Tzarina T. Prater, PhD
Assistant Professor, English and Media Studies
What do you teach?
Why do you like teaching English at a business university?
Which course is your favorite to teach, and why?
In what ways do you think English and business can complement each other?
What is your teaching syle?
What advice would you offer a new Bentley student, or someone considering studying English at Bentley?
I teach a variety of courses for the English and Media Studies Department, ranging from Expository writing to upper level courses that primarily engage with the “theoretical.” I teach courses on literature and narrative across platform. For example, I teach a course that is entitled “Revisions and Retellings” that takes, let’s say, Classical mythology, and then tracks narrative residuals (narrative echoes) that can be found in Biblical narrative, Romantic narrative up through graphic narratives like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. I also teach courses on African American Women Writers, the Black Hero, the Graphic Novel, Science Fiction, Film and Cultural Studies.
There are two reasons and the first has to do with autobiographical. My first degree was in Business Administration. It was not until later in life that I returned to university and pursued degrees in English. I understand what it means to need to do what some would think of as the “practical degree” as well as the desire to take courses that are solely about interest, pleasure, and being intellectually stimulated and pushed. Second, I have been teaching at the college/university level for almost 20 years and in a variety of contexts, ranging from huge state university (Rutgers University and City University of New York) to private institutions (Cooper Union). I like seeing students, no matter what the context, confronted with really difficult concepts and ideas and then realizing that they not only understand these supposedly obscure theoretical concepts but are able to engage and critique them from a place of intellectual curiosity.
I have to be honest, I have yet to teach a course at Bentley that I haven’t enjoyed, but I would have to say that my favorites are Revisions and Retellings and the new EMS 201. Revisions and Retellings is a favorite because I make it a policy to earmark part of the course for texts that students want to bring in as interlocutors, so that the students contribute to the actual course content in meaningful ways and that carry through to the next time I teach the course. In essence, the course is constantly evolving and it is the students themselves that are shaping it. EMS 201, Intro to Cultural Studies, introduces students to theoretical paradigms, the “big ideas” that are used to analyze cultural texts (like Psychoanalysis, Marxism, Gender, and Cultural Studies), and asks them to apply them to popular cultural texts (contemporary film, media, music, cultural styles, etc.). This course is also constantly evolving and asks students to apply these ideas to their world and the popular culture that they are “into” and that they participate in creating. This allows students to test the theories and to work on texts that are in their world and interest them.
As someone with a degree in Business Administration, I can honestly say that what led to my rapid advancement as a young person working in business environments (I went from being a “file clerk” to an assistant purchasing manager with a firm in less than a year) was due entirely to my ability to use critical thinking, reading, and writing skills. The more I honed those skills of critical thinking and writing, the more valuable I became and that was reflected in what was offered to me in terms of positions and advancement.
I do very little lecturing, and I prefer for the classroom “tone” to be shaped by mutual respect of students with emphasis on critical thinking, reading and writing. This means that students have to trust each other and me as we work through difficult texts. I like conversations to merge organically and yet still be grounded in serious engagement with whatever cultural texts the class is working on. It is not always easy but it is often fun.
The great thing about considering studying English at Bentley is that you have faculty that are seriously interested in engaging with you on an intellectual level and to that end will support you in a multitude of ways. As someone with a degree in Business, advanced degrees in Literary and Cultural studies, and “real world” work experience, I can tell you that having the “business” and “English” background was and still continues to be an incredible asset. In terms of advice, I would say take as many different EMS courses as possible and work with a diversity of faculty. It is an amazing department with several faculty members working across fields and disciplines. As mediation, the way we negotiate communication and the world, through textual, literary and digital environments, gets more complex and varied, the faculty here can provide students with the opportunity to hone skills that will not just be useful in their specialization but necessary across classes and for that “next step” after graduation.
For those just coming in to Bentley, I suggest not just talking to peers, but also taking a few minutes to talk to faculty to get a sense of who they are and what they are about. This does not mean to suggest that you only take courses with people that are like you or that reflect similar political or world views, but take the chance of working with faculty who are nothing like you. Technology has made the world a vastly different place from when I received my Business degree. The greater exposure to a variety of ideological, theoretical and cultural frameworks, and modes of production you can get, the better. Last but not least, enjoy it!