Career Spotlight: Lecturer

booksCarolyn Rhea Drapes is an instructor at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), she holds a PhD and imparts English and business writing classes.

What are some of your job responsibilities?

As a graduate student, I seek to use the dissertation process and time to create new knowledge and collaborate with my peers. Moreover, as an Assistant Instructor, I am tasked with gaining teaching experience as an RWS instructor of undergraduate rhetoric and writing, technical writing, and business writing courses.

Describe your educational background and how it helped you prepare for your career?

After first graduating from Loretto, I entered UTEP immediately, but then left school to help raise a family and work. Later, when my younger daughter entered high school, I re-enrolled at UTEP and completed a BA in Creative Writing. I then entered the RWS program and completed a MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies, and am now in its doctoral program. All said whether in the workplace or traditional classroom situations, my personal and work experiences have enabled me to bring a unique perspective to the classroom. In addition, working as a corporate Webmaster, visual specialist, and social media maven from the mid-90s through today has helped me to use this eclectic skill set which is perfect for teaching. Overall, I see this as a natural progression.

How did you find your current job?

Previously, all positions with the exception my position with El Paso Natural Gas Company (which was found through an agency) was obtain with the help of friends and associates. My current job differs in that it was acquired from being accepted into the graduate program. As an Assistant Instructor, I am assigned courses to teach each semester, including summer classes when the opportunity arises.

How did you prepare for this career?

To prepare to teach in the program, I first earned the required number of graduate level course credits, which included a pedagogy course. This training also included shadowing an experienced instructor within the program. That semester I attended her class and observed others while also attending my graduate courses. Before the end of that semester, I was helping lecture. Throughout the semester, my teaching mentor and I normed grades and discussed various issues that a teacher is likely to encounter in the classroom. Currently, I attend several meetings each semester with those in the program; in these, we have the opportunity to learn and explore various teaching methods. Continuing professional education in the field ensures that our camaraderie remain vital, informed, and progressive.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Helping students gain their own set of writing and research skills is always important. However, a favorite aspect is appreciating their hard work and why they seek to remain in school and work towards a specific goal. Each goal is as different as the students I teach. This inspires me as I enjoy hearing about their lives and listening to their stories. This helps me understand their situation, which allows me to encourage them to use their current and past experiences when earning their degree. Their reasons for furthering their education help me immensely. Each day in the classroom, I learn new things, and this helps me improve my own writing and research methods.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

An important challenge is to balance my research and writing with teaching and, of course, to make time for my family. My family supports me, which is vitally important to my teaching and working towards my degree. Without them, my life would be quite empty and more difficult to navigate.

What impact does your profession have on young Latinas?

We as graduate instructors seek to help all students better understand the importance of working towards a goal, whether it is the goal of an assignment, or the goal of completing their degree. We support their aims and goals, no matter the degree. Rarely do I ever see a student that is undeclared or uncertain about what they want to do with their lives; this shows me how focused our student population is. Latinas, as are all students, whether young or returning, are valued greatly at this institution. To that end, we are given the opportunity to impart our knowledge and to positively support them.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

Photography, drawing, and writing have been life-long passions. I have found that I tend to capture images surrounding my life each day and then seek to manipulate and use them creatively. Even if I am unable to leave campus or home, I find I am constantly composing, whether with images or texts. I also like to read and explore social media trends.

Does living in a border city make you more aware of Hispanic issues?

Of course. My entire life has been a voyage between cultures and economic situations, even when my family and I left El Paso for life in Northern New Mexico for a time. Moreover, as a child of and partner in bicultural marriages, I find we all walk a fine line between various communities constantly. It is interesting to view how each group works with, for, and against each other. We blend and separate constantly, which makes it difficult to find and work for positive change for the whole.

What advice would you give to help girls to prepare for a job like this?

I would say that young women of all ages should think about what it is that they wish to accomplish and then, how to best attain that goal or sets of goals. While the path may shift or change, each student, each woman has a great opportunity to enrich their lives by completing their degree and stepping out into the wider world ready to make a positive impact. If they seek a graduate degree, they should understand that they would enter not only a scholarly environment for themselves, but also learning one for her and for others as well. She will need to understand that she is there to share her skills and knowledge so that the next group of young Latinas can learn and grow positively from the experiences she will share with them.

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