By Daniela Rodriguez
Attending college for the first time can be scary. Leaving behind what’s familiar and adapting to a new, more challenging academic environment is an intimidating process, but the right teacher can make it easier to navigate.
People like Ellen Brooks, who teaches College Writing, have dedicated years of their lives to supporting students and guiding them through this difficult transition. “I teach my students how to improve their writing and provide them with skills that are useful for their college careers,” said Brooks.
Even before she became part of the Purchase community, Brooks had plenty of experience with helping her students reach their full potential. She worked as a literacy consultant for Mamaroneck public schools, helping students become better readers and writers.
While maintaining her position as a literacy consultant, Brooks also began to teach at the School of Education at Manhattanville College. She said, “I loved the combination because it kinda kept me learning and reading and thinking; it forced me to keep up with the professional development and research that came out in the field.”
Brooks also possesses an extensive academic resume, which is shown on the Purchase College website. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Pennsylvania State University, a Master in Education from Temple University, a Doctorate in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.F.A at Sarah Lawrence College.
After being encouraged to apply for the position during her time at Sarah Lawrence, Brooks became part of the Purchase College Writing faculty in 2014.
Ever since then, Brooks has successfully instructed and carefully supported hundreds of students, often creating deep personal connections with some of them. “My favorite part about my job is getting to know my students,” said Brooks. “I love listening to all voices. I love listening to what everyone has to say.”
Charlotte Walton, a second-year art and design and playwriting/screenwriting major, fondly remembers her time in Brooks' classroom. “She is one of the best professors I have ever had,” said Walton. “I took her class during the first semester of my freshman year and, at the time, college classes were so scary to me; but she made me feel so comfortable and welcomed, I was able to adapt pretty quickly.”
According to Emily Sausen, a Visiting Assistant Professor and Director of College Writing, Brooks' caring power is not limited to her students. Brooks took initiative to create a group called The Pedagogy Group, which allows the writing faculty to discuss the different aspects of their teaching with each other. “It’s been such a helpful group, for me personally, but also for the rest of the faculty who join it,” said Sausen. “Ellen provides readings and allows us to talk about different issues that go on in our classrooms.”
Brooks’ College Writing class is a bit different than the rest. Though it is mainly a writing course, Brooks heavily includes the visual arts in most, if not all, of her lessons. From watching documentaries and learning about world-renowned artists, to visiting the Neuberger Museum of Art multiple times throughout the semester, Brooks gives her students an experience they wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere.
“I find that it [visual art] is a wonderful way to teach writing,” said Brooks. “When you look at a painting, it’s so easy for people to see what they notice and describe the details, and then use those details to analyze.”
Aside from making it easier to understand the content, Brooks' art-heavy curriculum makes the class more appealing and enjoyable for her students. “I felt like the class was exciting,” said Walton. “ It was really easy to write about art.”
The arts have always been present in Brooks' life. When she was a child, her family introduced her to theater, an art form she has continued to enjoy to this day. “My mother never wanted us to miss school,” said Brooks. “But, every year, she would take us out of school to go to New York City and watch a Wednesday matinee.”
Later on, her parents introduced her to the visual arts. Brooks would go on sketching tours with the whole family during summer vacations. She also had an almost two-decade-long dance career.
Brooks, who is a Philadelphia native, now lives in Westchester County with her husband and her dog, a mini poodle named Louie. She has two children; her daughter is studying to be an art teacher and her son is a screenwriter. In her free time, she likes to exercise, read, watch movies, and visit art galleries.
She also loves going to on-campus events and enjoys seeing the work of her previous students. “I like to see what you guys [her students] do when you’re not taking College Writing,” said Brooks. “I like to see you all shine in different ways.”