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Faculty Spotlight

Jean Preston

A Journey Befitting a Poet

By Michael Moore, Carthage College

Over the years, Carthage has provided tens of thousands the opportunity to rise to places beyond any of their dreams or expectations. Jean Preston ’02, director of the Brainard Writing Center and Kenosha’s newly appointed poet laureate, feels fortunate to be one of those people.

At age 19, after one year of college, she married her high school sweetheart and became a Navy wife. During the next 25 years of “real life” — marriage, kids, divorce, public assistance, remarriage, stepchildren, jobs she disliked, and jobs she enjoyed — one goal remained constant: to someday continue and complete her education.

Ms. Preston took the first baby steps on that journey the day in 1994 that she interviewed for her first position at Carthage, as a faculty secretary.

“That July day, as I walked down a darkened hallway towards LAS 213 (now known as Straz), I passed a collection of preserved mammals peering at me from laboratory windows,” she recalled. “When I reached the office, took a seat, and prepared to answer Charlotte Chell’s interview questions, I noticed the horizontal spaces were covered with all sorts of mathematical puzzles. There was also a flock of white paper doves suspended from the ceiling. Dead animals? Math? Floating doves?  What was I doing here?”

Despite her trepidation, that interview led to 11 years in the Division of the Natural Sciences, working with chairs Charlotte Chell and Kevin Crosby and supporting the division’s faculty. She appreciated the enthusiasm and dedication of professors and saw herself happily working in that position until retirement.

Carthage courses uncovered new passion for writing

Even when Ms. Preston began taking classes at Carthage in February 1995, her goal wasn’t to embark on a new career path —rather, simply to learn.  She settled on English as a major and added minors in classics and women’s and gender studies, all while working full time and raising a family.

To garner enough English credits for her major, she registered for her first creative writing course. Poet and professor Dan Tobin taught it.

“From the first night of class, I was hooked,” she said. “Despite the fact that studying poetry seemed to offer little career or financial incentive, I added a creative writing emphasis to my major and never looked back.”

With guidance from numerous faculty members, Ms. Preston graduated summa cum laude from Carthage in 2002. She treasures the memory of Prof. Chell, a longtime faculty member in mathematics, computer science, and Great Ideas, cutting short an out-of-state conference trip to attend the graduation.

A Return to Carthage

Seeking to focus more seriously on her writing, Ms. Preston entered the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Writing Program. By the time she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts, she had written a substantial critical thesis on politics and poetry and authored a collection of poems titled “All the Queen’s Horses.”

Before she had time to consider where that degree would lead, Carthage answered the question. In August 2006, Ms. Preston became the director of the Writing Center and added the title of adjunct assistant professor of English.

Located on the upper level of Hedberg Library, the Writing Center is a free resource available to all members of the Carthage community. After completing a stringent training program, student fellows provide assistance at any stage of the writing process.

“I could not have manufactured a career for myself that would have been a better fit,” Ms. Preston said. “I have the best job on campus, supervising bright and talented student tutors, assisting traditional and nontraditional students to become better writers, teaching in the Heritage Program and in the English Department, and working with great colleagues.  The only thing missing is enough time to spend on my own creative work — something I strive to carve out for myself as often as possible.”

Poet laureate of Kenosha

Although she still hesitates to label herself a poet, Ms. Preston’s selection in October as poet laureate of Kenosha confirms her place in that circle. During the two-year term, she will read at public venues, organize and implement a community project, and publish a chapbook. (Fellow Carthage graduate Nick Ramsey ’08 received the same honor in nearby Racine, Wis.)

“Jean’s social consciousness is acute,” fellow poet Gray Jacobik said during the introduction at one of Ms. Preston’s readings. “In fact, her awareness seems so keen at so many levels of being, that reading her poems is like getting a crash course in how to be alive. It’s both frightening and scintillating, and her work teaches me, all over again, just what an extraordinary art this is, how much poetry can accomplish.”

Ms. Preston is the co-author of a photo-journal, “Tete’s Story: One Woman’s Work Among the Karen of Thailand,” and a chapbook, “Sixteen Mothers.” In addition, her poems have been published in several literary journals and featured in local art exhibits.

She described her feelings about writing in a statement that accompanied a 2011 art exhibition of her work.

“What I write (simple expressions about what it means to be a human being in the world today) seems too ordinary to be considered poetry – and yet, sometimes it is,” an excerpt of that statement reads. “Sometimes, what moves through my fingers to the keyboard and onto the screen does indeed have an internal music that seems to write itself, combining mind and memory, heart and soul, to make a poem. In those moments or hours or days, I am completely absorbed and happy, humbled and profoundly grateful to be able to do this work.”

When she’s not tending to the Writing Center or her family — including a dozen grandchildren — Ms. Preston enjoys sharing her love of creative writing with others. Besides Carthage courses, she presents workshops at Reuther Central High School and Children’s Horizons, an organization that assists victims of domestic violence.

As she sees it, helping people discover ways to tell their stories in meaningful ways never gets old.

  • Quick Facts

  • Quick Facts

    • Carthage is named a Best Midwestern College by The Princeton Review (2018), a designation given to only 25 percent of four-year schools.

    • Scheduled to open in fall 2018, a new residential tower will offer suite-style housing and two floors of shared campus spaces for gaming, cooking, group meetings, or quiet studying. Learn more about The Tower

    • You’re going to need brain fuel. Grab a morning coffee and a snack and Starbucks or Einstein Bros. Bagels. Later, meet friends at “The Caf,” where the specials change daily but the staples are constant, or swing through “The Stu” for wins, a burrito, or a sub. A new option, Carthage Cash, even covers some off-campus meals.

    • 96% of Carthage alumni report that they have secured a job or are continuing their studies six months after graduation. Visit Career Services.

    • 91% of employers say critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills matter more than your major when it comes to career success. Learn more about how the liberal arts prepare you for a successful career.

    • Lots of schools wear the four-year label. Carthage stands behind it. 95% of Carthage graduates earn their degrees in four years. Learn more

    • Oscars. Emmys. Tonys. Golden Globes. The playwrights we’ve brought in have them. Each year, the Carthage Theatre Department commissions an original script by a renowned playwright for its New Play Initiative. Carthage students then work with the writer to stage it. 

    • As a freshman in the highly selective Honors Program, learn how to gain expertise in anything from music to forest ecology. After that, tackle a contemporary social, economic, or political problem. If you like, you can live on an Honors-only floor of a Carthage residence hall. 

    • In 2016, 2017 and 2018, Carthage was named a top producer of Fulbright Scholars by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

    • In recent years, the number of students majoring in the natural sciences at Carthage has seen a sharp increase particularly in:

      • Biology (up 77 percent)
      • Computer Science (up 88 percent)
      • Neuroscience (up 67 percent)
      • Physics (up 58%)
    • Distinguished full-time faculty teach in nine fields of study in the Division of Natural Sciences: biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental science, entrepreneurial studies, geography and earth science, mathematics, neuroscience, and physics and astronomy.

    • Carthage has the nation’s oldest undergraduate technical entrepreneurship program. Founded in 1994, the ScienceWorks program has propelled hundreds of Carthage graduates beyond traditional postgraduate options and into entrepreneurial and innovative areas.

    • The Division of Natural Sciences at Carthage currently has more than 720 science majors — a number that has doubled in the last five years. The division serves every student on campus.

    • Things look new at Carthage because they are. Our athletic and recreation center, student union, computer labs, audiovisual production suite, and numerous residence halls have all been constructed or newly renovated in the last 10 years. Our new science center caps it off.

    • Carthage offers majors, minors and concentrations in more than 50 areas of study, from archaeology to athletic training, neuroscience to music theatre.

    • Our Summer Undergraduate Research Experience offers select students a research budget, one-on-one mentoring with a professor, and 10 weeks of analyzing, deciphering — and getting paid.

    • So the lake is kind of a focal point, but there’s a lot more to love about our campus — like the fact that our 80-acre campus is also an arboretum and wildlife sanctuary. Focused on keeping campus lush forever, we plant between 50 and 75 new trees every year from a variety of species.

    • Carthage was founded in 1847. That’s more than 170 years of leaders, makers, and go-getters going out and going forth. Read more about Carthage’s rich history.

    • More than 90 percent of our students receive financial aid, a hefty chunk of which is scholarships and grants — including $1.25 million annually from the Presidential Scholarship Competition and numerous Merit Scholarships. Learn what’s available.

    • Abraham Lincoln was an early Trustee of the College, and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay was a Carthage alum. The two still have a proud place on our campus. Spend some time with them in our Sesquicentennial Plaza. On warm days you’ll find professors leading their classes here.

    • Come to Carthage; hear yourself think — think … think …
      Legend has it that Sesquicentennial Plaza holds a perfect echo. Just stand with both your feet on the “1847,” face Straz, and start talking. “You’re the only one who can hear you, but you’ll be crystal clear,” promises English and theatre alumna Mikaley Osley.

    • Our Great Lake provides Carthage students with some amazing views. Think classes on the beach, lake views from the lab, and sunrises from your dorm room. “I love waking up in the morning with the sun shining off the lake. Nothing compares to the view in the morning,” says biology and neuroscience major Ann O’Leary.

    • Carthage awards up to 30 Presidential Scholarships each year, which range from 75% tuition up to full tuition, room, and board. Learn more.

    • For a full decade, NASA has selected Carthage students to conduct research aboard its zero-gravity aircraft. Lately, the stakes have risen. A team of underclassmen is grinding to prepare a tiny but powerful Earth-imaging satellite for launch to the International Space Station. Learn more about the space sciences at Carthage

    • Carthage is the only college or university in the Midwest where every freshman takes a full-year sequence of foundational texts of the Western intellectual tradition. Learn about the Carthage core.

    • With a student-faculty ratio of 12:1, your professors will know who you are. They will also know who you want to be — and how to get you there. Meet our faculty.

    • There are more than 120 student organizations on campus, from Amnesty International to Chemistry Club, to Frisbee and Latin Belly Dancing. See how easy it is to get involved.

    • True story: There are more than 27 art galleries, a dozen museums, and nine theatres within 25 miles of Carthage. Some highlights: The nationally recognized Racine Art Museum, the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Learn more about our location.

    • What’s better than one professor? Two professors. What’s better than two professors? Two professors from totally different fields teaching a single class. There’s debate. Discussion. Differing perspectives. This is where the magic happens. That’s why every student takes a Carthage Symposium.

    • Imagine presenting your original research at an international conference — as an undergraduate. Carthage is dedicated to undergraduate research. Learn more about current opportunities.

    • You can’t hide here — not with only 17 other students in the classroom with you. That’s going to be rough some mornings. But later, when you’re able to argue your point of view thoughtfully, express your opinions succinctly, and meet challenges head-on, without fear … Yep, you’ll thank us.

    • Carthage is ranked No. 5 in the country for student participation in short-term study abroad. Every J-Term, hundreds of students travel all over the world on faculty-led study tours. Imagine a month in Sweden, Rome, Cuba, Senegal, India, Japan …