English Matters. College of Arts and Sciences, Washington State University.

Faculty Highlights

Positive Reviews from The New York Times for Buddy Levy’s Empire of Ice and Stone

Buddy Levy

In his November 29, 2022, New York Times review of Buddy Levy’s newest work, Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk, W.M. Akers suggests Levy’s book offers “an ugly tale, very well told. The only beauty is in the ice—and that is as cold as beauty can be.”

The Karluk, a wooden-hulled brigantine and the flagship of the expedition, departed Canada for the Arctic Ocean in the summer of 1913. The expedition was led by Vilhjalmur Stefansson who was a flamboyant impresario hungry for fame. Captain Bob Bartlett, considered the world’s greatest living ice navigator at the time, was at the helm of the Karluk. The two were joined by a crew of explorers, engineers, and Inuit hunters. Stefansson promoted the expedition as “the most ambitious and best-equipped scientific expedition to the Arctic yet,” but he was ill-prepared.

Just six weeks after the crew and ship departed, giant ice floes surrounded the Karluk and the ship became icebound. Stefansson disembarked with five companions on a 10-day caribou hunting trip and most on the expedition would never see Stefansson again. Under the leadership of Bartlett, the remaining crew endured the destruction of the Karluk and built make-shift shelters to survive the freezing darkness as they drifted on a mile-square ice floe. With little hope, Bartlett and a young Inuit hunter set out on a 1,000-mile journey to save the remaining crew.

Set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Levy’s book explores heroism, tragedy, and scientific discovery through the last great polar voyage during The Heroic Age of Discovery. Akers of The New York Times notes that Levy’s “Artic is fearsome and sublime, his ice a living thing. When he writes that one of the icebound scientists was ‘mesmerized by its character; its power; its spectacular unsettling sounds—sometimes cracking like gunfire, sometimes shrieking as it split and cleaved,’ we understand the fascination.”

Olson and Colleagues Offer Writing Advice for Engineering Students Seeking Future Employment

Wendy Olson

Wendy Olson, who serves as associate professor of English and the director of composition and writing assessment at WSU Vancouver, received two grants from the National Science Foundation totaling just under $500,000.

Working with her colleagues, Olson is applying the grants to study writing transfer, the process by which writers—in Olson’s case, engineering students—apply and adapt prior knowledge of writing into new writing tasks and contexts. Olson’s work, completed in collaboration with WSU engineering faculty Dave Kim and John Lynch, indicates that, while engineering students tend to believe their program primarily requires only engaging in hands-on activities, engineering jobs actually require a significant amount of writing. 

Olson and her team examined writing samples from students enrolled in introductory engineering lab courses at the Oregon Institute of Technology, the University of Portland, and WSU Vancouver. They analyzed samples of student lab reports to assess the impact of a writing transfer curriculum and pedagogical approach on student writing in introductory engineering laboratory courses. Their results suggest that using a writing-transfer-focused pedagogy can successfully support the transfer and adaptation of writing knowledge into gateway or entry-level laboratory courses.

Olson, Kim, and Lynch believe the objective for critiquing a student’s work is never to judge or degrade the writing but to find ways to support lab report writing instruction that helps the students to better understand what parts of their writing speak effectively to the reader and/or audience and what can be improved upon in the future. Employers of WSU’s engineering students seek the best candidates for the job. Students who graduate with excellent communication skills will strengthen company morale and their own self-respect, gaining the respect of both their employer and colleagues.

Ultimately, the guidance Olson and her colleagues provided will have a long-lasting impact on the education and future careers of the students who participated in the study. Reaching out to a student and providing feedback for their work allows them to better understand the skills that their profession requires. As part of a collaborative multi-year research study across disciplines, Olson believes that such a relationship, “like me teaching them, and them teaching me, that’s a big part of learning,” will sustain the project. It is engaging research, and writing is a significant part of that process. The grants made it possible for Olson and her team to not only enrich the writing skills of the study’s students but also provide an opportunity for them to see how effective communication can assist them in achieving their career goals.

David Martin Named President-Elect of WAESOL

David Martin

Associate Professor David Martin has been named president-elect of the Washington association for teaching English to speakers of other languages (WAESOL). His term begins in October for the 2022–23 year. Martin originally joined the WAESOL board as a member-at-large in February of 2020 and now as the president-elect seeks to help support ESL teachers at all levels by advocating for them and the profession as a whole. Martin’s work promotes meaningful professional development opportunities for K–12 and higher education ESL teachers. He would also like to integrate opportunities for conversation about the direction the profession is currently going and where it can go as educators band together to rebuild programs that have been impacted by COVID and other world events.