Alumni Spotlight: Deirdre McMurtry
When working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for the English department, alumna Deirdre McMurtry taught first-year writing courses. She says English is about more than just turning in an essay. When you talk about writing you discuss “logic and critical thinking and why the rhetoric they are using feels so powerful” and this helps you “build confidence” because when you flex these analytical skills you build a solid foundation and are better equipped to “make informed decisions.” She describes English as “hard to define” because many people have a narrow understanding of what it entails. When you are an English major, you acquire a diverse set of “transferable skills” that many employers want but do not realize you have. You can be successful in any career; the key is to “make them listen” just long enough to “prove it.”
As Assistant Director of Intensive Language Programs (ILUNO), McMurtry oversees the success of the curriculum and the program. With tight eight-week sessions offered six times a year, she constantly has “things to do and prepare.” One of her biggest challenges is the “fluctuating number of students” enrolled at any given time. Making sure those students’ needs are met and that they have an appropriate number of instructors for each session requires careful planning, adaptability, and collaboration with other student service programs.
Her background of an MA in Language Teaching with a TESOL certificate as well as her ABD in History aid McMurtry in staying on top of current world events. Researching and understanding the “diverse set of cultural backgrounds” her students come from is an essential part of her position and one she greatly enjoys. The international students enrolled in ILUNO often face unique challenges, especially those with Dyslexia or information processing disorders. Having these kinds of challenges makes learning a new language “incredibly difficult” and can be “very disheartening.” As someone whose family has a history of dyslexia and processing disorders, McMurtry tries to find ways to help these students obtain the skills necessary to be successful. In her experience, the “best way” to learn a new language when you have a processing disorder is to “immerse yourself” in the language and “get frequent, real world practice” with difficult vocabulary.