Kate McPherson, an Associate Professor of English and Literature, was recently awarded the Alumni Outstanding Educator Award, an honor she says she is “pretty proud of” because the winner is chosen by graduating students as they fill out a final survey asking about influential teachers and experiences. “That’s pretty cool,” she says.
McPherson started out an undergraduate at University of New Mexico in biology, looking forward to studying genetics, but after proudly receiving a C in that very class, the only C she had ever received, she “ran for the English department and never looked back.”
She earned a B.A. in English summa cum laude and then went on to earn an M.A. in English and a Ph.D. from Emory University’s department of English in 1998.
McPherson started teaching at UVU in the fall of 2000, where she says, “I was interested in coming back to the West. I grew up in Albuquerque. I knew I wanted a position in a teaching-focused institution rather than a research-focused institution.”
When asked what she loves to teach most, McPherson replied, ”It’s probably a hard decision between Shakespeare and Milton. I tell you, the students who take Milton are so extraordinary. I don’t have to do all that much work. It’s like in volleyball, I just serve up the questions and the kids take it in so many directions. I’m just directing traffic.”
Kate also works with juvenile offenders at Slate Canyon Youth Center, where she loves having them act out scenes from Shakespeare like act III of Macbeth where the students are jumping around screeching as the three weird sisters.
Why do you get such glee from revenge tragedies?
I like it when students have to think about the dark side. Peering into the fictional version of the terrible things that humans think and do to each other is thought provoking. I like to show them that 400 years ago, people were equally fascinated by sex and violence. We are not so degraded as people think.
What’s your favorite play?
Oh, well then… King Lear. I really love King Lear; I love it because it shows somebody powerfully realizing the ripple effect of a single bad decision and the regret that that produces is so profound. I never teach the ending to King Lear without crying. I don’t sob; I weep.
How often have you helped with study abroad England?
I have taught on the study abroad 3 times in 11 years, and I’m due again in 2012. It’s such a great gig you have to share with your colleagues. It’s the ultimate engaged learning to have students studying Shakespeare in London. It becomes something living to them, not something from the past. It’s the nirvana for the Shakespeare teacher – and definitely not a vacation like some people think. It’s the best kind of work there is.
If you went back to college today, what would you study or do differently?
I don’t know that I would do anything differently. I have no regrets, though sometimes I wish I had gone to a more elite school as an undergraduate, but I was afraid. I didn’t want to leave home, and I didn’t want to leave my boyfriend. I think I could have gotten into a really great school as an undergrad.
What do you wish your students would learn?
Don’t just show up to class. Throw yourself into choosing the best courses and the best faculty. Completely experience the class. Find somewhere else other than academics to get involved, something outside of coursework. Meet a community of like-minded individuals. That really enriches the college experience. I got involved in the honors program and made friends that I still have contact with. Just find a way to plug in.
What changes do you hope to see in the English department?
Teaching through performance is a great pedagogy. We don’t get to excavate anything like in archaeology, but you sure can excavate a play. This summer for my Shakespeare class, I’m going to teach only comedies, because it’s summer and you want something light during summer.
What do you do on your days off?
Make jewelry, cross-country ski, very enthusiastically, like three to four times a week during winter. In summer, I mountain bike and road bike. I travel to see plays and I love cooking Thai and Indian food. I have a big thing for curry.
Are you Team Jacob or Team Edward?
I was about to make a very rude comment, but you might print it. I’ll take Jacob. I do prefer brunettes (dark skin, dark eyes). Edward is too pale and sparkly.