Q&A with Steven Backus

Allissah Jerome

What is your role here on campus?

I’m the director of the Rose Warner Writing Center, and I teach one first year writing class. I’m at kind of an interesting place. I’m faculty, but people might not know that because in one way I’m one leg in the staff and one in the teach. I’m called faculty. I have a masters degree, not a PhD.

How long have you worked at the college?

I started working at the college in 2003 as half time. Probably two years later I became full time, what I did was moved up to two-thirds time. So many students need help. The first year I saw 500 student contacts, by the second or third year it was up to double that, and I couldn’t handle all that. So I made the case and they gave me the position.

What were you doing prior to working at St. Scholastica?

My first major job was I worked at a slaughterhouse for a year sorting hog parts. I worked at the Minnesota relay service as a phone operator for deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing impaired people. I worked as a title insurance data entry person. I worked at the DOT and the Department of Revenue sorting tax forms. I’ve made pizzas, flipped burgers, cooked chicken, I drove truck for a little while (half a day cause I hated it), and edited law books. Then I got jobs teaching at: Winona State, Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College, Minneapolis Community and Technical college, Northwest Technical College, American University. Then I was a house husband, which I’m very proud of. That’s my favorite job. Then I saw an ad for a half time writing center person … and just threw my name in the hat.

How many kids do you have?

I have three children: 36, 21, and 18.

Where did you go to school and get your degree?

I went to the Main U, University of Minnesota in the cities, for my BA and my master’s degree from UMD.

What did you get your master’s degree in?

I would say English literature with an emphasis for teaching writing and a history minor.

What led you to pursue this career?

I wanted to help people learn to communicate, learn to develop their communication skills and critical thinking skills. I wanted to contribute to people’s skills, not sell bacon from the slaughterhouse. I’ve always wanted to be a writer … I’m a failed novelist, but I just got a little piece published.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career thus far?

A student that was in my class four years ago, freshman writing, I hired to work in the writing center and now she’s a senior in Education and English. I went and witnessed her teach a class. Forty students in an English class and she just had them eating out of her hands. I saw somebody grow from somebody who was already very strong to this … it was very life affirming. I felt very excited for her. Believe me, there are a billion stories.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

There’s this sense we need to remember the first thing we need to do each day is to treat each other people with great respect … I like being reminded that the most important thing is the people I make contact with. I think sometimes we forget that … I think that’s what I like about this place. Again, you might get kicked in the butt once in awhile and we try our best to hold ourselves in “good faith.” Living in “good faith” is important.

I love the students here. How I fought with them? Struggled with some? Had some drive me out of my mind? But even that student who dove me crazy I loved, or still do. The students here are fantastic … But those are the people you really want to bring your love to. I think it’s an important thing to communicate deeply and profoundly … You can’t put a price on that bond.