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Coming to UH lands MA candidate a fully-funded doctoral education

Justin Shaw leaves Houston with an MA in English to enroll in Emory University’s doctoral program

Mr. Shaw

After graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta with a BA in English, Justin Shaw knew he wanted to become a professor.

He spent two summers an undergraduate teaching literature to 8th grade students through the Breakthrough Collaborative teacher training program.

His love of teaching English continued after he came to CLASS to earn his Master’s degree. Prior to that, he participated in Match Corps, an organization that trains teachers for high-poverty schools.

“With Match Corps I worked as a teaching assistant and worked with a 9th grade speech and composition class. I still keep in touch with some of my former students from that experience,” he said.

“That experience changed my life completely,” Shaw said. “I realized not only that I really enjoyed English, but I also enjoyed teaching English to other people.”

But wanting to be a professor is not the same as feeling ready to train to be a professor.

Before committing to a doctoral program, Shaw wanted to test himself and his intentions. So, he decided to get a master’s degree first.

 “I saw the value in taking the time to earn a master’s from UH – the English Department is fantastic and really prepared me for my next step,” said Shaw who will be awarded his MA in English Literature on May 9, 2014.

It also helped that coming to UH brought him closer to his hometown of Beaumont.

“Being near family gave me the chance to get my footing off right as I began my graduate work,” he said.

In the fall, he returns to Atlanta. He received full funding to be a doctoral candidate in Emory University’s English PhD program.

“When I interviewed at Emory in February, I was prepared and I wasn’t nervous,” Shaw said. “I don’t think I would have had that comfort level straight out of an undergraduate program.

“At UH, I’ve had an opportunity to build my research skills to the point where I could walk into any graduate PhD program and feel comfortable.”

He’s also refined his teaching technique. As a master’s degree candidate, he taught English classes at Lone Star College’s North Harris campus.

“Justin has been an outstanding student in our program and Emory will be a great PhD program for him,” said Dr. Natalie Houston, associate professor of English. “In addition to exploring different areas of literary study, Justin has also used his time in our program to learn how the academic profession works.

He is an experienced teacher and is deeply committed to his own learning and to furthering the learning of his students.”

Shaw didn’t start off thinking the life of an academic would be his.

He entered college as a pre-med student with plans to become a physician.  Shaw soon realized the classes he enjoyed the most were his English courses. So he changed his major to English.

As an undergraduate, he explored many possible career paths for English majors, including writing blogs and articles for the campus newspaper.

But a semester abroad program reintroduced him to the subject matter that would inspire him to want to teach others. He spent a semester at Goldsmiths College at the University of London and fell in love with the works of Shakespeare and other renaissance literature.

“There's something really intrinsic to the literature of that period that continues to speak volumes to us today concerning controversial debates around race, ecology, religion and psychology – but we have to be willing to read and listen to it,” Shaw said.

“I want to teach people how to listen so that we all can make the world and knowledge more sustainable, accessible place.”

When deciding which PhD program to attend, Shaw narrowed his selections down to Emory and Florida State University – two programs well-known for their Renaissance literature scholarship.

“I decided to attend Emory because they have amazing connections with major research institutions and archival libraries,” Shaw said. “I also wanted a close-knit department environment rather than a huge program.”

That’s the kind of atmosphere he says he experienced at in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. He expressed admiration for Dean Roberts and the English Department faculty. And he credits Dr. Houston, a highly-regarded digital humanist who incorporates big data analysis into her research, and her teaching style for inspiring him as a teacher. He implemented some of her methods in the classes he taught at Lone Star College.

“She’s the kind of professor I want to be,” he said.

- By Monica Byars