English MA Graduates


Meet some of our English MA graduates


An alumni of the literature program, Justin Atwell is currently pursuing his PhD in Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota where he teaches Writing in the Sciences and an Introduction to Rhetoric and Writing Studies. His PhD dissertation will focus on better understanding expectations of students entering upper-division WAC/WID courses.

Major Professor: Matthew Wynn Sivils

Thesis Title: The transcendentalist hip-hop movement





Rebecca Blanchette received her MA in English specializing in Literature. She received her BA in English from East Carolina University. She taught English 150 and English 250 courses while at Iowa State. Her thesis examines representations of property in 19th-Century American literature. Originally from Massachusetts, she is specifically interested in New England authors, especially Nathaniel Hawthorne.





Mary Bonvillain is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in English – Literature here at Iowa State. She came to ISU after receiving her B.A. in Economics and English from Northern Illinois University. Recently entering her second year, Mary has begun researching and writing her thesis. Her research interests focus on the literary representations of the immigrant’s experience of gender and fluctuating identity; specifically, she is examining these topics in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. Additionally, Mary works with ISU’s undergraduate population through her instruction of English 150: Critical Thinking and Communication and English 250: Written, Oral, and Electronic Composition.

On campus, Mary has invested herself in two service roles this year. She is the MA Student Representative to the English Graduate Studies Committee where she advocates for her fellow students within the English Department. Furthermore, she recently accepted a nomination to participate as a peer mentor in the First-Year Mentoring Program. Relatively new, the program’s main goal is to enhance the experience and retention of underrepresented graduate students. In order to facilitate this goal, Mary will be spending the entirety of this academic year mentoring and assisting a new first-year English graduate student. With her two extracurricular roles on campus, Mary has recently recognized the value of oral communication in the academic world; it is the tool with which an academic can instigate beneficial change for her colleagues and herself.

Major Professor: Michele Schaal

Thesis Title: Shifting intersections: Fluidity of gender and race in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah



Sarah Chase Crosby (2016) graduated with an MA English, Literature Specialization, and with a Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) minor. Along with her studies, she enjoyed the opportunity to combine her passions for social justice and teaching as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for WGS 160: Gender Justice.

Sarah’s interest in teaching with a gender emphasis and using popular culture, graphic novels, and film within the classroom has also led her to focus on gender and film for her thesis. This work, “Letting Gendered Spaces Go: Trending Toward Gender and Nature Balance through Bonding in Disney’s Frozen & Maleficent,” focuses on problematically gendered, dualistic spaces within these two films—emphasizing ecofeminist and third wave feminist elements that arise through increased female empowerment and bonding.

She has presented on related works at conferences, including a paper entitled “Weaving Queenly Duties and Womanhood: Resistance and Bonding in Brave” at the University of South Dakota’s Biennial Women and Gender Conference and “Frozen’s Adaptation of Gendered Spaces: True Love’s Empowering Trend” for the Midwest Popular Culture Association.

Additionally, Sarah served as a Graduate Student Representative for the WGS steering committee and participated in a WGS brownbag presentation based on her thesis findings. Sarah stayed connected to the campus community by volunteering at various events and writing blog entries for the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center.

Major Professor: Michele Schaal

Thesis Title: Letting gendered spaces go: Striving toward gender and nature balance through bonding in Disney’s Frozen and Maleficent




Samantha Dunn is a (2016) graduate of the English Literature program. She earned a B.A. in English from the University of South Dakota. Her current scholarly interests include adolescent and new adult literature, and how media extends narrative of young adult fantasy literature.

She taught SP CM 212 and also researched Team-Based Learning and student’s perceptions of this model of learning used in the speech communication classroom. She hopes to continue her education following this master’s degree.

Major Professor: Susan Yager

Thesis Title: Fandom and fiction: Adolescent literature and online communities



Kristen Nichols-Besel Kristen Nichols-Besel earned her MA in English specializing in Literature and recently finished a doctoral program in Literacy Education at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She is now an adjunct professor teaching literature for two small universities in Minneapolis. Kristen did her thesis here on young adult literature and published an article from her thesis. She focused again on young adult literature for her dissertation at the University of Minnesota and is now working on publishing articles from that dissertation.





Mary Reding (2016) earned her MA in the English Literature program. She wore several hats: teaching English 150 & 250, acting as a representative of the ISU English Department on the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, and mentoring and tutoring for the Iowa State Athletics Department, and was a reviewer for several publishing houses on her Instagram account @maryredingreads. Her current projects involve magic, medievalisms, and young adult fiction.

Major Professor: Susan Yager

Thesis Title: Harry Potter’s Heroics: Crossing the thresholds of home, away, and the spaces in-between




Luke Rodewald (2016) earned his MA in English specializing in Literature. He holds a B.S. in Education degree from Martin Luther College, where he majored in Communication Arts and Literature Education, along with a minor in Theology. During his senior year there, he also served as an undergraduate teaching assistant for the English Department.

His creative component uses the Indiana Jones trilogy to teach high school students the basics of postcolonial literary theory. His other academic interests include recent American film, television, and other elements of American popular culture — all of which he blends into both his research and his teaching. If you don’t find him in his office, he’s probably (and regrettably) watching another dismal performance by one of the many Minnesota professional sports team he follows.”

Major Professor: Donna Niday

Thesis Title: Representation at the movies: Film, pedagogy, and Postcolonial theory in the secondary English classroom




Lance Sacknoff earned his MA in English specializing in Literature. Lance taught English 150 and 250, interned with Midwestern book publisher and Ice Cube Press, and pursued various writing and editing projects. Lance also worked as a technical editor on a manuscript for the late Professor Paul L. Errington, a former Iowa State professor, eminent conservationist, and winner of the Aldo Leopold medal.

Currently, Lance is the managing editor for the anthology, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland. As a multi-genre anthology, Lance has immersed himself in collecting and editing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry inspired by and addressing the unique properties of the American Midwest. Because Prairie Gold required assistance and opinions from various area of English, Lance encourages both his colleagues and his students to develop relationships with individuals outside their immediate field.

Regardless of an author’s age or background, Lance believes any hardworking author can publish their work and reach library and retail bookshelves. “Ending up on a bookshelf requires the hard work of more than a writer: copy editors, publishers, graphic designers, etc. all have a hand in moving a great piece of written work from a loose-leaf manuscript or Word document to a bound product purchased by a happy reader. Becoming a published writer requires just as much attention to the cultivation of professional contacts as it does consistent, creative writing.”

Lance regularly blogs at http://www.icecubepress.com/a-publisher-blog.




Mary Stoecklein received her MA in English Literature in 2013. While at ISU, Mary’s interests in pedagogy, American literature, and American Indian literatures were amplified. Mary worked as a TA for  Fundamentals of Public Speaking, where she learned invaluable lessons about effective teaching practices. In the Fall of 2012, Mary was awarded the Teaching Excellence Award. The coursework Mary completed at ISU inspired her to continue her studies at the doctoral level. She is now a PhD student in American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona, where she is pursuing her interests in pedagogy and American Indian literatures. At the University of Arizona, Mary worked for two years as a TA for the course Many Nations of Native America and this past semester Mary served as the TA for the course History and Philosophy of the Dine’ (Navajo). Through her research and teaching, Mary hopes to cultivate intercultural understanding by making American Indian literary texts visible within higher education in culturally respectful and responsible ways.




As a Master’s student in English specializing in Literature at Iowa State, Angela Walther received a Research Excellence Award and was nominated for a Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools (MAGS) Outstanding Thesis Award. After graduation, Angela Walther accepted the Kirkland Fellowship in Victorian Studies at the University of Florida. As a PhD candidate, Angela teaches British Literature and Composition courses and serves as a writing tutor in the University of Florida’s Writing Center. In 2012, she presented a paper at the international Coleridge Conference. Angela helped pilot test UF’s online writing tutor system and designed her first undergraduate course for UF, which explores the formation of American identities alongside the development of scientific information in early America. Her research focuses on nineteenth-century working and laboring class writers, and after research trips to the archives in the UK she worked on her first book proposal, on the life and poetry of the working-class poet, Mary Peach Collier.

Angela cultivated lasting professional relationships with the English faculty at ISU, and she describes Iowa State’s important role in her career: “The English Department at ISU encouraged original research, and the department and faculty also supported professional development within the discipline; they don’t simply provide a strong foundation for your research interests, but they also take an interest in you as a scholar and researcher.”




English Department alumna Sarah Brown Wessling was named the National Teacher of the Year in 2010. President Obama bestowed this honor on Wessling in the Rose Garden of the White House. Previously Wessling had become a National Board-Certified Teacher in 2005 and had also received the Iowa Governor’s Scholastic Favorite Teacher Award.

At Iowa State, Wessling received two degrees: a Bachelor’s in English with a specialization in teacher education in 1998 and a Master’s in English with a specialization in Literature in 2003. She then taught at Cedar Falls High School and Johnston High School in Iowa before being named the Iowa Teacher of the Year in 2010, followed by the National Teacher of the Year a few months later.

Wessling uses her research background—which garnered her an Iowa State Graduate Research in Excellence Award—along with her teaching experiences in speaking and writing about educational issues. She has co-authored the book Supporting Students in a Time of Core Standards: Grades 9-12, published by the National Council of Teachers of English. She has talked to nearly 400 audiences, ranging from 5 to 9,000 people, on education-related topics, and often receives a standing ovation. In addition to teaching part of the day at Johnston High School, she also works as Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel where she opens the doors to her classroom through video, maintains multiple blogs and also hosts the PBS show Teaching Channel Presents. Last year she served on a panel with Bill Gates and recently appeared on NBC’s Education Nation. Regardless of the audience—teachers, students, policy makers, business professionals, or interested community members—she uses a genuine and energetic approach in sharing her love of learning and teaching.

On her educational background at Iowa State, Wessling writes, “My professors in the ISU English Department had a profound impact on me:  as a reader, they taught me precision; as a writer, they cultivated my voice; and as a thinker, they pushed me from the concrete to the abstract and back again. I still carry these dispositions with me each time I enter the classroom, excited to revel in language with my students.”

Among Wessling’s many honors are Iowa State’s Outstanding Alumni Early Achievement Award and the English Department’s Outstanding Alumni Award.  Wessling also served as the president for the Iowa Council of Teachers of English (ICTE) for four years, the first person to serve two terms.  She has received the following honors from ICTE:  Promising Teacher Award, Cleo Martin Teacher as Researcher Award, Barbara Schubert Future Leader in Language Arts Award, and President’s Award.