"A farmer and an English teacher" sounds like the beginning of a joke, but those were the two careers that UAA English professor Suzanne Forster was told she’d be good at after completing an aptitude test in high school.
"I remember thinking 'A farmer? Really?’" she laughs.
Although those are two completely opposite careers, the aptitude test was dead on. "I was completely oblivious that as a kid I had many gardens and a passion for planting," Suzanne said.
But unlike the farmer prediction, the thought of being an English teacher didn’t come as a surprise to her. Raised in northern Michigan, Suzanne developed an affinity for poetry at an early age. "My mother read poetry to me as a child. I love the sound of it and eventually I developed an ear for it," she said.
Suzanne attended Wayne State University in Detroit, but admits she wasn’t a very disciplined student. "I was too distracted. I grew up in a small town in a strict environment, so being in a large city was like being a kid in a candy store. I wanted to have fun, break the rules and be a hippie. School wasn’t much of a priority at the time."
During her sophomore year, a professor noticed Suzanne’s lack of enthusiasm and suggested that she go to Europe to spend time reviving and rediscovering her interests. "I spent four months in Europe. It was one of the best times of my life," she said. "It opened up whole worlds to me: art, places, languages, ways to live. After that trip I was eager to return to school to study art and history."
When she returned to school, she turned into an ‘A’ student. She graduated from Monteith College, a Ford Foundation Experimental school, Wayne State's honors program, with a bachelor’s degree in history.
In 1975, Suzanne moved to Alaska as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer at the Alaska Human Right Commission. She eventually decided to put her passion for gardening to work as a horticulturist in the grounds department at UAA in 1977, and she eventually ran the Municipal Greenhouse. Years later, Suzanne took a poetry class at UAA and then decided to go back to school to become an English professor--making both of her aptitude career results a reality. In 1989, Suzanne became an alumna of UAA earning her M.F.A. in poetry. She taught as a TA, an adjunct, a term and then found herself on the track for tenure.
After 24 years of teaching at UAA, she said she still finds it rewarding. "I like that students are fighting to meet their goals in life and I feel like I can help by sharing my experiences with them," she said.
Poetry is one of the things Suzanne enjoys sharing with students. "I don’t think poetry gets enough exposure. It’s a beautiful language, with lovely rhythms that addresses real issues." During her classes she often shares audio and video of poetry readings to break up the monotony of regular class lectures. "It’s a way to keep students interested. Poetry is the soul speaking. It’s meant to be heard."
During her time at UAA, Suzanne has seen much growth in the University. "I’m really proud of UAA. It’s come a long way and there are so many amazing programs to show pride in."
Although she's taught English at UAA for many years, it was her passion for gardening and landscaping that led Suzanne to UAA. "I love teaching, but I still can’t wait to get my hands in the dirt!"