Knight Fellows give back to South Florida through the arts

Marci Calabretta and Jennifer McCauley are giving back to the South Florida community through writing, education and the arts.

Through funding made possible by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the students are Knights Fellows, gaining hands-on work experience in the fine arts while earning their master’s degrees from the Department of English. The $150,000 Knight Arts Challenge 2010 grants were awarded to FIU to help advance South Florida’s literary community.

Calabretta has served as a teaching assistant and taught creative writing to juniors and seniors at Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH). Located in Miami’s Design District, DASH is renowned for its premiere programs in architecture, visual communications, fashion, entertainment, and fine art. At the end of the eight-week assistantship, Calabretta’s students and their teachers created poetry books, containing up to two dozen original works, and were displayed in the high school’s gallery.

Calabretta taught poetry to 11th and 12th-graders at DASH.

Calabretta taught poetry to 11th and 12th-graders at DASH.

“I went into this with the idea of ‘one student at a time,’ meaning I needed to take the time to make sure each student was engaged and involved and no one was left out,” Calabretta said. “Even the little things, like remembering their names, academic and artistic interests, and what projects they’re working on, mean a lot to the kids. I’ve never had so much fun teaching anything to anyone. It confirmed I want to be a teacher.”

Calabretta, a New York native and avid archerer, earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. As an undergraduate, she founded Print Oriented Bastards Press, an independent, literary magazine for emerging artists and writers nationwide. Fluent in Korean, she also continues to freelance for Sena, a magazine based in Seoul and targeted to Korean-American youths. She also has her own blog dedicated to her teaching experiences.

“I’m not from a well-to-do background, so I needed some form of funding,” Calabretta said. “I actually never intended on coming to Florida, but my senior advisor at Carnegie Mellon used to teach at FIU. He told me to look into the program, and I found the program offered teaching assistantships. I’ve always loved teaching and being able to impact someone one-on-one, so it was the perfect fit for me.”

McCauley was placed as an intern with Florida Center for the Literary Arts. The center is a cultural initiative that promotes the appreciation of literature and engages the local community in an exchange of ideas. McCauley, who had never been exposed to arts administration, performed a variety of advertising, event management, social media, marketing, and writing and editing projects to further The Writers Institute and the Miami Book Fair International.

“This fellowship placed me in arts administration, which I had never been exposed to before,” McCauley said. “I never thought arts administration could be so vibrant and exciting. It’s been really exciting and eye-opening. Working at the center and with the Miami Book Fair International has allowed me to see there’s many options out there. Most of the time, MFA grads are expected to get a Ph.D. and go into teaching, but now I see there are a lot of opportunities, in addition to writing and education.”

Later this year, Calabretta will be placed with the Florida Center for the Literary Arts and McCauley will be teaching at DASH.

“These fellowships made possible by the Knight Foundation provide career training at its best,” said Campbell McGrath, professor of creative writing. “These teaching and internship opportunities allow them to build their resumes so they can go on to find full-time work and write at the same time. Most importantly, these experiences help integrate them to the broader arts world in Miami. We want these talented writers to come study here, stay here and have success in our arts community.”