It is fair to say life has not turned out as Beth Mead had planned, or did it? Mead, director of LCIE’s MFA in Writing program, and one of its most popular faculty members, majored in English at the University of Missouri—St. Louis in the late ‘90s, intending to start a career as a high school English teacher. Her course began to change when she enrolled in Mary Troy’s short story writing class
“Everything started with Mary,” Mead said.
Mead transferred to the advanced version of the class at Troy’s suggestion. The director of UMSL’s MFA in writing program, Troy encouraged Mead to apply to the program after her 2000 graduation, and she got her first taste of teaching as a teacher’s assistant. After she finished in 2004, she stayed o
n at UMSL as an adjunct and was hired that June at Lindenwood, also as an adjunct, after a recommendation, once again, from Troy. She joined the LU MFA faculty full-time shortly after.
In 2009, she would become the third director of the program, following Michael Castro, who started it, and Eve Jones, who still teaches in the program as an adjunct. Since then, she has been a tireless promoter of the program, has seen the enrollment expand, has started the program’s literary journal (The Lindenwood Review), holds readings by recent graduates twice a year, and has launched the online version of the MFA.
The success of the latter, she admits, has exceeded even her expectations. In the fall quarter, there are 41 students in the online program from all over the United States, and the in-classroom aspect of the program has between 15 and 25 students at any given time, she said.
“When Dr. (Jann) Weitzel (Vice President for Academic Affairs) suggested the MFA as an online program, Eve and I created and formatted the shells,” Mead said. “It is amazing that we now have students from so many states.”
Mead attributes that success to a few factors: She has a stable of “great instructors” who have published widely and have won multiple prestigious awards; the program is selective, so the presence of quality students attracts more quality students; and the program has a good online presence because of the blog and a Facebook page. Earlier this year, an organization called WordFocus.com recognized Lindenwood’s MFA as one of the top 10 online writing programs in the country.
“Most of our online students say they hear of us through Google Search,” Mead said. “The benefit for the out-of-state students is that they can do everything online, including the thesis. They don’t have to relocate.”
In fact, the December Commencement student speaker for the evening programs, Michael DeVault, is an online MFA student from Louisiana.
The online students are currently working on the fourth edition of the Lindenwood Review, which publishes annually and takes submissions from throughout the U.S. Literary journals are a hallmark of MFA programs, Mead said, and are valuable because they allow students a critical perspective on the other side of the submission process as they try to get their own work published.
Numerous students have managed to do just that, including several books and individual pieces and a number of awards. Many have also landed jobs teaching writing as adjuncts and full-time in a few cases.
“I encourage them to let me know,” Mead said. “One of the best ways to show that students are learning what they need is to show their success, and I want the alumni to feel that they are still a part of the program.”
Though she did not wind up teaching high school English, Mead admits things have worked out pretty well. She and her husband, Chris, have two sons, Connor, 15, and Casey, 10, and she got the job of a lifetime.
“I found my way to the best possible job I could have wanted,” Mead said. “I feel very lucky.”