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Eric Newsom, Web Designer and Digital Rhetorician

by Angelica Waters

Do we argue differently over the Internet? Do electronic spaces change the way we think and communicate with others? Eric Newsom, who earned his Bachelor of Arts and his Master of Arts degrees from Western Carolina University, thinks so. When he's not designing web sites for his design company, Robot Jetpack, he's working on a Ph.D. in Communication and Rhetoric at one of the nation's most prestigious programs at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

"My current work is focused on the dynamics of storytelling in digital spaces and the author/reader relationship in technologically-mediated environments. I finished my master’s at WCU in summer 2006, spent a year as an adjunct teaching composition classes, and came to RPI in fall of 2007," Newsom explains.

A typical day starts at night

Because he's a night owl, Newsom says much of his typical "day" begins around midnight: "I'm currently typing this at 1:30 a.m. I usually wake up roundabout 10 a.m., do the daily morning routine stuff, then spend a while looking around on the Internet (I’m lucky to be able to call that 'research')." After he attends classes in digital ghetoric, visual design and ethnography, he spends time with his wife, "and then resume work around 11 p.m., when I read my assignments, take notes, conduct research, and write papers."

Success due to foundation in writing

Newsom attributes the opportunity to do this cutting-edge research to his background at WCU. "The focus on quality writing, close reading and critical thinking continues to be of service. I’ve also been able to use a good bit of the theory—especially ideas about rhetoric, usability, web development, journalism and media—in my current work. . . As one might imagine, as a graduate student, I write quite a bit, and it’s quite important for my success. In addition to writing papers, my ability to write abstracts, conference proposals, grants, and business letters / emails are crucial to my advancement in my field, as will one day be my ability to write a quality curriculum vitae and application letter."

Newsom says his English degree allows him to do work which not only pays quite well but also satisfies the soul. "This weekend, I’ve returned from an academic conference where I was able to both share my ideas about digital authorship and hear the theories of others on a number of topics. Today I used some of the ideas I’d heard over the weekend to better represent a new paper I’m working on in a digital rhetoric class presentation. Then the other students in the class offered new ideas on my ideas. So probably my favorite thing is having discussion with intelligent, well-read people who are interested in the future and what I have to say about it."

Newsom's personal web site illustrates that he always finds time in life for his passions, including his fiction, his art, his blogging and his family.

Advice for future majors

Present and prospective English majors should do what they love, not what they think they need to do, Newsom advises. "The best advice I’d offer a graduating English major is to find something in the field that you both are good at and that you enjoy, and to make that the center of your career. Also, learn to manage your online presence, including your Facebook profile, so that you’re putting your best digital face forward."

School also gives us the chance to learn the intangibles, and Newsom stresses their importance: "The most important thing is to learn to understand other people, to communicate well, to practice empathy and decency, and to constantly strive to do things you can be proud of (and not to worry too much about prepositions at the ends of sentences). . . . I am inspired by the work of others who have come before me and driven by the hope that my work might one day inspire others."



These profiles were created by the Karen Greenstone's English 303 class (spring 2009)
and edited for the web by Mary Adams's English 303 class (summer 2009).

Students in Mary Adams's English 303 class (fall 2009) wrote additional profiles.