Dr. Ronald Strickland
Chair, Department of Humanities
Michigan Technological University
Houghton, Michigan 49931
Dear Dr. Strickland,
Please accept my application for the position of Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate specializing in rhetoric and composition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a dissertation defense date set for March. My experience developing engaging composition curricula and my published research on composition pedagogy and the rhetoric of science qualify me for the position you advertised in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
As a composition instructor, my teaching emphasizes the intimate connections between disciplinary rhetorics and broader social contexts, providing students with advanced research projects that address real-world exigencies and wider audiences. In my current course on writing in the academic disciplines, the curriculum culminates with a service-learning project that pairs college students with younger writers at an underserved public high school in New York City. My students practice educational writing while helping their younger partners to revise prose and to understand better their future college matriculation. Now in its fifth year, this unit has repeatedly been a highlight of my courses, encouraging students to take ownership of their writing skills while giving them a practical setting in which their skills can serve others.
I am convinced that rhetorical skills need to be taught in these real-world contexts, and I have constructed a number of similar practice-based science and social science writing units that integrate the technologies those disciplines require with the rhetorical conventions they use. For example, in my social science unit students use web-based surveys and data analysis to identify statistical correlations and to argue for causal relationships, showing them how collecting, processing and visualizing information is integral to that discipline’s rhetoric. Likewise, in my science writing unit, students design experimental procedures and exhibit data in oral and visual presentations, introducing them to the inextricable connections between scientific methods and technical arguments.
I pursue similar pedagogical goals by frequently using digital media during classroom instruction, techniques I began learning during my internship at UNC’s Studio for Instructional Technologies in English Studies and which I have come to make a central part of my teaching practice. Using web-based writing exercises and collaborative on-line composition technologies, I encourage students to see writing as a social act in which their authority is produced, not by adherence to preconceived rules, but rather through the repeated and increasingly fluent connections they create between themselves and their audiences. This gives students a more practical introduction to the composition skills they need to be successful, while allowing them to share their writing more often and learn from work done by peers. Such techniques also foster a more cooperative classroom and create learning environments that support students of differing abilities and backgrounds. That has been a particularly important part of my pedagogy at UNC where I teach a required writing course that draws from the entirety of our diverse student body. These tools and experiences have all helped me design a student-centered curriculum that engages a variety of learning styles and encourages intellectual growth for all students.
My success with these techniques has been repeatedly acknowledged by colleagues at UNC and at other institutions. My published work on integrating service-learning and composition instruction details the curriculum I developed at UNC, showing how it empowered student writers and increased their engagement with composition techniques. I have presented similarly successful research on my use of collaborative composition technologies at the Conference on College Composition and Communication and that work is the subject of an article-length study that I am currently developing for publication. My department’s Peer Mentoring Committee noted the innovation and effectiveness of this curriculum when presenting me with their 2012-2013 Award for Excellence in Teaching Composition. Subsequently I was elected to join that committee and participate in its important work helping other graduate instructors develop and assess their teaching. This strong foundation in composition pedagogy prepares me to make a substantial contribution to the writing curriculum at Michigan Tech.
Like my pedagogy, my research on the rhetoric of science is motivated by a parallel concern for the ways scholarly debates interact with broader disciplinary exigencies. My dissertation project, The Agricultural Climax and Darwin’s Evolutionary Rhetoric, traces Charles Darwin’s encounter with a group of agricultural writers who reconceived popular perceptions of animal husbandry at the turn of the 19th century. While Darwin openly acknowledged borrowing the concept of “selection” from these experts’ technical writings on husbandry and breeding, few scholars have looked closely at the way Darwin’s evolutionary logic emerges out of his encounter with the specific styles and tropes these writers used. Two specific rhetorical figures (metonymy and incrementalism) were especially important in these agricultural texts, helping agricultural writers to articulate the gradually emerging power of human agents over their lands and animals. My work shows that Darwin was not only taken by these depictions of human agency and control, but also that he was particularly impressed with the stylistic language that modern agricultural writers used in their portrayals of such power. My work also demonstrates that Darwin structured important parts of his own argument in the Origin of Species using logical equivalents of the metonymic and incrementalist styles he found in agricultural writing. As such, this study makes the argument that rhetorical style can be critically important to disciplinary arguments, and it suggests composition students can benefit from learning the variety of sentence-level devices by which rhetoricians develop and articulate their ideas.
My department recently recognized the success of this scholarship by awarding me a McLaurin Dissertation Fellowship, which funded my research during the previous semester. I have also presented elements of this study at a number of academic conferences, and I will discuss my most recent findings at the upcoming meeting of the Modern Language Association. The positive reception these presentations received encouraged me to submit a portion of my dissertation to the Quarterly Journal of Speech where it was subsequently published. I would be happy to provide you with a copy of that article as a sample of my work.
Please find my curriculum vitae attached to this submission. If you would like to request other materials, I can be reached at xxx or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your consideration.
Oren M. Abeles