Creative writing class brings Detroit Mercy students and alumni together

September 15, 2020
Students pose for photos during a zoom call for their creative writing class.

University of Detroit Mercy Professor of English Nick Rombes decided to do something creative for his creative writing class this summer, inviting several alumni to audit the class to create a mix of alumni and current undergrad students.

“The idea was to bring together students and alums from different age groups and geographies so we could draw on each other's different life experiences,” Rombes said. “Typical undergraduate creative writing classes have students who are close together in age. This was an opportunity to broaden that.”

Bringing people of different ages, race and geographies allowed the class to not only learn how to write better, but also from other people’s writing.

“The alums really brought a new dimension and perspective to the class that I hadn't experienced when I was just taking undergrad classes,” said Alyssa Porcerelli, a sophomore in the 5-year MBA program at Detroit Mercy. “I enjoyed the intimacy of having a smaller group, and the community that all of us built with each other. Having a place to be vulnerable and share personal writing was really nice and comforting.”

Giulia Pink graduated from Detroit Mercy in 2015 with a degree in English and said she took two of Rombes’ classes as an undergrad, which helped her develop a passion for writing. She took the class because she wanted to hear others critique her work.

“Everyone can benefit from slipping back into the role of ‘student,’ ” said Pink, who is a copywriter in the Boston area. “There’s so much to learn. Self-improvement starts with understanding that everyone comes into a situation with their own web of experiences, stories, realities. You can’t expand as a human being if you’re incapable of questioning how you see the world, or if you’re not open to hearing someone else’s experiences, stories, realities. I felt myself stretch into a better writer and a better me in this class.”

Rombes admitted he thought being all online might not be ideal for a class like creative writing, but after a few meetings, he didn’t feel that way anymore.

“It was a much more intimate, personal experience than I'd ever imagined,” Rombes said. “I think we have this idea that technology, especially when it comes to teaching, is cold, remote and a poor substitute for in-person learning, but in this case, at least, the opposite was true. For instance, when students read each other's work aloud we could see each other's faces and reactions. This in itself provided powerful feedback for each student writer.”

Students agreed.

“In the video call format, I found it fascinating to watch everyone’s faces as classmates told authors what they liked, what confused them and what might be improved,” said Jon Whitener, who graduated from Detroit Mercy in 2011 with a degree Computer Science. “I won’t soon forget some of the looks on people’s faces as they braved this critique. What I often saw was a writer who was insecure about their abilities and nervous their work wasn’t ‘good enough,’ who then discovered from the comments of other students that they had done something good.”

The students all had great things to say about Rombes, who they felt brought out the best in their writing.

“He is the perfect teacher for this course,” said alumna Michelle Styczynski '11. “If you're nervous or intimidated by creative writing, like myself, he will only lift you up and help you develop the voice you want or are searching for.”

The alumni enjoyed interacting with current students, which gave them a chance to do something they thought about, but maybe didn’t have time to do during their time at Detroit Mercy.

“Raising three kids, working full time and trying to maintain an old house never left much time for writing,” Whitener said. But over the last couple years, I tried to hack out stuff here and there. When I learned about the summer class, I immediately felt like I didn’t want to be alone as a writer anymore."

The alumni also enjoyed getting a chance to reconnect with the University and some of its current students.

“I’ve been so happy to see how involved my classmates are with social justice and equity,” Pink said. “Meeting people just starting their careers mid-pandemic, mid-crisis as a country, well, it was just plain inspiring to see that Detroit Mercy is supporting emerging leaders who are driven to make this world better.”

Rombes hopes to offer the course again in the future.

“I would love to have the opportunity to do this again,” Rombes said. “It made me fall in love with teaching in a new way.”