Dr. Paul Hanstedt remembers the moment well: "I was sitting in the dining hall at St. Aidan's College in Durham, England. It was a formal dinner and everyone around me was laughing and talking and having a great time.
"I couldn't understand a word anyone said."
He just sat there, blushing-he was a Midwestern boy out of his element. "I couldn't say anything, couldn't communicate with anyone, because I had no idea what was going on around me."
He didn't know it then, but that was the moment that would shape his career in English and writing. "I'm the son of a preacher, and I'd always felt I was good at communicating with people. So to be locked out-to be kept from the conversation-was incredibly painful."
What drives Hanstedt's teaching is the desire to bring people in, to help them develop the skills-whether in writing, reading, or cultural analysis-that allow them to participate in the conversations that matter. Dr. Hanstedt teaches a wide variety of courses, including first-year seminars on travel writing and ecstasy, a Human History course on artistic and literary responses to science and technology, creative fiction, and Composition Theory and Practice.
"I think natural talent is over-rated," he says. "I don't believe some people can or can't write, can or can't understand poetry, can or can't be engaged by the world around them. A well-designed class and some hard work can really open doors for people. The thing I enjoy more than anything is when a student does something they thought they couldn't do, falls in love with a topic they used to hate, or hands me a piece of writing they thought they weren't capable of. I love that.
"I think most of the people in the English department love that."
Hanstedt's own work is wide-ranging and eclectic. Educated in Victorian Literature, his publications include works in creative fiction and non-fiction, drama, essays about small school culture and cognitive neuroscience, and several works on general education. He has recently completed a memoir detailing his Fulbright year in Hong Kong with his wife and three small children, and is currently working on a short guide to general education for busy faculty. He also reads essays on Virginia Public Radio.
"My year in Hong Kong was important," he says. "It gave me an opportunity to discuss recent trends in general education with over a dozen universities and two-year colleges-and to talk with faculty there about teaching practices, about finding ways to create a better learning environment for students. It also gave me a renewed taste for travel and travel writing-that's something I definitely want to pursue in the future."
Hanstedt was one of the campus leaders in Roanoke College's recent revision of their general education program, and he consults with universities both in the U.S. and abroad about matters of liberal education, course design, and writing pedagogies. He received his Ph.D. from Ohio State University after earning his M.A. from Iowa State University in creative writing. His B.A. is from English from Luther College. He is unapologetic about his affection for small colleges