Stevens Institute of Technology: The Freshman Experience Welcomes Two Lecturers

This semester, the College of Arts and Letters welcomed two lecturers—Virginia Conn and Mel Ferrara—to the Freshman Experience, common courses that every Stevens student takes during their first year.

“Our two courses—CAL 103: Writing and Communications Colloquium and CAL 105: Knowledge, Nature, Culture—are designed to both challenge and empower first-year students,” said Jennifer McBryan, teaching associate professor and the program’s director. “Together these courses create an intellectual and research foundation that enables success, both in college and beyond.”

“I hope that students come to appreciate that writing is not an innate ability, but a skill that can be practiced, developed, and honed through use,” said Conn, when considering what she hopes students take away from these foundation courses. “Often, students worry that they’re ‘not good at writing,’ when the reality is that they simply haven’t been exposed to—much less mastered—a whole host of rules and expectations that often go unspoken.”

Ferrara echoed that writing is a practiced skill, helpful to students of all disciplines. “One of the most important lessons that I have been trying to impart on my students is that writing is a form of critical thinking,” said Ferrara. “I hope that framing writing as a practice of analyzing and creatively working through problems invites my students to find it relevant to their studies, regardless of their intended majors or professions.”

Outside of the classroom, both Conn and Ferrara bring to Stevens expertise developed through research. Conn earned her Ph.D. in comparative literature and a certificate in Asian studies at Rutgers University. A fervor for science fiction guides her work.

“I research depictions of the ‘new socialist human’ in socialist science fiction and how those depictions guided policy decisions in Mao-era China, Soviet Russia, and East Germany,” said Conn. “I focus primarily on the ‘actionability’ of literature that speculated about bodily transformations. This interest in how bodies are shaped and remade extends to my own personal interests: I am a semi-competitive powerlifter in my free time.”

At the University of Arizona and with an affiliation with their Institute of LGBT Studies, Ferrara earned a Ph.D. in gender and women’s studies and a minor in social, cultural, and critical theories. “My research interests include feminist science and technology studies, trans and intersex studies, medical humanities, and feminist disability studies,” said Ferrara. “More specifically, my dissertation examined the biomedicalization of 47,XXY/Klinefelter Syndrome and its impact on the social experiences of those who have received a 47,XXY/KS diagnosis and their families.”

“I’m thrilled to welcome both Mel Ferrara and Virginia Conn to the College of Arts and Letters,” said Kelland Thomas, dean. “Their interdisciplinary scholarship complements the work of our dynamic and growing faculty, and I’m confident first-year students will leave their classrooms well-prepared for a Stevens education.”

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