Chris Dorn (’11) On Teaching, Love, and the Purdue OWL


After graduating from Whitworth in 2011, Chris Dorn set out for West Lafayette, Indiana to pursue an M.A. in Rhetoric and Composition at Purdue University. He is currently in his last semester at Purdue, during which he is finishing coursework and composing his thesis on writing center studies. This summer he and his fiancée, Tammy McGough (’11, pictured above), plan to return to her home state of Washington, get married, and start their life together in the Olympia area.

Here are some of Chris’s reflections on grad school, teaching, and writing centers.

It occurred to me just recently that, in terms of time, the only equivalent to a master’s program is the most uncomfortable of life’s phases: middle school. Two years, in and out, and then poof – it’s gone. Such has been my experience in grad school, where, as I entered my second and final year this past August, I felt like I was just starting to get properly adjusted. The movement from newbie to novice to exit strategist has been so swift that I’ve had trouble reflecting on my experience as I go.

While it’s hard to believe that I’m already wrapping up my graduate studies at Purdue, it’s also quite encouraging. One major lesson I’ve learned in the past 18 months is that grad school is temporary, and necessarily so. In no way is it a sustainable lifestyle for more than a few years. I remember reading more articles in a single class my first semester than I had read in my entire career at Whitworth. Of course, that was before I had learned another major lesson: no one reads it all.

So it’s been rigorous, and trying, and exhausting, and sometimes just defeating. Coming off of four gold-speckled years at Whitworth, I struggled, especially in my first year of the program, to cope. Nonetheless, my time in Indiana has also been a deeply rich experience. If I had to name one highlight, it would be the opportunity to teach. Each semester I have taught one section of introductory composition. Purdue gives their English graduate instructors fantastic support and remarkable liberty, both of which I have been glad for. My experiences at Whitworth have come in handy in surprising ways during my brief teaching career. I am reminded of Laurie Lamon’s poetry seminars when my students and I consider argument as a way of seeing the world. I put to use the goofy skill set required to create Prime Time activities when I plan class days that won’t have students fending off sleep. And I even get to share a slice of Core 250 with my students when I explain basic Platonic philosophy as it relates to images and words. (I guess I’ll always be somewhat counter-normative in my support of the Core program.)

Another delight has been returning to a Whitworth niche of mine: the writing center. In addition to teaching, this year I am working as a Writing Lab tutor. Purdue’s exceptionally high international population means that most of the writers I work with are nonnative English speakers, which is both challenge and blessing. (Are those two ever separate, anyway?) I also take pride in getting to contribute in a small way to the one and only Purdue OWL. No, I haven’t written any content for the OWL, but I do respond to OWL Mail inquiries. Next time you email the OWL about when to hyphenate compound nouns or how to cite municipal codes in APA, it just might be me who responds!


And an update on my life – now, or at any time – would not be complete without mentioning the people who color it. Purdue’s program drives in high gear at all times, and I could not have survived the intensity were it not for the genuine kindness and camaraderie of my cohort (pictured above). Tammy and I have also been adopted into the most caring and active church communities we’ve ever been a part of. Because we prefer the traditional service to the contemporary, we are typically the youngest attenders by a good 40 years. Some of our first friends in Lafayette, in fact, were retired grandparents. But now I’m beginning to write another blog post altogether…

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