With regard to accessibility in education, UTEP’s Department of Creative Writing has created the online Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing program for students who are passionate about the field and want to learn from writers around the world.
“The program started accepting students once a year, and we had a very small cohort,” said Professor Sylvia Aguilar Zeleny, award-winning author, professor and advisor for the program. “And it’s grown so much since then.”
This one-of-a-kind program was originally organized by Professor Lex Williford. He, along with other professors in the department, then helped to accommodate students by providing the entire platform digitally as they navigated a post-pandemic world.
The courses are completely online, making them available to people internationally, as long as they have a bachelor’s degree before applying.
In addition to its wonderful accessibility, the online MFA in Creative Writing has many talented teachers who teach a wide range of subjects or cover dozens of different fundamental and specialized courses.
Zeleny mentions that the platform the program runs on makes the program which is the same as a residential program special since the writing and workshops are approached in a different way. While some professors are determined and have been in the program for a long time, others come from all over the world on rotation as visiting professors.
“So with the program’s core faculty, we’ve had the ability to have authors who live outside of El Paso teach our students,” Zeleny said.
From poets like Natalie Diaz, to language workers like JD Pluecker, to writers like Caribbean Fragoza or Jessica Powers, the online MFA in Creative Writing does an incredible job of connecting students with incredibly talented authors. Best of all, they teach in multiple genres, so students have a wide variety of topics of interest to choose from.
In terms of coursework and the way learning is approached, most education is like any other college classroom.
“Everything else is pretty much asynchronous through the platform,” Zeleny said. “Each teacher handles the classes differently, but we have lectures paired with video or audio, discussion forums, exercises (and) online readings.”
One of the strengths of the program is the flexibility of the schedule. While the pandemic brings a host of challenges to many people, it has completely reshaped the current era of teaching and made education more accessible to those who need time or to learn from a place. different. It also had an impact on how students could connect with each other and with their teachers.
“We can say a lot about the pandemic, but I think it also gave us the opportunity or the need to connect a little more,” Zeleny said. “We started doing Zoom recordings. It wasn’t necessarily a class, (or) a requirement of the class, but (more like) let’s get together and talk a bit about what you’re writing, questions you have, etc.
The purpose of the Zoom recordings was for students who needed extra time throughout their weeks, but professors found that everyone in their class was still doing the meetings despite not being required. These monthly meetings were a great way for students to connect with their peers on a digital platform while touching base with professors on their writing.
The online MFA in Creative Writing offers many core courses, but still offers a wide range of specialized courses to take. Whether it’s “Women at War” or “Novels for Young Adults”, students discover different subjects that their teachers tackle with similar enthusiasm.
Some classes can also be visually appealing, as a guest teacher taught a class that took a photo album and focused on transforming it into writing. The program shows that various art forms can be incorporated into writing in many original ways.
With students from all over the world, this program gives students access to their creativity through writing from around the world. The different backgrounds and options for presenting work in Spanish also create more learning opportunities and a better sense of community.
“I have students who have been to Japan (and) Dubai,” Zeleny said. “I (currently) have a student who is in South Africa, I have Argentinian students. We’ve had students from Colombia and all over the United States. It’s not just a possibility for them to write, but to create a community, so it also brings richness and diversity.
Meagan Garcia is the Arts and Culture Editor and can be reached at [email protected]