Student Spotlight July 2013
Harley Ferris began college in 1994 as a music major and dropped out in 1997 to pursue opportunities in the music industry. He returned to school in 2007 as an English major, graduating summa cum laude at Jacksonville University in 2010. Harley completed his MA in English at the University of Louisville in 2012, and is looking forward to his second (and final) year of coursework in UofL's PhD in Rhetoric and Composition program.
Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):
My primary research interest as I look ahead to my dissertation is the rhetorical use of music in social action. To explore this, I plan to write about how society has regarded American folk singers as public educators throughout the decades. I often try to find ways to fold my own previous experiences into my scholarship, and discovering conversations about “sonic rhetoric” has been exciting. I also enjoy digital audio and video production, so I'm keenly interested in multimodal composition as a scholarly practice and how (and why) to teach this in first-year composition courses.
Awards, honors, publications:
In 2010, Jacksonville University named me English Department Student of the Year, Humanities Division Student of the Year, and College of Arts and Sciences Student of the Year. I have published fiction and poetry in Aquarian and Word Riot, and an essay titled “This Above All: Portrait of an English Student” in the Florida English Journal.
Long-term goals/ aspirations:
My long-term goals include teaching at a university while furthering my research interests, which I expect will continue to evolve and shift as they have in the past.
How would you describe your area of study/ specific research to your grandmother:
I would tell her that I study how music has been used to motivate people to action.
How do you think this advanced degree will change your role in society?
I think it's really important for scholars to recognize the wide gap between what we typically do and how it affects or relates to what society cares about. So while I do think this degree will lend me credibility and provide myriad opportunities to grow, much of that influence will only carry weight in my own discipline. I hope to leverage all that, however, into opportunities to interact with the public in ways that are meaningful to them. In some cases, this will mean spending time and energy doing things that I may not be able to include in a tenure file, but since I'm examining culture in my scholarship, I think it only makes sense to try to stay relevant to those cultures.
What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?
By far, I'm most proud of the three boys my wife and I are raising. It sounds trite, but it's true that when you have children, everything changes. As I watch them enter adolescence, I'm honestly more excited about the people they will become and their potential to influence society than anything I could ever do.
What made you go into this field of study?
It was kind of a fluke... I started writing creatively when I quit playing music professionally. When I was able to go back to school, I wanted to take some creative writing classes, so I chose English as my major. However, after a few non-literature courses (including linguistics, pedagogy theory, and grammar) and a handful of writing classes, I discovered the field of Rhetoric and Composition, and I realized that not only was it fascinating, but it could be really empowering to a lot of people.
What was your favorite part of the graduate school experience?
My favorite part has been the mentoring I've received from numerous faculty who genuinely care about protecting and furthering my interests.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?
So much of what bogs students down, in my opinion, is simply not knowing what options exist. Missing opportunities or being caught by surprise really bothers me, so I've learned to ask the question, “What else should I be asking that I'm not?”
This August, I'll celebrate 17 years of marriage with my beautiful wife, Gabi. We have three boys: Noah (14), Jonathan (12), and Dylan (10). We love spending time together, whether that means watching movies, walking around Cherokee Park, or enjoying Waterfront Wednesdays. We also have two dogs (Gizmo and Ellie), a guinea pig (The Doctor), and an ever-changing roster of fish.
A talent you have always wanted: To play drums.
Favorite book: I can't possibly begin to answer this question.
Favorite quote: “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls."
- Joseph Campbell
Role Model: Neil Gaiman, for his honesty, wisdom, and incessant creativity.
Pet Peeve: People who don't use their turn signals.
If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? Most likely what I was doing before graduate school: web and graphic design.