Hidden Figures: Claire Kervin

Visiting Professor of Freshman Studies, Claire Kervin.

Photo by Anton Zemba.

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Kervin, a Visiting Professor of Freshman Studies. This is her third academic year. She moved from Boston in 2016 with her husband Graham Sazama, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry.

She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned her English Ph.D.  at Boston University. Her second major in college was Spanish Language and Culture and she studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico.

One thing students may not know is that while she was in graduate school, she wanted to find a way to keep speaking the language, so she volunteered with a bilingual school through Boston 826, a program that helps kids in traditionally under served communities tell their stories and become published authors.

“Teaching Freshman Studies is a unique experience,” Kervin commented. “When classroom discussion is flowing and we’re all excited by the material, everything is easygoing. But sometimes, especially when teaching texts far outside my scholarly expertise, it can feel trickier, because I know I can’t fall back on my existing knowledge. But that’s valuable, because it means I get to model for students how to ask questions and keep learning even when it’s uncomfortable.”

In addition to Freshman Studies, Kervin teaches classes in Environmental Studies and (ENST) English. She developed a new humanities course for ENST called Environmental Justice and Citizenship, where students read fictional and nonfictional narratives about environmental inequities and discuss how we might take responsibility for those injustices.

Kervin is teaching English 150, Introduction to Literary Analysis, which focuses on close reading while exploring fiction, drama and poetry. She has also developed a new advanced course for the English department, Multiethnic Literature, which she hopes to offer within the next year or two.

As the new director of the Summer Institute, Kervin teaches a section of the seminar course, which is for incoming first-year students who come to campus a few weeks early.

The different courses she teaches at Lawrence reflect her diverse interests and the power of stories. Her main interest is exploring why and how we tell stories and how they help us understand ourselves, other people and the environment.

“I try to create a classroom atmosphere that is rigorous and challenging but also playful and fun, encouraging students to be vulnerable, take risks and get creative. If students engage with the material and put in the work, they will leave my classes better speakers, critical thinkers and writers,” Kervin added.

Kervin always knew she wanted to teach. “Growing up, I loved playing ‘school.’ Our neighbors’ basement had these really old-fashioned school desks in it, and I would make my two sisters and all seven of the neighbor kids sit in them while I lectured about topics like dinosaurs and Reading Rainbow,” she said.

“Much later I decided my dream job would be teaching at a liberal arts college like Lawrence where students had the opportunity to take classes across the curriculum, make interesting connections between disciplines and ask big questions. Lawrence was actually the first campus I visited when I toured colleges, so it feels like things have come full circle by ending up here.”

After college, Kervin worked as a technical writer for Epic Systems, a company that makes software for hospitals and clinics. She wrote training materials for nurses who were new to using Epic software. She had to translate complex technological language into more accessible prose, learning clear and concise writing.

Kervin has been doing vinyasa yoga for about fifteen years. She is currently doing a thirty-day yoga challenge.  She enjoys the outdoors whether hiking, cross country skiing or just hanging out by the lake.

She is interested in sustainable agriculture, and she grows a lot of her family’s produce in her backyard garden. Her family has a small flock of chickens, and some of them even produce green and blue eggs, which are really fun to find in the nest boxes. Additionally, she volunteers with the local chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby to help build the political will to fight climate change.

Kervin believes the best thing as a teacher is when students push themselves and see their hard work pay off.

“I am inspired every day by the other faculty here at Lawrence. I work with some of the brightest, most dedicated, creative, and generous people I’ve ever met. I’m also inspired by my three-year-old son, Samuel, who loves learning and asks a million questions,” Kervin added.