Conversation Is Key to Colatrella’s Classes

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It’s 9 a.m. on a Friday morning in Stein Residence Hall, and a group of about 25 bleary-eyed students are having a discussion about a topic you probably wouldn’t expect — whales.

Welcome to Carol Colatrella’s Major Authors: Melville class where the focus is on analyzing the classic Moby Dick.

“Like any good teacher, my goal in class is to get as many students participating as possible,” said Colatrella, a professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication and associate dean for graduate studies in Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. “This is one of the reasons why I like holding this class in the lounge of the residence hall. It allows us to sit in a circle, which allows for more informal discussion.”

On this day, the students and Colatrella are engaged in a discussion about themes such as hunting whales and whether the reader is meant to feel sympathy for the whales.

“I love it when I see that our conversations have meant something to my students,” she said. “For example, a previous literature course I taught focused on families, and after the course ended, one of the students took the time to send me a photo of his family. I could see that I’d made a difference in his life — and him taking the time to do that made a difference in mine.”

Recently, The Whistle had a chance to learn more about Colatrella and her time at Georgia Tech.

What did you want to be as a child?       
A math teacher, and then I thought I’d be a lawyer. Eventually, I realized that I loved literature, which led me down this path.   

What made you decide to work at Tech?     
I’d lived up north for much of my life, so honestly, the warm weather in the South was a key factor in my decision. Not to mention, I was eager to come and work for this school, since it was gaining respect among my colleagues in literature and science. It was a chance to work with a group of people interested in the same research topics as I was.

Tell us a bit about your research.
My books, Evolution, Sacrifice, and Narrative: Balzac, Zola, and Faulkner; Literature and Moral Reform: Melville and the Discipline of Reading; Toys and Tools in Pink: Cultural Narratives of Gender, Science, and Technology; and articles I’ve written analyze popular and scientific narrative representations of race, class, and gender.     

What is an average day like for you?  
This semester, I teach one course that meets three times each week. I’m also always working on projects related to my associate dean duties and my role as co-director of the Center for the Study of Women, Science, and Technology (WST), which co-sponsors the WST Learning Community for students.

Would you ever be willing to teach a massive open online courses (MOOC)?    
I would. But I wonder how I’d be able to sustain the interactive discussion portion of my class teaching it online to such a large group of students.

What is your favorite spot on campus?     
I love the views from the roof garden on top of Clough Commons.

What is one piece of technology you couldn’t live without?      
My Blackberry. It’s like my brain.

Where is your favorite place to eat lunch?     
I love trying the different salads that Highland Bakery offers.

Tell us something unique about yourself.      
I almost took a job in Denmark as a humanities professor — I would have been one of 24 female humanities professors in the country. It would have been an adventure, but staying here ended up being the right decision.



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