehlenbacher on a chapter where we discuss how online genres are used to communicate climate change information. This is part of work I’ve been conducting related to rhetorical studies of science and technology, a field I’ve only been reacquainting myself with over the last few years, last having worked in the area as a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University while completing a dissertation on proposals in biochemical research.
JLH: Finally—because I often ask—what are you reading for fun?
BM: I’m currently reading Timothy Findley’s final novel, Spadework, a book that I picked up in a used bookstore in Stratford, Ontario, and coincidentally, a murder mystery set in Stratford, Ontario, where Findley lived. The inside cover has a map of Stratford which, happily, I haven’t had to rely upon in my reading!