Hutchinson Community College English professor Kelly Clasen

By Emily Fehrman
Social Media Editor

As a child, Hutchinson Community College English professor Kelly Clasen grew up in a world of books, getting many of her biggest role models from them.

Having lived on a farm, she was fortunate that her mom took her to the library in Hutchinson weekly, checking out just as many books that was allowed.

“Any girl involved in a horse story, was probably my heroine. Any adventure like Nancy Drew” Clasen said.

The English language has always been an interest to Clasen, from her days as a young child reading Nancy Drew, to getting a bachelor’s degree in journalism at The University of Kansas.

When Clasen was working at The Dallas Morning News as a copy editor and the economy for journalism began to struggle, they were starting to tighten the budget and began layoffs. So she set out to get her master’s degree, but at the time there, was no intention to get a doctorate.

“It was more of a means of professional advancement,” Clasen said. “I thought ‘I’ll just go back to school for two years, and when I come back, all of this will have blown over and I can work for more money because I’ll have a masters.’ But really that was just the beginning of the downturn in journalism.”

To pay her way through that second year of graduate school, Clasen had started teaching as a teaching assistant.

“I just enjoyed it, it was so different from what I had done at the newspaper, that I knew it would be the career path for me. And that if I wanted to become a full-time college professor, I would need that PhD,” Clasen said.

Having that opportunity early in her graduate career to be in a classroom showed her that this was something she would be more satisfied and happier doing.

The eight hours a day at the desk was not for her. After being at the newspaper for four years, Clasen would find herself struggling with looking at the clock and counting down the time until she could go home.

“But when I was in the classroom time just flew by, and every hour was a new challenge,” Clasen said. “The constant pressure of being on your toes and having to prepare everyday for something new keeps things fresh and is what drives her still to this day.”

The master’s degree was more like two years of fun for Clasen, but the doctorate was a different ballgame all together, requiring an intensely-focused research program. Fortunately, she loved literature and research, so it was a win-win for her.

For several years she worked on a project that explored the role of women’s writers in American Literature. So it was a thing that kept her interests sustained while also helping her push forward in the program. It also helps that she enjoyed and believed in what she was doing.

Becoming a mother at age 37 was another accomplishment for Clasen. When you pursue the doctorate route, a lot of people sacrifice that element of their personal life.

Another thing Clasen is proud of is the number of scholarly articles she has published in her field of American literature. Though she doesn’t write as much as she’d like, now that she teaches at HutchCC, she still enjoys research and likes to look for research projects like that.  

“Sometimes, I think there’s a misconception that if you teach at a community college, you only teach the same things over and over,” Clasen said. “We do teach the same classes from year to year, but we introduce new texts, we change our lesson plans, we learn every year. Sometimes classes are really great and some of them really push us. It’s never the same, from day to day, week to week, semester to semester. Which is incredibly challenging but also incredibly rewarding.”

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