Embracing the Power of Words

by Sharyn Kopf—Cedarville, Ohio

“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,
And come along.
For behold, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone."
Song of Solomon 2:10

    It’s Spring at last. The season that beckons us outside to taste new life, bury our faces in lilac trees, and embrace the warm weather to come. What better way to capture Spring than through poetry? And since it is April and April is National Poetry Month, what better time to take a closer look at the place where poetry resides at Cedarville University — the Department of Language and Literature.

More Than Words
    Written or spoken, words have great power. Ask any president, governor, or small-town mayor. Ask the girl who just got an e-mail saying yes, he likes her.  Ask the applicant on his way to the third job interview in a week. All of which means the people who center their career and, often, their lives around words need the kind of training that prepares them to use language with grace, wisdom, and discernment—whether it’s teaching Spanish or writing speeches for a presidential nominee.

    “Our majors give students preparation in ways they hadn’t thought of,” says Dr. Kevin Heath, department chair and English professor. “They become good thinkers, good writers, and creative problem solvers. They learn to reflect rather than react.”

    Senior English major Justin Keller would agree. “We are taught to analyze and think critically,” he says. “Intellectual exploration is encouraged, and I think it’s this characteristic of the department that really makes it so strong.”

    Heath refers to English as a “rigorous, broad major.” This can be seen in the wide range of influential people who have pursued such studies, like Bob Woodward, Steven Spielberg, Clarence Thomas, and Barbara Walters.

    But a degree from the lang/lit department, as it is more commonly referred, goes far beyond the typical English major. Graduates find themselves in such diverse careers as teaching, government, creative writing, finance, and missions.

    The Technical and Professional Communication major is yet another standout at Cedarville, particularly as a vocationally oriented degree for writers. Headed by English Professor Sandi Harner, who developed the program for the University in 1984, TPC offers a variety of job possibilities. “It leads to careers,” Heath says, “in businesses or industries that need someone to take technical information and communicate it in a way a lay person or consumer can understand.” In fact, the field has grown over the past 20 years, developing into an umbrella term that covers all kinds of writing, publishing, and editing for technical products and services.

    On the whole, it is the combination of the spiritual and the intellectual that truly makes Cedarville’s lang/lit department noticeably different. Julie L. Moore, associate professor of language and literature, says, “As we discover meaning, we’re as thrilled by it as we were when we found arrowheads or bird feathers in our backyards as kids. Actually, come to think of it, we’re a lot like kids. We have that kind of raw enthusiasm.”

Beyond Borders
    The department’s scope reaches the entire Cedarville campus. The Writing Center, for instance, helps “writers at all levels of proficiency from all academic disciplines develop effective writing skills.” They do this by offering individualized peer consultations adapted to a student’s specific needs.

    In fact, the poetic side of the department will be reflected in several on-campus activities during April, including a poetry workshop and live readings. “It’s a mystery to me why more Christians don’t read poetry,” says Moore, who also serves as director of the Writing Center. “A significant portion of the Scriptures are written in poetry. Our faith is suffused with it.”

    Of course, we cannot forget the language side of the department. Though it is divided into two parts, they often overlap. Take the TESOL program, which stands for teaching English to speakers of other languages. This, according to Heath, is an attractive area of study for “anyone looking for a great tent-making career.” A proposed international studies major that emphasizes this program is in the works.

    Overall, the department strives to be aggressive in what it has for students interested in language studies. Two notable additions for fall 2008 are French and East Asian minors, with the latter introducing students to Mandarin Chinese. The language department already offers Spanish, German, and Arabic programs.

    Cedarville also makes an effort to get its faculty and students to other countries, such as the Oxford Study Abroad Programme. Dr. Andrew Wiseman, assistant professor of Spanish, served as the University’s first Fulbright Scholar in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 2004. Dr. Barbara Loach, professor of foreign language, has visited Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Spain, as well as Portugal and Quebec. And long-time professor of English Ed Spencer has organized an annual trip to the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare Festival since 1970.

    According to Wiseman, this summer has several exciting overseas trips planned. Three of the department professors will be teaching 17 Cedarville students at Phillips University in Marburg, Germany. Associate professor of English Dr. Don Deardorff and his wife, Julie, are leading a group of 10 to Oxford for a seminar on “The English Novel.”

    Wiseman himself will travel to southern Spain to monitor the University’s pilot program for incoming freshmen. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity allows high school seniors with three years of Spanish to take three credits of the language at the University of Seville before arriving on campus in the fall.

    Though Spencer, who’s retiring this year, has been with the University for 46 years, the department faculty is, on average, the youngest on campus. It’s also an energetic one that strives to remain up-to-date on current trends and happenings within the department scope.

    One way they do that is through SLAB, the Student Language and Literature Advisory Board. Deardorff says this group of six students represents all of the lang/lit majors and “exists to empower students and to serve the department by providing feedback to the administration, promoting unity within the department, and being available for a variety of student, faculty, and department needs.”

Is Lang/Lit in Your Future?
    So, if you are planning to participate in Poem-In-Your-Pocket Day on April 17th, if you love to learn other languages, if you long to work with people from other countries, if you enjoy books and reading and putting pen to paper, and if you desire to study and serve to the glory of God, consider a major with the Department of Language and Literature at Cedarville University!

“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,
And come along.
For behold, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone. . . .”