Faculty Focus, Prof. Nona Shepherd
English Professor & Fantasy Literature guru.
Clinch Valley College (University of Virgina’s College at Wise) Bachelor’s degree.
East Tennessee State University. Master’s degree.
She’s Morgan le Fay in another realm.
Has Southern Appalachia always been home to you?
My family moved to Wise, Va., from Baltimore when I was 12 years old. So my formative years were spent in Southwest Virginia. I graduated from Clinch Valley College (now University of Virginia’s College at Wise) where I was an English major with a concentration in Communications. I was also a dorm director for three years. My director of residence life told me I needed to move on to graduate school.
What prompted your decision to return to graduate school?
Initially, when I was going to graduate school I applied to get a degree in counseling. It was the loss of my dad and my friends’ discussion of their passion for layout design that nudged me back towards literature. That experience brought me back to language, stories, and the people telling them. I thought, ‘You’ve loved this your whole life.’ That is when I realized what I’m most passionate about. So I was accepted into the graduate program at East Tennessee State University where I earned my Master’s degree in English. After I earned my Master’s degree, I worked as a community educator for six-and-a-half years at the Sexual Assault Response Center.
How did you find your way to Northeast State?
Someone told me that I should go talk to this guy (Humanities division Dean William) Wilson about becoming an adjunct instructor at Northeast State. So he gave me a few classes to teach. I was also teaching adjunct at ETSU. I applied for a full-time faculty position that year but didn’t get the job! But I applied again the next year and was hired as a full-time instructor. So I’ve been here 12 years full-time and 14 years overall. I never imagined being able to teach in college as a profession.
In an increasingly visually driven world of communication, why are English and literature critical to how we express ourselves?
I think you communicate the complexities of life through language. The use of written language handles the true depth of human communication whereas visual images give you a moment. Words are the most natural expressions of ourselves. Literature helps us understand each other because it is the story of others. Literature tells the story of humanity.
What is the biggest challenge for students to improve their writing?
Their confidence level. Students tell me, ‘I know what is in my head but I can’t get it down on paper.’ They don’t have the confidence in their ability to communicate well in their writing. So we develop that confidence through writing and practicing writing what we want to express.
What appeals to you about Northeast State?
Because we invest in students. I don’t know how many students I’ve had say, ‘I wish I could come back’ and ‘I hated to leave.’ I feel like we give them a foundation to do what they want to do and move forward to their next step in life. It feels more like a graduate school experience where the classes are more intimate and the relationships between the faculty and students are personal. We are in this together. We are a team. That camaraderie among everyone has carried us through a lot.