WIU English Students Present Research at Sigma Tau Delta Convention – Western Illinois University

WIU English Students Present Research at Sigma Tau Delta Convention

April 18, 2022


MACOMB, IL – Five students from the Western Illinois University Department of English presented their original research at the international Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society convention in Atlanta, GA.

Over four days, from March 30 – April 2, senior English major and chapter treasurer Darrin Ross, of Kirkwood, IL; senior English major and chapter secretary Ashunti Westbrook, of Chicago; senior English minor and chapter historian Jessica Schaumberg, of Streator, IL; senior English major Josh Fahrenkrog, of Aledo, IL; and senior English major Samantha Misener, of Grand Ridge, IL presented juried papers and fielded questions from the audience and attended panels of other English majors from among the 900 chapters of Sigma Tau Delta around the world. Approximately 70 percent of papers are accepted annually for presentation at the convention.

Ross presented, “Race and Queerness in The heart is a lonely huntr,” a paper he wrote outside of class. His paper won first place, with a cash prize of $600 for best convention paper, in the field of American literature.

“I couldn’t quite believe when they announced my paper for first place in American Literature,” said Ross. “I was honored to represent Western Illinois University and the English Department at the Sigma Tau Delta convention. There, I was able to establish invaluable connections with other writers and critics across the United States.”

In the fall, Ross will begin student teaching and will complete his bachelor’s degree in English Education. After teaching, he plans to attend graduate school to study Rural Sociology or Public Policy.

Westbrook presented, “A Queer Reading of Frankenstein.” a portion of her undergraduate honors thesis, supervised by WIU English Professor Merrill Cole.

“This was my first Sigma Tau Delta convention, and it was an amazing opportunity to connect with so many different people covering interesting topics with unique perspectives,” said Westbrook. “On my panel, I was able to discuss Frankenstein from a queer perspective, and look at masculinity from my other panelist’s perspective. We all brought different ideas and understandings to Mary Shelley’s text, and it made for interesting conversations that will help to expand my thinking.”

In the fall, Westbrook will teach student in Chicago as part of her final semester for her bachelor’s degree in English Education.

Schaumberg presented two papers, “Summary and Close Reading of ‘I Could Not Tell,'” supervised by WIU English Professor David Banash, and “Analysis of Character and Setting in Dear Martin,” which she wrote outside of class. Nic Stone, the author of the New York Times bestselling young adult novel Dear Martinthe society’s Common Reader for 2021-2022, which the featured speaker and signed copies of her book at the convention.

“This convention surpassed all my expectation.” Said Schaumberg. “I loved listening to all the presentations and learning about everyone’s research. It was a great experience to be surrounded by people so passionate about English. Nic Stone was simply amazing, and hearing her discuss Dear Martin really gave me a new perspective of the book. I would definitely recommend this convention to any and all English majors.”

After graduating from Western in May, Schaumberg will pursue a Master’s in Music at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Her primary focus will be Flute Performance, and she will continue to teach and compose.

Fahrenkrog presented “Living Chess in the Depths of Hill House,” supervised by WIU English Professor Tim Helwig.

“It was an incredible experience meeting so many brilliant minds,” said Fahrenkrog. “There were a wide range of discussions and activities that will benefit both my continued development in English and English Education. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend such a great event. This was a one-of-a-kind experience that I would suggest any English enthusiast attend.”

In the fall, Fahrenkrog will take his last semester of classes before he starts student teaching in Spring 2023.

Misener presented “The Not-So Subtle Art of Confession,”” a piece of creative non-fiction supervised by WIU English Associate Professor Barbara Lawhorn.

“I would never have imagined a work of mine being selected for the convention,” said Misener. “While there, I felt at home being surrounded by peers who also have a passion for writing. Listening to everyone’s unique voices in their pieces was a priceless experience. This was an amazing opportunity for me to present my work to a larger audience while also making new connections.”

In the fall, Misener will finish her degree at Western and then embark on a career in writing.

All five students received College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Grants for their trip, as well as funding from the Office of Student Engagement and the Department of English. Ross and Fahrenkrog also received the Norman and Carmelita Teeter Undergraduate Research Award of $300 for their exceptional grant proposals.

Senior English major, chapter president, and Midwestern Student Representative (SR) for the honor society Josh Stinson, of Cambridge, IL, also attended the convention.

“As the student representative for the Midwestern Region, I had a heavy hand in preparing and leading the student-led events that at the convention,” he said. “There was a Student Exposition, in which I led a literary character guessing game. There was also a Student Networking Event where I answered questions and facilitated discussion among attendees from the Midwest. Aside from my responsibilities, I was able to take part in amazing events, such as attending talks by authors Nic Stone and Richard Blanco, and I was able to make lifelong friends from all over the country. It was an outstanding time, and despite being busy, I will never forget the experience.”

English major and Sigma Tau Delta chapter member Samantha Smith also attended the convention.

“While I did not present a paper at the convention, I made the decision to attend on my own because I saw that this would be a valuable experience for me. I attended a wide range of paper presentations as well as a round table centered on Secondary English Education, which is my field of study, and this was truly an invaluable experience,” she said. “Not only was I able to witness real academic excellence, but I was also able to deepen my friendship with classmates that I already knew.”

Smith is a senior English Education major, from Lewistown, IL, who plans to graduate in the fall of 2023.

When the students were not attending each other’s panels, exchanging ideas, and sharing meals and ice cream, they visited the childhood home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, where they were excited to find a memorial to civil rights leader and former WIU student CT Vivian.

English professor, chapter advisor, and outgoing Midwestern Regent for the honor society Tim Helwig helped to organize the students’ trip, moderated panels, and finished his second four-year term as Regent.

“I was really impressed with how well our student presenters fielded questions from the audience and attended each other’s presentations in a show of support,” Helwig said. “There were approximately 300 paper presentations by undergraduate and graduate students during the convention, and Darrin’s first-place finish in the field of American literature is an amazing accomplishment. Our chapter’s participation at convention since 2012 is a sign of the health of our chapter and We presently have 41 members, and hopefully many of them will take the opportunity to present their own work at next year’s convention to be held in Denver.”

For more information about the WIU Department of English, visit wiu.edu/English.

Posted By: University Communications (U-Communications@wiu.edu)
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