Student Spotlight

Ashley Collins, '16

“All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald


How did you end up at UMB? What drew you here?

  • I ended up at UMB through some pretty great serendipity. I had just graduated from undergrad and was searching for grad schools. I had also just reconnected with an old friend who graduated from the MA program here and was on her way to a PhD program. Until I spoke with her about UMB, I hadn’t realized how many opportunities were so close to home. The prospect of attending a state school with excellent funding for grad students, including teaching opportunities, sold me on UMB—it was my first choice.  

Favorite part of the program?

  • My favorite part of the program is the people I get to interact with every day. Wheatley 6, the English department, feels like a second home to me. The awesome administrators, the excellent professors, and my fellow grad students keep me inspired to work hard and seize new opportunities.  

What are you most interested in studying?

  • My focus here is on Composition and I spend most of my days figuring out new ways to teach writing to my students. Part of my “studying” is through hands-on work in the classroom, while the other part is hitting the pedagogy books and collaborating with faculty and other graduate students teaching composition.

Favorite class and why?

  • My favorite class here was the Books, Manuscripts, Libraries course I took with Holly Jackson. We learned about the radical abolitionist movement that took place in Boston before the Civil War, and we did so by researching primary artifacts in the Boston Public Library’s Archives. It’s hard to top holding handwritten manuscripts by the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and William Lloyd Garrison. Who else can say they have held a lock of John Brown’s hair?  

Most influential professor?

  • So many professors here have had a profound impact on my studies. Because I study both Composition and Creative Writing, I feel as though I have two really influential professors that I look to for guidance in each department. Matt Davis is the professor that got me into Composition (I started here with a focus on Lit/CW). It was in his Seminar for Tutors that I first began to understand what Composition was, and I was instantly hooked to the magic of teaching writing. Joe Torra is a different kind of muse, and, through him, my creative voice has been refined. For me, creative writing has not only been a liberating pastime, it has also influenced the way I teach academic writing.

Do you TA? What was the best moment you had while doing so?

  • I have a TAship teaching Composition 1, and it’s my third semester teaching so I feel like I have had a lot of best moments. My favorite moments, though, are when my students teach me something new—they happen almost daily.

Are you working on a Final Project/Thesis or preparing a proposal for one?

  • Yes, my final project explores the ways that social media can be used in the composition classroom.  

Do you have plans for after you graduate?

  • After I graduate, I definitely want to keep teaching composition and to keep writing creatively. I am also considering applying to Comp/Rhet PhD programs.

Best & worst part of graduate school?

  • The best part of graduate school is being around people like you that love the things you love; the worst part is that there is NEVER enough coffee. I just bought an espresso machine in an attempt to remedy that situation.  

Any advice to prospective graduate students?

  • When I was in undergrad, I asked my favorite professor Dr. Elia what his advice for grad school was. I am going to pass that along because I think it worked out pretty well for me:  
  1. Make grad school your love. (this is inevitable)
  2. If you can, teach. (this is critical)
  3. Read an act of Shakespeare a Day. (good luck trying to do this)