Shyanne Figueroa Bennett '16

Shyanne Figueroa Bennett '16

Interdisciplinary Studies Program Graduate 

Integrated Disciplinary Areas: English Writing + Urban Studies

What is your current role?

As an MFA candidate at Columbia University, I am a student and instructor.

What was the topic of your final project?

How can a creative writing program empower marginalized groups to use their voice and transform their urban community?

Why did you choose the IDS major at Wheaton?

When I began my freshmen year at Wheaton, it was the first time I lived away from home. Grappling with distance was in some ways overwhelming, but it was also a gift that allowed me to look at home in an analytical way that was not possible before. I began to consider the factors—and really the communities—that brought me to Wheaton as a first-generation college student. While family and church were easily high on this list, distance helped me to see that the creative writing programs that I took part in as a teenager had been transformative spaces for me, but I wasn’t sure how such spaces were created. I began asking the question, "How can a creative writing program empower marginalized groups to use their voice and transform their urban community?"—the question that would eventually become my guiding directive. I chose IDS because it offered me the structure, support, and resources to take a deep dive into my question.

What benefits resulted from your participation in the IDS program?

After graduating from Wheaton I got my first full-time, salaried position at a school in North Lawndale, the same neighborhood in Chicago where I had conducted my IDS research. I had many roles in my new position—Director of Admissions, High School Counselor, Wednesday Academy Teacher, and After School Staff—and those were just my official titles. As I worked longer at the school, I quickly accumulated many unofficial roles including substitute teacher, recess chaperone, and fundraising coordinator. I was expected to identify all the tasks needed for my various roles and complete all tasks within a timely fashion, with minimal oversight from my supervisor. Fortunately, working independently, strategizing projects, and time management were all skills I was able to develop as an IDS major, and it served me well in my position.

After entering the MFA Writing program at Columbia University, I interviewed for a research assistant position to work with two Writing Center directors who were writing an undergraduate textbook on academic writing. For the interview, they gave me a chapter of their book and asked me to give them descriptive feedback. I went through the text with a fine-toothed comb, attentively offering my feedback. Later, I found out I got the job! In my new position I gave feedback on the entirety of their book, reading it back and forth many times. I also supported them with research, fact-checking, citations, and editing across many drafts. Working methodically, critically, and attentively during every step of the research process was something I learned from being an IDS major. Those skills not only helped me get the research assistant job, but also equipped me to be useful within the role.

How did Wheaton's IDS program prepare you for your current work?

Recently, I was awarded a Creative Writing Teaching Fellowship from Columbia University, which affords me the opportunity to teach an undergraduate poetry workshop. I credit IDS with my strength as an applicant. For my IDS senior project, I partnered with a school in Chicago, which gave me early teaching experience. Additionally, the demanding IDS program provided me with the structure to rigorously delve into pedagogical research. Even after I graduated from Wheaton and went on to teach, I maintained a critically engaged, reflective pedagogical approach, which was essential to my growth and professional development. In my cover letter, sample student feedback, and interview for my current fellowship, I demonstrated that IDS laid the foundation for the teacher I have become (and am becoming).

What would you say to someone who is considering the IDS major?

There are easier ways to earn your degree than going the IDS route. Would you rather follow the preexisting trail around the mountain or carve your own trail up to the snow-capped peak? The IDS route will hone your focus, your discipline, and your sense of intrinsic motivation. It will require you to spend long hours alone in research, as you chisel away at your project. It will require you to strategize and create connections between disparate concepts, ideas, and issues in hopes that eventually you will have something of value to say or share. It will require you to fail many times, and do so with humility, so that eventually you can catch the glimmer of new discovery. Much will be required, but if your experience is anything like mine, it will be tremendously worth it.