Student Becomes Teacher

Susan Meyers, '99, returns to alma mater

Written by Tina Potterf
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
January 18, 2013
Susan Meyers has a unique perspective of being a student at the university where she now teaches. Meyers, a 1999 graduate, returned to her alma mater as an assistant professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences.

She shares her thoughts on her return to the university she holds in high regard, how this once “introspective and quiet girl” chose English professor as a career and more in this Q&A.
What are you most looking forward to now as a professor at SU?

I’m excited about all of the new programs here and I’m looking forward to getting involved in several of them. Most significantly, the English department now has a major track in creative writing. This is something that was developed a few years after I graduated and I’m so pleased that students now have the option to major in creative writing. Moreover, the fact that, as the department’s new hire in this area, I will be involved in helping to shape and steward the program in the future is just wonderful. I hope to develop new classes and opportunities for students that will open more opportunities for them both
at and beyond SU. For example, this year I am developing a course on travel writing and I would love to eventually develop a related study abroad program on that topic.

What does it mean to be back here, teaching students, at your alma mater?

It’s been a powerful experience coming back. Honestly, I wondered what it would be like. A bit surreal, perhaps? Walking into the classroom on that first day of class was pretty emotional. I still remember the eager but quiet student that I was here
and I’m aware of how much I’ve grown over the years in large part because of the strong mentorship that I received here. The fact that I am now in the position to provide that kind of mentorship to new generations of SU students is just amazing. ... There is something quite powerful about coming back to the place where you were a student.

Why did you choose Seattle University as an undergraduate?

My earliest contact with SU was when I visited a class with my father, who was taking general enrichment courses to complement his work with the diocese. Given that positive experience,
I applied. Once admitted, I was offered a scholarship through the Honors pro- gram and I met with the director to discuss the curriculum and life at SU. I remember that meeting well. At no other university had I been offered such a personal and invested reception. The faculty member with whom I met that day made her interest in my learning very clear and her welcome made me decide to enroll. Early on, I recognized SU to be a place that cares about and connects with students, as well as a place that would offer me intellectual rigor and creative outlets.

Why did you decide to become an English professor?

I love creative expression: working at the intersections of language, passion and ideas. I was always very clear about my focus on writing. After graduating from SU and spending a year teaching ESL in Chile, I moved back to the U.S. to enter an MFA program in creative writing at the University of Minnesota. During my time there I had the chance to teach sections of college-level writing classes and I loved the experience. I really enjoy helping people figure how to translate their ideas and experiences into language. Writing is such an important and empowering skill and I love being able to help people—especially young adults who are just beginning to make their way in the world—learn how to access it. Following my time in Minnesota I moved to the University of Arizona to pursue a PhD in composition and rhetoric. Combining graduate degrees in the practice (MFA) and the teaching (PhD) of writing has been very helpful for me. It’s kept me feeling energized and active as a writer and a teacher.

What drew you back to SU and the College of arts & Sciences?

One of the main things has been the values here. As I have gone out into the world during the past decade or so, I’ve been continually amazed by how much my foundations at SU have continued to inform who I am and what I have chosen to do with my life. As a teacher, I’m always drawn toward approaches that focus on civic engagement, social justice and student empowerment. And as a writer, I’m constantly drawn toward projects that speak to some kind of social impact. Over the years, I’ve been grateful for that legacy on my life—and honestly a little bit surprised by it. Anyone who knew me as a student at SU will remember that I was a quiet, introspective young woman. I was a very engaged student, but I was initially a bit intimidated by SU’s values. I had no idea how a quiet person like me could become a leader, connect with community or create a real vision for social change. But I have— and I’m so glad. The chance to come back and be a part of the kind of educational tradition that can have this kind of impact on people is really a dream come true.
Susan Meyers, '99, talks with students in her English class in the College of Arts and Sciences.