With a faculty search for two new English professors over and a
major update to the English curriculum on the horizon, you might have expected to find Department of English and Modern Languages Chair and recently named Harder-McClellan Endowed Chair in the Humanities David Salomon taking it easy during the summer. But instead, he was in his Carriage House office, advising summer students and prospective first-year and transfer students; preparing for fall classes; and planning a lively calendar of events for which the Department has become known.
“The students make it worth it,” said Salomon. “They’ve made a major investment in Russell Sage College. It wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t invest in them.”
A look at the Department of English and Modern Languages' web page—where science students are featured amid English majors—proves that all majors feel at home in the Department. Salomon said this is crucial, since every field needs practitioners who can write well, think critically and speak intelligently. “The entire education is important, not a specific degree,” he said.
That said, Salomon is committed to making sure the study of English is personally and professionally rewarding for students who do make it their major.
As You Like It
Salomon estimates that 60-percent of the Department’s English majors want to teach elementary or high school after college, but he emphasizes the diversity of career ambitions among English majors. The valedictorian of the Class of 2007, Cara Baummer, was an English major who received a full teaching assistantship at the University of Connecticut, where she will pursue a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies. English majors who meet competitive criteria can take advantage of joint professional programs with Albany Law School and Albany Medical College.
“The range of interests among English students is one reason why I put so much effort into developing seminars on special topics,” said Salomon. His classes include Hamlet in Hyperspace (which looks at technology and writing), Publishing (in which students study the history of publishing, and make paper and books using hand presses) and The Shakespeare Wars (a course on current debates in Shakespeare studies).
And for students interested in writing careers, what could be more inspirational than face time with a published author?
In the two years since Salomon became chair, the Department has hosted a number of literary notables, including poets W.D. Snodgrass and Sharon Olds and critic Sandra Gilbert. Visiting writers interact with students academically in classrooms and informally at readings, book signings and receptions. “The opportunity for students to meet the writers of books they are reading makes the lesson real. They have the opportunity to ask direct questions about something we debated in class for weeks,” he said.
Salomon’s events also bring high school students and the community to Russell Sage. “I felt at home as soon as I stepped on campus,” said Salomon, a Bronx native who moved here from South Dakota with his wife, adjunct professor Kelly O’Connor-Salomon, and their daughter, Phoebe, now 4, in 2004. “A lot of students say the same thing. Letting people know Russell Sage is here is so important, because once they get here, they are amazed.”
But first, as the academic year gets underway, there are students to advise, classes to teach, and events to plan. “I think. I teach. I write. Twelve months a year and 24 hours a day,” he said.