Dr. Brandon Essary is Associate Professor of Italian, Italian Studies Coordinator, Language Assessment Coordinator, and Associate Chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Elon University. He earned a PhD in Italian Studies from UNC in 2012. His research and teaching focus on the process of transmediation—especially when works of literature are turned into video games and board games—and teaching Italian literature and language through video games.
1. Tell us a little more about the work you are currently engaged in. What are your main job responsibilities?
My main responsibilities fall into three categories: teaching, research, and service. I teach a variety of courses in Italian and in English. As a researcher, I have two overlapping agendas: one for the Scholarship of Teaching of Learning (SoTL); the other for disciplinary research on medieval Italian literature. Currently, I am writing about the transformation of Dante Alighieri’s writings into video games and board games, as well as transmediation theory. As Italian Studies Coordinator, I direct the curriculum and course offerings of an interdisciplinary minor. As associate chair of the World Languages department I assist the chair in a variety of ways, most important of which is coordinating the production and submission of course schedules for 8 different language programs. Finally, as assessment coordinator I coordinate the language assessment and course placement each year of about 1600 incoming first-year students.
2. Please share a brief overview of your career trajectory. What steps did you take after graduating from UNC to end up where you are now?
I was fortunate to get a job as visiting assistant professor of Italian at Gettysburg College immediately after completing my PhD in 2012. That provided a bridge of experience between graduate school and the tenure-track job at Elon University I landed in 2013. After five years as assistant professor at Elon, I was tenured and promoted to the rank of associate professor in 2018.
3. What professional development resources and programs did you use or participate in while at UNC and how did these benefit you?
I attended workshops offered by the Graduate School to learn how best to craft job application materials: CV, cover letter, teaching statements, and so on. Dr. Brian Rybarczyk, the Graduate School’s Assistant Dean of Academic and Professional Development, organized extremely useful sessions on crafting these materials – it was useful to have fresh eyes from other backgrounds and disciplines to help my job materials be as clear as possible. I will never forget the quality of his advice or his kindness and generosity in helping us graduate students be the strongest candidates possible as we entered the job market. I also received guidance and feedback from the professors in my program. I also took a module of the “Languages Across the Curriculum” program with Tanya Kinsella. This program gave me the chance to design a hypothetical class for an ideal job situation.
4. What steps did you take when you were still a graduate student to prepare yourself for the job market/your industry?
I started checking job announcements about a year before I expected to complete my PhD. I did so to familiarize myself with the genre and wording of getting a job and to get an idea about what kind of options might be out there. Acting as a coordinator of the Carolina Conference on Romance Literatures for two years was a huge professional development opportunity. In that role, I was able to practice many of the skills and tasks that I deal with as an administrator and professor (maintaining a large budget; making space reservations; setting and respecting reasonable deadlines; interacting with colleagues from a variety of regions and disciplines, etc.). Finally, having the chance to teach while completing my studies was of inestimable value.
5. What skills/competencies did you acquire in graduate school that you apply in your job today or that have helped you progress in your career?
The greatest source of skills, lessons, and competencies were from my dissertation advisor and professor, Dr. Dino Cervigni. He provided a professional model for me to know what a professor is and should be (this was especially important since I am a first-generation college student). Furthermore, he treated his students with respect and taught us to show compassion to one another. These high standards and skills prepared me for the research, teaching, and leadership I perform and engage in. I learned a lot about teaching Italian by doing just that, teaching Italian. Finally, I received support for conference travel to present my research, primarily from the Medieval and Early Modern Studies program, which was essential practice for my current job as a professor.
6. In what ways did your identity as a first-generation student impact your professional development needs when you were in graduate school and your career progression thereafter?
The most important thing for me was financial support. I couldn’t have afforded my education without the robust financial support I received. UNC took care of me with a full scholarship and teaching fellowship, which facilitated my success as a graduate student. Robust support is essential to help graduate students thrive and become the strongest candidates they can be on the job market. My liberal arts and humanities-based education prepared me to be an informed citizen and an exemplary teacher, scholar, and administrator. My identity as a first-generation college student won’t let me take for granted these truths or my achievements. So, I personally give 100% in all that I do to show my gratitude and to prove that first-generation students, when properly supported through education, achieve academic and professional success.
7. What advice would you offer current graduate students about professional development in general or career advice for your industry/position specifically?
I would recommend that you stay flexible, keep your options open, and learn about those options as early as possible. After applying to a variety of positions, I only got interviews at small- to medium-sized liberal arts schools, where teaching was emphasized more than research. So, if you’re aiming to get a job as a professor in higher education, make sure to develop both your research/writing abilities alongside your teaching abilities. Whether your program gives you the chance to teach or not, take advantage of workshops, conferences, certificate programs around campus to stay up-to-date on good teaching and learning approaches. Knowing that academic positions are hard to come by, make sure to start thinking early about all the career options that your degree will open for you, even outside academia.