New Writing and rhetoric department chair shares her lifelong passion for writing. PHOTO CREDIT: The University of Rhode Island

Since she was 7 years old, Genoa Shepley has considered writing to be part of her identity, whether she was writing poetry or teaching students as a senior lecturer at the University of Rhode Island.

Following her graduation from Pomona College with an English degree focusing on creative writing in 1982, the new chair of URI’s writing and rhetoric department worked in many industries ranging from publishing to management consulting organization to writing for The Nature Conservancy.  

“I have worked for a huge number of corporations and individuals and so that is a very exciting job of just being a freelance writer,” Shepley said. “Next to that, working at this incredible art museum and being able to walk around the galleries every day and experience art was transformative.”

After working as the communications director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Shepley co-wrote a selection book of Robert B. Honeyman Jr.’s art entitled Drawn West. This inspired her to return to school to secure an interdisciplinary master’s degree in history, art history and literature with a focus on disaster writing from the University of Arizona.

Since starting at URI as a part-time faculty member in 2008, Shepley became a senior lecturer and helped rework the first-year writing curriculum as the assistant director for first-year writing.

“We’ve made it possible for people of all levels to succeed in that course and to find their voices, and to build their confidence, not only in their abilities as communicators but in their identities in the way they go through the University and the way they go through the world,” Shepley said.

As a new initiative, Shepley wants to show the campus how valuable the writing program can be in various industries beyond publishing and freelance writing.

“As a writing major, they can go into a huge number of fields from publishing to technical writing to law and politics, and creative fields.” Shepley said, “Our graduates are doing really well in many different industries.”

Donna Hayden, the administrative assistant for the writing and rhetoric department, noted that social media and writing majors have helped spread the word about the effectiveness and importance of the writing department.

“It’s word of mouth, it’s our writing majors advocating for us.” Hayden said, “It’s our social media, it’s our instructors who are teaching the class to get that message out.”

Hayden also found that Shepley’s history within the department helped her make changes and work well with the department.

“She’s risen through the ranks.” Hayden said, “And that has allowed her to grow and to strengthen and to really know what changes need to happen, or have happened within the department and she has a wonderful working relationship with the faculty.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Shepley and the department worked to continue providing students with the best available virtual resources.

Even as the chair of the department, Shepley said she feels inspired to continue teaching WRT 321G: Writing Disaster: The Ethics of Representation especially because of her passion for the civic engagement component of the course and how it relates to COVID-19.

“It’s really timely and it has a civic engagement component and because it’s a grand challenge, it fulfills C1,” Shepley said, “And so at the end of it, students are energized to go out and make a change in the world.”

During her tenure as the chair of the writing and rhetoric department, Shepley hopes to continue to impact students graduating from the program.

“Generally speaking, my achievement is increasing students’ belief in their own effectiveness in all my courses and helping them go out into the world and live fuller lives because they have a better sense of themselves and their abilities,” Shepley said.