Mikayla Davis is a second-year MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas, where she is currently teaching Introduction to College Writing. She has a BA in English from Eastern Washington University and several two-year degrees from Spokane Falls Community College. She was the assistant editor for the Toad Suck Review and has poems published in Railtown Almanac, Northwest Boulevard, The Wire Harp, Gold Dust, CandleLit and more.
Rachel Hoge: Hi Mikayla, thanks so much for agreeing to share your thoughts on the Arkansas Writers Program. Our program offers a unique focus on both publishing and pedagogy. How have these opportunities impacted you professionally?
Mikayla Davis: Hi Rachel. First off, let me thank you for doing these interviews. I think they’re a great way for prospective students to learn about our wonderful program, and it’s been fun getting to know even more about my fellow classmates.
As to you question, the pub and ped focus of the program is why I chose to go here over my other acceptances. Because I want to teach after I finish my schooling, getting experience was a number one priority. Since I was awarded funding, I’m allowed to teach two classes each semester for two years. So far it has been quite the learning experience!
I think it’s also showed me another side of teaching that I hadn’t really thought about before…theory. I never really realized how in depth the processes behind teaching were, and those pedagogy and theory classes have helped me a ton in running my own classroom.
Learning theory has also opened me up to an entirely new section of publishing. Thanks to what I’ve learned in this program, I’ve been able to write more theory papers that could be published in composition journals. I’ve even presented at a conference and I’m looking forward to doing so again this year.
RH: When you were researching programs as an MFA applicant, what did you find most appealing about our program?
MD: Well, as I said earlier, I really wanted teaching experience, so that was a major plus for me. When I was admitted, I wasn’t guaranteed that spot for my second year, but I had a good feeling that if I worked hard, I would get it.
I also really liked that they offered classes on pedagogy and teaching before you started running a classroom. Some of my other acceptances were offering zero training and giving me a class to teach right away. That’s was a bit too frightening of a prospect. Stephanie Vanderslice was also the head of the department, and she is well known in pedagogy circles as being one of the best in the field.
Another thing that drew me to this program was how cheap it was. Since I’m from Washington state, I’m used to rent and gas being much more expensive. It was an absolute pleasure watching gas prices get lower and lower on my drive down. I also had family in Arkansas, who would be able to help me if I got into any trouble.
As a second year student, how have you applied the knowledge and experiences of last year into your second year? How do you hope this year will shape your third and final year in our program?
Honestly, I think I was a little bit spoiled in my first year. While the work load was larger than I was used to, the assistantship I was working for didn’t take up a lot of my time because it was stuff I was accustomed to doing.
My second year, so far, has been an entirely different experience. Teaching is completely to blame and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I suppose I underestimated just how much of my time it would take and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t struggling some.
However, I think that it has definitely prepared me for my second semester, if not my third year. I already have ideas of how to rework my syllabus so that there isn’t as much time consuming work for not just me, but my students as well. I think it’s also solidified how much I value having time to write and do other things for myself. I’m really looking forward to working on my thesis for that reason.
RH: How will this degree be beneficial to you in reaching your post-grad goals?
MD: When I began applying to MFA programs, I talked to my undergraduate mentors a lot. They imparted on me the importance of getting experience in teaching. When I visited them this summer, they were excited about what opportunities I’d already had. They told me that with the teaching experience I was getting, plus the classes in pedagogy I was taking, that my job application would look really good. One of my old teachers joked that if it were up to her, she’d hire me right out of school.
I think that really helped me feel confident that this program was the right one to go into. And while I’m still on the fence about getting a Ph.D, I feel like I could go either route and still be successful at getting a job teaching after school.
How has the faculty of our MFA program helped you prepare for the future?
I think the faculty have been incredibly helpful in both honing my writing abilities and preparing me for the struggles I will face in the artistic and academic world. The faculty here are honest and very knowledgeable in their fields, but they don’t let us forget that they are human, too. They tell us about the struggles they faced in the past and the struggles they continue to have. I think that’s been really helpful for keeping me optimistic about my own failures.
That isn’t to say that they haven’t helped me in the more obvious ways. Working with Sandy Longhorn in poetry has been absolutely eye-opening and I’ve been exploring a lot of poetic forms I had never even heard of. Working with John Vanderslice has allowed me to attempt short stories for the first time without feeling overly pressured, and I definitely got some good feedback. I’m looking forward to sending the work I wrote for his class out. Jennie Case’s knowledge about running literary journals and magazines has expanded my knowledge about how to take submissions, but also how to submit to publications. Stephanie Vanderslice has been a treasure trove of information about not only pedagogy, but applications for a whole host of academic and artistic events and opportunities. She’s also helped me understand the Young Adult genre, and has reignited my passion for writing it once more. The other faculty have been just as fantastic, even the ones I haven’t had the pleasure of being in class with.
RH: Would you recommend the Arkansas Writers Program to an MFA applicant?
MD: Most definitely! While there isn’t as much funding as anyone here would like, there are a lot of opportunities for students to grow as both artists and educators. We have our own graduate student organization that has allowed us to negotiate for a student lounge in the building we are moving in to. That organization is also what created the application fee waiver for diverse applicants, and we have other diversity programs in the works. Our new literary journal, Arkana, is almost completely run by the students in the program, and because it’s so new, there’s a lot of flexibility on what it looks and feels like.
I’ve also been really impressed with the community feel of the program. Many of the students, as well as the professors, have families and jobs and other responsibilities; but everyone is so understanding. The different years all interact with each other and I think it helps bring the program together as a whole.
Being here has just been a fantastic opportunity, so I want other writers to have that same opportunity.
Stop by next Friday to meet another graduate student from the Arkansas Writers Program.