Celebrating Recent PhD Doctorates’ Contributions to Composition, part 1

by Emily R C Staudt

Beth Caravella headshot Lourdes Fernandez headshot Paul Michiels headshot
Beth Caravella Lourdes Fernandez Paul Michiels

In May 2019, our composition program celebrated the graduation of several of the Teaching Assistants in the Writing and Rhetoric PhD program. We were sorry to see them go, but we are excited for what lies ahead for this exceptional group of graduates.  We want to highlight their contributions to the field and congratulate these recent grads on completing their dissertations!

Beth Caravella is now an Assistant Professor of Visual Studies at York University in Toronto. Her dissertation project titled, “Teaching Gamefully: Proceduralizing the Writing Classroom through Possibility Space Pedagogy,” was originally presented in March 2019.  Caravella acknowledges that though gamification or video game rhetoric have been used in Composition courses, they can have limited or exploitative effects on students’ emotions, or neglect key design elements, especially the embodied parts of playing a game.  Relying on an updated version of Aristotle's virtue ethics, her dissertation presents three case studies connecting games and writing, including the argument of Night in the Woods and its effect on students’ dispositions, the effect of Undertale’s “implicit ethical arguments” on student-players, and how Breath of the Wild’s fosters métic intelligence as players progress through the game.  Taken together, Caravella’s dissertation sheds light on the elements necessary to effectively reap the benefits of using games in the writing classroom, and her current work aims to establish a customizable blueprint for other Rhet/Comp scholars who want to gamify their classrooms in meaningful ways. 

The faculty at Mason let me focus specifically on what I wanted to focus on, rather than pigeonholing me into some pre-established category, and this made all the difference when I hit the job market. My work mattered to me, and I was able to stand out from other candidates by bringing more to the table as far as innovation and research directly because of the program's willingness to let me pursue my own interests. -Beth

Lourdes Fernandez, currently an assistant director for composition and full-time term faculty in our program defended her dissertation, titled "Agency and Ontology in the Rhetorics of Sexual Assault,” in April. Fernandez surveyed multiple discipline’s approaches to studying sexual assault, including the methods and methodologies used in technical and professional communication, ultimately concluding that these modes of inquiry need to be expanded.  She drew on semi-structured interviews and a media narrative analysis to outline how Title IX works in the university context and how courts and universities maintain their authority.  Though “victims are empowered and given rhetorical space to act,” when and if they are given authority is a decisive factor.  Fernandez also applies this to the classroom by showing how Human Centered Design (HCD) and narrative inquiry research help prepare students for the workplace by equipping them with social justice frameworks that amplify agency.  She is currently working on collaborative study that investigates hybrid pedagogies in the writing classroom.

The writing and rhetoric program at Mason is something special. Without exception, the faculty balance their own commitment to scholarship with a remarkable dedication to their students, and because students' sense this, a powerful sense of community arises, both in and out of the classroom. I count my time in the program as some of the most productive and intellectually stimulating of my life. –Paul 

Also in April, Paul Michiels gave his dissertation defense: "Toward a Paraphrase Pedagogy for Multilingual Writers: Weighing Pedagogical Prescriptions against Instructional and Disciplinary Practice."  Paul's work highlights the challenges of paraphrasing for college-level multilingual writers—challenges that are complicated by the lack of agreement about paraphrasing practice, definition, and pedagogy.  To begin to rectify these gaps and build a theoretically and pedagogically principled approach to teaching paraphrase, Paul compared instruction on paraphrasing from L1 and L2 composition handbooks with 1) examples of paraphrase in the same handbooks and 2) examples of paraphrase in published articles from multiple disciplines.  He used an existing taxonomy (Keck, 2006) to examine levels of language borrowing among the paraphrase corpora and developed a novel taxonomy to begin classifying the rhetorical moves expert writers make when paraphrasing. Examples of paraphrasing by expert writers and in the handbooks differed from the paraphrasing instruction in handbooks, and Michiels noted disciplinarity differences in “the nature and degree of borrowing and the kinds of rhetorical maneuvers employed.” He used these findings to discuss applications for second language pedagogy.  Paul is currently teaching writing courses at George Mason's campus in South Korea (i.e., Mason Korea). 

The program looks forward to many other success stories, as more of our graduates make further research contributions to the field and serve as instructors at Mason and beyond.