News Room

Academic careers are often an interesting combination of personal and professional, and the trajectory of Associate Professor Sara Webb-Sunderhaus's reaps the benefits of such connections. Webb-Sunderhaus, who joined COAS’s Department of English and Linguistics in 2006, specializes in composition, rhetoric, and literacy. Her primary research interests focus on the literacy practices and beliefs of people who live in the eastern US region known as Appalachia, and Webb-Sunderhaus recently released a co-edited book on the subject, Rereading Appalachia: Literacy, Place, and Cultural Resistance.

Although she was always interested in education, Webb-Sunderhaus considered other careers before choosing higher education. After teaching high school and then working in human resources, Webb-Sunderhaus took a job as a professional tutor at the University of Cincinnati. She worked with underprepared students who needed help before entering first-year composition classes. “And I loved it,” she shared, “The professors I worked with very quickly began to encourage me, ‘you’re really good at this’ and ‘not everyone can work with this population of students, you should really go back to school. You should go to grad school, and you should think about becoming a professor.’ And that’s what spurred my decision to go to graduate school.”

Simultaneously, Webb-Sunderhaus became interested in Appalachians’ literacy beliefs and practices. As she continued to work with underprepared college students in Cincinnati, Webb-Sunderhaus began to notice a pattern: a significant proportion of the white students she tutored or their parents were from Appalachia. The disparities she saw in her students’ educational experiences and opportunities piqued her curiosity, which was compounded because of her own cultural heritage. Webb-Sunderhaus’s parents were from Appalachia, and she was very close with her maternal grandmother, who lived with her family for several years and who was Webb-Sunderhaus’s emotional connection to Appalachia. After spending two years working at the University of Cincinnati, Webb-Sunderhaus applied to graduate school and eventually earned a PhD in English from The Ohio State University with a focus on rhetoric and composition and an interest in Appalachian literacy. (Learn more about Webb-Sunderhaus’s current research on Appalachian literacy in the Faculty in Focus video at the start of this article.)

Part of Webb-Sunderhaus’s passion for her work in rhetoric and composition comes from knowing that she’s making a tangible difference in students’ lives, which is why she’s also excited to begin in summer 2016 her new position as associate director of writing in the English department. In this role, Webb-Sunderhaus will be teaching English W400/C505, Issues in Teaching Writing, a course for prospective high school and college composition instructors; mentoring and observing teaching assistants’ classes; and helping these new teachers develop into confident professionals: “It’s exciting to teach prospective teachers, because I’m not only reaching my own students, but through those students I’m impacting their future students. I think that’s one of the things that’s really neat about teaching. It’s meaningful to me to know that I’m part of a legacy of literacy and learning, and I really enjoy developing close working relationships with students.”

To learn more about Webb-Sunderhaus’s current research and future projects, watch the Faculty in Focus video. For more on the English and linguistics department, see the department website.