Janet Bland — English

The students seemed glued to their seats.

It was lunch hour, class was officially over, yet some students hung around Dr. Janet Bland’s Creative Writing class to talk about — what else — dialogue.

The students are seriously focused on every word being spoken, whether they’re coming from Bland’s mouth or the mouth of a fellow student. These kids are hungry for the creative energy that Bland ignites with every question posed.

“I really like my students and I really like my job and I’m not afraid to let my students know that,” Bland says.

Bland is the McCoy Associate Professor of English and, with the help of her department, has done a great deal to implement and invigorate the creative writing community on campus.

“The Pizza, Poetry and Prose Night is now really big. It’s once a semester and we have so many readers it’s like open mic night,” she says. “We’ve added an Advanced Fiction course and an Advanced Fiction Workshop since I’ve been here — so there’s been a lot of growth in the Creative Writing side of the department.”

She returned this semester from a sabbatical in which she researched the history of glassblowing in this region. The subject will play a role in her next book. She has previously published a book of short fiction (A Fish Full of River) and co-wrote The Civil Mind with Margaret Whitt.

“I was the last McCoy Professor named while John G. McCoy was still alive,” Bland says. “It was very meaningful to me to be able to write a thank-you letter to him. My job here is teaching and receiving that award tells me I’m doing my job.”

One of her former students, Olivia Holiday ’11 says Bland makes students comfortable about sharing their opinions and challenges them to think about writing on a deeper level. “It sounds cliché but she really has pushed me to look within myself and pull out the best,” Holiday says. “She knows our potential and is effective in helping us realize it.”

Holiday, who is in graduate school at Ohio University, says Bland’s energetic style and no-nonsense approach to teaching engages the class and inspires the learning process. “Dr. Bland  helped me realize my strengths and weaknesses in my writing, and also taught me the value of putting my experiences on paper. She helped me understand my own life experiences better and assisted me in giving those experiences a voice. I value the time I got to spend with her and the advice she gave me. She is truly an outstanding educator!”

Bland says every good teacher is reconsidering the nature of his or her class content. “If you’re asking students to progress in their creativity and skills, you must be willing to do the same.”

Watching the creative energy flow through her students day after day inspires Bland. Hearing from former students, as she often does, brings great satisfaction about her choice to become a professor. It brings to mind a conversation she had years earlier with a teacher friend in Colorado.

“She used to say teaching was like throwing apples into the Grand Canyon. You teach on faith that you are making a difference. Then one day, one of your students climbs us to let you know there’s an orchard down there,” Bland says. “I never question whether or not I’m making a difference. I can look at my students and know I am.”