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Down the Road: The Graduates
E d u c a t o r s w o n d e r h o w s t u d e n t s t u r n e d o u t , w h a t t h e y d i d w i t h t h e e d u c a t i o n they received, and where they ended up years after obtaining an undergraduate degree. Many English graduates have gone on to do exciting things. Here is a glimpse of a few of their lives.
Daniel Reynolds by Carole Smith
The Open Road: What is your background?
Daniel Reynolds: I came to OCU to dance, but ended up getting a B.A. in English, a B.A. in Religious Studies, and an M.A. in Education. I was a certified Language Arts Teacher for three years at Hoover Middle School in Oklahoma City before joining the Peace Corps.
OR: What is your current title or position?
DR: I am a Peace Corp Volunteer in Ukraine and work as a Teacher Trainer at the Zhytomyrska Recertification Institute in Zhytomyr. My duties as a volunteer are pretty diverse. Rather than have one job that takes up the bulk of my time, I have a lot of little ones that seem to scurry away with it, snatch- ing it into dark corners whenever I flip on the light of attention and think “doesn't the human body need to sleep?” My main job is to teach English and teach teachers how to teach English. To that end, I train the English teachers in my oblast (Ukraine's version of a state) in interactive teaching techniques (as opposed to the lecture method they have been using) and over the past two years have personally trained over 300 of them. As part of that job, I write a lot of teaching materials and travel to towns and villages, giving “mas- ter lessons” to students while the schools’ teachers watch. Even though many of the teachers have been teaching longer than I have been alive, they humor me. . . I work directly with students in my city via an English club, English improvement classes, and an English movie club. My other two areas are healthy lifestyles and civic educa- tion. In the former I've done a lot of work
Reynolds in his new role as a mad scientist
“I took the road less traveled, and now I'm not quite sure where I ended up, but it's pretty and has poppiesand I think I'll stay a
combining extreme sports and HIV/AIDS lectures. We've built a climbing wall in my city and also bought 10 bikes with grant money. In order to climb on the wall or go on biking tours, the youth need to attend a one hour HIV/AIDS seminar. We also spun those into a larger climbing/team-building/healthy lifestyles summer camp that included infor- mation about not only HIV/AIDS, but alco- hol abuse, narcotics, and cigarettes. With another volunteer, I helped organize an across-Ukraine relay race to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS that was shut down before it started when the government ministers were all forced to leave office after a political coup. It has been passed on to two more vol- unteers to manage and hopefully the run will begin in May 2007. In the area of civic edu- cation, I've worked to help various Ukrainian NGOs get grants for their own projects, which have ranged from opening a resource center for Zhytomyr NGOs conducting lead- ership and conflict resolution seminars for youth to funding television shorts that inform Ukrainians about their legal rights. And that's about half of what I've worked on.
OR: What factors prompted you to choose this profession?
DR: I am a volunteer because someone had the bright idea of putting up a Peace Corps recruiting poster in the OCU learning center where I had tutored. Volunteer work, language training, living abroad, and someone else foots the bill? Cool. Peace Corps is kind of like
drinking five cups of tea; you go where and when it tells you to. You're being paid to be a great person. How great is that? And how great is it that American citizens pay others to go do that in the world? This is the rewarding aspect of Peace Corps.
OR: What are the interesting or unusual details associated with your work/life?
DR: In Peace Corps, your life is one big story. Everything is new and different and keeps being new and different your entire service. I've been beaten by birch branches in a tradi- tional Ukrainian banya, danced to an accor- dion under the streets of Kiev, and canned my own vegetables for the winter. I've crossed the border to Romania on a bus full of cigarette smugglers, crawled through subterranean pas- sages with only a headlamp under Budapest, and sailed for four days on a wood yacht in Turkey. Every week there was some new story to write home about. Even when I felt like I was getting used to things and that life was “normal,” some interesting event came along
like when I was jogging in the farmland near
my city and ran right into a Ukrainian funeral procession carrying an open casket through wheat fields, or when at a summer camp in the southern part of the country, the kids led us to a Greek-ruin-strewn beach and we swam among the foundations of ancient houses, or when, or when, or when . . .
OR: Are there downsides that others who are contemplating the same career path might want to consider?
DR: Since coming to Ukraine I've been mugged once, attacked by a dog twice, had the police try to extort me three times, was stricken with gastroenteritis four times, and lived through a revolution, Eurovision, and the World Cup (guess which one was louder). I've seen three dead bodies in the street (or on the front door to my work place), been threat- ened by a skinhead, been assaulted by a skin- head, watched a guy beat up his girlfriend, watched another guy get beaten up by four mafiosos, spent nights sleeping in train stations waiting on trains that never arrived, eaten sev- eral times my body weight in cabbage (possi- bly worse than everything above), learned that running water, electricity, and heat are privileges, not rights, and lived through the coldest Ukrainian winters in a century (30 degrees below zero; my eyelashes froze together whenever I blinked). But I do love it here. Seriously, I do.
OR: What OCU experiences played a role in what you are doing?
DR: Other than that Peace Corps recruit- ing poster in the OCU Learning Center, I'd say that what I learned most at OCU is to dream and dream big. My freshman year I hadn't been sure that I would even go to college and looked to get it over with as quickly as possible. The professors at OCU, though, awoke in me a hunger for knowl- edge and experiences that has yet to be sated. It was because of them that I am here today. I would like to thank, in particular, Dr. Elaine Smokewood, Dr. Terry Phelps, Dr. John Starkey, and Dr. Harbour Winn for their encouragement. They supported me on this path even when my family and friends thought I was nuts. I owe you all.
OR: Would you have done anything differ- ently along the way?
DR: I would have done nothing differently save one thing: when I saw that guy punching his girlfriend in the club, I did what everyone else did, which was nothing. Now, regardless of whatever the consequences may have been, I would have stopped it. That is my one regret.
OR: What are your plans for the future?
DR: I'm looking forward to eating a lot of American junk food, being warm in Florida, and spending time with my family. Maybe I'll eventually find a tougher job that I'll love even more, but for now I'm looking forward to being home. I will miss Ukraine, particularly the friends I've made here and the watermelons in September, but I do feel it's time to get back to those I left.
OR: Do you have any thoughts/advice for graduating seniors at OCU, especially those anxious about the real world?
DR: If I had any advice it would be trite but true: follow your dreams. Oh, and if you've ever thought about teaching, do it, because you will fall in love with your kids and change them, and they will change you, and it will be one of the best experiences of your life. And if you've ever thought of joining Peace Crops, do it, because it is everything they say it is: you will become both stronger and more sensitive, learn who you are, and help make the world a better place; and it will also be one of the best experiences of your life. Good luck.
Note: Since this interview, Daniel has returned to the U. S., where he is teaching 8th grade language arts, work- ing part time with Mad Science, working on a documen- tary, and pursuing a book deal.
B. Aiden Poole by Carole Smith
B. Aiden Poole, class of '96, is a teacher. “I am a third generation public school teacher,” says Poole. “I always said I was not so much 'raised' as 'classroom managed.'” Poole cur- rently teaches 10th and 11th grade English/Yearbook at Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City, where he has found what he was looking for – a school that accepts differences in students and faculty, and one that provides academic freedom – a school rich in diver- sity without prejudices. Citing “hanging out with teenagers” as one of the perks of his job, he feels especially rewarded when for- mer students come by and thank him for preparing them for college writing. Poole shared some of the challenges of his teach- ing experiences with Open Road: “Teaching is not for the sensitive, inconsistent, or indecisive among us. The emotional and physical toll of making the dizzying number of decisions a teacher makes each day is immense. There is no time for delay or deep thought. There is no space for blind optimism or absolute pessimism.” He has very positive memories of religion classes at OCU, and he is grateful to OCU for “giv- ing me an excellent, broad education in the liberal arts that I have continually fall- en back on throughout my career.”
Renee Gutteridge by Keating Donohoe
Novelist Renee Gutteridge, a '95 graduate, has published 10 novels, 40 comedy sketch- es, and has just completed the novelization of The Ultimate Gift from a book by Jim Stovall. The movie from Stovall's book, starring James Garner and Brian Dennehy, opened in early March; Gutteridge's novel was released March 20. Of her years at OCU she says, “I learned so much. It is for- tunate to have professors who go the extra mile for you.” She credits Dr. Terry Phelps for suggesting she attempt a novel. From that she found her passion – screenwriting. Her career has drastically affected her life,
and she says being a novelist is “very unglamorous and requires a lot of work with little contact from the outside world.” For this accomplished writer, the reward is in the creation of a novel. “Everything after that,” she says, “is the icing on the cake. I like the icing an awful lot.” She suggests new graduates “focus on what you love to do and go for it.”
Laura Lester by Carole Smith
Laura Lester, an '05 graduate, earned a B.A. in English with an emphasis in writing. She landed a job in the Marketing and Public Relations Department of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is now the copy editor for the Art of Yoga Studio and Gallery in Oklahoma City. Of her position in Santa Fe, Lester says it was “like opening a Christmas present every day.” She notes that her present position with the studio and gallery is an outlet for her two pas- sions – “writing and yoga.” She acknowl- edges that the guidance and support of the OCU English Department gave her the con- fidence necessary to apply for the museum position, and she credits her year as manag- ing editor of Open Road as a definite enhancement to her career.
Nina Zlebir Wadzeck by Carole Smith
Nina Wadzeck, a '05 graduate of OCU, teaches science, Spanish, and creative writ- ing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She chose teaching as a profession because she was looking “for a dynamic job, a non-office job.” She loves helping shape kids into responsible adults. She attributes her self-confidence to role models Dr. Terry Phelps and Mike Knopp, coach of the OCU rowing team, who “showed immense faith and trust in me as a developing rower and person.” Wadzeck advises graduates to network and cultivate connections and do what they love to do. Of a teaching career, she says, “You will never be a successful teacher if you lack passion and concern for the children. You won't know whether or not you have succeeded as an educator until years after the children leave your classroom and you see how your influ- ence kept them on the right path.”