Dr. Warren Olin-Ammentorp, English professor and program director, has taught at Cazenovia College for almost 30 years. During this time, he has instructed a variety of classes including literature, academic writing, and art history. Courses include Myth and the Modern Mind and Art of the World. His special topics courses are particularly well liked and have covered science fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien, Harry Potter, and a variety of other popular literature.
It was by chance that Olin-Ammentorp started his career teaching at Cazenovia College, as his family had relocated to the area and there was a position open at the institution. Having attended a small college himself, Olin-Ammentorp knew that he would enjoy the opportunities that are offered to students at a small liberal arts college. He comments, "I felt really fortunate to be back at a small school, because that is what made a difference for me and I think it is a great environment to work in."
In his close to three decades of teaching at Cazenovia College, Olin-Ammentorp has been an advisor to students from a wide array of programs. Recently, he has been a faculty advisor to mostly English majors. From this experience, he has met students with aspirations of going into many different fields. Some have become creative writers, librarians, and teachers, while others are interested in using the strength of an English degree to support other, sometimes unexpected, career areas.
Olin-Ammentorp shares, "I have seen students who are interested in professional writing in all different scenarios. Some students are interested in publishing, therapeutic careers, and even design fields. My role as an advisor is to help them find their way through college so that they can accomplish their career goals, as well as finding a rewarding journey through life."
Speaking directly about the English program at Cazenovia College, Olin-Ammentorp says he values the flexibility of the electives offered to students in the program. He helps students choose classes that will equip them with a wide array of other skills, and experiences that will take them along all types of professional paths.
"Our English program is a Swiss-Army knife major. It allows student to become equipped with whatever tools they need to take them wherever they need to go," comments Olin-Ammentorp.
When asked about his teaching philosophy, Olin-Ammentorp shares that he has a "learning philosophy." He adds, "My teaching philosophy is that it’s all about learning, and we need to spend as much time learning as possible."
Olin-Ammentorp tries to create a learning environment in his classroom, which offers opportunities for students to learn in a variety of ways. He believes that this type of teaching will challenge students to keep learning, even after they graduate. By setting up this type of environment in his classroom, his goal is to make sure the students are "learning how to learn."
"I want students to level up. If you are a good writer, that is great, but let us make you a better writer. If you are good at reading or good at speaking, that is great, but we will make you better," comments Olin-Ammentorp. "Whatever it takes we will take you to a higher level and provide you with the resources to keep leveling yourself up."
Olin-Ammentorp shares that even he has moments of discovery in his classroom when he learns something new from a class discussion, or a new meaning in a work of literature that he has read many times. He understands that his classes may be a scary territory for some students, because there is no single right answer – rather a process of finding and discussing answers together.
"We live for those ah-ha moments where we find a new perspective or make a discovery. We want this for the students, but obviously I should experience this as well," shares Olin-Ammentorp. "One time I had assigned students to watch the Princess Bride, a movie I have seen many times. When I came back and asked students what discoveries they had made, I was blown away by something one student had pointed out that I had never thought of before."
From critical thinking skills to problem solving, Olin-Ammentorp believes that students who adopt the philosophy of continual learning will be successful as they take on the real world after college. He adds, "I would like to think that students leaving Cazenovia College are equipped with a long-range, all-terrain learning vehicle, that is equipped with a state-of-the-art BS detector, and that they can drive it wherever they need to go."
Enthused and Motivated
Olin-Ammentorp tries to bring excitement to his classroom by involving the students in choices about the coursework, and by adjusting the course toward topics that reflect interest the students. He shared that he enjoys giving students the opportunity to produce work that directly connects to their own fields. For example, education students in his classes create lesson plans for course books and topics as final projects, while visual communications and studio art students have undertaken creative work. This is something special at Cazenovia College, because faculty members can make interdisciplinary projects work across the variety of majors offered.
Furthermore, many of the skills students use to interpret works by Jane Austen and Shakespeare are the same skills used to understand comic books, video games, science fiction novels, and a wide variety of art works. This means that Olin-Ammentorp's syllabi and assignments try to bridge the gap between the traditional core of literary works and contemporary popular culture. Olin-Ammentorp adds, "One of the things that makes me most excited is combining things that do not belong together. So one week we might be studying classical Japanese art and then move on to look at some anime or episodes of a recent TV series, or some J-pop videos. By understanding the enduring principles of Japanese art, you can also understand what’s going on today."
"I try to keep students enthused and motivated by being enthusiastic and motivated myself," adds Olin-Ammentorp. "I am always trying to make sure that what we are doing is fresh and meaningful for the specific group of people in that room."
When Olin-Ammentorp started working at Cazenovia College he used the same slide projection technology that was used in his own undergraduate and graduate classes, but within a few years we moved to digital projection. Technological advancements allowed him to show a wider variety of images than those on the old yellowed slides. In addition, Olin-Ammentorp has also experimented with integrating social media into his courses. He shares, "Now we can use Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr to support my courses. I have been teaching with blogs for quite a long time now -- I think my earliest blog was in 2006. Currently, one of my courses uses an online blog as its entire textbook. So these are fun media toys, but we can use them to do serious learning stuff too!"
Best Part about Cazenovia College
When asked what the best part of his job is, Olin-Ammentorp responds, "There is no one best part of my job, but I think the best way I can put it is that I love connecting things."
Olin-Ammentorp works with faculty and students across all different disciplines at Cazenovia College. These connections have allowed him to work on projects with other faculty members, as well serving as a third reader for student capstone projects outside of his program. As a former double-major in English and Art History, he enjoys having the flexibility to teach courses in both fields.
"I think the academic experience at Cazenovia College is really special, because you may come for a specific program, to play a sport, or to be involved in another way. But the environment here will never block you off in your own little world," shares Olin-Ammentorp. "Because of the approach we take to General Education, you will take courses in subject matters outside of your major, and encounter new ideas and perspectives. I think the great thing about the academic environment of Cazenovia College is that you have so many different opportunities to learn so many different things."
Olin-Ammentorp also shares that the extra-curricular activities are important to the student experience. He has been involved in clubs such as Sigma Tau Delta—the International English Honor Society—as well as the English Club and the Comics Alliance. These clubs and organizations allow students to connect with each other outside of the classroom and to learn outside the classroom as well.
Olin-Ammentorp gives another example of connections—the College's system of minors. For example, English majors who are passionate about comics or about the relationship between the meaning of a book and its cover design might choose to minor in Visual Communications. Similarly, Visual Communications majors interested in story and character creation might opt to minor in English.
"That is what makes Cazenovia College so exciting. I get to work in classrooms, and build classes that will make interactions with students really meaningful based on their interests," shares Olin-Ammentorp. "It's a college that is small enough to be comfortable, but big enough to have adventures. And those adventures will change your life!"
Just like there is not just one best part of about his job, Olin-Ammentorp does not have one favorite moment. With such an active campus, and so many events taking place, there are many different things to choose from.
"I am not good at choosing just one thing, but I would say I really love beginnings," comments Olin-Ammentorp. "So I love the beginning of the academic year, meeting the new freshers and seeing familiar faces. I also like the beginning of the spring term, when it is all wintery and we have come back from break ready to see what we can do to take us to the end of the semester. I also like the summers because I get to spend a lot of time reading and planning for the next term."
Olin-Ammentorp continues, "The only time I do not like is when people are saying goodbye and leaving. Even though I know they are going on to do really great and wonderful things with their lives. So another time that I really like is when someone who has left writes back to me and lets me know what they are doing. That is really special!"
When asked to share some of his favorite moments of being a professor, Olin-Ammentorp lit up with excitement as he talked about alumni who have gone on to great careers. The first story was about Erin Woods '15, a student who wanted to be a creative writer. Recently, Woods sent him a copy of the book she had begun writing as an undergraduate, which had been published. Another story was about Princess Weekes '13, who had told him in class that one day she wanted to write for The Mary Sue. Olin-Ammentorp was delighted when she sent him her first published article. The next story was of a student this past spring, who was really struggling with her capstone project. After running into a roadblock, she picked herself back up and started from scratch to complete her assignment on time. This capstone not only was completed on time, but won the outstanding capstone in her program.
"Those are great moments. Those are the moments where you say you never know what will happen or how it will happen, but seeing the start of student success and then connecting that with the success they imagined for themselves is amazing," says Olin-Ammentorp. "That is what keeps me coming back to teach. You never know when or how it will happen, but success happens all the time."
Olin-Ammentorp shares stories of more alumni whom he has kept in touch with over the years. One alumna Courtney Jacobs '07, who was in his First-Year Seminar, and a master student later during her time at Cazenovia College, emailed him to share that she received her master’s and was starting a doctoral program in English. She had written to him to share that she had won an award for her writing and had received a teaching fellowship in her Ph.D. program.
He shares another story of alumna Alyssa Poinan '12, who was a part of his group that traveled to Canterbury and was an English major. She went back to get her master's degree in English at the University of Edinburgh. She sent a copy of her master’s thesis to him to read.
Olin-Ammentorp shares, "These are the stories that you enjoy hearing. These are the good times!"
Beyond the Classroom
One thing students may not know is that Cazenovia College faculty members have a wide range of interests and involvements outside of the classroom. Some faculty work on professional research or serve as members on different boards, Olin-Ammentorp works with higher education accreditation. He was been involved for over ten years with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the organization that accredits all of the institutions of higher learning in the region.
The involvement with this group allowed Olin-Ammentorp to work with presidents, faculty, and staff from different colleges in the area. It gave him a firsthand look at what other institutions are doing, providing him with fresh eyes on all of the things that Cazenovia College is doing to improve the student experience.
"The professional work that I have done with higher education accreditation, strategic planning, and assessment may seem really distant from the classroom, but it helps me to understand the ins and outs of colleges," comments Olin-Ammentorp.
Another special project that Olin-Ammentorp has been working on is a new special topics class. After a discussion with International Studies Program Director and Professor, Dr. Jesse Harasta, he was able to dive into creating a plan to teach a contemporary Japanese literature course.
The idea for the new course came about when Dr. Harasta started the Japanese exchange program. Conversations between the two faculty members led to an interesting idea of offering students a class on Japanese literature so they could learn more about this area before studying in Japan for a semester. The course also provides other students with an interesting elective.
"I spent the summer thinking back to the Japanese literature course I took back when I was a freshman in college, and all of the novels I still have from that class," shares Olin-Ammentorp. "Over the summer I pulled those books off the shelf and put them together with novels I have read since then that may be interesting to students."
As a parent himself, Olin-Ammentorp understands that parents are concerned about their students being prepared to secure a job in their desired field. He adds, "I think parents want to know that their student is going to get the skills and background to be able to succeed in the professional world. Regardless of the program that they choose at Cazenovia College they will have those skills."
A small liberal arts college allows students to take core courses, as well as program-specific and elective courses. This opportunity will prepare students with critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as reading, writing, and speaking abilities.
"The most predictable thing about the professional world is that it is changing, and it is changing fast," comments Olin-Ammentorp. "A school like Cazenovia College is designed to make sure that students are able to survive, succeed, and prosper in their career."
In the English classes that Olin-Ammentorp teaches, students are discussing literature, practicing analytical skills, problem solving, and exchanging ideas among other students. Through this process, students discover new perspectives. All of this is developing skills used by entrepreneurs, scientists, designs, researchers, and many other fields.
"I know that Cazenovia College is just as special and meaningful as any other institution," shares Olin-Ammentorp. "That is what American higher education is all about… students finding the right place for them to grow and prosper as people."
Words of Encouragement
Each year, Olin-Ammentorp shares advice with his first-year students. This is the same advice he also shares with his capstone class. "I encourage them to come to college to grow and learn, while making a future for themselves," says Olin-Ammentorp. He always adds, "Yes, it is about you, but it is about you for other people."
Going back to Olin-Ammentorp's philosophy of learning, it is important to always ask questions and look for new ideas. If students are thinking about how their questions can help others or how the quality of the answer will help them in their lives, then the quality of their questions will get better the more time they spend learning from each other.
Beyond that, Olin-Ammentorp says that there are numerous lessons that students will learn at college. He shared some of his favorites with us, "Go out there. Get messy. Fall down. Read books that you do not understand. Ask questions that you do not know the answers to. Talk to other people. Try something new. Be excited, and be serious about being excited."
Learn more about Dr. Warren Olin-Ammentorp through our Faculty Spotlight video.