By Michelle Armstrong
Like the two diverging roads that Frost describes, Dana Zaskoda's path is one less traveled by, and today, it has led her to TC's English Education program. Not many people can say that they teach graduate level courses, tutor fellow members of their academic community, and oversee one of the College's most critical services, all while penning a dissertation based upon a new genre of literature. This doctoral student who calls Rosenberg, Texas home is certainly in a league of her own. She can do it all and does, readying herself to tackle these various responsibilities by rolling up her sleeves as she gets down to business.
Her intellectual acumen goes without saying. Dana, a graduate of Southwest Texas State University, earned not one but two Bachelor's degrees in literature and history. During her time at STSU, her growing interest in researching and understanding how authors depict human interaction with nature piqued her interest in what is referred to as environmental literature. Eager to more deeply examine the genre, Dana enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Nevada, Reno to attain her Master's in English with an emphasis on this newly emerging field. During her studies at UNR, a teaching fellowship throughout those years helped to underwrite her expenses. No stranger to the role of instructor-she had previously taught adult non-native English speakers while at STSU as well as when working with Americorp's Even Start program--gave her a feel for teaching in a university setting. Experience in facilitating classes like Freshman Composition and Urban Environmental Literature cultivated Dana's pedagogical skills, and she determined during the final year of her program that she wanted to become a literature professor.
Yet, when reviewing her resume with her professors as a part of the professional component of her Master's program, it strongly suggested that she not only loved to teach, but also that her experiences had been stepping stones to a career that would enable Dana to make a difference in the lives of others. After all, she had been doing so for several years. So, after a brief stint in Europe following her May 2000 graduation from UNR, Dana embarked upon the next phase of her educational pursuits as a doctoral student in the Department of Arts and Humanities at TC. "The freedom to design my own program, study education, and teach teachers" are catalytic factors that Dana cites as impetuses behind her decision to attend the College.
Although entering her program with an already impressive resume, her repertoire of skills has been even further enhanced during the past three years. This is attributable to both the talent and tenacity that Dana possesses that have merited the attention of faculty at the College. For example, Dana has now branched into writing and developing curricula for graduate courses. She worked collaboratively with James Albright, professor of English Education, and educational technology specialist Judith Cramer-Fendelman to develop their Literacies & Technologies in the Secondary English Classroom course, and then assisted students with course assignments on an individual basis during its implementation phase. In fact, Dana was a co-researcher with Albright and Cramer on behalf of the class, which was a grant-funded study that sought to yield knowledge about how the technology course would affect pre-service English Education students' dispositions to computer mediated literacy instruction. The experience provided an excellent foundation for Dana's design of her own course, Organic Education: Sense of Place, Teaching Methods, Problems, and Possibilities, which she taught during Summer 2002. As grant writer and recipient of the Dean's Grant for Use of Technology in Teaching, Dana is currently the primary co-researcher for another project, Linking Literature and Science Through Technology: Creating a Web Site with and for Students and Teachers. Along with faculty members Greg Hamilton of her program and Elaine Howes of the Science Education program, the team is working to develop a Web site that supports middle school pre- and in-service teachers and students by helping to link science-oriented topics found in literary works to relevant online sites. By doing so, they can more thoroughly explore such themes from a technological perspective.
"I could go on and on," says Dana about the writings and theorists who have influenced her, including Dewey, Martnello and Cook, and TC's Ruth Vinz. Vinz's Composing a Teaching Life, which seeks to inspire individuals to critically examine their own teaching lives in order to create a working schema for what and why they teach, has been a primary source of inspiration. One can only imagine her delight when she was invited to work with the professor this past summer on behalf of the Secondary Literacy Institute for which she coordinated and facilitated training for high school teachers in balanced literacy, a new instructional framework for New York City public schools. Dana's talents have taken her into neighboring locales like New Jersey where she consulted on behalf of Academic Advantage to transform a middle school's writing center into an interactive learning space, and she has also garnered an international reputation for her expertise. Not long ago, the United Kingdom welcomed her as the only American and only student representative on a panel of professors in Bath, England for a culture and environmentalism conference where she presented the paper, Using Literature Depicting Nature in Cities in the Composition Classroom.
Who better to represent Teachers College and the U.S. for a paper presentation than the director of the College's Writing Skills Center? She began as a writing tutor when she first arrived at TC, and then acted as co-coordinator for 2 years. In September 2002, Dana became director and has since then made tremendous strides in improving the services that the center offers. Overseeing a staff of tutors who work with clientele on literature reviews, research papers, and dissertations, Dana's visionary outlook resulted in an additional $15,000 in funding to renovate the office's facilities and to provide resource materials for tutors. In a unique move, she has further turned the venture into a win-win situation for all by offering workshops on everything ranging from public speaking to APA format, another service that generates revenues to help cover operating costs. Dana asks her tutors to do no more than she herself does as she, too, maintains a client roster. In addition to her role of tutor, she is an experienced copy editor who recently revised the English Education program plan and course descriptions for the College catalogue.
Dana says that her program "is like a little community." She remembers that when the article that she co-wrote with Hamilton based upon their work funded by the Dean's Grant was published in Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literature, faculty member Janet Miller "was really sweet and wrote a memo congratulating us and announcing it to all of the faculty." She says that Miller then "copied the memo and the article and had the office assistants place them in all the Masters and doctoral students' boxes [as well as in the boxes of] all of the professors in the department." What she calls the "human touches" are such considerate acts that let students know that their efforts do not go unrecognized.
With an anticipated graduation date of May 2004, Dana's dissertation concentrates on proposing a framework for teaching environmental literature. This will be a first in the field, and has the potential to be a groundbreaking work. That only goes to prove the manner in which she is supported at TC to project herself as a scholar, asserting and validating arguments in a manner that gives her a true voice among other academics. Because of TC's collegial atmosphere, "I could be a part of something big if I wanted to" she feels, and that, in the words of Frost, has made all the difference.