Ashley McWaters made jump from investment to teaching

Ashley McWaters didn’t always know she wanted to be a teacher. Her undergraduate degree was in art history, and she directed an art gallery in her home town of Memphis before starting an investor relations job on Wall Street in New York City after working as a temp.

When she was in her late 20s she began to consider teaching, then decided instead to enroll in graduate school.

McWaters earned her master’s degree in English from The University of Memphis and her MFA in poetry here at the University. She has been teaching at Alabama since 2002, when she started the MFA program. She graduated two years later and started teaching full-time that fall.

Wendy Rawlings, a professor in the English department, was McWaters’ professor and is now her colleague.

“She has a lot of enthusiasm about the undergraduate creative writing program, and she’s done a lot to help build the program and give it more of an identity outside of the classroom,” Rawlings said. “I’m really appreciative of her efforts.”

McWaters was appointed undergraduate coordinator for creative writing because she said the department felt undergraduate students weren’t getting enough attention, as creative writing is offered only as a minor at Alabama and not as a major. Through her efforts, the minor program has grown to 220 students from the 60 or 70 when she started.

“She has helped us publicize more undergraduate creative writing contests, she’s organized readings for students and she does information sessions for undergraduate students who might be interested in going on and getting an MSA,” Rawlings said.

It’s been said Ashley and Scott McWaters are the power couple of the English department at the University. The married couple shares the same job at the same institution. When the positions became available they both applied, but they didn’t really think they’d both be hired.

“We had the exact same start date,” Ashley McWaters said. “Everything is the same, our retirement, everything is like a mirror.”

Even though they share an office, they don’t actually work together. The pair has never collaborated on a class before, but she said they should consider it in the future because it could be fun. They try to set up alternating teaching days so that one of them is at home when their kids get out of school. This helps when a child is home sick and also lets her volunteer at their schools on her off days.

Ashley McWaters teaches a combination of three types of classes.

“I mainly do freshman English, which is the 101 and 102 classes, literature surveys, which are like the 200-level literature classes, and creative writing classes,” she said.

Russell Willoughby, a senior majoring in English and French, took McWaters’ British literature class her freshman year. She said McWaters instills confidence in her students every step of the way and is talented at making the subject matter relevant.

“She’s very engaging, dynamic and naturally gifted at getting everyone in the class, even if they’re not English majors, to be interested in the text that we were reading,” Willoughby said.

Willoughby credits McWaters as being one of the reasons she chose to study abroad for a full year as opposed to just a semester.

“She makes a really encouraging environment where she really wants her students to succeed,” Willoughby said.

Being a native Northerner, Rawlings said she often tries to emulate McWaters’ Southern social graces.

“She’s definitely taught me that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, to use an old expression,” Rawlings said.

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