By Phil Corso
The worlds of dancing and writing are completely different in almost every way. But for Professor Theresa Benaquist, there’s joy to be found in both when she is the instructor.
Benaquist, 34, said she has a passion for teaching. After working as a ballet instructor for a decade, and later transitioning into her current position as a creative writing professor at Purchase College, she said she felt lucky to have the opportunity.
“It’s a pleasure to work with students and watch them grow,” said Benaquist. The professor said she fell into Purchase after participating in a teaching internship with her graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College, where she received her Masters degree in creative non-fiction writing.
Her previous work entails past contributions of reviews, essays, and newspaper articles to various publications, and writing children’s books. She also said she was focusing on her first novel.
At Purchase, Benaquist has been on staff for nearly three years and teaches various types of writing and literature classes including Senior Capstone, Creative Writing, Fiction Writing, and Freshman Composition. She also teaches Creative Writing to college-bound high school students over the summer through the college’s Liberal Studies and Continuing Education Office.
“Professor Benaquist makes Creative Writing fun,” said former student Courtney Van-Houten, 28. “She really takes the time to read all of her students’ work and encourages discussion about their pieces in class.”
According to second-semester Purchase student Kevin Higgins, 39, Benaquist’s classes held unique standings against his previous writing classes due to their interactive nature. “No idea is wrong, as we were given a healthy forum to discuss our points with our peers,” he said.
“Professor Benaquist creates an open atmosphere where we can give advice to other writers on what was strong and what could be improved about their pieces,” he said. “The works I had written in her class benefited greatly thanks to the countless peer revisions and professional advice.”
Van-Houten said that her class experience with Benaquist was more than the typical college lecture, but also a debate and discussion on writing styles and techniques that made her a better, more confident writer. “She helped me focus my thoughts and write with the knowledge of a person who would be reading my work to clarify the ideas I was trying to express.”
The dedication and excitement that the professor brings to the classroom is more than something that only excites her students. Benaquist has also left a lasting impression on professional college staff that worked in hiring her.
Director of Continuing Education Kelly Jackson said she’s excited to have Benaquist on board for the summer 2010 program. “Her passion for writing is infectious and her dedication to teens is unwavering,” she said.
Jackson said that she was most interested in the things Benaquist had setup for her upcoming course that had potential to inspire students to produce polished pieces. “She has exciting plans for this summer program which includes a wealth of fun and original activities to encourage students with tips that they can use to become better writers, as well as critical thinkers and readers.”
Reflecting on her teaching career thus far, Benaquist said that she most enjoyed watching her students grow and respond to her methods of sharing knowledge. Between her admired variety in her students and her own personal growth from class to class, the professor said she feels most accomplished when her students take things away from her courses and grow as writers.
“I once had a student who came into my class as a visual arts major, but wanted to write,” she said. “He had such an interest in writing despite his struggles until one day when his writing suddenly clicked and completely changed for the better.”
Benaquist said that though things may get difficult at times, nothing about her job challenges her in a negative way. Before shifting into writing, the New Hampshire-born professor said the only hardships faced were her drastic shifts in careers from ballet to writing instructor.
“I feel lucky to be where I am,” she said. “Teaching just doesn’t feel like work to me.”