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February 21, 2019

Altman Graduate Fellows Describe Program's Benefits

Read more about the Altman Graduate Fellowship from two participants

Every year the Humanities Center’s Altman Program brings together faculty and students for a year of inquiry into a special topic. Through the Altman Graduate Fellowship, select graduate students are given the opportunity to join this interdisciplinary conversation. 

This year two Altman Graduate Fellows were chosen.  We spoke to Casey Kuhajda, a second-year doctoral student in English, and Ricky DeSantis, a second-year MA student in Philosophy, about their experiences as fellows and why this program was of interest to them as graduate students in the humanities. 

 Q: Why did you become interested in applying for the Altman Graduate Fellowship?

Casey: I became interested in the fellowship because the theme “Truth and Lies” resonates with my own research interests in ecocriticism and 20th century American literature. How we conceive of these terms is something I am deeply invested in, personally.

Ricky: I knew I wanted to participate after hearing that the topic this year would be “Truth and Lies.” While the subject of truth has been central to many of the figures and movements I’ve studied in philosophy, I was interested in seeing how my thought would benefit from more political and interdisciplinary approaches. And of course, reading and discussing texts with a group of leading scholars from so many different backgrounds is a rare opportunity, so I knew I wanted to be a part of that.

Q: What are some of the most rewarding experiences or take away you have had thus far as an Altman Graduate Fellow?

Casey: Attending the faculty seminars have given me a lot of potential works to put on my reading list and just listening to faculty talk about current scholarship and different schools of thought has been helpful as I’m developing my own critical perspective. It’s nice to get a wide range of opinions on contemporary scholarship.

Ricky:Actually some of the faculty sessions have directly influenced my work. I was writing a paper last semester on science and ideology, and when the faculty seminar read Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, the book then made its way into my paper because climate change was one of the central issues I was addressing. I was planning on presenting that paper at the Altman symposium, but I’m now planning on writing something else now based on the John D’Agata and Eula Biss piece that we discussed this spring. So my Altman project will probably come entirely out of a discussion we had during one of the seminars.

Casey: Meeting some of the speakers have been a highlight for me. I thought Lee Gilmore was especially interesting to talk to, and I’m really excited to meet Viet Thanh Nguyen. But it’s also been rewarding to work with the undergrads and seeing how their collaborative project has developed.

Ricky: Meeting the speakers has been great. I got the chance to spend time with Jason Stanley when he was here.  He was really friendly and had a lot of good advice as I was applying to Ph.D. programs. Even though we aren’t in the same areas of philosophy, he knows the discipline, and it was really helpful to have another person to talk to about the application.

Q: As an Altman Graduate fellow what are some of the responsibilities you have beyond the interdisciplinary research with the faculty?

Casey: I would say the most important thing is working with the undergrads. Ricky is in charge of getting their individual research projects in shape, and I’m doing the public project portion of the Altman Series with the Geoffrion Fellows. This year, they’re making a website with the Center for Digital Scholarship, so they’re gathering video clips and doing interviews with different people on campus. The idea is that at the end of the year, there will be a nice archival record of the 2018-2019 Altman Series.

Ricky: Each of the Geoffrions has a departmental advisor who helps them produce a research project to present at the Altman Symposium. Some of them also have ambitions to publish or present their work at conferences. So my job has mostly been to help keep them on track, set timelines, and help them with the process of putting together a project. At the end of the semester, we’ll also be getting together and rehearsing our presentations for the symposium.

Casey: The timeline stuff is really important for the public project, and that’s a big part of our job—facilitating and sort of teaching them to how to ‘do grad school’ in a sense. For instance, thinking about deadlines that are far out and how to approach something like that for what might be the first time.

Q: Has working with the Geoffrions informed your research or teaching methods?

Casey: The Geoffrion Fellows are very high achieving, above average, grad students. This is my fourth year now teaching college classes, but I’ve never had the opportunity to work exclusively with a group of such gifted undergraduate scholars. It’s been a really interesting experience to work with this caliber of students.  In that sense, I feel it is preparing me to teach upper the level courses I hope to offer in the future, full of students who are highly enthusiastic about the subject matter.

Ricky: I haven’t taught until this year, and I’m teaching freshman. Working with the Geoffrions is very different because they’re very self-motivated and know their areas pretty well at this point. It’s been a nice segue because it’s given me the chance to take on a leadership-teaching role with a small group of students before teaching freshmen for the first time.

Q: How has this program benefited you as a graduate student and why should others apply?

Ricky: I think one immediate benefit for me has been the opportunity to read across disciplines and engage with work that I wouldn’t normally be able to read in my philosophy classes. Sitting in on the faculty seminars has been productive as well in just giving me a sense of how conversations operate on that level.

Casey: I think it’s neat to be able to form relationships with faculty outside of your department whose work might intersect with yours in interesting ways that you never would have realized or thought about. I’ve enjoyed meeting the speakers that come through and making professional connections.

Altman Graduate Scholar application are due for the upcoming academic year in early March 3rd. For more details and to apply please visit:

Sidne Lyon, Graudate Student Assistant, Humanities Center

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