Doctors in the House: Lewis, Wandera, Reeves Awarded PhDs

Nov 24th, 2016 | By | Category: BLTN Teachers, Fall 2016
Dr. Ceci Lewis (left), the second PhD graduate from the University of Arizona UA Mexican Studies Department, with her colleague Andrea Hernandez Holm (the first PhD graduate from the program), along with dissertation committee chair Lydia Otero.

Dr. Ceci Lewis (left), the second PhD graduate from the University of Arizona UA Mexican Studies Department, with her colleague Andrea Hernandez Holm (the first PhD graduate from the program), along with dissertation committee chair Lydia Otero.

Long standing Bread Loaf Teacher Network member, Ceci Lewis, was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Arizona on the 11th of August 2016.  Her dissertation, titled “Breaking Borders:  Women of Mexican Heritage in Douglas, Arizona,” examines the manifold ways in which fifteen women of Mexican heritage actively participated in the secular, spiritual, and social spheres to improve conditions for themselves and their community in Douglas, Arizona during the first half of the twentieth century.  Using interviews, newspapers, U.S. census reports, ephemera, and secondary sources, it highlights the women’s agency and the various ways they employed critical and innovative approaches to break through the economic, personal, and structural borders imposed by a corporate and industrial smelter town created by Phelps-Dodge, and Calumet and Arizona companies.

Influenced by Chicana theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, this work seeks to recover history, and what Anzaldúa refers to as La Facultad, by relying on the words of the women and their families to offer answers and insight.  Despite the challenges of living in the borderlands in a time of limited access to economic and social resources, these women’s contributions to history confirm that Mexicanas were not passive subalterns. Because Mexicanas are invisible in the archives and in the historical chronicles of Douglas Arizona, this dissertation employs an interdisciplinary methodology designed to highlight their actions and their contributions to their communities, city, and nation.

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Bread Lifer David B. Wandera was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree from The Ohio State University on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. His dissertation titled “Meaning Across Difference: Exploring Intercultural Communication Strategies in an Alaska-Kenya Collaboration,” examines how students’ out-of-classroom experiences serve as rich resources in class-based intercultural literacy activities within contexts characterized by geospatial difference. This examination entailed investigating how implicit and explicit sociocultural practices intersect with meaning making and sharing in the Alaska-Kenya asynchronous, classroom-based, online, intercultural collaboration. This collaboration was undertaken as a BreadNet-mediated BLTN exchange between middle schoolers in Aleknagik, Alaska, and Nairobi, Kenya eight years ago. David invited some of these former students from both places to become participants in his study. Influenced by Vygotsky’s sociocultural learning theories, David employed ethnographic approaches and discourse analysis, assembled archival data, and collected post-project reflections to construct a study that would identify and account for pragmatic, audience-oriented strategies employed by these students during the BLTN exchange. Data show how students on both sides resisted various forms of marginalization. For instance, the use of Yup’ik language and culture in the writings of Aleknagik students and the impact of Nairobian youth practices on the content and language produced by students from Nairobi signal resistance against silencing, abnormalization, and marginalization of their cultures and complex heritage.   Overall, David’s dissertation spotlighted the Alaska-Kenya BLTN exchange as an instantiation of an immersive, student-centered, inclusive-classroom model. Through visualizing communicative strategies and identifying collaborative approaches within this exchange, this dissertation makes a case for the resourcefulness of diversity as a centerpiece of education in our pluralistic world.

Dr. Lillian Reeves and Dr. Diane Stephens, Swearingen Chair of Education, USC

Dr. Lillian Reeves and Dr. Diane Stephens, Swearingen Chair of Education, USC


Lillian Reeves (Middlebury, ’03; BLSE ’07) was awarded a doctor of philosophy in Language and Literacy from the University of South Carolina in December, 2014. Lillian’s dissertation, “Toward a Theory of Safe Passage: Agentic Practices of Women Writers who Teach,” explores the teaching lives of three veteran women English teachers—Debbie Alcorn, Ceci Lewis, and Jineyda Tapia—who all received master’s degrees in English from the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English, and who are all members of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network (BLTN

Using qualitative methods, Lillian documented the participants’ early memories of writing and reading, their growth as writers, how they made their social and intellectual connections at Bread Loaf, how these connections affected them, and how the connections continued to sustain them.

Lillian then composed narrative portraits of each of the women and looked for patterns across them, using aspects of Goodson’s (2013) narrative portrayal method and by applying critical feminist perspectives to the data.  The teachers’ life stories, situated in the professional context of their experiences with Bread Loaf and BLTN, revealed the framework for a new grounded theory.  The new theory—the theory of safe passage—has three distinct parts which include (a) the early support from mentors or teachers, who allowed the participants to read and to write in school or in the library; (b) then later, the professional support from BLTN, Bread Loaf faculty, and Bread Loaf peers, as the participants claimed public identities as women writers who teach; and finally, (c) the participants engaged in the creation of safe passage for their own students.

These findings have implications for teacher evaluation and retention. For example, teachers’ narratives include first hand experiential reports of how teachers claim expertise and of how teachers articulate their needs.  Combined, teachers’ narratives that illustrate the above characteristics build rich data sources needed to evaluate teacher, student, and school performance and achievement.  Additionally, teachers’ narratives reflect the health of the profession and, subsequently, can offer insight into whether teachers feel supported and valued enough as professionals to remain in the field long-term.  Reeves’ study suggests there is much more to be understood from how narrative functions in teacher professional education programming and especially how we value and legitimize the experiences of teachers beyond early career learning environments.

The study distinguishes ongoing mentorship, the type of professional associations teachers maintained with BLTN and Bread Loaf, from what Lillian believes are traditional types of professional learning or professional development, such as one-a-day workshops, seminars, school improvement planning, and other types of instruction, which rarely take into consideration an individual teacher’s strength, abilities, experience, and knowledge.

Lillian’s current research interests include community literacies, networked professional development for teachers across their professional careers, and the practice of justice pedagogies in teacher education programs. Currently, Dr. Reeves is an assistant professor of literacy education at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, where she teaches pre-service teachers in Allendale and Aiken Counties, SC, as they shape and define the profession.

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