Meet your professor: Blake Westerlund


Katie Bast: What is the weirdest thing that’s happened in one of your classes?
Blake Westerlund: I think I court the weird fairly regularly … (After much hemming and hawing Westerlund finally settled on this anecdote). We were looking at texts as symbols and that kind of thing, and everyone took out their cell phone, and we were looking at it in a semiotic way. ‘What does this cell phone say about you? What does it say about our culture?’ I had them displayed on the front table, kind of like a gallery. I’d forgotten some handouts and I said I’d be back. So when I came back, everything was set and the cell phones were all on the front table. What the students had done was they had all put the alarms on every three minutes. It happened two or three times, and after the third time, they all went off. That might be more in the prank category, but I sure got a kick out of it.

KB: What’s the most valuable thing that teaching has taught you?
BW: Oh, that’s a great question. The most valuable thing it has taught me is how exciting the classroom is and how valuable students are. It’s just so unpredictable. In some ways, I like to think of myself as a very organized person but having a diverse group of thinkers in one room has the potential to be almost magical. I feel really fortunate to be able to be in that situation; to go into that room often. I love that.

KB: If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing? What’s your dream job?
BW: My dream job? Absolute dream job? Oh, okay, well let’s think big here. I would love to be a rhythm guitarist for the band Wilco.

KB: What do you hope students take away from your classes?
WB: A sense of other people’s stories; other people’s narratives. Not just the ones we read, but the ones that are shared between students. I think stories are certainly extremely significant but when you talk about literature you think of literature as just a story. But what it really is, it often talks about what makes people tick as well as the potential for greatness.

KB: Now if I remember correctly, you did your undergrad here.
BW: I did. I am an alumni.
KB: What is one thing as an alumni that you recommend to current students?
BW: Study abroad. And if you aren’t going to study abroad, go and study somewhere else in the United States. Use NSE, the National Student Exchange, but by all means, come back to Eau Claire.

KB: What’s your favorite thing about Eau Claire? Either the campus or the city as a whole.
BW: The easy answer there is the beautiful campus. Place is significant, but people are even more so. I was very lucky as an undergraduate to find a good group of people and now that I’m back in the English department, those are my friends. I think it’s the people. You get to carry that over through your occupation. I think our university, at the risk of sounding like a cheerleader, I think we attract a really fine caliber of students. I feel a little awkward saying that because I went here. You know, I don’t mean that to be a narcissistic thing, but I’m often humbled by the students that I get to teach.

KB: What’s one thing students should know about you as a professor?
I hope that they know that I am gentle. I generally try to be accommodating and approachable and I always feel once that’s established and students feel they’re in a comfortable environment to learn, they excel. They work harder than you always think they’re going to. And then you get to read great papers and stories.