Olivia Gundrum – Future Teacher Highlighting the Power of Literacy

How would you describe your time as an English or Film Studies major at MSU?

My time as an English major has been transformative and filled with immeasurable growth. Throughout the past four years, I’ve learned so much about myself and the world around me. As a future high school English teacher, I am thankful that I was able to enroll in so many English classes that helped me develop my beliefs about the importance & power of literacy. Being a part of the College of Arts and Letters has given me an incredible foundation for teaching English language arts to others. 

Which classes, instructors, or experiences particularly stand out for you and why? How did they prepare you for the next phase of your life?

I’ve had the privilege of having Dr. Lamar Johnson each year of my undergrad. His CREE framework is now the foundation of my teaching practices. So much of who I will be as an educator is because of the work we did in his classes. He provided space for his students that few professors provide. We talked honestly and personally about race, and that has helped me to create space for those conversations in my future English classroom. 

During my senior year, I got to take two courses with Dr. Malone. She is fantastic. I’ve loved our class discussions and how she has helped merge my passion for teaching and my love of literature. She consistently brought in guest lecturers who shared their perspectives on how we can have a community-centered approach. Overall, I love the classroom community we had in Dr. Malone’s classes and I was glad to have her during my last year at MSU.  

Dr. Boyadjian’s classes were also a favorite of mine. I look up to her as an example of how to make education challenging for students while still ensuring that all students feel supported in their learning. I grew so much intellectually in each of her classes. Topics like Said’s Orientalism and the text, The Death of the Author are still pieces I find myself coming back to. 

My first semester at MSU, I took an introductory English class with Briona Jones. She introduced me to Audre Lorde, a poet who has stuck with me throughout my undergrad. As one of the very first instructors I had at MSU, she introduced me to academia and helped me to feel like my thoughts and opinions were worth sharing. She pushed me beyond my limited view of the world and helped me explore new perspectives. I’m very grateful to have ended up in her class during my first year at MSU. 

What advice would you give future English or Film Studies majors, based on your experiences in the department?

My advice to future students at MSU is to make the most out of every experience. If you see an event that you think will be interesting or you’re wanting to go to office hours to ask your professor more questions- just go. After a year of not being able to have a full college experience, I just recommend that students make the most of this time. 

What coursework-related projects were/are you working on this year, and what interests or excites you about them? (Capstone courses, honors thesis, independent studies, etc.)

In my honors seminar, under Dr. Johnson’s direction, I created a year-long lesson plan for a high school English classroom. The curriculum centered around the question: What does liberation look like? This lesson plan broke the year up into four segments: “Understanding My Identity,” “Understanding My Community,” “Understanding Systems of Power,” and “Understanding Liberation.” This was my first real opportunity to think about a whole year of instruction. It was meaningful to be able to design a course from scratch. Throughout each unit, students will explore their identities, learn about the vibrancy that exists in their communities, make connections to larger societal structures, and ultimately reflect on the society we hope to work toward. I am eager to teach this curriculum. 

What are your hopes and aspirations, post-graduation?

After graduation, I will be participating in the fifth-year internship program through the College of Education. Specifically, I’m a part of the new residency program in Detroit Public Schools, where I will be placed in the Academy of the Americas. I will work as both a student teacher and a part-time substitute. Teaching is my greatest passion, and I’m excited to be on the path to becoming a high school English teacher. 

If you’re interested in doing so, please reflect a bit on the strange experience of being a graduating senior during COVID. What resources have been most useful to you in navigating this unprecedented situation?

To speak honestly, this year has been painful & disappointing due to the circumstances of the pandemic. There are so many aspects of my senior year that I felt I missed out on. Mainly, I miss the opportunities to build more relationships with classmates, professors, and friends. However, my professors have been incredibly understanding. I appreciated how in many of my classes we’d do a “rant & rave” or a “daily question,” just so that everyone in class could catch up with each other. Also, being a part of the MRULE-ICA Program has been a huge part of my undergrad. So, I was elated that we were able to continue doing round table discussions in an online format.