Student Profiles

Check out our amazing graduate students!

2018 Graduate Student Cohort


 Image shows Nicholas Brown smiling at the camera

Nicholas Brown,

MFA in Fiction

My name is Nicholas Brown and I'm a first year MFA candidate specializing in fiction with interest in cross-genre work. I graduated in 2012 with a B.A. in English from Auburn University. Since then, I've worked as a door-to-door salesman in my hometown of Morton, Illinois before moving down to Georgia where I've worked at a Title I school as a 6th grade special education teacher, a soccer coach, and a 7th grade English teacher where I was a part of my middle school's first 7th grade STEM team. I enjoy coffee, cheese, and assorted deli meats. While at USF, I'm most excited about writing and studying the craft of story-telling and analyzing how various masters throughout history and around the world have wrestled with the varies tensions of storytelling so that, through the supportive community here at USF, I can work towards contributing my most genuine voice. I also enjoy building furniture with the help of drills and large saws, which I've found makes the process infinitely easier.

  Image shows Lauren Cross smiling at the camera

Lauren Cross,

MFA in Creative Nonfiction

I am a first-year Creative Writing M.F.A. student, focusing on Nonfiction, and I received my B.A. from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. In my writing, I like to explore topics central to the body, womanhood, and mental health. My work has been featured in thread: an intersectional feminist arts collective and The Broken Plate. When I am not writing or teaching, I am probably applying sunscreen, painting, creating collages, reading, or listening to podcasts.

  Image shows Corey Engle standing in front of a green mountainside

Cory Engle,

MA Literature

My name is Cory Engle and I'm a first year M.A. Literature student at the University of South Florida. I've spent my life in the Tampa Bay area, graduating from USF in 2013 with my B.A. in Literary Studies. Since graduating, I've spent several years teaching high school English and Media Studies in Pasco County, and have also spent time teaching English and traveling in China. As a graduate student at USF I would like to focus on modernist literature, with particular attention towards studying the modern novel from psychological perspectives.

  Image shows Anca Garcia in front of a wall of green leaves

Anca Garcia,

PhD Literature

I grew up in a small Transylvanian city in Romania, and I still love long snowy winters and tall mountains. In early 2000s, I graduated from Transilvania University in Brasov, Romania, with a dual degree in Romanian and English. Three years later, I received a master's degree in Romanian from the same university. I published a series of articles in various Romanian literary journals and short story book in Romanian. For a few years, I worked as a Romanian literature lecturer at Sapientia University in Miercurea Ciuc, Romania.

After I moved to the United States, I became an English as a Second Language instructor at Valdosta State University, in Georgia. I loved working with international students, but as my interests still revolved around literature, I decided to go back to school and eventually I received a master's degree in English. Valdosta was good to me and it helped me transition towards an English Composition instructor, so now I am looking forward to working on my teaching skills at USF while I will also be working on a PhD in English Literature.

  Image shows Kristen Grafton smiling at the camera

Kristen Grafton,

MA Rhet/Comp

I am born and raised in Florida and have lived most of my life in the Tampa area. I graduated from the University of South Florida in 2016 with three Bachelor's degrees in political science, history, and English (with a concentration in creative writing). I will be pursuing a Master's in English in the Rhetoric and Composition track. I am very interested in exploring the rhetoric pertaining to history and politics and potentially merging my three areas of study into one.

I am a high school teacher in the Tampa Bay area. I primarily teach English, though I have also taught United States history and American Sign Language. I will be continuing with my teaching career while pursuing this degree part-time. My personal hobbies include creative writing (mostly novels), reading, playing the guitar, and watching NHL hockey.

  Image shows Connor (CJ) Harris with his family standing in front of a restaurant's glass door

Connor (CJ) Harris,

MA Literature

My name is CJ Harris. I am from Largo FL (just across the bay) and I got my BA in English Literature at USF. I am a GA and I'm working on my MA in English Literature. My scholarly interests are post-WW2 American literature, post-structuralism, and Marxism. I have had scholarly work published in the Thread Undergraduate Literary Journal, and I presented a paper at USF's Graduate Student Colloquium. Ultimately, I would like to incorporate both post-structural criticism and Marxist criticism into my work--I know that making those ends meet is going to be hard, if not impossible, but I love the philosophical underpinnings of post-structuralism and see Marxism as the best means by which we can accomplish radical political and social change. Outside of the academy, I love my family to pieces (my wife, Leejah, is working on becoming a PA at USF, and my son, Silas, is ten months old and super rad), and am wild about music. My tastes vary widely, ranging from Built to Spill to Chance the Rapper, from The Mountain Goats to The Coup.

  Image shows Briget Horne standing in front of a tree with large glass windows in the background

Briget Horne,

PhD Literature

Literacy is what I do: how I speak, how I perform, how I think. Perhaps my undergraduate career at FAMU as an English & French double major best convinced me of this truth when my professors exposed me to the Black Francophone world of writers and artists. These pivotal moments taught me that I, too, could find myself within a book, appreciate the diverse experiences of others, and express myself via writing. My experiences also revealed a necessity for more exploration of and exposure to Africana & Black Studies within scholastic institutions. Hence, my interest in English Literature with a focus on Africana Studies allows me to continue exploring the jewels of Black literacy in an effort to excavate these narratives from the shadows. I am a first year, Ph.D student from Tallahassee, FL., and I am looking forward to this new adventure at USF.

  Image shows Meghan Hutton smiling at the camera with tall buildings in the background

Meghan Hutton,

MA Literature

Hello! My name is Meghan Hutton and I am very excited to be starting the English Master's program at USF. I graduated in May of 2018 with a bachelor's degree in English from Christian Brothers University located in my hometown of Memphis, TN. I will be on the literature degree track and the area of study that I am particularly interested in is nineteenth-century American literature.

  Image shows Benjamin Kinney smiling at the camera, standing outside in front of green trees

Benjamin Kinney,

MFA in Creative Nonfiction

I will be studying creative nonfiction at USF, and my work tends to consist mostly of personal essays, though I am looking forward to exploring new genres and formats here. I grew up in Michigan, where I attended Central Michigan University for a B.S. in Secondary Education and Northern Michigan University for an M.A. in English. I have also taught a total of 4.5 years in middle schools in Florida between degrees. I have published nonfiction in the Walloon Writer's Review and f(r)iction, fiction in the Blue Earth Review, and reviews in Heavy Feather Review and Ploughshares. My other interests are distance running, films (especially the work of David Lynch), and reality television (especially Survivor).

  Image shows Kara Larson smiling

Kara Larson,

PhD Rhet/Comp

I am a second year Ph.D student in Rhetoric & Composition and a Florida native. I completed my BA degree in Literature/Gender Studies from New College in Sarasota. In 2008, I graduated with a Master of Arts in Teaching in English Education from USF and went on to work for Hillsborough County Public Schools. I spent five years as a classroom English Language Arts teacher to English Language Learners (ELLs) and three years as an ELL Specialist, all at the middle-school level. During that time, I also taught Developmental Writing at Hillsborough Community College. Inspired by my love of teaching at the community college, I returned to USF in the fall of 2017.

I hope to combine my interests in composition and rhetoric with my passion for helping English Language Learners and other underserved or minority groups. As a graduate assistant, I teach First-Year Composition and Professional Writing. My research interests include pedagogy, professional and technical communication, second language writing, feminist/gender/queer, and critical race theories. I am also the Event Coordinator for EGSA, the English Graduate Student Association.

  Image shows profile of Migien Mocke on a wooden pier at dawn or dusk with the horizon of blue water and a gray sky in the background

Migien Mocke,

MFA in Poetry

Hi everyone! I'm Migien. Pleased to meet ya! I was born in Vereeniging, Gauteng (the smallest South African province) and spent the first few years of my life there before immigrating to Jacksonville, Florida with my family. The first thing I learned in Jacksonville was how to speak English.(Kindergarten was definitely rough, but that was the beginning of everything!!) Thankfully, I learned many other cool things in Jacksonville also! My hobbies include alternating between blindly excavating the valleys of the mind (that's the codename for keeping an appropriately low profile) and positively glistening with aspirations and hopes and dreams (which may or may not be the occasional essential oil blend... Probably the only millennial stereotype I can 110% get behind!).

Though this may come as a surprise to y'all, given the department (*wink*), I was an English major! I completed my Bachelor's in English Literature at Sewanee, (though stiff upper lips/ the FAFSA would call it the "University of the South") up in rural Tennessee. A liberal speck of an arts school, my alma mater lodged it neo-Gothic architecture soundly between trees and mountain-song, scrabbling pens and the squelch of muddy Bean boots... (A surprising staple of the often-business-casual "class dress"!) Ah, memories.

All places have a way of growing on a person, and showing that person how to grow up, in turn. There in that one-horse town on the Cumberland Plateau, I learned much about the magnificence of those who precede us, and how they have shaped/should and will continue to shape literature as we know it.  I hope, at USF, to use Poetry to also focus on what comes between our past and our future. The here and now. I received a largely traditional undergraduate education (All English majors were required to take Shakespeare I and Shakespeare II, which didn't count towards the "literature prior to 1850" courses requirement), and I want to fill in some of my contemporary gaps.

Poetry, to me, is how I might piece together those impressions and inclinations I've gathered that I don't know, otherwise, how to communicate. I want to apply poetry in the contemporary sense, and learn from how others have also done so. Creative writing generally, the whats and whys and hows of our choices, indicate what type of culture we currently reflect, where our investments lie.  Specifically, how we write – how we think – is who we are. *This*, here, is my world, and with poetry as a lens, I aspire towards continued growth, with eyes wide open.

  Image shows Andrew Miller smiling at the camera in front of a painting

Andrew Miller,

MA Rhet/Comp

Hi Everyone! My name is Andrew Miller, I am a Graduate Assistant in the Rhetoric and Composition Program as well as a First Year Composition Instructor here at the University of South Florida. I am also a USF alumnus having graduated last year with a BA in Professional Writing, Rhetoric and Technology.

I was born in Miami but grew up overseas in South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where I studied Digital Filmmaking and later worked as a documentary filmmaker and camera operator on dramatic productions for the South African Broadcasting Corporation. At this point in time, my interests are primarily centered around the study of academic pedagogy as well as the changing nature of contemporary rhetoric in our current social climate. I look forward to interacting with you all as the academic year proceeds!

  Image shows portrait Haley Morton outiside, smiling at the camera with the sun casting a halo around her

Haley Morton,

MFA in Poetry

I am a current student in the MFA Creative Writing program with a focus on Poetry. I graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Behavioral Healthcare, and a minor in Creative Writing. Although the two seem unrelated, both are intricately involved with listening and storytelling. I am interested in writing as a form of emotional regrowth and counseling, and behavioral healthcare as a way to learn and connect with the people around you. My concentration in undergrad was adult community services and I believe that writing is a form of community. It engages us with ourselves and others. I look forward to exploring this more in my time here at USF and exploring some other obsessions I have like birds, women, religion, and human coping mechanisms and how they change us. I am originally from Wisconsin, but grew up in Herzogenaurach, Baveria, Germany, and Oviedo, Florida.

  Portrait of Richard (Rick) Reisinger smiling at the camera with a grey studio background

Richard (Rick) Reisinger,

MA Literature

My name is Richard (Rick) Reisinger, and I'm originally from Rochester, New York. I attended Monroe Community College for 2 years, then transferred into SUNY Brockport to complete my degree in English literature and education. Immediately upon graduating, my wife and I decided to move to the Tampa Bay area, where I took up a high school teaching position at Chamberlain High School that I still hold.

I am currently on track to earn a Masters degree in English literature, and it is my intention to carry my studies forward into a Doctorate in the same major. With that degree, I intend to take up a position teaching college and contribute to ongoing literary research. I have a deep-seated love and respect for all forms of literature, but I am particularly interested in the writing of the 1920s; to be more specific, I find that my studies often revolve around the American expatriate authors who lived and worked in Paris during that time period. Amongst my favorite authors are Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  Image shows Emory Russo smiling at the camera in front of a winged statue

Emory Russo,

MFA in Fiction

My name is Emory Russo. I'm a Marylander and a graduate of UMBC with BAs in History and English. I'll be pursuing the fiction track in USF's MFA program, though I'd also like to take at least one course in creative nonfiction. I'm a bi trans man, a cat person, and a big fan of the mystery, crime, and horror genres.

  Image shows Scott Simeral with a wooden pipe in his mouth, standing outside in front of a grey castle

Scott Simeral,

MA Literature

I am a candidate for the MA in English Literature. I earned my MA in Defense and Strategic Studies (Emphasis in the Greater Middle East) from the U.S. Naval War College, and my BS from the U.S. Naval Academy where I majored in International Relations and minored in Arabic Language. I played Division I water polo at the Naval Academy, and made three NCAA Final Four appearances with my team.

I grew up in San Diego, CA and served in the Navy for 12 years prior to coming to USF. Most of my time in the Navy was spent with the SEALs and NCIS. I am married to the lovely Mikayla Simeral of Saint Petersburg, FL, who is a USF alumni!

  Image shows Michelle Sonnenberg smiling at the camera with her family in front of mountains

Michelle Sonnenberg,

PhD Rhet/Comp

I am a first year PhD student in Rhet/Comp studying the Anthropocene, a term first used by Paul Crutzen to describe a new geologic epoch - one in which humans have permanently altered the planet. There is great debate about when to date the Anthropocene. This stems from the reality that global climatic changes have widespread causes and far reaching impacts that extend beyond the scope of the physical sciences. I began my studies here in Tampa, and completed a B.A. in Geography and GIS, and an MLA - both at USFSP. During the course of my MLA, I was part of a student and community-centered writing project that focused on finding N/nature in place. I have a mixed academic background that echoes a long held desire to be an English teacher. I seek to use my experiences to find ways to actively engage others in the problem of the Anthropocene, affecting positive change in our world.

I'm a mother of two, and the first in my family to earn a post-secondary degree. I'm a Florida native, though I call Maryland home because I grew up there. I want to write, teach, read, and learn, in no particular order, every day. I hope to one day find myself in a small cabin somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains surrounded by books, running water, and people I love.

  Image shows Michael (Mike) Stowe, arms outstretched, in front of a store as snow falls

Michael (Mike) Stowe,

Ph.D. Literature

In 2013, I moved from Indiana to Florida to pursue an MA in English at USF. I've been with the English Department in some fashion ever since – as a graduate student, an adjunct, and most recently, an academic advisor. While I worked as an advisor over the last two years, I earned a second master's degree, this time in English Education. In that program, I had the opportunity to build on my theoretical knowledge from the English degree and explore how the literature I studied could be used to affect change in the world. Now that I'm entering the PhD program in Literature, I'm hoping to build on both degrees.

I focus on the intersections of twentieth century and contemporary literature, ecocriticism, and critical pedagogy. I intend to work with Indigenous literatures of the Americas as the foundation for a dissertation that will connect traditional literary analysis to classroom teaching and environmentally based service learning with the hope of promoting critical consciousness in undergraduates. My previous research has looked at ways Florida place-based literature can both model a solution to the social stratification resulting from urban development and preserve the rich contributions of immigrants to both this state and the city of Tampa. My current research agenda is both the product and extension of this work.

  Image shows Kelcee Sykes sitting with a green lawn behind her

Kelcee Sykes,

MFA in Fiction

My name is Kelcee Sykes. I am joining the MFA program on the fiction track. I enjoy writing stories about complicated family situations against a Midwestern backdrop, but I look forward to exploring other genres, particularly creative non-fiction, during my time at the University of South Florida. I have a BA in English and Psychology from Hope College in Holland, Michigan and my most recent hometown is Lansing, Michigan. When I'm not writing, I can usually be found wandering in the woods, listening to true-crime podcasts, or doing my best to learn how to cook like a grown up.

  Image shows close-up of Robert (Rob) Vanlandingham smiling at the camera

Robert (Rob) Vanlandingham,

MFA in Poetry

I am a Florida born and Florida raised child. I grew up in the state's panhandle, sometimes referred to as Lower Alabama and other times as the Redneck Riviera. My hometown of Panama City is a short drive from the (in)famous Panama City Beach, Spring Break Capital of the World, where MTV and Girls Gone Wild hung out for most of the late 90s. I was born in 1984, so I am right at the cutoff line of the Millennial generation. However, I can remember owning a rotary phone. I graduated summa cum laude from Florida State University with a BM in Piano Performance, December of 2007. I placed in several piano competitions, winning one. From there I went to the Cleveland Institute of Music as a Master's student to continue my study of the piano. I bounced from place to place over the next ten years before ending up here at USF, much to my satisfaction. Although my background is music, I spent a great deal of time in writing workshops while an undergraduate. I am pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in poetry. My goal is to publish.

  Image shows close-up of Chondell Villines smiling at the camera

Chondell Villines,

PhD Literature

My Name is Chondell Villines. I'm a first year PhD student in the English Literature Department. I'm from no place in particular, having traveled the Southern US extensively as a child, but if you ask me where I'm from, I'll usually say St. Louis. I've recently found a place in the area that has St. Louis style pizza (thin crust with provel cheese) and it's made me more nostalgic for the place I lived before moving to St. Pete 6 years ago. I received my BA in Literature at the University of Missouri Rolla (Now Missouri University of Science and Technology), my MA in Literature from Southern Illinois University, and I recently graduated (June 2018) from the University of Tampa with my MFA in Creative Writing.

While working on a research project for my MFA I became interested in how writers use food in their stories. Particularly how it's used as a way to exact revenge on or to punish someone. This has led me to want to study American Literature, particularly early 20th Century American Lit and how alcohol was or wasn't used in stories by American Writers. I want to investigate how the depression, and most especially Prohibition, caused writers to shift how they used food and alcohol in their writing.

  Image shows Jessica Watson smiling at the camera, sitting in a restaurant booth

Jessica Watson,

MFA in Creative Nonfiction

My name is Jessica Watson.  I am a first year MFA on the non-fiction track, and my primary interest is the natural world.  I was born and raised in Norwich, Connecticut and was inspired to get a B.S. in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut after reading Annie Dillard's book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  I have worked in research labs that study everything from insects to plankton to fish, and completed a few years of graduate study in marine science, before I realized that I love fieldwork and writing, but not the research part.  I look forward to exploring other genres during my time at USF, especially poetry.  My hobbies include spoiling my dogs, fingerstyle guitar, being outside, and butterfly watching.