Alumni Spotlight

Martina Miles ’09 
Ph.D. Student in English Literature
University of Oregon

Major: English

Minor: Gender and Women’s Studies

Activities: Sigma Tau Delta, the Literary Review (co-editor), Omicron Delta Kappa

What first attracted you to Whittier College? Whittier fit the bill perfectly: small class sizes, close relationships between faculty and students, self-directed study, leadership opportunities, challenging classes. But the Whittier College I saw on paper wasn’t nearly as influential as the Whittier College I met in person: on campus, I saw students and faculty laughing, chatting, enjoying each other’s company; in classes, I saw engaging and energetic learning environments. I was sold; in fact, I am proud to say that Whittier was the only college to which I applied. For me, it was Whittier or nowhere.

Why did you choose to study English? I chose English because I believe in the power of stories. The storytelling tradition is deeply imbedded in my culture as a Jew and that training made me see the whole world as made up of nothing so big nor small as stories. Plus, I like books, and a few professors (looking at you, Professors Wendy Furman-Adams and Charles Adams!) made me think that I could make a career out of that.

Describe your experience at Whittier College. Who was your favorite professor? I can’t say enough about the faculty in the English department, of course: Charles Adams, my mentor, taught me how to think and challenged me to always make my own standards of success and then exceed them. Wendy Furman-Adams showed me how to find the poetry in everything and made me realize that having laughter in your voice makes the world more joyful for everyone. Professors dAve pAddy and Sean Morris both (in different ways) taught me about the incredible wealth of fun and fascination that opens up for us when we treat the world like an adventure and approach it with spontaneity, cleverness, and humor. Bill Geiger made me realize I could be an equal even to these people I look up to. Truly, there would be no way to say I have a favorite, and I haven’t even mentioned the high esteem I have for Tony Barnstone, Andrea Rehn, or Anne Kiley. Plus, it would be impossible for me not to mention the professors from other disciplines who shaped my world: Mike McBride, Fred Bergerson, Caroline Heldman, Laura McEneney, Stephen Cook.

What was your most memorable moment at Whittier College? I want to mention two memorable moments from graduation, because each is important for me in a completely different way yet each encapsulate, for me, what it was I so loved about my time at Whittier.

The first is from the graduation ceremony itself. I was incredibly honored to be chosen as the graduation speaker for the Class of 2009 and, perhaps unsurprisingly, incredibly nervous to speak, even though I’m not usually antsy about public speaking. As I was called up on stage, I felt myself go hot and cold – sensation overload. Listening to President Herzberger introduce me felt surreal. Still, I approached the podium and looked out at the assembled mass of friends, family, and peers, and then turned and looked behind me at the encouraging, proud faces of the faculty. I paused, smiled, and began to speak; I’ll never forget the profound communion and expanding joy that I felt among my fellow Poets in that moment.

The second is from the next morning, when my friends and I gathered to say goodbye. A group of us had lived together nearly the whole time we’d been at Whittier, and by senior year, this community of women had become like family to me. So when all our cars were packed and it was time to leave, I think it hit all of us that this was the end of a particularly blessed period of our lives; we were heading out to all corners of the country and would likely never live together again. All of us hugged in a big circle and, I am unashamed to say, cried like kids. The gift that I could never have expected Whittier to give me was this haphazard collection of lifelong friends; even now, I credit those fabulous people with helping me become who I am today.

What are you currently up to? How has your Whittier education benefited you professionally? I am two years away from a Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of Oregon, where I also teach college composition, English, and folklore classes. In addition to my primary coursework and training, I am also working on a masters certification program in nonprofit management, serving on administrative committees, representing my union, co-writing a composition textbook that will be published by the UO this coming year, and collectively working to develop a disability studies curriculum that we hope will eventually be available as an undergraduate minor.

As an academic, my Whittier education has been invaluable. I was trained to think holistically about my subjects and to take knowledge from any area of study that helps me see the world more clearly. This makes me a better researcher, a better writer, and a better thinker; it helps me make connections that disrupt and reconfigure my assumptions about the world and helps me resist the urge towards myopia and stasis.

What advice would you give to future English alumni when they graduate? Find a way to do something that matters to you and affords you space to live a life full of what you love. It’s your job now to decide what is going to make you happy and then figure out what degrees, skills, experience, and training will help you get there, without forgetting that it is just as important to be fulfilled as it is to excel in any career.

Finish this sentence: I am a ‘Poet for Life’ because… I’m still writing my life into being without fear of running out of ink. Less poetically, I’m a Poet for life because I love the person I grew to be while I was a student at Whittier and I fundamentally believe in the work that Whittier does for its students.

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