A recent graduate of Sierra Nevada College’s MFA program, Courtney Berti is the newest and youngest faculty member in SNC’s English Department. She teaches freshman composition classes and is in charge of producing the Sierra Nevada Review, SNC’s literary journal.
Berti completed her bachelors degree at SNC in 2013 and her MFA in 2016. She admitted that her conversion from SNC student to professor hasn’t entirely sunk in.
“It still kind of feels like I’m a student,” said Berti. “I think what’s most different is seeing the college politics, the things you don’t see as a student. But these things are a bit more transparent now than when I was going to school here.”
Teaching was not originally part of Berti’s career plans, but since spending the fall semester assistant-teaching in Chris Anderson’s freshman composition class, she said she is starting to get excited about it.
“Teaching is something I unexpectedly enjoyed,” said Berti. “I actually had really bad stage fright when I was an undergrad. I remember in one of June Saraceno’s classes she asked me to sing opera to Shakespeare. I hyperventilated and cried in front of the class,” she said. “June encouraged me to face my fear of public speaking.”
An avid writer for as long as she can remember, Berti is currently in the final stages of writing her first novel. Her interest in creative writing was sparked by her love for reading.
“I got into creative writing by default. It’s just something I did. I read and I write,” said Berti. “I have a belief that reading and reading well—not a lot, but well—makes us better people. It promotes critical thinking, it allows people to think for themselves, it increases our ability to pay attention—not just to our books but to one another.”
Berti initially entered the creative writing program at SNC because she was having trouble editing her work. She was not planning on getting her MFA
until she learned about an international field trip the students were planning.
“I wasn’t originally going to pursue an MFA, but I did it because they were going to Ireland,” said Berti. “At that point I had been out of school for a year and was just kind of doing the same things that I had been doing, mostly waiting tables. I needed to see my life go in a different direction.”
Berti enjoys the students in her freshman composition class, but she’s facing some challenges, including learning how to deal with technology distractions in the classroom.
“Getting students to close their computers is impossible,” said Berti, “so I think I’m going to try to figure out a way to integrate technology more into my classes next semester. Technology is such a big part of the way we function. We’re practically cyborgs.”
In addition to being a teaching assistant for Anderson’s class, Berti’s job duties include managing the Sierra Nevada Review, SNC’s literary journal, and heading up the Creative Writing Club. She also helps to run Prim Library’s Poetry Center. “Running the Sierra Nevada Review and the Creative Writing Club is a good way to integrate a lot of the programs that the English department offers,” Berti said.
While Berti’s future plans are not firm, she thinks she’d like to stay at SNC for at least a few years. “For now, I plan on staying here for a while and getting the hang of teaching and writing and finding a balance between the two,” said Berti. “Ultimately I’d love to just write and only teach creative writing, but that’s not easy to do.”