A Creative Mind
by Beverly Newsam
When he arrived on campus several years ago, Joel Thomas was focused on completing his bachelor of general studies degree and graduating. After discovering how much he enjoys writing, he is now bent on combining that drive with teaching.
"By the time I graduated in 2004, I knew I wanted to grow as a writer and teach writing too, so I started the master's program in 2005," Thomas said. "I realized that most of my favorite classes had been literature or creative writing, so I went with that."
During his undergraduate coursework, Thomas said he noticed he was becoming increasingly interested in creative nonfiction as a career path. Thinking back, he said the signs were always there, but his passion did not make itself known until he got to UNO.
"Back in junior high, I was reading newspaper columnists like Dave Barry and Mike Royko for fun," he said. "When I was attending a community college in Michigan, I never thought about going into the English field, even when I started writing a lot of rock journalism online."
Once he decided to delve into the creative nonfiction field, Thomas was delighted to have excellent resources so readily accessible. "UNO's English department has a fantastic creative nonfiction ‘mini-department,' so to speak, that rivals those in other more-recognized schools," he said. "What really interests me about the genre is that a writer can integrate any number of subjects and approaches in his/her own way and present those to an audience while still, essentially, telling the truth."
Thomas said the field of creative nonfiction is experiencing a lot of growth in the academic field, and he also wants to work on writing creative nonfiction criticism while he comes up with his own creative work.
As a graduate assistant at UNO, Thomas taught "English Composition" and worked in the UNO Writing Center. The president of the English Graduates Organization (EGO), he spent many hours working to reinstate the program, which began in the 1990s and recently returned after a hiatus. The EGO aims to provide educational and social support for English graduate students by combining fun activities with workshops and sessions designed to assist graduate students and undergraduates with résumé building and networking.
"In the fall of 2005, Dr. Joan Latchaw, who had just become the graduate chair, approached me about restarting the group since I was the new Graduate Program Committee student representative," Thomas said. "We've been going ever since."
Last academic year and this past summer, Thomas was active with the Metropolitan Community College (MCC) Writing Center on the college's South Omaha and Fort Omaha campuses. Interacting in a diverse environment - which included students from Sudanese and Latino backgrounds, among others - was as much a learning experience for him as it was for those he worked with.
"Some of the things that many UNO students take for granted (for example: opportunities, education, financial security, safe neighborhoods and transportation) present a constant struggle for many of Metro's students, so often those of us who work in the Writing Centers and/or teach at these locations find ourselves hearing extraordinary stories and helping students navigate issues that many students never even have to think about," Thomas said.
A portion of Thomas' master's degree coursework includes research and writing on the relocation of the Potawatomi Native American Tribe and its life and success throughout the past century. In addition, he is developing a collection of essays for publication that is centered on the idea of vocation and work.
"The Potawatomi project has been special because I've presented part of it at a national conference," he said. "What makes it more special, though, is that it's allowed me to converse with current Potawatomi leadership and start helping tell a story that needs to be told."
The $12,000 stipend accompanying his 2007-08 University of Nebraska Presidential Fellowship will enable Thomas to spend more time working on a variety of projects, and he hopes to visit a group of Potawatomi in Oklahoma. Being named a fellowship recipient still is a surreal experience for him.
"The UNO Graduate Studies Program sent me a letter in the mail," he said. "I had to read it a couple extra times just to make sure I was reading it correctly."
Thomas, who grew up in Michigan and Indiana, is currently in the process of researching and applying to Ph.D. programs that will allow him to focus on creative nonfiction. He said, although the field is growing and the opportunities are not as plentiful, the process is enjoyable.
"My dream job would offer a great balance between teaching opportunities and writing time," he said. "As long as I can teach fun classes, write and enjoy family time, I'll be happy."
Aside from his academic work, Thomas enjoys listening to a variety of music in his spare time. An avid baseball fan, he roots for the Chicago Cubs and can also be found cheering on the Omaha Royals at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Besides Thomas, the list of University of Nebraska Presidential Fellowship recipients includes four Ph.D. students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and two at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Details on the other UNO recipient - Bill McCarty, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice - will be available in a future feature article.
Beverly Newsam is a public relations staff member at UNO. She can be reached at email@example.com.
October 2012 > A Closer Look at IS&T's NUCIA
October 2012 > UNO Engages Students, Community for 2012 Elections
December 2011 > Conference Tags
September 2011 > Roskens Hall: An Educator's Dream
July 2011 > Arts and Sciences Hall: UNO's Cornerstone
April 2011 > UNOCCC: Twenty-Five Years of Caring
March 2011 > UNO's Libraries: A History
March 2011 > The Henningson Memorial Campanile
February 2011 > Mammel Hall
February 2011 > The Sapp Fieldhouse
January 2011 > Heydays of the Hayden House
December 2010 > UNO Faculty/Staff Earn WELCOM Light of Wellness Team Award
August 2010 > Anna S. Forman Commencement Remarks
May 2010 > John Treinen Commencement Remarks
March 2010 > My Ties and Cliff Hillegass
January 2010 > Megan Schuster Commencement Remarks
December 2009 > Man Killed by Pheasant
November 2009 > New Molecular Modeling Lab Key to Chemistry Research Work
September 2009 > Technology and Term Papers – A Photo Essay
October 2008 > Zero to 65 in 80 Semesters
September 2008 > H.RES.1372: Celebrating the 100th
September 2008 > UNO Researcher Spotlighted
March 2008 > Culture on Campus
February 2008 > In Her Own Words: Technology is crucial to spurring growth
December 2007 > Pacific Street Memories
November 2007 > WISE Women
October 2007 > Vincent Empowers Teachers, Students With Technology
August 2007 > Orientation Leader Represents UNO with Exuberance
August 2007 > In His Own Words: On Summer School
July 2007 > Changing Faces
June 2007 > MVHC @ 50
February 2007 > At Your Service
December 2006 > A Job Well Done
September 2006 > Australian Finches Aid UNO Professor's Research
July 2006 > Finding His Way
May 2006 > Calming the Anxious
April 2006 > The Kid's Doing All Right
March 2006 > Shot of a Lifetime
March 2006 > Going for Four
February 2006 > Standing Tall with Sierra
January 2006 > In-Your-Face Geology
January 2006 > Religion Meets Film
January 2006 > Finding a Home Port
December 2005 > Man of the Cloth
November 2005 > Volunteer Field Work
November 2005 > Charting the Unknown
October 2005 > Developing Business Overseas
October 2005 > After The Storm
September 2005 > Building Better Officers
September 2005 > Saving the Planet
August 2005 > Making the Abstract Tangible
August 2005 > Helping Neighborhoods Help Themselves
July 2005 > Improving Health through Technology
July 2005 > Reading the Signs
June 2005 > Small Steps to a Better Life
April 2005 > Honest Art
March 2005 > Sharing The Wealth
March 2005 > Engineering His Own Masterpiece
February 2005 > Native Daughter, Native Dreams
February 2005 > Puck Stops Here
January 2005 > Stressing the Familiar
January 2005 > Connecting the Community
January 2005 > Ticket to Cooperstown
December 2004 > Spirit of the Season
December 2004 > Nicholas Stergiou: Research in Motion
fall 2004 > Alzheimer's: Caring for the Caregiver's
fall 2004 > David Hawk: All In
fall 2004 > Anadelia Lamas: Planting Roots
fall 2004 > Dean Olson: Assessing the Threat
fall 2004 > Tom Warren: From the Chiefs to the Chief