Graduate Students Can Apply for Innovative Teaching Seminars

Students sitting in a circle on the lawn

Students on U.Va.'s Lawn

A new program that will bring together University of Virginia graduate students from many disciplines and train them to teach writing to undergraduates will be offered this year. After a successful pilot program in 2012-13, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences has announced the second competition for the Mellon Graduate Teaching Seminars for Excellence in the Humanities, with an application deadline of Aug. 9. 

Jointly funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the College, the team-taught, yearlong seminars train graduate students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences in new methods to teach writing, including techniques developed in humanities computing.

“I am truly excited about these seminars,” said Meredith Jung-En Woo, dean of Arts & Sciences. “We developed them in consultation with the Mellon Foundation, and believe they are innovative, cutting-edge and important for the future of learning at the undergraduate level. They train our graduate students in the pedagogy of tomorrow and improve their career chances as well.” 

Two team-taught seminars will take place in the 2013-14 academic year. Each seminar will enroll up to 15 graduate students from multiple departments. Applicants must be in their fourth or fifth year of graduate study. Their applications must include:

  • A reflective statement on what skills and expertise the student brings to the seminar and what he/she intends to gain from it (1,000 word limit);
  • an unofficial transcript;
  • a curriculum vitae;
  • a brief letter of support from their dissertation director or another faculty member.

Application materials must be submitted electronically to Dena Perez at

The seminars will start with a daylong retreat on Aug. 26 and continue with eight monthly meetings during the fall and spring semesters. Selected graduate student participants who complete the program receive a certificate in “Advanced Pedagogy in the Humanities” and a $500 research/travel fund. 

“We envision that this program will create a community for graduate students across disciplines in the most isolated stage of the dissertation and job market process,” said Cristina Della Coletta, associate dean of humanities and the arts, “and promote sustained interdisciplinary interactions linking faculty and students from different departments and around areas of common interest.”

Michelle Kisliuk, associate professor in the McIntire Department of Music, and Sarah Corse, associate professor of sociology, will offer “Writing Within and Against Canons: Emotions, Aesthetics and Digital Vernaculars.” Bonnie Gordon, associate professor of music, and Vanessa Ochs, professor of religious studies, will offer “Teaching and Practicing Engaged Writing,” a seminar where graduate students from diverse fields will learn to develop a practice for teaching undergraduates to write both inside and outside of the academy. 

Corse and Kisliuk noted that the opportunity to work collaboratively across disciplines as a teaching team and together with graduate students caught their attention. Although there has been increasing interest in trans-disciplinary collaboration at U.Va., “The structure of the University can often inhibit initiatives that offer true collaborative synergies, so we jumped at this chance,” they wrote.

“In the humanities and humanistic social sciences in particular, this is a crucial moment for articulating and reaffirming the centrality of critical thinking and writing. The Mellon seminar initiative is a wonderful chance to be engaged with our graduate students in thinking about ways to challenge undergraduates to invest themselves deeply in their writing, at once as students and as human beings.”

With this goal in mind, Kisliuk and Corse plan to explore some of the many ways in which technology continues to reconfigure how art is created and to blur the boundaries between creators and audiences. They plan to use social media as a way to connect the everyday passions of undergraduates to their critical thinking and writing.

Gordon and Ochs will take a different approach in their “Teaching and Practicing Engaged Writing” course.

“I was interested in teaching this interdisciplinary seminar, because I was a journalist and teacher of writing before I became a professor of religious studies,” Ochs said. “The focus of my writing may have changed, but the motivation hasn’t.”

“As we embrace new technologies, emergent fields and new modes of learning at the University,” Ochs and Gordon wrote, “we retain a traditional obligation to teaching our students to communicate as writers. Particularly when service and experiential learning are being emphasized, graduate instructors need to mentor undergraduates in the art of communicating to broad and particular audiences and to prepare them to effect change through writing.”

The class will also encourage students to develop a practice of critiquing effectively, by including peer editing and review.

“By honing their abilities to connect approaches across the humanities and to meaningfully converse with others in different disciplines,” Della Coletta said, “participants will enhance their competitiveness on the job market with their demonstrated proficiency in these key areas.

“As this program matures, we envision that current faculty, graduate students and alumni of this program will create productive bonds across and beyond Grounds through engaged and ongoing interdisciplinary work.”

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

Office of University Communications