In 2022, I was invited to speak on an alumni panel to current K-State English students and faculty. What follows is an adapted version of that discussion.
How did I end up in Kansas? My partner and I applied to Master’s programs all over the country, and K-State gave us the best offer. We packed our lives into the back of a Toyota Sienna and drove away from the beautiful rolling hills of Mohawk Valley in Upstate New York to the wondrously open skies of Manhattan Kansas. It was my first opportunity to be in front of a classroom, to be taught how to teach, and then go and do it. That was terrifying and amazing.
I graduated in 2010, and for a year after, I adjuncted for the Department, which was a pretty great experience, although I did feel a loss of community. I realized that if I wanted to have that in my life, I needed to continually figure out how to build it and to surround myself with those people. During my program, I had applied to be a tutor in the Writing Center under Deborah Murray, and it was fantastic. It was actually life-changing for me because it was in those moments where I found a direction I wanted to go in. Tutoring allowed me to stay connected with Academia, and learning, and creative intelligent people. It made me feel like I was able to do my best kind of work.
It also prepared me for another position at K-State. I became the tutoring coordinator for PILOTS, a program dedicated to working with diverse student communities. Being in that room and having real conversations, it was also life changing. I worked there for two years, and it was one of those great introductory jobs. For starters, it was the most money I’d ever made.
My partner ended up getting a job offer in Rochester, NY, so we picked up and moved back. I was happy to be in New York. It was close to where I had grown up, and if nothing else, the trees felt right. I cold-called every single College in the area before we left. Even if there’s not a job posted, send an email to somebody, call somebody. It worked; I got a couple positions at different schools, which meant I was driving a ridiculous distance, but that’s what I had to do. And I was essentially teaching versions of the same content that I had at K-State. I was well prepared.
I did that for a year when a position for a Writing Center Director opened up. It was a crazy time: I got married in June and then interviewed in the same suit later that summer, so that’s fun. Turns out they liked me. They gave me the position, and I have been the Director of the Writing Center at Nazareth College for most of the time I’ve been out here; it’s been almost 10 years at this point. I continue to teach first year writing. It’s a sequenced course so I’m still teaching versions of K-State’s ENGL 100 and 200 courses. I’m grateful that I had some of my earlier experiences with diverse student populations and my experiences with the Writing Center because it allows me to engage with the broader Community.
Beyond just teaching and tutoring, I’ve had an opportunity to run a faculty summer read. We pick books every summer focused on inclusion and diversity and when we’re able to we bring the authors to campus. I’m very excited that in the spring we brought Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer to campus, the author of Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s a phenomenal book and the day was a roaring success. We had nearly 1,000 community members come out to listen to her talk!
Back in the Writing Center with Deborah, she introduced us to the theory of unconditional positive regard. We ended up turning this into a metaphor of “getting in someone else’s boat.” This image has always stuck with me and has even become central to my training for new tutors. One of them found it so impactful she drew a mural for our writing center on the wall with a big boat on it—the SS Wabi-Sabi.
I guess it’s kind of obvious but my experiences at K-State have never really left me. They’re with me every single day. I continue to teach, I continue to be part of the Writing Center, and I continue to try and pass on some of my lessons from that time.
— Steven Tolson (MA ’10)