English Graduate Student Wins MLA Grant for Access-Oriented Teaching and Research 

English PhD candidate Paul Kratwell-Tierney was recently awarded a grant from the MLA to research teaching and pedagogy at access-oriented institutions.

The grant provides funding for Tierney to attend a weeklong summer institute, conduct a research project on teaching and pedagogy the following semester, and present his work at the 2020 MLA Annual Convention.  

The grant, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is intended to strengthen the teaching of English at access-oriented institutions (AOIs). Access-oriented institutions are typically community colleges and other four year colleges that prioritize access over selectivity in admissions by admitting at least 80% of applicants. The grant provides doctoral students and instructors aiming to teach at AOIs the opportunity to participate in weeklong summer institutes that provide regional professional-development classes and workshops in order to promote the humanities. After graduating from the program, the participants will be awarded an MLA Certificate in Reading-Writing Pedagogy at Access-Oriented Institutions.  

The grant was attractive, Tierney explains, because it would enable him to research programming for greater equity and inclusion in places like UO: 

“I’m interested in working with outsiders to the university. While institutions work to retain enrolled students, not enough effort is being made to welcome those with limited means, as well as those who choose not to enroll due to a wide range of identities that conflict with the university environment.” 

Access-oriented institutions are an important element to diversifying the students that study and graduate with degrees in the humanities (highereducation.org). Currently, AOIs enroll many first-generation college students, Pell Grant recipients, and students of color and are responsible for the largest increases in graduation rates across the United States in the last decade. Tierney’s interest in researching and teaching at these institutions comes from his own experiences as a student: 

“I came through the system as an overlooked, misfit student, and two or three well-timed moments of recognition changed my luck and got me through. These are crucial moments, and they are easier to generate in an environment that is less ‘institutional.’” 

Further commenting on the importance of the work done at these institutions, Tierney explains that “Community colleges and open-admissions universities give a much-needed chance to students who are otherwise overlooked.” The grant gives Tierney the opportunity to further his research and teaching in ways meant to impact these typically overlooked students that he will continue to practice while at UO and into his future career. Tierney explains the greater importance of the work he will do with the MLA's grant:

“Working with underprivileged students often becomes an exercise in domestication, more coercive than liberating. Students who are not well-versed in university ways of being are often steered toward the development of skills rather than a transformative relationship with the world. The MLA’s investment in this particular area excites me, because spotlighting the work done at access-oriented institutions demonstrates that the work done at these schools is not just that of basic skills, but rather it exists equally and simultaneously with that of more recognized institutions.” 

Congratulations to Paul Kratwell-Tierney on winning this grant! We look forward to seeing the ways that he continues this meaningful work at the University of Oregon and into his teaching career. 

---Contributed by Hannah Zeller

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