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Faculty Highlights

Laura Skokan

May 2018

Interview by Elizabeth Roush

Laura Skokan

Tell me about your background!

I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a focus on theater and computer science. I studied at an acting conservatory in England where I also wrote two scripts.

I moved to Chicago to be an actor. There were some projects I loved dearly but ended up figuring out that the life of an actor was not quite for me.

So I went to grad school and focused on writing. My thesis was a script for a graphic novel. I also started working as an editor for a writing-research journal at Illinois State University (which I am still on).

I honed those editing skills as an Internal Auditor for State Farm, where you have to study information (and writing) in highly detailed ways. I would then have to do a write up of my assessments. Because a lot of the job was writing, the managers put my degree to work and had me proof-read our major documents.

What do you like to do for fun?

 I’ve been getting into film making. I’ve been watching endless videos on cinematography, lighting and editing. There’s one video that was 6 hours of a guy editing using an application I hadn’t used before. I watched in chunks…I'm not insane.

All of this has been in service of making my own stuff. So far I’ve completed one video (which I’m absurdly proud of). It starred a sock puppet. I recorded the vocals in my closet and filmed it in my basement. And I'm currently working on a new one. Possibly trying out green screen. I've got my Charlie Kelly Green Man suit and everything.

How long have you been teaching general writing classes?

This is my second semester teaching at CSUSM. I also taught composition courses during my graduate program.

What is your favorite part about teaching general writing classes?    

Writing is kind of like math; a lot of students are told that they’re not good at it. And instead of being able to break that down (is it just the grammar side? is it the five-paragraph essay I’m not good at?) or find styles they thrive in, they perpetuate that narrative about themselves into college.

I like being able to engage the students on an intellectual level. Once they can start to think in rigorous ways, once they have something exciting to say, they are more invested in writing it down.

It attacks the problem from a different angle. Students bloom because they are starting to think in new and more robust ways. And I find that really exciting.

Do you have a favorite student memory/moment?

I just had an awesome moment a couple weeks ago.

There’s a student who I find to be a really interesting thinker, but I suspect he’s been a little leery of the course. I was demoing a way to critically approach an article and he had a really surprising reaction.

There’s this thing in the article I was demoing, which feels very neutral and the author seems benign and smart, but she makes this assertion that when you look at it critically is so…gross. Students don’t see it though; it just goes by quickly and with such a positive spin that you don't stop to think about it.

So I showed them how when you use this methodology it can help unpack how what's problematic. And that interesting thinker, literally made the “my mind was just blown” gesture. Complete with “explodey” sound effects.

In addition to that being a cool moment as a teacher, it helped to set this student up to use the methodology. It gave it a real weight and he’s been much more invested in using it. I also think it helped the rest of the class to see his reaction as well.

Any books you recommend?

 This isn’t really a teaching book, but my favorite is The Cheese Monkeys. Not the best title, but a fantastic book. It’s by Chip Kidd who’s a graphic designer, primarily a book cover designer (he’s done a lot of famous covers). The book is about a character who has somewhat accidentally ended up in a graphic design course and how much it shapes his worldview. It’s vicariously shaped mine too. I’m much more aware of the idea that everything manmade is (almost) exactly that—made by a person who had to considered each aspect of the design.