Wednesday morning, I sat down with the newest faculty member of the Humanities Department, English professor Katie Burnett, in the hopes of getting to know her better.
Since it was our first time meeting, I started with the basics, asking about her education background. She shared that she received her Bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. at University of Tennessee, Knoxville and her Master’s at University of Mississippi.
It was then that I learned she was originally a German major because she wanted to travel out of the country and she had taught German classes for elementary school kids while she was still an undergraduate.
Katie informed me that she lived in Germany for a while (near Frankfurt) and told me about some trips to Bulgaria and Amsterdam. My favorite story was easily the one in which she took a spontaneous trip to Italy by herself during a Spring semester in Germany.
She took a cheap flight and, once landed, had to start her adventure by trying to find her way to the city without knowing how to speak any Italian. Once there, Katie spent a week and a half wandering around Milan. The best part was her flight back to Germany where she made friends with a stranger who she later caught a ride with instead of spending the night at the train station again (once, she shared, she was stuck at the station for twelve hours and was woken up by one the security guards). One interesting theory she came up with during her travels is that everyone should experience a trip to the grocery store in a foreign country.
As she showed me a photo of her traveling in Bulgaria, she also pointed out a few photos of her biting into various food items. Katie expressed her love for trying new foods. She shared how one of her friends wrote their entire dissertation on early American cookbooks which were written like novels, and explained that food tells a lot about culture. So, of course one of her first impressions of Iowa was her taste test of pork chop on a stick at the Iowa State Fair over the summer.
Intrigued by all of her travel stories and enthusiasm for food, I asked what else I and other students might never have guessed about her. To my surprise, she confessed that she practiced martial arts when she was younger. She also shared that her parents are bikers. She has her license as well, and hopes to buy a bike of her own one day. I quickly came to realize that English professors are freakin’ awesome.
So just how did a biker chick with martial arts training and a desire for spontaneous travel come to teach English in small town Iowa?
Katie explained her hesitation with what direction she wanted to take, at one point considering law school as her parents suggested. As she struggled to make a decision, she worked as a pizza cook and spent a lot of her spare time reading. Katie realized she had enjoyed the teaching she had done so far and that she could teach and talk about the books and things that she already thought about constantly. Thus we have Katie Burnett, Professor of English.
Knowing she had lived in cities and traveled many places, I asked what surprised her most about the school or Lamoni during her first semester. Like many people, she was shocked by the diversity of the student body, which I agree is one of the most interesting aspects of this university.
I was curious about the Southern Hauntings class she taught in the fall that I regrettably missed out on, so she pulled some books from the large shelf in her office to show some of the course material. One of the books was a graphic novel, which I thought was a pretty neat addition. Katie explained that she’s considering changing the class to American Gothic which would be more contemporary, and is thinking of including movies as well. She described the changes she made to the Senior Project class that she’s currently teaching, which she restructured to function like a creative writing workshop. She also plans to reform the Structure of English class, ultimately changing the name to Cultural Language and Texts. Katie noticed the class was mostly focused on grammar and linguistics before, whereas she would rather focus more on the act of creating language and interpreting literature.
I was excited to hear about all the changes she is planning to make, and look forward to seeing how they turn out when I take her classes in upcoming semesters. If others are in search of classes that are different and interesting, what better way to start than by checking out some of the refreshing courses that our new English professor offers!