History/American Studies/Creative Writing Pre-Grad Intern
Dustin Stonecipher

Dustin StonecipherI was two when my father went to prison for the first time. By the time I was thirteen he had been there twice, and would soon pass away from a heart attack. I was raised by my mom, an Air Force Master Sergeant, and life was normal for a pre-teen in a small Texas town. One day, while cleaning out the hallway closet at my house, I stumbled upon a binder filled with fragile notebook paper, yellowed by age. I was amazed to read them and discover that they were a collection of poems and short stories my father had written years ago, and then tucked away in the back of a closet. I don't know if he ever would have shown them to me, but from that day on I knew I wanted to write.

Coming to college, I knew I loved to write, but I didn't know how I would be able to write for a career. So I decided to major in mechanical engineering. After one year and more joyless study sessions than I could count, I knew one thing for certain. This was not what I should be doing with my life. So, terrified of failure, I did what any strong, independent nineteen year old young man would do. I called my mom. Being a military person, my mother didn't give me an eloquent speech about passion or willpower. She just told me to do what I loved, and no matter what she would be proud of me. So, despite my trepidations, I knew that I needed to write. I wanted to study writing, learn about famous writers, basically live writing as much as possible. I received a $20,000 engineering honors scholarship upon entering the University of Texas. I lost the scholarship when I changed majors, but I gained a beaming $20,000 smile.

I've never been good at making decisions. What I didn't tell you was that between the mechanical engineering and the History/English degree was a Theater and Dance major for a month, and Biomedical Engineering for about a day. Thankfully I found out by my sophomore year what major I wanted to be in, but it still goes to show that I have a lot of interests, and it has been a long road to discover what I want to do.

So I mentioned my love of writing. What I didn't tell you was that I also loved History, and thought that I had a better chance of a future not living on the drag if I focused on history. So I decided to study History and shelve my love of writing for awhile.

So, I came into the IE Pre-Grad Internship program looking for a guide to getting into a History graduate school program. I love to write, and I know I want to be a professor someday, so I thought History was my best bet. Again, I love history and have enjoyed every history class I have ever taken. However, this internship program became more than just a roadmap to graduate school. It completely turned my life around. I know that sounds melodramatic, but it is true. After talking and meeting with my mentor, I realized that I actually didn't want to be a historian. Of course, graduate applications were due in a month when I realized this, so it wasn't necessarily a joyful discovery. But I continued meeting with my mentor, Erika Bsumek. Talking to her, telling her specifically what my interests in History and English were, she pointed me somewhere I hadn't even thought of for one second.

She told me that a major already exists that combines History and English. I have a paper that I wrote about Cormac McCarthy's border trilogy and how that actually compared to the West and move west. She told me that it was a great example of an American Studies paper and that I should look into applying to some of those programs. After looking up various American Studies programs online, I was smitten. This was exactly the combination of History and creativity I have always wanted to do! I was afraid that as a Historian, I would get bored and lose interest. I've always loved creative writing poetry, films, etc. and was afraid I would have to let that go. In American Studies, I'll never have to lose that creative edge.

Over the course of the internship I read many books and did a lot of graduate research. This was not a formal research project, but rather a way for me to familiarize myself with the time period I want to study (environmentalism in the early 1880s, focusing on how literature and public policy changed in the American West), and get acquainted with the graduate school preparation process (which has been killer by the way). I was also able to attend various speaker series about my subject, most notably a lecture on DDT in the Southwest.

I am applying to fourteen different graduate programs, ranging from Creative Writing Poetry at NYU to American Studies at UT. I was never able to fully narrow down my interests, so I decided to focus on American Studies and add some poetry in for flavor. This internship has been great because, not only do I feel like I have a grasp on what graduate school will be like, but I was able to meet with scholars, read their books, and finally figure out what I want to do. Finally.