An Unexpected Drive

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A group of faculty and students in the English and creative writing department planned months in advance to fly over Spring Break from Philadelphia to Tampa for the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference.

But, those plans suddenly changed, when a nor'easter – one of four that struck the region in March – threatened to cancel flights and snarl traffic.

Rather than wait to see the snowstorm's impact, Associate Professor of English Michael Cocchiarale and Senior Lecturer James Esch rented a van and drove to Florida with four students – Victoria Giansante, Emma Irving, Jennifer Rohrbach and Jasmine Kouyate – on March 6.

"We didn't want to miss a day of the conference," said Cocchiarale. "So, finally, we just decided to drive."

Cocchiarale and Esch took turns driving in shifts for 17 hours in order to ensure the students arrived at the conference on time the next day.

"I was impressed, and it really suggested to me how diligent the faculty at Widener are," said Kouyate, a sophomore English and creative writing major. "They were dedicated to ensuring we would arrive safely."

While the flight they were expected to take ultimately was not canceled, the long car ride was an opportunity to bond – and left them with a unique story to tell.

"I have so much gratitude to Dr. Cocchiarale and Professor Esch, and I know it is these personalized relationships with faculty that allow this to happen," said Irving, a senior English major.

The students were also joined at the conference by Widener Professor Kenneth Pobo and Senior Lecturer Jayne Thompson.

Once at the conference, the students joined nearly 12,000 other attendees for presentations and readings, a bookfair of graduate schools, small presses, and major publishing houses, and a keynote speech by George Saunders, who was Widener's visiting writer in 2011. The conference offered networking opportunities and an in-depth look at the scope of the writing and publishing industries in the United States and abroad.

For Irving, the conference was a success. She secured an internship with Green Writers Press, a Vermont-based global publisher, during the bookfair.

"Conferences are where connections are made that can get your foot in the door and start a career," Irving said. "Being in that environment is really inspiring."

Kouyate, who was attending the conference for her first time, agreed. She hopes to go back next year, when the conference is held in Portland, Oregon.

Cocchiarale said the students are what made the decision to drive easy.

"The students are amazing," he said. "They are such dedicated English and creative writing majors. It's easy to make that decision when you know it means so much to the students."

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