Major Spotlight: English
|Marcus Sheffield, PhD, is a renowned English professor here at Southern. The love students have for him translates to the fact that he almost always has a long waiting list of students hoping to get into his classes. Professor Sheffield teaches Survey of American Literature, C.S. Lewis, and Critical Thinking in Academic Reading & Writing (Composition 101/102), among others.||asdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdf|
- Tell us a little about your background.
Sometime after the Civil War but before the Gulf War, I graduated from Far Eastern Academy in Singapore. I was a missionary’s kid. Professor John Keyes, now in the School of Journalism and Communication, was my English teacher. After FEA, I went to PUC and graduated with an English major. After a year or so I went to Andrews University for my MA in English. The decade after that was spent in more graduate school and in high school English teaching. I received the last lifetime teaching credential available from the State of California. Eventually, l made my way to Michigan State University for my PhD in English. My first full-time college teaching job was at Southwestern Adventist University, where I taught from 1990 to 1999. In ’99, I was invited to come to Southern’s English department and have been here ever since, with a four-year break from 2007 to 2011. I’ve been here a total of 14 years.
- Why are you passionate about the English major?
English involves the careful study of whatever has been beautifully written since the dawn of civilization, with an emphasis, of course, on what has been written in the modern era of English (after 1500 AD). Reading a great literary work always changes me in some significant way. I get to spend my days either reading something great or teaching students to appreciate something great. This experience gives me with a special joy and sense of fulfillment that life without literature simply can’t supply. I say this because I include certain portions of the Bible as examples of great literature. Christianity is really a life of reading, which is why literacy is vital for faith, especially the Protestant faith. So for me, the study of English is deeply spiritual.
- What is a common misconception, a myth, people have about English majors?
There are at least two misconceptions: (1) “English is about grammar.” If I tell a person I’m an English professor, I often hear, “I’d better watch my language,” or “English was my worst subject.” We do study grammar, but as a means to an end. We’re not grammar snobs. (2) “English majors become unemployed poets. They have to work at Starbucks.” This claim is so wrong! In our department over the last 10 years, all our graduates have found the jobs they want.
- What can an English graduate do with his or her degree?
This question helps dispel the unemployed poet notion. An English major offers nearly unlimited career possibilities. Employers are often looking for people who can read critically and write effectively. In the corporate world, an English major begins at a lower pay rate, but eventually earns more than the average. English majors can become doctors and lawyers, CEOs and politicians, teachers and airline pilots. The head of Sony Corporation some years back was an English major. A person with an English major could become an accountant with the proper training, but learning to write well as a 40-year-old is difficult at best. Language is the foundation for all learning. Begin early!
- Can you name one unique thing about the English department (as opposed to the other
departments on campus)?
I invite you to come to an English department meeting. Place 10 English professors in one room and immediately a word bomb goes off. You know the meeting is over when the smoke clears. It’s very entertaining.
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