In this portion of the interview, Kristine L. Blair discusses her experiences being mentored during her doctoral experiences and the beginning of her career. She then discusses her views on mentoring and her current roles as a mentor. In this section, I have also included her responses to questions about choosing doctoral programs and making a case for tenure and promotion.
Oh, I think it probably already is for many departments. For colleagues who are forced through scholarly expectations to think of the single-authored monographs as the benchmark, the coin of the realm, with fewer venues to actually publish scholarly monographs, the death of presses, as in university presses, the costs of publication, and book series sort of reducing the titles that they actually print, there is a rhetoric of the crisis in scholarly publishing. I wouldn't necessarily think of it as a crisis; we've been talking about it for a while now, and we need to be in acceptance mode and to think of the various types of strategies we should employ, including digital strategies for developing, distributing, and sustaining our work in the field of English studies, because so many of us still teach in English departments.
It's really hard to talk about Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher as mentors without getting all weepy, because they have had such a profound influence on not only my career, but on so many people in this profession. I'll give a little bit of history. Earlier, I alluded to the fact that Cindy and Gail were often on campus at Purdue just because they were all teaching in the Upper Midwest, so there was a lot of opportunity for these big name scholars to come down and give talks in our colloquia at the rhetoric series at Purdue. I certainly benefitted from that. Pat Sullivan was so instrumental in putting folks like Pam Takayoshi and me in contact with Cindy and Gail when they did come to visit. I remember distinctly Pam and I having coffee with Cindy and Gail and sharing our ideas. The earliest thing I can remember with Cindy is her saying to me and Pam, "You two should do an edited collection. You'll meet lots of people. You'll establish works in context in the field," and through that advice, we did Feminist Cyberscapes (Blair & Takayoshi, 1999). I don't want to say the rest is history, but Cindy and Gail have always had that type of influence on my work being very encouraging at Computers and Writing [C&W, the conference] always including us in the scholarly conversation. I think that's certainly true of Cindy and Gail, but it's not just true of them. One of the reasons I'm so honored to be a member of the C&W community is because it's just very inclusive; it's a very different vibe than going to other conferences and the field that will not be named, and so that's important. I maintained that connection with Cindy and Gail over the years after I graduated obviously. I was never more shocked when they asked me if I would be interested in serving as an acquisitions editor for Computers and Composition Online in 1997-1998. At that point, it was housed at the University of Texas at Austin. It was edited by Peg Syverson and her group of people at UT. When Peg was ready to step down from that role because of the different work-loads she was doing—she was directing, I think CWRL [Computer Writing and Research Lab], and just doing lots of different things—then Cindy and Gail approached me about editing it. Again, it was just a major surprise, but the exciting thing for me, and I think it could never have happened had I not been participating in a doctoral program like the one at Bowling Green, the Computers and Composition [C&C] Online enterprise, very much became a scholarly collective. I involved graduate students; I involved fellow colleagues at the time, like Angela Haas, who was teaching a technical writing class and a project management course, I believe. Some of her students worked on developing the interface for C&C. They didn't necessarily do all the web work, but they were the ones who really mapped out what the site would look like and, to some extent, that mapping is present today. This type of reciprocity between scholars in the field at the national level and a community at the local level who worked behind the scenes got our first issue of C&C Online out in Spring 2003. I think that it could never have happened without that global influence, but it could not have also happened without that local influence. I think you need those kinds of recursive relationships to foster digital scholarship in journal form, as well as in book form, as we're seeing now with the Computers and Composition Digital Press.
I think they have to look to any graduate program to see where computers and writing specialists are working, where digital rhetoric specialists are working, and to see what types of curricular opportunities are available, like coursework and the ability to take a course or courses in digital composing. Some of that comes through teaching environments and looking at the first-year writing curriculum to understand what opportunities are there for digital video composition, for example. That's not equal in all institutions, so those are certainly considerations. I'd also look at things like, for example, a number of institutions in Ohio have electronic thesis and dissertation requirements. Bowling Green is one of them and whether or not you can use that to expand even in traditional empirical research, the data collection, and data representation processes through digital audio, digital video, and how those modes can be integrated into a digital dissertation. Our students are required to submit the dissertation in Adobe Acrobat. I think people underestimate the power of Acrobat; they think of it as Adobe Reader. However, when you actually work in Professional, you have the capacity to embed video and audio and to enable commentary. It's just a very powerful tool that none of us, myself included, take advantage of, and I'd like to see, and would even encourage students, to look at those possibilities as well.
In some ways, I'm always absolutely thrilled to hear that former graduate students are bringing people to Computers and Writing and are recommending that their students submit something in digital form to Kairos or Computers and Composition Online. I am proud to see the professional successes of students like Elizabeth Monske, Lanette Cadle, Jen Almjeld, Sergey Rybas, Florence Bacabac, and James Schirmer. I could continue with the list of students who have gone on to great professional success in terms of the teaching that they do in digital environments, as well as mention their presence in the field of computers and writing and my continued work with them. One person who has influenced my career profoundly, in addition to Cindy and Gail, is Christine Tulley, working with her initially as a student and now a dear friend and colleague. Actually, I'm so blessed that both she and Christine Denecker at University of Findlay are twenty miles down the road. I have this network of former students who have become colleagues that I collaborate with frequently. Again, I could keep going on down the list, Robin Murphy, I feel bad that if this gets published somehow somewhere, that I'm not mentioning all the people I should who have really made my work at Bowling Green possible. It's a very recursive relationship; I learned from them through their questions, through their expertise, and through their willingness to be a little bit flexible with some of them saying, "Oh, let's do this in digital form. Don't worry it's going to take more time; don't worry that you're going to feel uncomfortable; we'll get there." I'm grateful to all of them for the professional enrichment they provided to me.
Well, one of the things I like to remind people about especially those who actually take my graduate seminar in computer-mediated writing theory is that, "yes, indeed, computers and writing is a discipline under the umbrella of rhetoric and composition." I don't think that people necessarily new to the field recognize that we are a significant scholarly community. That's through the Computers and Writing conference; that's through the Kairos; that's through the Computers and Composition enterprise, so to that extent, I think I don't have to do much work. That's been done before me, and I'm happy to sort of be part of that community and to be assuming these days more of a leadership role through the editing of Computers and Composition print. I will say, though, that it really does take a recursive mentoring model because what we're doing as a community is preparing future faculty to assume the responsibilities of educating colleagues across the English studies curriculum about why digital rhetoric is important. Why should we teach digital writing as the WIDE [Writing in Digital Environments] collective that Michigan State has talked about? Why does digital writing matter? I'm sort of citing some titles that come out of Dànielle DeVoss's work, both for Kairos and the National Writing Project (2010), but those are significant questions that we need to continue to address for the future faculty in our discipline so that they go out and become change agents and bridge the gap. In my mind, between what our students do with technology, what they might do with technology outside of the classroom, and what we do with technology, we have this gap and what I always want to talk to future faculty about is bridging that gap. Talking to people who say, "I did this really interesting activity where I asked my students to text message me about their latest assignment" or to reflect on that assignment or to engage in mention activity on Twitter and to be able to talk about why those are important aspects of the writing process and why that's an important part of the rhetorical tradition.