Writing toward wholeness
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.
Graduating Arizona State University student Katherine Santana Brickey believes there’s power in the written word.
Brickey’s work for her online Master of Arts in English points to her conviction that words can nurture both mind and body. On the strength of this conviction, she is finishing strong with a 4.0 GPA and a portfolio of award-winning ideas. Brickey did all of this in addition to her regular, day-to-day activities as a mother of two and full-time staff academic advisor at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, where she makes her home.
According to Department of English academic success advisor Elizabeth “Lilly” Downs, Brickey’s project for her ENG 501: Approaches to Research course incorporated Brickey’s professional interests with the theories she was learning in class at ASU. “She designed a brilliant research proposal,” Downs shared, “that modifies typical academic advising strategies and replaces them with the use of literature as a tool to encourage students throughout their degree cycle.”
The National Academic Advising Association (NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising) agreed with Downs’s assessment and honored Brickey with its 2022 Student Research Award for the project.
Brickey was the recipient of another honor, the OLLI Intergenerational Learning Service Scholarship, for work on an intergenerational cookbook, a feat of teamwork, sharing and creativity. ASU students were paired with members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at ASU. Each group exchanged recipes and stories, which Brickey later collated and distributed among participants. The result was a sweet and savory publication including dishes like “Cream Cheese and Jelly Sandwich” and “Arroz con Pollo de Costa Rica” and anecdotes about “Nana’s Scorn” and “Hand-Written Cornmeal Dumplings.”
It’s no wonder that Brickey also received a Graduate Excellence Award from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU. We asked Brickey to share a bit more about her background and experiences at ASU in the lead-up to commencement.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?
Answer: Reading and writing have always been things I enjoyed. More than enjoy, they’ve brought me solace when times were chaotic and stressful growing up. After finishing a bachelor’s degree in psychology, I began working in the field of social services where I witnessed things that brought back bad memories of my childhood — things that a lot of times, unfortunately, were out of my control. I decided to pivot to higher education; this way I would still be able to help people — a passion of mine — but not necessarily (re)experience the trauma.
I began working as a college student mentor of sorts and then as an academic advisor. I’ve been working in academic advising for over four years now. I get great joy and fulfillment working with college students through their academic journey in pursuit of interests they feel passionate about. About six months into working in higher education, I decided to register for a creative writing class. It was one of the best decisions of my life. Not only did it afford me a safe space to talk about my unresolved childhood trauma, but I also rediscovered my love for writing and reading — specifically creative nonfiction and fiction — something I had always loved but lost somewhere between high school and becoming an adult. Because the university I worked for offers free undergraduate tuition for full-time staff, I decided to complete a second bachelor’s degree, this time in English — creative writing. Two years later, I was done with my second bachelor’s degree and contemplating a master’s degree.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: While at ASU, I’ve learned that no matter the platform, whether online, in-person, phone, etc., it is important to share your professional goals and interests with others. Doing so has allowed me the opportunity to engage with and in projects that I otherwise would not have. I must admit, when starting my program at ASU, I thought I would have very little interaction with fellow classmates, staff and faculty. But because I was proactive about reaching out to staff and faculty at ASU, who luckily for me wanted to help, I was able to immerse myself in my program.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I began to research programs the last semester of my bachelor’s in English and came across the ASU MA in English online program. I had heard great things about ASU’s online programs and the faculty. Ultimately, I chose ASU's program because of its online delivery, perfect for working professionals such as myself, and the fact that the MA in English program was a general program, which will allow me the possibility of doing various things.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: There were two courses that really challenged the way I see the world. They were ENG 584: Pen Project Prison Teaching taught by (School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies Instructor) Lance Graham and ENG 568: World War II in Literature taught by (Professor of English) Elizabeth Horan. The first was a course that involved mentoring current inmates through their creative writing pieces. In this course, I learned that “mistakes” are not always black and white; life is complicated and there is a lot that leads up to someone committing a crime. We delved into the broken legal system in this country, which is a big problem. Programs such as the Pen Project are a start to helping inmates’ voices be heard. I can say for certain that whenever an opportunity to bring awareness to this arises in my life, I will be happy to participate.
The second course was centered around writers of the WWII era. This course changed my outlook on life in a similar way because I realized in reading the writings of these authors that war is not black and white either. In many instances there are not definite bad people and definite good people. For example, Günter Grass, a young Nazi soldier at the time of the war and later Nobel Prize winner for his memoir “Peeling the Onion,” was one of the authors we read. In his memoir, he speaks of the brainwashing and social pressure to be a Nazi during the years preceding WWII. He also speaks of the guilt he felt for not speaking up for victims of the Nazi regime, many of which were his neighbors and friends. Grass’s memoire is a reminder that our experiences and social associations, particularly during childhood, are fundamentally tied to our actions and who we are at any given point in our lives.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Engage. Engage. And engage. Like I mentioned before, reaching out to staff and faculty, connecting interests you have outside of the classroom with those inside of the classroom will make your studies so much more meaningful and enjoyable. It will bring what you’re learning in the classroom to life and make the “why” of your studies clearer for you and others. This is even more important for those studying in the humanities because the application is not always apparent.
Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?
A: I would have to say my bed and couch. Being a working mom of two and an online student, anytime I could get a quiet moment to myself at home with my laptop was prime time for getting readings and assignments done.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: My plans after graduation this fall are to continue my research on “Coaching through Literature,” coordinate a study and publish my findings. I plan to continue to work in higher education, advancing in my career now that I hold a master’s degree. And finally, I plan to complete a manuscript I am currently writing titled “The Jungle Was Paradise,” a coming-of-age novel about a young South American woman who travels to Europe where she encounters a menacing love affair.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would advocate to stop violence against women and girls. This alone would solve a lot of the world’s problems. There have been many studies across cultures and geographic locations on the positive effects of empowering women and girls to educate themselves, start their own businesses and hold positions of power. Women bring a new, positive perspective to the oftentimes-toxic patriarchal cultures a lot of us live in.