by Alexander Mika, ’21 (CLAS)
Professor Veronica Makowsky, an expert in women’s, ethnic, and Southern American literature, recently retired from our faculty. She received her BA from Connecticut College and her PhD from Princeton University. She then taught at Middlebury College and Louisiana State University before coming to UConn in 1993. Besides her most recent book, Valerie Martin: An Introduction to Her Fiction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2016), Makowsky has written about a wide range of American literary subjects, such as Susan Glaspell, Caroline Gordon, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. We are grateful for her energy, dedication, and leadership.
If you could go back in time and tell your former self one thing before going in to teach that first lesson, what would it be?
Less is more. When I started teaching, I wanted to pack too much into a course, too much into my course preparation, expect too much reading from the students, and expect much too much from myself. I have definitely learned that less is more in that students can focus on learning less content but have a deeper understanding of that content. The skills practiced can then be transferred to “more.”
What is one thing you hope your students took away from your courses?
That literature is so exciting because there is always so much more to be discovered in a single work or in reading new works—it’s endless pleasure!
What is something you have learned from your students?
That they are individuals with all kinds of different talents, strengths, and ways of looking at the world and at literature. While we must follow certain rules and standards as professors, one size doesn’t fit all, so I have devised a number of ways to let students develop according to their own predilections and needs
What has changed most in education since you started teaching? What has mostly stayed unchanged?
In education, what has changed most is the increasing emphasis on student-oriented teaching and active learning, which I think is long overdue. Students learn much more and retain much more by doing, not memorizing; they are not empty vessels to be filled.
At UConn, the changes have been dramatic in my 25+ years here. When I arrived here in the mid-nineties, there was a green dumpster in front of every building, showing that no effort was made toward an attractive campus, and much was in disrepair. Obviously, the physical plant has improved radically, but I think what is even more significant is the change in the student body in that they are now pretty uniformly high performing and highly motivated.
What has remained unchanged is the pitiful lack of funding for public education. It has been and still is treated like a private benefit, not a public good that benefits all of society.
What do you look forward to most about retirement? What do you hope to work on next?
Much of retirement for me will be a continuation of what I like to do now: read, write, cook, take long walks with my dog, play with my cats, and travel a bit, but the difference will be that I will do as much as I want and when I want, not according to the demands of the academic calendar. In the first months, I just want to read whatever I want. When I am temporarily satiated, I will turn to writing. I may do more scholarship, but I am increasingly interested in creative nonfiction of various sorts.