Centered in teaching

Sarah Buckner discusses benefits of liberal arts instruction

In light of the pandemic that seems to be sputtering but not yet fully squashed, Allegheny College has recently announced that 36 administrative and staff positions have been or will be cut. However, there will still be new faces among faculty as there were new hires made prior to these cuts.

One of those hires comes from the English department which received around 150 applications as they began their search for a new literature professor in the summer of 2020.

Assistant Professor of English Sarah Buckner rose to the top of the applicants through both her resume and the way she handled the hiring process, according to Department Chair and Associate Professor of English Matt Ferrence. While excelling in those areas may be common for most who get hired for a job, her road through college and her mid-pandemic hiring made her journey different from most.

“I went a route that’s not very usual for people who end up being professors and I actually went to community college first,” Buckner said.

Despite a college-worthy high school resume that included good grades along with various extracurriculars, Buckner realized she did not have a way to pay for college. As a first generation college student she also did not know how to apply for scholarships at the time.

This led her to the College of Southern Nevada before ultimately completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

After receiving her PhD from University of California, Riverside, Buckner was in search of a college where she could teach.

“One of the things that was important to me was to find a place to work where I’d be centered in teaching,” Buckner said. “What happens if you go to a big research university is that usually they want you to focus only on research. You will teach but it’s really on the backburner and I love to teach. It’s a big part of my research too so I wanted that to be at the center of my job and that was offered here.”

Aside from a focus on teaching, there were certain characteristics that Buckner was looking for in a college. “It was also important for me to find a place that isn’t massively, massively white,” Buckner said. “It’s hard to find that at liberal arts colleges so that was one of the things that brought me here. (Allegheny) has a thing called the polar program here where they try to hire faculty from diverse perspectives.”

The perspective that Buckner brings seems to fit with what the English department intends to instill in its students.

“One of the crucial parts of the expertise that she brings, and that we recognize as a department, is that you can’t divide American literature from Black American literature,” Ferrence said. “It’s not a subset from American literature, they’re all part of what makes our American literature amazing.”

The English department makes two distinctions for their major tracks. One track is the study of literature and the other is creative writing. Though Buckner is a professor of literature, she will get to see English students who focus on either distinction, as the department emphasises the value of their symbiotic relationship.

“The study of the books, poems and plays are part of the apprenticeship of becoming a writer,” Ferrence said.

This focus on dual immersion has not gone unnoticed by students who have been the beneficiary of learning how to both study and produce literature.

“I really like creative writing and poetry,” Lauren Hagens, ’22, said. “But the English department will definitely help you reach your full potential by diversifying what you experience and that’s something I’ve enjoyed being a part of.”

Buckner was able to be a part of this experience before even arriving on campus. Just as her path through undergraduate college was unusual, so were the world’s circumstances at the time of her hire.

“Campus visits were done over Zoom so Professor Buckner was in California on the computer for a whole day having meetings with us, our students and teaching a Zoom class to Allegheny students,” Ferrence said.

As Allegheny returns to traditional in-person classes, Buckner’s ability to teach remotely may not be utilized but will be appreciated among her other abilities.

“Among the talents that Professor Buckner brings is that she’s a terrific writer in her own right,” Ferrence said. “She’s a scholar so she’s writing scholarship that is examining literature but from the beauty of prose — she’s a terrific stylist.”