A Not-So-Accelerated Path to an M.A.

Graduate student Amanda Grieme is here to tell the soundtrack to her own story at ESU.

Amanda Grieme

Contributing Writer

Every one of us has a soundtrack to our lives.  Our tapestries are rich and stitched with fragmented moments wrapped in color, snapshots, and sound that only we can truly understand.  

When we run our hands over each memory, we hear a song that transports us to that stage in our lives to relive it; it is our own mixtape, and it is a gift. 

For the sake of this story, I rewind my mixtape to 1996, pausing somewhere between Iggy Pop’s version of Lust for Life and New Order’s Temptation on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack.  That is when I graduated from ESU with a double major in English and Media Studies.  

My remarkable mentors in both departments and experiences in academia shaped me in my most formative years and unknowingly held my hand through some difficult things that were surfacing in my world.  

Writing and radio became my creative passions (and they still are), media studies fascinated me (and it still does), but I didn’t know what to do with it all (it’s a work-in-progress).  

That August following a May graduation, I headed to my best friend Brian’s flat, nestled above a soul food kitchen off of Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, New York in search of something.  

I briefly tried the creative corporate route coupled with a vain attempt at acting and other non-lucrative endeavors for amateurs.  Although eventful, I still felt ill equipped and unfulfilled.  

NYC became a lonely place and even harder to navigate when bathed in the savory scent of soul food, without the scratch to indulge. 

A hazy year-or-so into it all, I found myself back on a bus heading to the Delaware Water Gap in search of some semblance of order.  

Not only was I sustaining myself on cigarettes and coffee, I was also coping, not-too-well, with a then recent insidious bipolar diagnosis that left me incapacitated and irrational in one breath, and deliciously optimistic in the other.  

I did not take it seriously and was floundering.  Hiding the maelstrom in my mind, I asked… and ESU reached out her hand shortly thereafter.  I reentered the world of academia as a graduate student; it was a comfort, a blessing and the hope that I needed at that stage.  

I hit play and enjoyed a blissful moment with Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five while I juggled waiting tables, graduate classes, and assisted Robert McKenzie, PhD with a Broadcast Education Association writing project.  

Still, I self-medicated a mental illness that lingered just beneath the surface; I drowned myself in substances to mask the intensity of my dis-ease, and ignored all third party attempts to make me see the big picture. Pause. 

I hit play again, despite it all, and earned a Professional and Secondary Education certification.  

I then became a secondary English teacher in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for many years somewhere blissfully switching between Modest Mouse’ tracks All Night Diner and Baby Blue Sedan. And while teaching and working through my own maladies, 

I wrote and published a handful of books that reflected my mental health advocacy ideals.  I also coupled my writing by broadcasting on a blog radio network (and still do) inspired by all my years as a DJ on 90.3 WESS.  

As I healed as an educator, I was constantly reminded of a failed mental health system in the faces of many of the struggling teens that I exchanged ideas with, who were oftentimes overlooked or misunderstood. Many of them felt hopeless and without any outlet; they were a constant reminder of where I had been, and what I had overcome.  

As a mother, I felt I had an obligation to each child; as a survivor, writing and radio continue to be my mediums to give back. 

In the last decade, while swimming through Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, I pondered completing an M.S. in Secondary Education, took a course or two, but felt that education was not really my route. 

In fact, one snowy day at home with my then very young daughter, I had a warm conversation with English professor Holly Wells, PhD, who I called on a whim to inquire about the new English M.A. program that I had read about.  Dr. Wells, then the PDMW Graduate studies coordinator enlightened me; ESU was, indeed, proudly offering a M.A. in Professional and Digital Media Writing; the seed was planted.  

I was inspired, but soon after hit with the reality that finding the time and the funds as a mother, teacher, writer and wife to pursue the degree seemed difficult for me to attain. 

With the seed still in utero, I hit fast-forward. Courtney Barnett’s Avante-Gardener played a few years later in late August of 2021, when a routine morning walk with my dogs before my daughter’s first day of fifth grade left me completely incapacitated; I had the misfortune of falling and breaking my right leg and tearing ligaments in my left ankle.  

Not one to fare well when feeling stagnant, I reached out, once again, to ESU… in search of some sort of lifeboat.  

After a few short conversations with a handful of vastly helpful people, I procured a PDMW graduate assistantship with Dr. Jasmine Villa to embark on a new journey, one that didn’t require walking or driving for the fall semester. 

That silver-lined school year featured English professor’s Dr. Jan Selving, Dr. Holly Wells, Dr. Jasmine Villa, Dr. Erica Dymond and Professor William Broun who collectively strengthened my writing chops.

I fast-forward my mixtape to present where I am enjoying a post punk moment. Fugazi’s Waiting Room plays as I work through my third semester in Professional Digital and Media Writing. 

In hindsight, I think that if I’d had the chance to embark on an accelerated M.A. in English or Media Studies as an undergraduate student, I would’ve jumped at the opportunity.  

I relish the opportunity to learn and collaborate with exceptional people who have inspired me to want to teach on a college level.  

In addition, the students who I have the privilege of sharing class with who are still enrolled as undergraduates find the accelerated program advantageous, as it can shave off the time it takes to earn a M.A. post-undergraduate. 

According to Jasmine Villa, PhD, coordinator of the Professional and Digital Media Writing graduate program, “A student who takes four classes as an undergraduate only needs to take five more classes and complete a thesis or capstone after they graduate. 

If they take three classes per semester, they should be able to graduate in two semesters, which is significantly less time than the traditional route (being two years).  

All of the classes are taught by a diverse and committed faculty, each of whom brings industry experience and scholarship from a variety of disciplines and fields (e.g. technical communication, writing studies/rhetoric and composition, editorial/journalism, public relations, journalism, and creative writing).  

Several classes, covering the professional document, visual rhetoric in professional writing, integrated research methods, and other types of freelance writing courses, provide the foundational knowledge needed to:

• Become adept at writing for many multimedia platforms

• Become reflective problem solvers;

• Draw on their understanding of rhetorical conventions of specific genres and apply 

it to different domains in their careers;

• Advocate for a wide variety of users/audiences;

• Apply principles of visual design and usability.”  

I can attest to the program’s efficacy and the professor’s willingness to work with non-traditional and traditional students, alike.  

Their collective aim is undoubtedly to provide students with tools to move forward with their passions and in their writing careers.

I rewind to a time when I felt like an extra in the movie adaptation to the sequel of my life… to revisit my initial undergraduate experience at ESU – B.A. in English, B.A. in Media Studies, cradled by sound of Pavement’s “Shady Lane.”  

Then and now, both programs offer courses that are compatible with either course of study.  In fact, last semester, I took a super interesting Qualitative Research course with Communications professor, Dr. Andi McClanahan, while also studying Professional Writing for Web with English professor, Dr. Jasmine Villa.  

The courses worked synergistically: Qualitative Research reached into advanced rhetorical discussion and research application, while Professional Writing for Web was weighted in applying learned techniques to academic and creative written communication.  

Both were intertwined with common thematic readings and exercises that enhanced my conceptual understanding.  

In addition, this semester I am taking Communication Theory with Communications professor, Dr. Cem Zeytinoglu, in conjunction with Dr. Holly Wells’s Graduate Seminar, and Studies in Journal Literature (literary journalism) with Dr. Erica Dymond.  All three have proven invaluable and mesh conceptually with what I have learned thus far.  

I hit Record. My soundtrack reshapes and my mixtape continues.   

I close in gratitude to East Stroudsburg University for extending herself to me for three decades and counting, with a personal account from an undergraduate Media and English student who I have the privilege of sharing some graduate courses with. Riley Sardinha, both the Editor-and-chief of The Stroud Courier and the program director for 90.3 WESS can attest to how effectual the influence of both programs have been for her.  

She observes that “Some students hold themselves back from writing and don’t realize their true potential.  I myself didn’t realize how skilled of a writer I was until a professor pointed it out to me. And from there, students should be excited to step outside of their comfort zones in writing to really excel.”  

Her tapestry is a work in progress, and her soundtrack, too, made richer by her experiences at ESU.

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