Missouri State University
Department of English Blog

English department head helps Syrian doctor tell his story

English Department Head Dr. W.D. Blackmon and co-author Dr. Tarif Bakdash will join the reading series this semester on Feb. 26 to read from their recently released book, “Inside Syria—A Physician’s Memoir: My Life as a Child, a Student, and an MD in a Time of War.”

Dr. Tarif Bakdash frequently returns to Syria to treat refugees in camps.
U.S. pediatric neurologist Dr. Tarif Bakdash frequently returns to Syria to treat refugees in camps.

More about the book

The book follows Bakdash’s life in Syria and emigration to the U.S. He tells of a nurturing childhood in a warm family — against fear of war, the maiming of his mother, jailing of a schoolmate for no reason, the blood-soaked ground of Hama in 1982 and more.

More about Bakdash

Bakdash is now a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he received the Standing Ovation Award last year. He specializes in movement disorders like Tourette’s Syndrome and tremors.

Dr. W.D. Blackmon, English department head, co-wrote "Inside Syria" with Bakdash
Dr. W.D. Blackmon, English department head, co-wrote “Inside Syria” with Bakdash.

Born in Damascus, Syria in 1965, Bakdash graduated from the University of Damascus medical school in 1988 before emigrated to the U.S.

In 2002, Bakdash returned to Syria at the invitation of President Bashar al-Assad to teach at the University of Damascus. While there he opened a private pediatric neurology clinic, served with the World Health Organization, became services director and, later, national plan director for the Syrian Organization for the Disabled. He was also Syria’s first secretary general for the disabled.

In 2010, he came back to the U.S., but remains involved in Syrian issues. He collaborates with the Syrian American Medical Society on health issues facing refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, and he recently visited the al-Za’atari camp in Jordan to treat Syrian refugees.

Event details

Date: Feb. 26
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Location: PSU Theatre
Admission: Free and open to the public

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MSU Undergraduate Literature Conference

English students are invited to apply to the second annual MSU Undergraduate Literature Conference which will be held on April 22-23, 2016.

Purpose of Applying

At the literature conference, students who are selected will read their literature papers out loud to a group of peers and faculty. Participating in a conference is a great way for students to share their academic work and develop as a writer, researcher, and public speaker. It is also excellent preparation for a professional career or graduate school.

Application Process

To apply students need to fill out and email the submission form to Dr. Lanya Lamouria (llamouria@missouristate.edu) by midnight on Friday, March 18. Please type “ULC Submission” in the subject line of the email. Submission forms can be found on the English Department’s website.

For More Information or a Submission Form

Contact Dr. Lanya Lamouria (llamouria@missouristate.edu) or visit the event’s page on the English Department’s website.

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Alumnus, accomplished author to read from new novella

Missouri State alumnus and author Steve Yates will return to campus to read from his newly released novella “Sandy and Wayne,” at 7 p.m. Feb. 5 in Plaster Student Union Theater.

MSU alumnus and author Steve Yates regularly returns to Springfield to share books, writing advice.


Award-winning novella teases out Ozarks love story


Set in the rugged, crumbling shale of Arkansas’ Boston Mountains, “Sandy and Wayne” is a love story between Sandy, the lead inspector for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, and Wayne, a dirt foreman.

From their harbored ambitions to the secret that threatens to pull their lost hearts apart, the novella tells a story of worlds colliding, of truths and consequences, as two people fall in love, reluctant to change with the world around them.

The novella earned the Big Fiction Magazine’s Knickerbocker Prize and was a finalist for the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society William Faulkner/Wisdom Award for the Best Novella.

More about Yates

Yates is assistant director/marketing director at University Press of Mississippi in Jackson, and lives in Flowood, Miss., with his wife Tammy. He has won national recognition for three other books, “Some Kinds of Love: Stories,” “Morkan’s Quarry” and “The Teeth of the Souls.”

Yates regularly returns to Springfield to share his experiences and books. His last Springfield reading in March 2015 delved into his Moon City Press book “The Teeth of the Souls.”

Event details

Date: Feb. 5
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: PSU Theater

The spring 2016 reading series is presented by the creative writing program, the department of English and the College of Arts & Letters.

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Ralph Davis: Retired graduate

It was 2009, and 24-year Air Force veteran Ralph Davis had just retired. Without knowing what to do next, he moved to Missouri, which  provided an opportunity that he hadn’t anticipated.

Early training in communication and coordination

Ralph Davis in his Air Force uniform
Ralph, early in his Air Force career

Ralph spent his Air Force career as a coordinator, which he describes as “lots of boredom interspersed with chaotic moments.”

A prime example: the time he coordinated a mission to rescue a boater who suffered from appendicitis.

“[The boater] was part of a detail that was sent out to pick up the rocket boosters from the space shuttle Challenger,” Ralph says. “If we didn’t get to him he was probably going to die.”

Ralph had once read about joint training operations between the Air Force and the United States Marine Corps. Remembering that article, he coordinated with the Marines to get a helicopter to the man in distress and get him to a hospital.

Ralph moved to the Lake of the Ozarks after retirement. He and his wife Brandy chose Missouri on a compromise.

“She was born in Wisconsin so she loves her cold weather, and I love my summer heat being from Texas,” he says. “It provided all four seasons and a little bit of everything.”

A little bit of everything

Along with enjoying the weather, the culture and the food, Ralph wanted to go to school and continue to learn. After visiting the Missouri State campus, he was intrigued but didn’t know what he wanted to study.

Ralph attempted two majors but struggled to find what he wanted to do. He was on the brink of dropping all classes when his wife gave him some good news.

“It must have been fate or something because my wife said, ‘You may not want to do that,’” Ralph says. “It was a letter from Lori Rogers and other faculty that said I should consider the English department.”

The next day, Ralph met with Dr. W.D. Blackmon and registered as a professional writing major, following the track of a technical writer, with a minor in creative writing.

Ralph is finishing his undergraduate degree and plans to be among the thousands who receive Missouri State degrees in December. After graduation, he plans to begin graduate school at Missouri State.

Always more to learn

Ralph says his favorite times at Missouri State were his upperclassmen years, when teachers provided a guiding hand to the right path.

“They are more than willing to meet with you and talk about your future and what you are doing right and wrong,” Ralph says. “Even when you get an A, your paper is full of red marks of what you can do better, and I like that.”

“I still think there’s a lot more to learn and Missouri State gives me an opportunity to do that.”

Story credits

This story was created for JRN 478 (Multimedia Reporting). All content was created by Missouri State students from the departments of communication and media, journalism and film. This story was originally published on The Springfield Report, a multimedia journalism project by Missouri State students.

All reporting by:

  • Alex Calvillo
  • Ben Gilbert
  • Mike Ursery
  • Editor-in-chief: Beaunea McNeil
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Linguistics professor from Poland visits campus to present research on bilingual education

romanowskiThe departments of English and modern and classical languages will host a presentation by noted international linguist Piotr Romanowski at 4 p.m. on Dec. 8 in Plaster Student Union (Room 400). The presentation is titled “Language Education in Europe: A Case Study of Bilingual Programs in Poland.”

More about Romanowski

Romanowski is an assistant professor in Warsaw University’s faculty of applied linguistics, as well as a lecturer at Krosno State College, both in Poland. He has taught English to students and in-service teachers for nearly 20 years.

His main area of research focuses on bilingual education in Poland, including intercultural communication within the context of English Language Teaching Methodology. He also investigates language acquisition with a specific interest in bilingualism and multilingualism.

Event details

Date: Dec. 8
Time: 4 p.m.
Location: Plaster Student Union, Room 400
Admission: Free and open to the public

Complementary studies at MSU

Missouri State offers a variety of tracks for students interested in studying how languages are taught and learned. Students can study linguistics or earn a graduate degree in language acquisition. Students can also get a certificate in TESOL, or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, or a master’s degree in English with a TESOL specialization.

Call the MSU admissions office at 417-836-5517 to find out more about the University’s available programs.

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Moon City Student Invitational Reading

On Friday, November, 6 at 7:00 p.m. in the PSU Theater the English department at Missouri State University will be hosting the Moon City Student Invitational Reading.

Student SelectionMoonCityStudentInvitational

The selection process for this invitational is very competitive, and it is quite an honor for the six students chosen. This semester’s invitational will feature readings from the following individuals:

Bart Anders, Poetry
Zachary Fletcher, Fiction
Mary Henn, Poetry
Matthew Stewart, Fiction
Bill Stoner, Fiction
Brenna Womer, Nonfiction

Event Details

Date: November 6, 2015
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Location:  Plaster Student Union Theater
Admission: Free and open to the public


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Tour offers glimpse into MSU’s spooky past

folklore club logoMissouri State’s English students have collected campus ghost stories for the last 15 years, and this week those stories will be told during the MSU Folklore Club’s Haunted Tour.

Hauntings reported across campus

The tour winds through campus for 50 minutes of storytelling. You can learn about the Fountain Ghost, the Hag of Wells Hall, the haunted rooms of Freddy, the Dorm Mom and more!

haunted tour_fountainMore about the tour

Tours begin at the Plaster Student Union and leave every 20 minutes between 7 and 9 p.m. on Oct. 29 and 30.

Tickets are $4 per person or $10 for a group of three. They can be purchased the night of the event in the PSU across from Bear Necessities. Proceeds support the Folklore Club.

Event details

Dates: Oct. 29 and 30
Time: 7-9 p.m., tours leave every 20 minutes
Tour length: 50 minutes
Location: Begins at Plaster Student Union
Admission: Open to public; $4 per person, or $10 per group of 3

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MFAA students gain new artistic perspectives

Missouri State’s Missouri Fine Arts Academy, also known as MFAA,will begin accepting applications for its 2016 summer program several months earlier this year on Nov. 1. The application period will run until Jan. 15, 2016.

Changes on the horizon for summer 2016 academy

That is not the only change this year. Students who are accepted will be able to attend MFAA for free this year through a state appropriation given by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Director Ray Castrey, who has been with MFAA for two decades, retired at the end of summer 2015. Melissa Herr has taken over the position.

Lastly, Ellis Hall will be undergoing renovations during the summer, so daily assemblies and evening performances will be relocated to other MSU campus facilities.

A day in the life of MFAA students

Three students from the 2015 academy describe their artistic journeys in hopes to inspire others to join them for 2016.

MauraShimmens_webTransformation begins here

Maura Shimmens wakes up nearly three hours before her first class begins. Sometimes she goes for coffee with other students, but most days she finds a peaceful place to be alone, meditate on what she’s learning and get ready for a day of constant interactions and performances.

Shimmens, soon to be a junior at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, Missouri, is more than 130 miles from home living among 93 other high school juniors and seniors she’d never met. She’s soaking in the experiences at MFAA, and it’s transforming her, she said.

“Before I came here, I was slowly losing confidence. I’m learning how to not forget that I’m valid in whatever I do. I’m learning to not only show others how confident I am, but show myself.”

RayCastrey3MFAA is a three-week summer residential program for highly motivated student artists in visual arts, theatre, dance, creative writing and music. The academy, which celebrated its 20th year last summer, offers an intensive schedule of classes in interdisciplinary and discipline-specific arts, and a wide range of co-curricular activities.

Art from an interdisciplinary perspective

The interdisciplinary aspect is key, said former MFAA Director Ray Castrey, who has been with the program for all of its 20 years, starting as a part-time teacher after the academy’s inception in 1995.

“It is probably the most difficult to implement, but I have a pretty strong feeling that it is the most important part.”

BaylorBarnes_webBaylor Barnes, a senior at Springfield’s Parkview High School, can attest to its powerful effect. He came to MFAA with a focus in theatre, but he found a passion for painting, an art form he previously thought he was terrible at: “Growing up, I thought, ‘I can’t draw. I can’t paint. I can’t do anything like that.’”

Barnes had five paintings in the works by the middle of the program’s second week.

“There’s no such things as bad art. I guess that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned,” he said.

LeahSutherlin_webLearning from one another

Leah Sutherlin will be a senior at McCluer North High School in Florissant, Missouri. She said her friends recommended she come to MFAA, and she’s glad she did.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get to know other people and their backgrounds, and incorporate their knowledge with yours. You learn a lot from the students. The teachers, too, but the students are the really big teachers in the program.”

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‘King John vs. Magna Carta’: Professor debunks literary representations of famous document

Distinguished Professor Dr. James Baumlin will present a talk Oct. 19 on the Magna Carta and its representations in literature — from Shakespeare through Sir Walter Scott.


Baumlin’s presentation will be at 4 p.m. in Duane G. Meyer Library, room 101. The event is free and open to the public.

This talk is sponsored by the Missouri Center for the Book and the William Daggett Society. It coincides with a display at Meyer Library commemorating the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary.

Event details

Date: Oct. 19
Time: 4 p.m.
Location: Duane G. Meyer Library 101
Admission: Free and open to public

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