MFA Programs

New Mexico State University

Shauna Osborn MFA 2002-2005

1. Where and when did you attend graduate school? Did you complete a degree?

I received an MFA in Poetry/Creative Writing from New Mexico State University. The program takes 3 years—I attended from Fall 2002 to Spring 2005.

2. Did your institution provide financial support to assist you in completing your degree?

I received a teaching position and in state tuition rates from the program. I also had a small scholarship from my tribe to help with expenses.

3. Were there other forms of support, administrative or otherwise, in place in your program or institution?

Part of the MFA program included being assigned a faculty mentor who helped acclimate you to the department. The small but helpful English Department Graduate Student Organization held various fundraisers to help members attend national writing/scholarly conferences and professional development events. The McNair Scholars Program at NMSU also offered some financial and academic mentoring support.

4. Did you face any institutional barriers or challenges in your program or institution?

Yes, there were several that I do not wish to revisit. I believe that will the case for any academic program at every institution. It is the way of academia. I will say most of the barriers and challenges I faced at NMSU were not due to my tribal status. NMSU has a high percentage of minority students within the student body. While I was the only native writer in the program during my time period, there were several native students in other programs attending concurrently and within the courses I taught for the English Department.

5. How did your program experience change your writing? Did you experience lasting benefits?

The program gave me several years to polish my skills, experiment with new styles, and talk craft and revision strategies with other professionals. It helped me hone my language strategies, emphasize the strengths in my work, and harness new abilities that different audiences would appreciate. The benefits of being surrounded by other writers who are focusing on their craft is immense. The conversations, the suggested readings, the support, and the poignant criticism are all worth the time and effort of joining the program.

6. What would you want prospective students to know about your program?

Visit the Las Cruces area before you consider acceptance to the program. The town is not very large and is not the typical version of college communities. There is not much to do other than camping, hiking, and watching movies. The up side to this is it allows a lot of focus to go into your studies. Being bilingual (or interested in the learning the Spanish language), enjoying spicy food, and wanting to live somewhere with high temperatures in a dry arid region is helpful as well.

Oregon State University

Michael Wasson MFA 2012-2014

1. Where and when did you attend graduate school? Did you complete a degree?

Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, from 2012 to 2014. Yes, I just finished.

2. Did your institution provide financial support to assist you in completing your degree?

Yep—a GTA teaching package that included tuition remission and a monthly stipend. One or two fellowship/scholarships were available, but I didn’t know about them. That was about it. But I’m a simple rez boy from the sticks, so I could really stretch them stipends.

3. Were there other forms of support, administrative or otherwise, in place in your program or institution?

Sure thing. Most of the support consisted of basic “professional development” opportunities, ranging from small in-house workshops on CVs to a second-year GTA travel award.

4. Did you face any institutional barriers or challenges in your program or institution?

Yes. As an indigenous writer learning to occupy both dominant and minoritized spaces—and this goes for many marginalized writers who see the world through the diverse languages and images of their culture—you’ll be fronted with plenty of challenges. Such is America. Good luck. Be open. Don’t shut down.

5. How did your program experience change your writing? Did you experience lasting benefits?

It changed how I view writing, especially my own, and how to practice both like an exercise for sustaining growth and also for finding more of my voice. As a youngling myself, it really kick-started my bardly journey.

6. What would you want prospective students to know about your program?

Be open for growth and development. Toughen your skin. Take word from na’pláx̣, too, my grandpa: starve yourself as you hunt—you see better that way. Then, eat everything on your plate both given and earned.

 

University of British Columbia

Nicola Campbell BFA & MFA 2005–2012

1. Where and when did you attend graduate school? Did you complete a degree?

I attended there for both my BFA & MFA in Creative Writing, graduated with my MFA in Nov 2012. I also participated in an Aboriginal Writing Intensive for New Writers at Banff Centre’s Aboriginal Writing Program (In approximately 2006)

2. Did your institution provide financial support to assist you in completing your degree?

I received 4 years sponsorship during my undergrad for tuition and 1-year tuition for my MFA from my “Band” (Canada). I supplemented my studies thru part-time student employment on campus, p/t contracts, grant applications, applied for every relevant Aboriginal & Fine Arts scholarship program I could find including National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation “NAAF” (Undergrad & grad fine arts program), Foundation for the Advancement of Aboriginal Youth (Undergrad), BC Arts Council (Grad program), SSHRC Grad Student Fellowship (Grad), and several others. I also received several scholarships through the University.

3. Were there other forms of support, administrative or otherwise, in place in your program or institution?

The other forms of support I received included: The UBC First Nations House of Learning “The Longhouse” support staff including guidance with course selections, career decisions, grief, loss & intergenerational residential school survivor issues. The Longhouse environment itself, students, Longhouse academic and Aboriginal arts & community events all provided a supportive “Home Away from Home” environment including free food (And you know how we students love free food & community!). I started my post-secondary studies in “Nitep” Native Indian Teacher Education Program and following my younger brother’s passing I failed a year (except for one Writing for Children undergrad course). I already had a lot of doubt regarding my passion for this area of study and so took a year off. Following that year, my first children’s free-verse picture book was accepted by a publisher (Shi-shi-etko) and I was accepted into the UBC Creative Writing program (undergrad). Shi-shi-etko was published two years later (2006). After graduation I published my 2nd book (Shin-chi’s Canoe), which received the 2009 TD Canadian Children’s Literature award for $25,000. This helped pay for my first year of Graduate studies in the MFA Creative Writing program. I have since published a 3rd children’s book. The UBC Creative Writing Program is a small program. There were numerous things about this program that I appreciated: Administrative support, guidance, my supervisory committee was great, (although busy!) I am a person who loves the critique process as I strongly feel this has made my writing stronger on every level. The critique is a must and one should never experience a negative critique process, whether internally, assumed negative criticism or from the conduct of others. My program strongly adhered to a supportive critique environment. There were certainly times I felt somewhat annoyed by non-Aboriginal critiques where other students just didn’t “get it” but with other Aboriginal students in the classroom, a supportive instructor and an opportunity to share afterward, this made my experience a positive outcome. I also appreciated that the UBC Graduate Creative Writing Program does not require students to take non-relevant courses such as critical theory, etc. I had heard my professors state that they believe that this is outside the creative realm and can seriously impair a writers creative process. I noticed that some of the resulting creative works such as novels & books of poetry can range up to 400+ pages. Other areas I sought & acquired support was from community off campus including: Squamish Nation – Stitsma Employment Services (employment & sponsorship for texts).

4. Did you face any institutional barriers or challenges in your program or institution?

If there were institutional barriers that I had experienced it was during my undergraduate degree, while in the NITEP program. 1) Was with a very patronizing & condemning NITEP Coordinator who was non-native (although later discovered she was part “Métis”). This was at a NITEP Field Centre outside of UBC Vancouver Campus, following this experience, I transferred to the main UBC Campus NITEP program. The staff there were great. My 2nd experience was with a History of First Nations of Canada professor during my undergraduate degree, again, prior to transferring to Creative Writing. This professor was later removed from the classroom because of the range of her negative assaults on FN’s and bizarre classroom behavior. I still failed this course, following a standing deferral, head-on collision and my godmother who raised me was undergoing cancer treatments. During my undergraduate degree, both my younger brother and godmother passed away.

5. How did your program experience change your writing? Did you experience lasting benefits?

My experience in the Creative Writing program was immensely supportive and inspiring. I did not believe in myself as a writer, and definitely not a creative writer although this was a lifelong dream, since childhood. English, social studies, history, any colonial based courses in public elementary school and post-secondary were always a struggle and a huge turn off. When I switched to Creative Writing I also completed a minor in First Nation’s studies, this was where I was finally able to really start learning about decolonization processes.

6. What would you want prospective students to know about your program?

I am currently doing a 2nd MA degree, which may evolve into a Ph.D at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. Here my area of research is the Interdisciplinary Indigenous Graduate Program, I am focusing on contemporary storytelling practices. Exploring how colonial disease has impacted contemporary storytelling practice, what our traditional responsibilities were and how they evolve into today’s society. Why stories utilizing themes of resurgence are so ultimately important for our future generations. I have found this program to be excellent, my supervisory committee and instructors are all fantastic: Jeannette Armstrong, Gregory Younging and a non-Aboriginal supervisor Allison Hargreaves. While I still ultimately refuse to undertake courses of study that sustain colonial ideologies, in particular English Literature & the English Literary Canon, I do feel that having a strong critique relationship with non-Aboriginal English instructors & supervisor helps me to navigate a language and culture that I struggle to interpret.

 

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