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Academic Spotlight: Liberal Arts Associate Dean Paul Witcover

Paul Witcover, associate dean of Southern New Hampshire University’s online liberal arts program.

Paul Witcover, associate dean of Southern New Hampshire University’s online liberal arts program, has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. He has been a finalist for the Nebula, World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson Awards and his novels include “The Emperor of All Things,” its sequel “The Watchman of Eternity,” and most recently, “Lincolnstein.”

Witcover holds a bachelor’s in English from the College of William and Mary and a master’s in creative writing and English from the City College of New York. He has taught creative writing for about 15 years and recently answered questions about his work in higher education, connecting with online students and more.

Can you tell us about your professional background?

I have been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years, and have taught creative writing for half that time.

What first drew you to higher education?

The opportunity to give back to aspiring writers by sharing my experience and craft knowledge.

What aspects of your own education have been influential in shaping your career in academia?

I received my master’s in creative writing and English from City College of New York, and the experience of working with dedicated instructors made me realize that this was something I might find fulfilling and actually be good at!

What attracted you to this field of study? What keeps you excited about it?

Writing and teaching fiction reinforce each other. I learn from and am inspired by my students every day.

How have you found ways to effectively connect with students?

As associate dean, I am always looking for ways to interact with students and grow our online Master of Fine Arts community. From Wireside Chats with online MFA instructors in Teams to Word for Word literary events held in collaboration with the online bachelor’s and master’s creative writing programs, Tuesday Teas with the Dean, and virtual open-mic nights, I strive to give students multiple opportunities to participate in all our MFA program has to offer.

As an instructor, I make sure my students know my virtual door is always open. I make a point to respond to the initial discussion post of every student in every discussion, and often more than that. I don't just want to connect with students — I want to connect students to each other and to our SNHU literary community.

In all my classes, I run what I call a "Writeshop" — a place where we can all inspire each other to write every day. A lot of my most recent novel was written in the Writeshop!

What brings you the greatest joy in your work as an associate dean?

The privilege to shape the online MFA into what I truly believe is a unique program that not only helps students master the craft elements of creative writing but gives them the business and publishing knowledge they need to succeed in today's marketplace.

Twice a year, we bring literary agents in so that graduating students can pitch their thesis novels — this hands-on experience is invaluable. We have had a number of students sign with agents afterward, and sales are starting to roll in.

Not bad for a program just over 5 years old!

What do you feel is unique about the faculty and students you work with?

Our faculty are all professional writers who have published novels in the four genres the online MFA covers: speculative fiction, romance, contemporary fiction, and young adult. These dedicated instructors are my heroes, generously sharing their accumulated wisdom and experience to help our students succeed.

Our students are also highly dedicated to the craft of writing. For many of them, traditional MFA programs are out of reach due to personal or professional obligations. Our online MFA has opened a door that would have been shut to them otherwise.

What does SNHU’s mission to transform the lives of learners mean to you?

Since I share this mission, it means that my position gives me the opportunity to transform the lives of learners every day at scale. I embrace this opportunity and the responsibility that goes along with it.

Outside of work, what’s something you’re passionate about or really enjoy doing?

My passion in life is writing. I'm a writer who just happened to stumble into academia and wound up with the job of his dreams. So for me, the same passion powers my work and my life outside of work. They are interwoven.

A degree can change your life. Choose your program from 200+ SNHU degrees that can take you where you want to go.

Joe Cote is a writer and organic marketer at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), where he has worked since 2016. Previously he spent more than a dozen years as a reporter and editor at weekly and daily newspapers in Vermont and New Hampshire. He lives near SNHU's Manchester, New Hampshire campus with his wife and daughter. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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