Chancellor’s Fellow Instills a Lifelong Love of Poetry

By Eric Gifford

Katie Peterson is an acclaimed poet whose honors include a Literature award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Rilke Prize from the University of North Texas. At UC Davis, where she just received a prestigious Chancellor’s Fellowship, she directs the Graduate Creative Writing Program and established the Master of Fine Arts degree.

But teaching undergraduates is one of her greatest joys.

“I want to make them love books and reading; I want to create a lifelong love of, and respect for, poetry; I want them to pay closer attention to the language they use every day,” said Peterson. She teaches undergraduates in small, seminar-style classes of only about 17 students, an environment she credits with fostering trust and open conversation.

The Chancellor’s Fellowship award, funded in part by the UC Davis Parent’s Fund, supports impressive early-career faculty like Peterson with $25,000 for use in teaching and research. The award not only inspires and motivates faculty; it also gives students learning experiences that will serve them for a lifetime.

Peterson’s students, in their evaluations, praise both her quality of instruction and her attention to their growth. One student said: “I have never felt so much care taken with my work.” Said another: “She pushed me beyond what I believed my own capabilities to be.”

Parents of English majors often worry about their children’s choice, wondering how an English degree will help them in the job market. Peterson has seen enough students find success to offer words of comfort, both regarding their employability and much more.

There are countless careers in which communication is essential and attentiveness to language is central, an English major prepares you for all of them,” she noted. “But I also say something else: poetry is something most people start writing when they’re children, and stories are what we tell our toddlers to help them go to sleep. Reading and writing teach us to remember what’s important and how to give our lives meaning. We need to work, eat and live—but we also need to know, sing, dance, speak and love.”

For more information on how gifts to the UC Davis Parents Fund make a difference on campus, visit our Parents Fund website here.