Looking at the breadth of experience rather than just accumulating knowledge is part of what Liberal Arts education is supposed to give us.
Keisha McKenzie enjoys working with words, learning about society, and connecting with people. It's no wonder then that McKenzie was able to fuse these interests into her research in the area of technical communication and rhetoric. McKenzie, who is originally from the UK, analyzed documents used by the British government to justify the war in Iraq, and she wrote of her findings in her dissertation. Earlier in her graduate school career, McKenzie traveled to Washington, DC, to work with the House Judiciary Committee as part of Texas Tech's Government and Public Service program. Aside from her scholarly work, McKenzie works on report writing, editing, and grant applications as a staff member with the TTU Ethics Center. She has worked for the Office of the Provost at Texas Tech since 2006. McKenzie also supports the Seventh-day Adventist Church, occasionally contributing to denominational magazines and advocating on behalf of sexual minorities within the community.
Learn more about Student of Integrated Scholarship Keisha McKenzie in this question-and-answer session.
What got you interested in your major?
I just earned my doctorate in technical communication and rhetoric (TCR). I've loved language for as long as I can remember, and enjoyed learning about society and people for about as long. TCR has allowed me to combine these interests and develop my skills of analysis and communication.
Have you completed any internships? What other work experience have you had that is applicable to your field of study?
In spring 2009, I participated in Texas Tech's Government and Public Service Program. I went to Washington, DC; I think there were 17 of us that semester, and I was the only graduate student. I worked with the House Judiciary Committee. It was wonderful and challenging. At that time the Judiciary Committee was one of the most politically polarized committees in Congress; the democrats had strong left records in relation to their party, and the republicans had strong right records in relation to theirs. I'm naturally inclined to peacemaking, so it stretched me a lot to work in that climate. At the same time, I connected with some of the smartest and most engaged people I've ever met. It was fascinating to see the range of specialties they worked with every day, and they maintain an incredible productivity pace. After I came back, I rewrote my first dissertation chapter, my introduction. The internship gave me some experience with how even a small position plays a role in a large, complex system. It showed me how the different government branches interact and how they influence each other, how that can be functional as well as dysfunctional. And it made me more sure that there's no such thing as an unimportant role in a system like that. Every person counts. I've found that to be true at TTU as well. I've worked in the Office of the Provost since 2006, and have been based in the TTU Ethics Center since 2009.
What has your dissertation research involved?
My dissertation research has focused on a 2002 report that the British government administration wrote about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. I've analyzed that report and other parliamentary documents to describe the structure, values, and personnel of the agencies and system that produced it. My chair is Dr. Sam Dragga. Sam writes on technical communication ethics, intercultural communication, and editing, and he gives me wonderful feedback on my work.
What service projects (volunteering, community service, etc.) have you been involved in?
I'm a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and so write for denominational magazines from time to time. That's my way of serving the church that started me off thinking about world service and gave me some of my leadership skills. I also work with Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, a global all-volunteer support group for sexual minorities (LGBTI people) who are current or former church members. The Adventist denomination has not been a healthful space for many of its LGBTI members, so Kinship serves them whatever stage of life they're at and wherever in the world they are. The organization is teaching me about nonprofit management and philanthropy, but the older members have also taught me about hope. I have a youthful impatience with institutional injustice, and they've shown me the value in getting on with the good you believe in, whether you have validation or not.
Here in Lubbock I support the local PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter and have participated in some of the panel discussions that teachers and student groups invite us to do on campus. I really enjoy those discussions because students get to ask questions about our backgrounds and experiences, and we give human faces to what might otherwise be a distant subject. I think most of our social conflicts come down to the fact that we tend to debate issues in a rather cold and cruel way rather than talk about how we can best relate to real people. Even if I'm writing a report at work, I see people in the subject matter, and I'd like to think that comes through.
What advice would you give to other students who would like to be a Student of Integrated Scholarship? Students of Integrated Scholarship balance academics with additional activities, such as research, internships, service learning, and study abroad.
At some point in your program, maybe once you've adjusted to the rigor and have a sense of what area of scholarship you want to focus on, it becomes important to decide for yourself what you value more: speed or scope. It's not possible to build a healthy, quality life around both.
After I finished my qualifying exams, I realized I could race through my program in another year or two years—I had the skill to do it—but the process of doing it would undermine my personal development, my commitment at work, my willingness to move to DC for half a year, my openness to service off-campus, and my ability to nurture my personal relationships. I wasn't willing to make that trade, though I know students who have, and I respect their choice. For mature students who already have established careers and have families or other concerns, there are some very good reasons for choosing speed over scope. But from my view, scope is at the heart of a liberal arts education. It's one reason I'm in the American system, as opposed to the British one. (The British system specializes students much more quickly, and PhDs complete their course within three years.) So I found my choice quite easy, and while it's cost me in other ways, I'm comfortable with the price!
Whether you choose speed or scope, it's critical that you build respect for your own time and develop good boundaries. When it's time to read, read; when it's time to play, play. But don't play when you need to read, and don't read when you need to play. Having people around you who respect your gifts and your work—partner, relatives, or friends—is also very helpful. Guilt trips won't help you, so it's better to decide upfront: It's OK to say no to some things, so that I can say yes to others.
What are your plans after graduation?
I'm looking forward to moving back to the DC-Maryland area after graduation this year. I've begun looking for full-time writing, research, or program support positions in the executive branch, international agencies, and transatlantic NGOs based in the region. Texas has been good to me, and now it's time to branch out some more!
What experiences do you value most as a student at Texas Tech?
I've had an incredible time at TTU. Through my academics, my assistantships, and the university's links with the local community and alumni, I've met some deeply grounded, wise, and service-oriented people. These people have valued my contributions, and encouraged me to stretch myself. It was actually my first supervisor in administration who suggested that I apply for the DC internship. I've also been able to apply my professional skills to some major campus projects—such as Tech's NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) self-study and SACS-COC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges) accreditation. Because I have the sense that what I do helps my school move forward in some way, I feel like a producer as well as a consumer. And that balance is very rewarding.