Updates from the English Department Office of Undergraduate Studies
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Click here to see this online

A note from the director...


Dear Students:

As usual, there's a lot going on in the Department this week. First, The Chancellor's Committe on the Status of Blacks (CCSB) has named Professor Margena Christian a 2021 Black History Maker! Congratulations to Professor Christian! Scroll down to read about her and get information on joining the awards ceremony on February 22, 2021 at 6:00 pm. Second, we are getting ready for Spring 2021's Career Workshop which takes place on February 17, 2021 at 3:00 pm. Third, UGS is launching an online literary magazine dedicated to UIC undergraduates' critical and creative work.  Read about all of these events and more below. This weeks' newsletter includes:

  • Professor Margena Christian named a 2021 Black History Maker!
  • UGS Career Workshop
  • Preparing for Law School as an English Major
  • New Online Literary Magazine
  • Share Your Research at the Richard Macksey National Undergraduate Humanities Research Symposium
  • UIC Freshwater Lab Presents Gen Z Environmental Justice Leaders
  • Penn State's "Mentoring for the Future of Literary Studies" Summer Program
  • Internships, Scholarships, Fellowships & Jobs
    • Just Posted! Internship Program at Oak Park Festival Theatre
  • Calls for Writing, etc.
  • Upcoming UGS Events

Keep reading, stay safe, and be in touch!


Prof. Robin Reames, Director of Undergraduate Studies


2021 Black History Maker Professor Margena Christian

Professor Margena Christian 
Tavon Sanders

UIC Department of English Professor Margena Christian has been named a 2021 Black History Maker. UGS' Spring 2021 intern, Tavon Sanders, spoke with her earlier this week. Here is what he learned about one of the University's most esteemed faculty.

Click here to join the award ceremony on February 22, 2021 at 6:00 pm

The University of Illinois at Chicago's English department is filled with faculty who all boast interesting and diverse career paths. One professor of note is Dr. Margena A. Christian, a former senior editor for Ebony magazine, former features editor for JET magazine, and former writer for EBONY Man, EBONY South Africa, and EBONY Fashion Fair (EFF), who is  currently a senior lecturer in the English department. With such an impressive body of work under her belt, it is no wonder how she came to be recognized as a UIC Black History Maker by the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Blacks (CCSB) this month. 

Many aspiring writers at UIC wonder how Dr. Christian built up such an impressive resume over the years, and how they can build a career of their own to match hers. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Christian this week to learn more about what made her pursue her career in writing, her proudest achievements thus far, and what eventually brought her to UIC.

Dr. Christian states that she sparked a strong interest in writing from an early age. During the interview she recounted, "I knew I wanted to write, and not just any kind of writing, entertainment writing, when I was probably in the fifth grade. I read all kinds of entertainment magazines." Christian then went on to say that in high school she worked on the school newspaper and was informed of a journalism workshop in which she'd be able to learn under professionals. She states that she was able to publish her first article as a sophomore in high school thanks to that opportunity. 

So how did she navigate the capricious waters of beginning a career in entertainment writing? Christian attributed part of her success to the guidance she received from educators and media professionals in her life who helped her find many of the opportunities that she took advantage of. In her words, "I did not know how I was going to get to the end result, but I knew that I was moving in the right direction because I was consistently placed in the path of people who offered me information, and that's something I do with students now."

Speaking of her students, many of Dr. Christian's students express awe when they learn of her impressive body of work, as the weight that magazines like EBONY carry behind their names demands that they employ nothing but the best team to realize their visions. When asked how she managed to get her foot in the door when competing against other highly skilled writers, Christian replied, "I started building my clips, and that's something I encourage students to do." 

Professor Christian went on to explain that from early on in her writing career, she collected physical clips of her published work, whether it was a submission to a newspaper, or a piece she wrote that ended up in a smaller magazine, so that she would have samples of her writing skill readily available. Once she felt she was ready, she sent in some of her best clips along with a cover letter and resume FedExed to Johnson Publishing Company, landed an interview, and was hired as an assistant editor for JET, a weekly newsmagazine. She says that now aspiring writers can more easily send potential employers links to their work, and she encourages them to keep track of their best writing samples and where they manage to get them published. 

Working as a writer and an editor for JET and EBONY helped the St. Louis native learn many best practices and secrets for success in the publishing world. Speaking of these experiences, Dr. Christian expressed great fondness for the learning opportunities she enjoyed at Johnson publishing Company (JPC), likening it to a collegiate education by stating, "I learned from one of the best professors, media titan John H. Johnson." 

Dr. Christian, a 2019-2020 recipient of the UIC Teaching Recognition Program Award, states that she has had several amazing experiences and met many interesting people working at JPC. She states that one of her most notable encounters was when she interviewed a rising star for a JET cover story who was working as a playwright in urban theatre at the time: Tyler Perry. "Just watching his career...how he has been able to maneuver from urban theatre, to television, to film, to now actually owning his own studio has been breathtaking. It has shown me what is possible." Dr. Christian wrote the first national article on Tyler Perry's work in 2003. She recounted words of Perry's that have deeply resonated with her and motivated her throughout her career: "There is no challenge too great or too difficult. Just believe and just keep trying." Dr. Christian states that she got the chance to interview Perry again last year, a meeting in which he proudly addressed her as "Dr. Christian," noting that she is now a senior lecturer. She said that speaking to him again after they had both come such a long way in their careers "was a really cool moment" for her. 

When it comes to her own professional accomplishments, Dr. Christian states that her proudest moment so far in her career was the publication of her book, Empire: The House That John H. Johnson Built, which is based on her dissertation. Christian refers to its publication as, "the icing on the cake thus far." In the book, Dr. Christian traces the history of John H. Johnson, JPC and how it became a publishing powerhouse in its heyday. "It's rare for a person to research and to also be a primary source within her own research in a manner such as this," Christian stated, referencing the fact that she had the honor of witnessing a good deal of the company's history firsthand from her employment there from 1995-2014.

With all of her accomplishments and amazing experiences in the world of entertainment writing, some might ask why Dr. Christian opted for a career change to a primarily educational role. On this subject, Christian revealed that she comes from a family of educators, and that her mother, a former reading teacher, worked as an elementary school and as a high school librarian. "Coming from this lineage of educators, I would say teaching was in my DNA, and it's something that I've always been passionate about. Even when I wrote and edited, I was always finding ways to mentor others, because I truly believe that teaching is the way that we build and leave legacies," she expressed.

For those who are unaware, Dr. Christian actually helped to shape the professional writing minor within the English major after joining UIC as a visiting lecturer in 2015. Dr. Christian, a 2017 UIC recipient of the Lecturers’ Distinguished Teaching Award for English Studies, states that it was great to work on designing the minor, and more specifically the ENGL 383: Writing and Digital New Media course. She said, "For me that was exciting, because I wanted to show students not only how to produce their own content, but how to own their own content as well." A student in an early class, who went on to become one of the first Professional Writing minor graduates, is preparing to work on a master’s degree in journalism in China.

Considering her recent recognition by the university as a Black History Maker, I asked Dr. Christian what faculty and staff could do to better foster the educational experience and development of students of color and marginalized students. She had this to say: "Education begins with the educator. Before you can teach someone else, you must learn. Specifically, the importance of inclusion and how to educate people of color." 

Dr. Christian endorses self-reflection and mindfulness with how faculty view their students, and the way they view them may affect the way they conduct their classrooms or themselves when addressing such students. She also expanded upon the value of humility by saying,"It begins with learning and unlearning biases...prejudices....and all of these stereotypes and stigmas that are brought into the classroom, because there are a lot of instructors and professors who do not realize that they must learn how to not only teach African Americans, but they must also learn themselves what it is that is necessary in order to accomplish this task."

On a final note, when asked how students who wish to get into journalism, publishing or other writing careers like she herself has done, Dr. Christian offered words of wisdom. She extolled the virtue of getting early exposure to one's desired career through connecting with others, stating, "Try to find mentors in the profession that you might have an interest." She also reiterated the importance of extracurriculars in her own journey, as she advised, "Try to become a part of national journalism organizations. Because I was part of an organization, I was able to go to that workshop and to meet others in the profession." 

Dr. Christian expressed a strong desire for the academic and professional success of her students, and she hopes to help put students on their path to that success through teaching through her experiences. She states that it is a necessity for each generation to pass on what they've learned by saying, "We must educate others, and for me, that's what I do."


Career Workshop February 17, 2021 from 3:00-4:00 pm

 UIC Alum Michelle Skinner
 Michelle Skinner (UIC 2013)

Join us at 3:00 pm on Wednesday, February 17, 2021 for our Spring Career Workshop. Panelists (UIC alums and current students) will answer your questions and give practical and easy-to-implement advice on beginning your post-UIC life. Panelists include:

Olivia Baginski completed her applications to law school in November 2020 and is waiting to hear whether she's been accepted. She hopes that she can continue to connect and would be happy to help answer questions for those interested in pursuing law school. You can email her at obagin2@uic.edu

Michelle Skinner is Assistant Director of Faculty Research and Coordinator of PREDOC at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She has seven years of experience working in higher education administration in both student- and faculty-facing position. Michelle graduated from the UIC Department of English in 2013 and went on to earn a master’s degree in English Language and Literature from The University of Chicago in 2015. Her previous roles include serving as a Higher Education Fellow for the UChicago Humanities Division where she focused on communications strategy and as a Resident Head in UChicago College Housing where she was a live-in staff member focused on growing community. Michelle has been with Chicago Booth since 2018, where her responsibilities have expanded over the years—she now focuses on initiatives aimed at making the field of economics more diverse and inclusive.

Olivia and Michelle will be joined by Sean Barry of ESPN Chicago and sportsmockery.com, Nathan Oelker of  Vivid Seats and Jillian Tempestini of Morton Arboretum. We will have complete bios of Sean, Nathan and Jillian next week.

Click link to join UGS's Spring Career Workshop! 


Preparing for Law School as an English Major

UIC Senior Olivia Baginski 
Olivia Baginski

How can one best prepare for applying to law school? I had no idea what I was getting myself into with the whirlwind of writing, studying for both college and the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), maintaining both my mental and physical health, and trying to keep up somewhat of a social life during a pandemic. And the truth is, being reflective in writing this, the preparation of law school while being in college is tolling. However, I decided to make the choice of entering law school directly after completing my undergraduate degree as to not lose the academic ambition that I might lose in a gap year. I can’t yet speak on how well being an English major will prepare me for legal writing, however, I can for the preparation of a legal career.

Being an English major is challenging in different ways in comparison to other liberal art majors. Firstly, there are many preconceptions that choosing this major will lead to difficult career choices upon graduation. Then, there is the growth that comes in being a writer in college. And, as most of us English majors know, the skills we learn over years in college will ultimately be beneficial for most jobs. Such skills include critical analysis, close reading, or simply being able to write copious amounts of words through research and explanation. Aside from the skills, most importantly you need these attributes to do well on the test that will get you into law school.

The LSAT is extremely difficult, and a portion of the exam is reading comprehension. It is similar to the ACT/SAT you may have taken before attending a college. The LSAT also has an unscored writing portion, and in addition to the reading comprehension, there are two other sections that need to be studied for diligently. And by diligently—you need to study at least 4-6 months prior to your test for hours each day. Some people have spent an entire year studying to get into Ivy-League schools!

There is another component to law school applications aside from the extremely important LSAT: a lot of writing. The first thing a law school sees before looking at your transcripts, your test score, and anything else is your Personal Statement. They will read what you wrote to testify to your personality and why you belong at that law school. And because you, yes you, are an English major you have a wide selection of intelligent English professors at UIC who can help you! For an entire semester I virtually met with Dr. Todd Sherfinski to edit my Personal Statement. This essay was extremely critical for my acceptance at law school, and Dr. Sherfinski had amazing feedback each time we met. In addition to personal statements, there are optional statements as well (and they are extremely important to write, so don’t leave these blank). Such essays include the Addenda Statement, Diversity Statement, and “Why this law school” Statement.

In addition, you need people to write letters of recommendation. Depending on the school, you need at least one but no more than two or four recommenders.  I selected two professors and one manager to speak on behalf of my academics and motivation to work. I also paired certain recommendation letters to specific law schools. I did this with letters from Dr. Margena Christian and Dr. Diem-My Bui. Both spoke of the scholarly motivation I exhibited in their courses.

While there is so much to consider before beginning to prioritize your journey with law school applications, there is also many exciting ventures within being a lawyer that had me excited throughout this time to prepare. Gaining fresh perspectives through pre-law events at UIC have helped me reach the decision to pursue law school, and such events are still ongoing virtually. While I personally do not know which type of law I want to specialize in, I know that being an English major has helped me prepare in critical ways that I hope will transfer further into my education.


UGS Launches Online Magazine


UGS is launching a monthly, online magazine which is all about your work. 

Managed and edited by intern Tavon Sanders, the launch of the magazine sees UIC join the ranks of many other colleges and universities with a department-based forum for undergraduate critical and creative work. 

We will be asking students for submissions for our new online magazine to showcase the literary excellence and creativity of our student body. Accepted submissions will be published to our new, student-edited, online publication. Submissions will be accepted starting next Friday, February 19th, until March 12th. Submissions can include, but are not limited to:

  • Poetry
  • Creative fiction and short stories
  • Essays and other academic work
  • Speculative Essays

We anticipate that we will publish the first edition March 19th, so make sure to polish up your best work to get it ready for submission. Also, submissions are open to students across ALL majors and ALL colleges, so if you have friends in other academic departments that you feel may be interested, be sure to pass along information to them. More details on how to submit your work will be available next week. We'll also reveal our newest addition's name, so stay tuned!


Share Your Research!

 Author Anthony Doerr with his 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "All the Light We Cannot See."
 2021 Macksey Keynote Anthony Doerr with his 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning "All the Light We Cannot See."

Do you - or your friends - have research in the humanities that is ready for a larger audience? If so, apply for Johns Hopkins University’s second annual Richard Macksey National Undergraduate Humanities Research Symposium. The symposium offers students across the country the chance to gather together and disseminate their humanities research on a national scale. COVID turned 2020's symposium into a virtual event, but that was a great success! There were 359 participants and more than 10,000 visits to the conference site to date. Held live on April 24 and 25, 2021, this year’s event will be virtual as well. The application portal is now open

This symposium is open to undergraduate students from any two-year or four-year college or university who would like to present their original scholarship in the humanities. We hope to have 400 participants this year. In addition to the multiple panels of student papers and presentations (including original creative works), we will also have a wonderful keynote delivered by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anthony Doerr and multiple professional development panels featuring Johns Hopkins graduate students and faculty and editors from Johns Hopkins University Press. Students studying all areas of the humanities are welcome to attend. Attendees will also have the opportunity to work with our student editors to revise their presentation into a journal-length presentation for our journal of proceedings, the Macksey Journal.

For questions or to apply, click here.


The Writing Center Adds More Tutors

UIC's Writing Center 

Last week we reported that UIC's Writing Center is now open (virtually) for Spring 2021! The good news continues. This week The Writing Center announced that more tutors have been added. More tutors mean more opportunity for you to get feedback on your work or a job application, personal statement or resume before you submit it. 

Click here for more information.  Click here to make an appointment. 


Write for the UGS Newsletter


Want your own byline? Looking to demonstrate your writing skills? Write for us! The UGS Newsletter is seeking writers interested in submitting weekly, monthly or occasional articles. For more information, contact english@uic.edu.


Gen Z Environmental Justice Leaders

 Gen Z Environmental Justice Leaders

Don't miss The UIC Freshwater Lab's panel of Gen Z climate justice leaders on Thursday February 18, 2021 at 6:00 pm. Watch live at faceboook.com/FreshwaterLab to hear how these leaders heighten awareness of the magnitude of the climate crisis and the burden thrusted upon local communities. Join them to discuss the intersections of environmental justice and scales of engagement.

This panel is the first in a series planned for Spring 2021 by The Freshwater Lab Media Group as part of "The Backward River," a digital storytelling project about the Chicago River, with the goal of continuing the conversations initiated through the project, lending a voice to the river and amplifying the response by surrounding communities.

Yesenia M. Chavez is an activist and organizer born and raised in Chicago. As the eldest daughter of Mexican immigrants, she witnessed first-hand the health disparities plaguing families such as hers due to lack of environmental policy and political representation. She is also from the city's #SoutheastSide and attends Olive Harvey College where she studies Biology to pursue her dream of becoming a physician. She currently works on several campaigns focused on achieving a healthier environment for residents of a predominantly Black, Latinx, and immigrant community. Yesenia considers herself a vessel of change for her community and pursues environmental and health equity for all.

Rasaan Khail is an artist and environmentalist from Chicago. As co-founder of Firebrand Arts Network, he has worked for nearly a decade with #ChicagoPublicSchool students facilitating workshops and programming that merge performance art and environmental justice. He is a proud #FreshwaterLab alum, graduating from UIC with a degree in History. A prolific artist across multiple mediums, his poetry has been featured published by Belt Press and elsewhere; his debut EP “Feedback” was released in February 2020.

Penn State's "Mentoring for the Future of Literary Studies" Summer Program

Call for Applications: Mentoring for the Future of Literary Studies 

Are you considering graduate school for literary studies? Do you want to take your English studies to the next level, but don't know where to begin? Penn State is proud to announce the beginning of its “Mentoring for the Future of Literary Studies” project, a summer mentorship program specifically designed to aid black, indigenous and students of color who are interested in MA or PhD programs in literary studies! 

The program is free, and will be conducted online over two days, during which participants will learn all about advanced degree programs from graduate students at Penn State University. Participants will create and gather materials for the graduate school application process and even be able to schedule one-on-one meetings with faculty from Penn State to network and help foster long-lasting academic and professional relationships.

The program encourages not only those interested in English literature to apply, but also students interested in Spanish, French, Arabic, Slavic languages, gender and sexuality studies and more! Applications from recent BA graduates, students of Junior or Senior standing, terminal MA students, and students from diverse cultural, economic, geographic and ethnic groups are highly desired. 

To apply, submit a 1-page, single-spaced cover letter as a PDF document by Friday, February 26th to Kendra McDuffie (krm30@psu.edu) or Camila Gutiérrez-Fuentes (ckg5141@psu.edu) using the title “Mentoring 2021 application.” In this letter include:

  • Your academic interest in graduate studies or the kinds of programs you would be interested in applying to
  • Your interest in languages, literatures, and cultures
  • Any personal experiences you think might be relevant
  • Your commitment, interest, or experience with diversity in academic settings

Internships, Scholarships, Fellowships & Jobs


Summer Internships with Oak Park Festival Theatre

 Oak Park Festival Theatre's 2021 Season
Oak Park Festival Theatre
(Deadline: March 15, 2021)

At Oak Park Festival Theatre, our summer interns are the very lifeblood of our company. Every year, 10-15 young people from across the nation are accepted into the Internship Program at Oak Park Festival Theatre. These Theatre Arts majors and recent college graduates join us to learn first-hand about working for a professional outdoor theatre company. Interns:

  • participate in professional development workshops
  • perform their own Shakespeare scene study showcase
  • understudy our mainstage productions
  • work on every part of our summer production from set construction to assistant directing to box office and concessions to development.

In 2020 interns met virtually and built the core of our COVID-19 Action Plan which we will use to welcome artists and guests back to Austin Gardens this summer. 

Oak Park Festival Theatre provides a unique opportunity for burgeoning professionals. Deadline to apply is March 15, 2021. For more information and application, go to https://oakparkfestival.com/internship-program/ 


Elite Lawyer Offers Scholarship


Elite Lawyer, a directory and rating service that recognizes high-achieving attorneys who have made significant contributions to their communities and the legal professionm, is offering a $500 scholarship for the Spring 2021 semester to support college students who have a similar passion for making a difference in their communities. Applications are open to students who:

  •  Are currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program at an accredited U.S. college or university
  • Are continuing their education through at least the Spring 2021 semester
  • Are at least 18 years old
  • Have a current GPA of at least 3.0

Applicants must submit either an original 500-word essay or 2-minute video presentation answering the question: “What positive change are you working to bring to your community in the new year?” The deadline to apply is February 14, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. CST. Click on https://www.elitelawyer.com/elite-lawyer-scholarship for additional information.


Calls for Writers, etc.


Violet Margin (UIS) Seeks Submissions

Violet Margin Literary Magazine accepts submissions through February 15, 2021. 

Violet Margin (formerly Alchemist Review) is the literary journal at the University of Illinois at Springfield. A print journal that launches in April, Violet Margin publishes creative writing including but not limited to fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction, art, and photography by new and experienced writers.

We are committed to providing an inclusive, safe and diverse space for students to test their voices. Violet Margin is committed to publishing diverse voices and aims to focus on those that have, throughout history, been marginalized and excluded from the literary canon. We especially encourage submissions from women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ writers, writers with disabilities, and writers with intersectional identities. 

Our submission deadline is February 15, 2021. See flyer or violetmargin.org for submission details and more information. 


Collision Literary Magazine Call for Submissions

 Collision Literary Magazine
Collision is currently open for submissions of undergraduate fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art, and we welcome you to submit! By submitting to the annual magazine, you will be considered for our writing and cover art contests.
Submissions for the annual magazine close Friday, February 19, but we read on a rolling basis. You can find more information about the magazine and our submission guidelines at https://www.collision.pitt.edu. If you have any questions, please contact collision.pitt@gmail.com.

Black Lawrence Press Seeks Submissions

Black Lawrence Call for Submissions 

Mamas, Martyrs, and Jezebels: Myths, Legends, and Other Lies You've Been Told about Black Women revisits notions of Black womanhood to include the ways in which Black women's perceived strength can function as a dangerous denial of Black women's humanity. This collection addresses the stigma of this extraordinary endurance in professional and personal spaces, the Black church, in interpersonal partnerships, and within the justice arena, while also giving voice and value to Black women's experiences as the backbone of the Black family and community.

Black Lawrence Press is now accepting submissions for a new anthology of essays. Writers and scholars living in the United States and abroad are invited to submit essays of between 700-5000 words for the anthology on any of the following broad themes. (Other themes will be considered.)

  1. Black Women and Justice
  2. Black Women and Self-Care
  3. Black Women and Spirituality
  4. Black Women at Work and at Home
  5. Black Women and Sex (and Sexuality)

Essays can be creative or academic. However, essays have to be accessible since the anthology is for a general audience.

Drs. Jan Boulware, Rondrea Mathis, Clarissa West-White, and Kideste Yusef of Bethune-Cookman University will serve as editors.

Submissions will be accepted between through June 30, 2021. Contributors will receive a copy of the anthology as payment.

Previously published essays are welcome. Please contact Dr. Clarissa West-White at whitec@cookman.edu with questions.


Other Upcoming UGS Events

Mark Your Calendar for these Upcoming Events:
  • Career Workshop
    February 17, 2021 from 3:00 - 4:00 pm
    Join this workshop to learn how to get a jumpstart on getting a job
    Click here for Zoom link


  • Open Mic 
    March 31, 2021 from 4:00-5:00 pm
    Share your creative work and hear your peers' creative work
    Click here for Zoom link  


  • Grad School Workshop
    April 14, 2021 from 4:00-5:00 pm
    Current grad students talk about what grad school is really like and how to get into the program of your dreams
    Click here for Zoom link


  • Thesis Presentations
    April 30, 2021 at 3:00 pm

    Hear what students in ENGL 398 and ENGL 399 have been working on all semester
    Click here for Zoom link

Finally ...


Do you have questions or feel like chatting with UGS? Email english@uic.edu to schedule an appointment.