April 2007

Faculty Feature

Dr. Coretta Pittman

Dr. Coretta Pittman

According to Dr. Coretta Pittman of the English department, one of the most important attributes making Baylor stand out among other universities is its emphasis on undergraduate research.

Pittman encourages undergraduates to read as much as they can from both primary and secondary sources while working on essays. She sees this as a form of reflection that is vital to Baylor's research emphasis.

Good research should include an extensive historical background with input from top scholars and a clear setup on the subject. Pittman is striving to make this quality of research a norm for undergraduates at Baylor University.

"Research teaches students how to act as professionals," Pittman said.

Professionals tend to do a great deal of research after receiving their degrees. Teaching students to extensively research prepares them for their various futures. Looking at what different sources say about any subject teaches students to investigate and come to their own conclusions like real professionals.

Recently, Pittman began to advise the thesis of professional writing senior Jacquie Scott. Scott wanted to pursue a thesis in the area of her minor, gender studies, and went to Pittman for guidance. Pittman helped Scott a great deal by recommending related books and articles while sharing her own ideas and suggestions to develop the thesis.

"When I had an inkling of what I was interested in, she led me in that direction. She was very patient with me and cared about my intellectual development," said Scott.

Scott was studying to do her thesis on a form of black women's autobiography called biomythography. According to Scott, several black women wrote about their lives in unorthodox ways by using devices such as dreams, poetry, pseudonyms and sometimes fictitious events.

Audre Lorde was the primary focus of Scott's thesis. Scott believes that Lorde embodied the defiance of "normal" Western autobiography conventions.

"Truth, reality, objectivity--Lorde throws all these things into question, but she does this to make declarations about the reality of her life and experiences on the margins of American society," said Scott.

Scott's thesis is not the only example of Pittman helping students to complete in-depth research. Every semester she encourages students in all her classes, from British literature to advanced writing, to submit articles about literature for publication.

Pittman encourages her students to submit articles to The Nation. This publication is America's oldest and most widely-read weekly politics and culture journal. The Nation held its first Student Writing Contest last year, and several Baylor students sent in stories thanks to Pittman's encouragement.

This year The Nation is holding the competition again and Pittman continues to urge students to submit their work. Pittman wants all her students to have personal research and writing experience.

"Once I had an advanced writing class with eight students write stories to be used for local news. I don't think any of them were actually published, but it was a good exercise," said Pittman.

After studying and doing research in Tennessee, Ohio and New York, Pittman heard about Baylor University's emphasis on research in Texas. Her mentor had been an undergraduate student at Baylor and praised the university's professional writing program. When Pittman discovered an English faculty opening at Baylor, her mentor encouraged her to apply and Pittman became a Texan.

"My research is mostly in rhetorical theory. I trace literature to scholars such as Aristotle and Plato and then to topics like race, class, and music such as jazz and rap," said Pittman.

Currently Pittman teaches undergraduate writing and British literature classes as well as specialized rhetorical theory courses in the English department.

All research is important to Baylor, and the English department is no exception to its advancement. Pittman says reading her students' essays may be time consuming, but stimulating their minds makes it worthwhile.