Fredonia introduces new B.A. in Writing degree

Roger Coda
Assistant Professor Michael Sheehan with students in class

Assistant Professor Michael Sheehan discusses how writers can develop complex, convincing characters with students in the Advanced Fiction Workshop.

The Department of English at SUNY Fredonia is launching an innovative B.A. in Writing this fall that blends critical, professional and creative writing into a single undergraduate program that offers strong career readiness skills for students.

The new degree is rooted in the health and vibrancy of the department’s two minors, Creative Writing and Professional Writing, explained Chair and Associate Professor KimMarie Cole, “and is also a long-term plan looking forward, based on what we know employers want and what students want. This was the culmination of a lot of work with a lot of input from a lot of people.”

“We designed the major so that it could serve as a second major that would complement English majors, Communication majors and other programs across the campus.” – Assistant Professor Michael Sheehan

Academic degree information from SUNY campuses as well as other public and also private universities went into a unique writing program developed by a multi-year task force of the English department. It combines elements of the B.A. in English and Creative Writing and Professional Writing minors. Finding ways to expand writing offerings was also identified as an opportunity for the department in its most recent external review, Dr. Cole noted.

The new degree is a special niche for more well-rounded writers, noted Associate Professor Bruce Simon, who was the department chair during the degree’s development.

“What makes our program distinctive is how we mesh professional and creative writing; some programs (at other schools) are all creative writing or have professional writing areas and a separate rhetoric and composition area,” Dr. Simon explained.

“We’ve seen consistent growth and strong student interest in the two writing minors, so that’s what really prompted the major,” added Assistant Professor Michael Sheehan, who chaired the task force. “We saw students coming to us for (more) writing (options), and felt we could expand what we were offering to better serve what they were interested in,” Sheehan added.

Degree requirements of 39 credits include five core courses spanning the 200, 300 and 400 levels. A new course, Introduction to Writing Professions, has been added and courses in screenwriting, technical writing, sports writing and slam poetry have been or will be piloted and considered as permanent courses, Cole explained.

Students who have been pursuing the creative writing or professional writing minors may likely be well along on the way to the new major, Sheehan said.

“We have a number of faculty in the English department with dual expertise, meaning they are experts in literature and experts in writing, experts in English education and creative writing, so it’s an opportunity to tap into that full range of expertise of our faculty,” Cole said.

The program may also appeal to students wanting to pick up a second major.

“We designed the major so that it could serve as a second major that would complement English majors, Communication majors and other programs across the campus,” Sheehan said. “We tried to keep it small so that students could do both degrees.”

Cole is excited to see a few students already changing their majors to the B.A. writing program since its official approval by SUNY and the New York State Education Department in April. With these approvals in hand, the department can work with Admissions staff to promote the B.A. writing to prospective students in the new admissions cycle.

According to the department’s website, the B.A. in Writing connects creative craft and career readiness, as students develop their storytelling skills both as fiction writers and professional communicators. Career opportunities identified include author, creative director, journalist, teacher, lawyer and librarian, among others.

The new program also integrates existing student experiences in programs affiliated with the English department, including Writers@Work, the Mary Louise White Visiting Writers Series established through the Fredonia College Foundation, the Trident Undergraduate Literary Magazine and Writers’ Ring, to increase student engagement and opportunities for applied or active learning.


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