Friday, August 3, 2012

The Woman Who Taught me How to Write

I shared with a friend that my college mentor, Dr. Susan Colon, recently passed away, and he asked me what she was like. My answer was perfunctory – I said we “worked together” on Baylor’s academic journal. But I don’t want that to be the way I describe a woman who influenced so much of who I am today. So here’s another go:  

In my second semester at Baylor, I was a freshman in Dr. Colon’s course – Intellectual Traditions of the Ancient World, my transcript tells me. I remember we met in that big conference room by her office, the one with the long table and the confortable chairs. It was my first “seminar-style” course, and I liked it. I loved the debate, the feeling of community, and the challenge of the rigorous reading list and tough standards. I’m sure I got too excited, talked too much (and much too loudly), and annoyed the other students in my class. Thankfully, Dr. Colon saw something in me and gave me an invaluable gift: she took an interest.

One day near the end of the semester, after a particularly memorable lesson on Plato’s cave, Dr. Colon asked me if I would be interested in applying to the The Pulse, Baylor’s undergraduate academic journal. As was my style at the time (erhm, and maybe still is), I wasn’t completely sure what I was signing up for, but plunged forward full-steam and found myself in the fortuitous situation of joining the editing team the next fall.

That was 2005-2006, the second year of The Pulse’s revival, when Sarah Jane and Musheer were our fearless leaders. The next year, Zoe and I stepped into their rather large footsteps, meaning I spent my junior and senior years as Chief Editor of The Pulse. The website tells me they’ve just published their 9th volume. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a decade! But it’s not so hard to believe that within that decade, The Pulse has remained one of the things for which I am most grateful.

The truth is fairly simple: Dr. Colon taught me how to write. Part of that involved showing me how me watch for common errors and requiring me to study Chicago style so I could edit and format the articles we published, but it also meant showing me how to identify the gap between what a writer is trying to say and what the reader thinks she is trying to say.

And then Dr. Colon went a step further. She taught me how to talk to writers and help them recognize these gaps. This skill has been helpful in my marriage to a writer, and it has been the catalyst for my passion to teach.

Through her kind encouragement, steep expectations, and wonderfully subtle sense of humor, Dr. Colon gave me the confidence to reach for the seemingly unobtainable while I was at Baylor, and afterwards.

Her recommendation facilitated my acceptance to Durham University, where I earned my MA in Twentieth Century Literature, and my work on The Pulse qualified me for an editing gig that helped me pay for that degree. Later, the same qualifications helped me land a copywriter position at Bridgepoint Education – easily the best job I’ve ever had (certainly the only one that turned my head enough to make me consider a non-academic career).

It was Dr. Colon who brought me back to the academy, encouraged me to apply for PhD programs, and then coached me through the decision of which program to attend. And it was Dr. Colon who I wrote first when I accepted UC Davis’ offer.

So, what was Dr. Colon like?

She was an inspirational teacher who gave me my first taste of everything that’s good about academia. She was my model of a successful woman in higher education who was also raising a lovely family. She was the one who helped me uncover my greatest passion and nurtured in me the skills to do it successfully. She shaped my life in more ways than she probably knew, a debt I can only hope to repay by serving the same function for another.


  1. Wow, she sounds like quite the amazing woman! What a lovely and thoughtful homage this is. Isn't is amazing how a fateful encounter with just one person can change our lives forever?