As the director of the Literary Journalism Program, Professor Barry Siegel looks to mentor students who love storytelling and language. In developing their stories, his students introduce him to the worlds they’re reporting on; in turn, he helps them develop the skill of turning information into a compelling, coherent report. Professor Siegel maintains close contact with his students, meeting frequently and available to them by email around the clock. He insists that his students find topics in which they have a passionate interest, reminding them that such a deep interest is required to maintain the total immersion that their research demands.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

As a professor and director of the Literary Journalism Program, I regularly work with our undergraduate majors on major narrative projects. I do this in advanced writing workshops, one on Narrative Writing, the other on The Art of Reconstruction. I also advise students doing independent study projects and students writing senior honors theses in both the SOH and the Campuswide Honors Programs. In all these ventures, I watch students tackling difficult, complex subjects. They must research and report, drawing from multiple sources and pushing beyond their known world. Then they must weave the strands into a story. It’s a big challenge, and it is hugely satisfying to watch them meet that challenge, to watch them go through this process and discover that they can do more than they think. The type of projects I have directed range widely—there is no set, confined subject area—but almost all follow a storyline with a beginning, middle and end. My students write true narratives, often following characters on a quest or journey.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I look for students with passion, dedication, discipline. I look for students who love storytelling and language. I look for students who care deeply about their stories and the characters who populate them. I look for students who are willing to work hard and fully immerse themselves in their projects.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

I meet with students regularly, usually on a weekly basis. I also maintain a nearly constant email connection, answering messages seven days a week, day and night. In the early stages, we focus on finding and developing their story through various forms of research and reporting. We consider what they need for narrative and what their story will be about—why it matters. As their projects unfold, we evaluate what they have gleaned from their research. Then I guide them into constructing both a timeline of events and an outline of their story. Eventually, the writing begins. Writing, of course, is rewriting. So the students will do multiple drafts. I line-edit each draft and also offer “macro” comments about structure and meaning. On and on that process goes…until the final polished draft.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

I think my students benefit greatly from their undergraduate research experience. They take on a new and huge challenge, and learn they can indeed write a major narrative drawn from multiple sources. They learn how to push beyond themselves. They learn how to make sense of a foreign world and bring back a compelling, coherent report. These are invaluable tools, no matter what paths the students choose after graduation.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

I learn right alongside the students. I learn about the worlds they are reporting on, most of them foreign to me. I learn about writing, both by watching my students master language and by talking to them about language. And I derive a terrific sense of satisfaction from watching my students achieve at such a high level. The look in their eyes after it’s over—I did it—is a great reward.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

I suggest that students have a fairly clear idea of what they want to report and write about. They should make sure they are choosing a subject that fully engages them, since this type of work requires sustained immersion. They should make sure they have access to the needed research resources. And they should make sure they have the needed will, nerve and discipline to see their projects through to completion.

Research Interests: Literary Journalism, English

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '12 James C. Earthman
Nov. '12 Kenneth J. Shea
Oct. '12 Jeanett Castellanos
Sep. '12 Barry Siegel
Aug. '12 Martha L. Mecartney
Jul. '12 Brandon Brown
Jun. '12 Wayne Sandholtz
May. '12 Farghalli A. Mohamed
Apr. '12 Susan T. Charles
Mar. '12 Katherine Faust
Feb. '12 Donald R. Blake
Jan. '12 Elizabeth Cauffman