Faculty Profile: Dr. Andrew McFeaters
Dr. Andrew McFeaters is an assistant professor in UNM-Gallup’s Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Division.
BY LEE LAMB | 12.2.2021
A belated welcome to UNM-Gallup! Give us some highlights on your background and where you’re from.
I’m originally from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but I moved to Florida as a young man. That’s where the bulk of my college education took place.
At the time, there were not a lot of career opportunities out there, and I realized that I didn’t want to work in fast-food for the rest of my life. Thanks to great community college teachers at Indian River State College, I discovered myself, my interests, and my passions. Thank you, Dr. Elaine Kromhout. Then I was off to Florida State University to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in literature. I had the great honor of studying under Dr. Stanley Gontarski, a world scholar in Irish studies.
You have a master’s and doctoral degree in Irish literature and modernism from Florida State University. How did you get interested in these fields of study?
Irish literature is famous for its lyrical writers. The sound of the word or phrase is as important as its meaning. I loved how writers like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett could make a whole world or experience come to life with a simple turn of phrase. I also was curious about Irish history and culture, which tie into my family heritage.
Learning about the historical oppression of Ireland gave me tools to understand other cultures and histories of colonization. As far as modernism goes, I love rebels, people willing to buck the system in art, music, and literature, even if it means risking failure. Modernism was all about trying new things.
You’ve also published several critical essays, reviews, and editorial work. What are some tips and tools that you can pass along to a student finding their ‘voice’ and would like to improve the quality of their writing?
Creative writing and critical writing are very different, but in each case the writer should carefully read the submission guidelines for the journal. Then read the kinds of works that have been published in previous issues of the journal. That gives the writer a sense of style and expectations.
Then it comes down to keeping a reliable writing schedule and maintaining writing practices. Find a quiet space free from distractions. Write notes whenever ideas pop up. Keep everything in a tidy folder. I actually use a typewriter for the early stages of writing. It’s a simple and focused machine; it’s made for writing.
My last bit of advice is for the writer to read, read, and read. If you want to write poetry, read recent poetry. If you want to write fiction, check out what’s out there right now. Our voices are made of the many voices that inspire us. If you read, your writing voice will find itself.
You've been nominated for or received several teaching awards prior to joining UNMG. How do you connect with students and help them succeed in the classroom? Do you have a style of teaching, strategy, or philosophy that makes you an effective professor?
As a teacher, I think I’m lucky. When I was younger, I worked a lot of jobs and met a lot of people from different backgrounds at those jobs. I juggled work responsibilities with classes at a community college. That’s what made me who I am today.
We need to find the tools and support systems to survive day-to-day life before we can pursue academic interests. Today I remember being that student, exhausted after working a double-shift the previous day. That student is tired, but that student also wants more. That student has dreams.
At the beginning of every semester, I see myself in my students. Then I try to harness the power inside their dreams. Make the teaching relevant to their lives. Keep it real.
What brought you to UNM-Gallup and what are you hoping to accomplish professionally and personally here?
It blows my mind that I got this job during the first year of the pandemic. My girlfriend and I always wanted to live in the Southwest. We love nature, and the Four Corners region has plenty of nature for hikers and mountain-bikers to explore. I had been to Gallup before, and I was fascinated by its indigenous cultural history.
Here I want to do my best to inspire students and to meet community needs. I have a lot of different interests, and I’d like to make those interests useful here. I understand that specialization is important in today's world, but I also think having multiple interests and skills makes a person more adaptable. Our students need to be able to adapt to the unforeseeable, and versatility makes for a more enriching life.
You were recently instrumental in starting a chess club at UNM-Galup. What motivated you to begin that here--and how's it going so far?
A shout out to Dr. Matthew Mingus here. His energy and enthusiasm were instrumental to getting this club going. My chess skills are adequate—nothing special—but I understand how chess can foster other mental skills, expanding memory, sharpening focus, developing reasoning skills and game strategies.
Every school should have a chess club and a music program. These readily translate into other academic skills. Chess is a very social game, too, and that’s what every one of us has been missing during the pandemic—a little laughter and face-to-face conversation with old and new friends. It’s a sheer joy to see students playing chess in the sunshine. Everyone is helpful and respectful--and wearing masks, of course.
Anything that you’d like the UNM-Gallup community to know about you beyond what you’ve shared?
I’m a musician--mostly guitar but a little piano, too. The guitar kept me out of trouble. I'm also a hockey fan. Boston Bruins all the way. Are there any hockey fans out there in Gallup? What’s with all of this football fandom? Hockey is a real sport.
Chartered as a community college more than five decades ago, UNM-Gallup operates under the aegis of the University of New Mexico as Gallup’s branch campus. Although our priority has always been to serve the community as a two-year college, our association with UNM has allowed us to be flexible and stretch as the need arrives. As the largest of the four UNM branch campuses, we serve approximately 2,200 students.