Constant support illuminates pathway for literature student’s dreams

As a transfer student, Carmen Halstead had yet to define her academic direction, but her passion for literature was evident. Halstead was particularly inspired by the female characters invented by D.H. Lawrence and the applicability of Lawrence’s themes to current discussions on the differences and similarities between genders.

Halstead’s fervor for Lawrence would soon turn out to shape her future.

Carmen Halstead found a lot of support from Neil Davison of English. (photo: Jim Folts)

Carmen Halstead found a lot of support from Neil Davison of OSU's English department. (photo: Jim Folts)

Halstead enrolled in one of Neil Davison’s upper-level modern literature classes after noticing Lawrence’s name on the syllabus. Not long after the class began, however, Davison announced he was dropping Lawrence due to time constraints.

“Carmen immediately came to my office,” Davison recalled. “She told me how disappointed she was and that the whole reason she took the course was to study Lawrence.”

Halstead’s zealous lobbying on Lawrence’s behalf worked. “Thankfully, it turned out we did study Lawrence,” Davison said.

Halstead took her interest in Lawrence beyond the classroom setting. For a class assignment, Halstead wrote an essay highlighting one of Lawrence’s best-known works, Women and Love. That essay evolved, with Davison’s encouragement, into a thesis that won a 2006 research award from the Valley Library.

“I camped out in the stacks for a month,” Halstead said. “I thought it was awesome that I could study [Lawrence] in such a specific way; looking at the female unconscious as it relates to men, especially in his erotic texts.”

In her thesis, Halstead analyzed Lawrence in relation to the “somewhat tumultuous foundation upon which his work rests” (Halstead, 2006). She stretched beyond character development to look at other factors of Lawrence’s appeal, including his “complexity of theory” and “[reflection] of the modernist mentality” and the way in which these aspects of his literature relate to the “major feminist misreading of [his work]” (Halstead, 2006).

“While pop culture history has labeled him scandalous and immoral, he remains for some truth seekers a brilliant, inspirational philosopher,” Halstead’s thesis concluded.

Through Davison’s class and his guidance on her thesis, Halstead was able to harness her literary research talents and discover the direction of her dreams.

“I had no idea there were people who devote their whole lives to studying Lawrence,” Halstead said. “Professor Davison told me ‘if this is what you really want, then this is how you get there’.”

After graduating in June, Halstead began applying for graduate programs. While she may become a professor of English literature, it may take some time before Halstead fully recognizes her professional path – but she believes she is on her way.

“Having someone there to constantly support me and who not only recognizes all of the hard work that I’ve done but really believes that I can go further is wonderful,” Halstead said. “It has done a lot for my education. You can’t always see that by looking at the transcript.”

For Davison, nurturing Halstead’s academic passion has been “the great reward of teaching. Every once in awhile, you get an undergraduate who is intently focused,” he said. “The greatest moment for a teacher is to see that his student has outshined them, and knowing that they contributed to that.”

Finally, Halstead has a piece of advice for other students: “If there’s something you’re really passionate about, don’t let the instructor pull it from the syllabus.”

~ by Tara Pistorese

“Mentors” is a regular feature of LIFE@OSU. Along with LIFE/Work, In the Classroom, OSU Around Oregon, and especially Commentary, we encourage submissions and suggestions of articles that would be of interest to the staff and faculty of Oregon State University. Send them to lifeatosu@oregonstate.edu. Also, comment on this and other stories already appearing in our web edition. Just click on the “comment” link at the end of each piece. Thank you. — Editor

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