Grad Student Spotlight: Noelle Braaten and Dustin Vann


Noelle Braaten (MA ’20) and Dustin Vann (MA ’20)

Our M.A. program here at K-State offers a rare opportunity: the ability to combine the Tracks in Children’s Literature and in Creative Writing to develop creative writing skills specifically geared towards children’s and young adult literature.

Two English M.A. students graduating this spring, Noelle Braaten (MA ’20) and Dustin Vann (’20), recount their experience bridging these two Tracks.


Noelle Braaten

One of the biggest reasons why I applied to K-State for graduate school was because I noticed they offered a unique Children’s Literature Track with the potential to combine that focus with creative writing courses.

Before coming to K-State, I worked as an elementary education teacher, while also trying to continue my own creative writing — mostly writing young adult fiction. The flexibility of K-State’s program has allowed me to combine those interests and further myself as both a scholar and writer.

Though I don’t come solely from an educational background in English, I’ve always been an avid reader. My coursework has honed my critical skills, and given me the tools to talk about literature and my own creative work. I’ve been able to take classes focusing on subjects like illustrations, multicultural young adult literature, and Harry Potter, while also writing papers with topics about disability representation, class structures, and child agency.

Alongside this work, I’ve also taken creative writing courses, both fiction and nonfiction, including a young adult novel writing course that helped produce my Master’s Project. My future plans include continuing work on that project, and reentering the elementary classroom to share my love and knowledge of children’s literature with others.

Overall, the combination of coursework here has made me a better writer, reader, and educator.

My work in the Children’s Literature Track also allowed me to complete another professional development opportunity — to apply for and teach a section of ENGL 355 “Literature for Children” to a classroom of mostly education majors. Through every book and lesson, I get to keep thinking seriously about Children’s and Adolescent Literature, and the value in studying it. Furthermore, that study strengthens my own creative work when I write for the same audience.

I’m so grateful for my graduate experience at K-State — it’s been everything I could have wished for academically and so much more because of the community among both graduate students and faculty.

— Noelle Braaten (M.A. ’20)

Dustin Vann

 Before I began the Master’s program at K-State, I was fully committed to the Creative Writing Track. Children’s Literature, particularly young adult (YA) literature, had been a lifelong passion of mine. It was also the category of fiction I gravitated toward in my own creative writing. However, it wasn’t until I was well into my first semester of the program — after I wrote a paper on the evolution of queer YA literature for one class, and a YA story in Dr. Katy Karlin’s short fiction workshop — that my journey as a K-State grad student took a new form.

Could I be a creative writing student and a children’s literature scholar at the same time?

As it turned out, I’d come to the right school at the right time in order to fully realize that possibility.

I remained officially pledged to the creative writing track, but I also took every opportunity to expand my knowledge of the critical conversations happening within the Children’s Lit community. Luckily, K-State has a phenomenal Children’s Lit Program that allowed this exploration.

In Dr. Anuja Madan’s “Multiethnic YA Literature” course, I read a diverse variety of YA novels. For my final project in the class I got to write the beginning of a YA novel. Furthermore, in Dr. Anne Phillips’ graduate seminar on “Illustrations in Children’s Literature,” I engaged with illustrated children’s literature, both classic and contemporary, and wrote my final paper on queer children’s literature and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Investing my time and scholarly work into these children’s lit courses informed how I approached creative writing projects within the YA field. In addition to the final project for Dr. Madan’s course, I pursued a completely different novel idea for Dr. Dan Hoyt’s creative writing workshop on the “YA Novel.”  My master’s project is an off-shoot of that same YA short story I wrote in my first semester, and has now evolved into the beginning of another YA novel.

My ability to straddle two different tracks during my graduate career is due to a stellar roster of professors who take children’s/YA literature seriously, and a flexible program that openly encourages interdisciplinary exploration.

I’m pleased to say that at K-State, you can be a creative writing student and a Children’s Literature scholar simultaneously.

— Dustin Vann (M.A. ’20)

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