I recently designed a first-year composition course around public engagement and community-based learning. For one project, students conducted the oral histories of those living in Hazleton. Some met with new immigrants at the Hazleton One Community Center, while others talked with local business owners and long-time residents. They were all confronted with difference, having to build relationships with people of diverse cultures and identities, and they had the difficult task of co-authoring a historical narrative of/with their community partner. The result of this public writing project was two self-published books, funded by an Academy of Teachers Grant. One was a collection of immigrant testimonials, and the other was a collection of day-in-the-life stories of Hazletonians. The project gained considerable media attention and offered many new insights for public rhetoric and community literacy pedagogy. The project and course is discussed extensively in my manuscript titled, “English 15: Rhetoric and Composition as Community Engagement” which is currently under review.

This semester, I am currently undertaking an IRB-approved study that assesses the effects of a community engagement project on students and community participants alike. I have revised my community engagement course from the previous semester for ENGL 30H, Honors Freshman English, this semester. Before, during, and after the students and immigrants at the community center work together to co-author a historical narrative, they will be surveyed about their expectations and experiences collaborating on the project. After the project is completed at the end of October, I will be meeting with community members and students to conduct semi-structured open-ended follow-up interviews. This data will allow me to address a gap in the community literacy literature–that scholars are unaware of the impact these projects have on community participants.

Much of my research has focused on the problem of agency after the postmodern critique, whether rhetors still have the ability to be rhetorically effective and bring about social change or if agency is an illusion. For years rhetoricians have been positing different positions and versions of agency to accommodate the postmodern critique but none have articulated these theories in a material context. My dissertation, “‘Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime.’ A Study of One Local Public’s Attempt to Negotiate Rhetorical Agency with the State,” fills this gap by examining rhetorical agency in a highly charged, deeply contextual, contemporary situation and contributes to the agency debate in a new way.

The focus of the dissertation is immigration in the United States, particularly in Arizona. Since 1993, the U.S. border enforcement policy has intentionally funneled potential border crossers through the southern Arizona desert, the most extreme temperature and terrain on the U.S./Mexico border. The funneling is said to deter migrants but instead has resulted in the deaths of over 5,000 Mexican nationals on U.S. soil. No More Deaths, a humanitarian group from Tucson, has been providing food, water, and first aid to migrants in the desert since 2004 and has just recently been receiving littering tickets for leaving plastic bottles of water on federal land. My research documents the efforts of No More Deaths during a particular instance in 2008-2009, in which a volunteer is cited for littering, refuses to pay the fine, and is taken to court. The group uses this criminal trial to bring awareness of the U.S. border enforcement policy, funnel effect, and deaths in the desert to local and national publics in hopes of shifting the discourse surrounding the immigration debate from a security crisis to a humanitarian crisis.

In the early chapters, I examine what I call the “rhetoric of illegal” and how its maintenance is at least partly responsible for construction of the socioeconomic conditions which bring about a desperate class, willing to do just about anything for survival, and the permission to abandon this desperate class to the harsh conditions of the Arizona desert. Later on, I explore the rhetorical strategies of No More Deaths’ volunteers who identify kairotic moments to deploy and perform a human rights rhetoric; I situate the criminal trial of the humanitarian ticketed for littering and examine how agency and power is negotiated with the state; I explore the rhetorical effectiveness of No More Deaths’ post-trial media circulation strategy by tracing the ideographs used by No More Deaths and by local publics in online discussion forums. Overall, my research contributes to the ongoing debate in rhetorical studies over the concept of agency by providing a deeply contextual, contemporary situation, a way to reason agency with evidence rather than by definition and comparison alone, and the tools for studying and understanding agency after the postmodern critique.

My early research projects focus on multilingual student writers and how they negotiate discursive borders. In “Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen: A Multifield Approach for Today’s Composition Classroom” (Teaching English in the Two-Year College 2007), I argue that composition teachers need to embrace multiple pedagogies to ensure the success of all of their students, especially multicultural students who tend to struggle in “mainstream” composition classrooms. In “Discursive Disclosure: Changing Tutoring Sessions to Curb Cultural Assimilation” (The Writing Lab Newsletter 2005), I argue that writing center tutors should disclose the possible consequences of tutoring sessions, and that multicultural tutees may feel “colonized” by the demands of academic discourse. In graduate school, I wrote a paper entitled “The Forgotten Fragment,” which calls attention to resident ESL students–a growing population in universities–whose language support is often overlooked by writing program administrators, resulting in the students’ misplacement and poor performance in composition courses. It won the nationally recognized “Award for Graduate Writing in WPA studies” in 2009 from the Council of Writing Program Administrators. Informed by this scholarship, I worked on a comprehensive research project as Assistant Director of Arizona State University writing programs with Paul Matsuda and Tanita Saenkhum that assessed multilingual student placement. As a result of our findings, significant changes have been made to ASU writing programs, such as modifications to ESL course titles and descriptions, a revision of the time-sensitive add/drop policy, and an increased awareness of the presence and needs of multilingual students by ASU writing teachers. The results of our study, “Writing Teachers’ Perceptions of the Presence and Needs of Second Language Writers: An Institutional Case Study” was published in The Journal of Second Language Writing (2013).