English Major Reflects on MSU Education as She Prepares to Graduate

Katie Burkhardt is graduating from Michigan State University in Spring 2023 with a B.A. in English. She is a member of the Honors College and would eventually like to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology.

Zarena Aslami, Associate Professor in the Department of English, had this to say about Burkhardt: “Katie Burkhardt brought a sharp and insightful perspective to the classroom and to her senior honors thesis. In class, her comments and questions enlivened the discussion, adding intellectual spark, while her papers were sites of original inquiry that showed precise and careful literary interpretations. Katie’s thesis was a fun yet rigorous romp through several literary texts that featured reanimated bodies, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H. P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West—Reanimator. In her thoughtful handling of these texts, she considered historical factors of race, class, and gender, asking how each literary instance of reanimation connected with specific contemporary social and legal circumstances.”

Woman with dark brown hair that is pulled up and who is wearing black with lace.
Katie Burkhardt

As she prepares to graduate on May 7, Burkhardt reflected on her MSU education and answered the following questions that were originally published on the Department of English 2023 Senior Spotlight web page.

How would you describe your time as an English major at MSU?

It’s been a turbulent time, for sure. I’ve switched my focus from literary studies to secondary education back to literary studies, so it’s hard to describe my time as an English major in terms of one prevailing theme or experience. But one thing I can say is that I’ve always found a sense of community in my English classes, regardless of what I was going through and what was happening around me. My English major has truly changed the way I view the world and interact with others, and I’m sad to see it end since the community has been such an anchor for me.

Which classes, instructors, or experiences particularly stand out for you and why? How did they prepare you for the next phase of your life?

It’s difficult to pick just one, but I’ve definitely appreciated my time learning from Dr. Zarena Aslami and doing my honors thesis with her. She helped me learn how to dig deep into texts and scholarly sources to craft my own arguments while also examining the roots of many literary texts in structural inequalities. Even though I’m not becoming a teacher anymore, English 302 and English 308 both gave me a strong understanding of how language and literature affect people, and how to be as inclusive as possible — not to mention the advantages of learning about different types of Englishes. Finally, I’ve been fortunate enough to take a Creative Writing class with Dr. Gordon Henry during his last semester teaching here, and I feel that he and the class have helped me grow so much both in my writing and in my identity as a writer, as well as offering many important life lessons and a general sense of support and community. These all prepared me in different ways for the next phase of my life, but I feel like a more well-rounded person who is ready to use what I’ve learned to help others and enact positive change in the world.

What coursework-related projects were you working on this year, and what interests or excites you about them? 

This year, I got to work with Dr. Zarena Aslami on my honors thesis, and I absolutely loved doing that! I got to write about the ways that three horror texts portrayed the human body and the sociocultural factors that influenced these portrayals. I’ve always been interested in horror and the “paranormal” so getting to research and write about it for an entire semester AND get credit for it was amazing. Getting to work with Dr. Aslami was also incredibly beneficial to learning about the aspects of power through colonialism, racism, sexism, etc., being portrayed in the horror genre.

What advice would you give future English majors?

Don’t be afraid to branch out and explore classes in other departments! It’s important to diversify your skills and knowledge, and English provides an amazing framework to better understand other disciplines. Also, make sure to take English classes that are outside of your comfort zone, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn and grow from it.

What are your hopes and aspirations, post-graduation?

My goal is to earn a Ph.D. in Sociology. English as a discipline is my first love, but I’ve found that my background in English allows me to have a deeper understanding of sociological issues and vice versa. My time as a secondary education focus also inspired me to eventually become a sociology professor because of what I learned about inclusive teaching practices. Those are my dreams, and although the future is uncertain, I am adamant in my goal of helping teach or mentor future generations while remaining a lifelong learner.