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FaCIT :: Excellence in Teaching Award Winners 2014-2015

Joseph Michael SommersDr. Joseph Michael Sommers is an Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature.  Dr. Sommers explains, “Honesty, good humor, and innovation lie at the heart of my teaching. (Yes, I am an eternal optimist.) These things make walking into class every morning at 8AM an exhilarating experience for my students and myself. Teaching for me has become as much about listening as it has been about speaking. It’s something I’ve come to term as empathic education, where both teacher and student construct bonds of concern for each other’s perspectives on the lesson. It creates a mutual respect for knowledge and learning where we all come together to discuss what we have learned and share the knowledge. Because I do care what they’re thinking, and I hope they care enough to share it as a community.”  One student notes, “he structured [his class] in a way that fully engaged all of his students even though we were all so diverse. He built trust and understanding with all his students by listening to each of our unique concerns and ideas.” 

Students study Harry Potter on UK spring break adventure

Students study Harry Potter on UK spring break adventure

March 18, 2015

Students in two Central Michigan University courses traded in their bathing suits and sunscreen for a spring break filled with witchcraft and wizardry. These thirty-three students spent spring break learning all about Harry Potter on a 10-day adventure across the United Kingdom.​

CMU Associate Professor Joseph Michael Sommers designed the two courses – one English literature course and an Honors Program course – with the intention of immersing students in the living, breathing history of Harry Potter.   

"For me, for these courses, I tried to see the literature less from the books and more from the places from which the books derived," Sommers said. "The books being the artifacts of these magical locales. For example, it is one thing to read about The Hogwarts Express arriving at Platform 9 3/4, it's another thing to visit Platform 9 3/4."

The trip began in Edinburgh, Scotland, with a bus trip to Durham, Gloucester, Oxford, Watford, London, and Cambridge. Some of the experiences they had along the way included:

  • Eating at The Elephant House Café, where Rowling allegedly started the Harry Potter books;
  • Visiting key locations in the books and movies such as Edinburgh Castle, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Durham Cathedral and Castle, Gloucester Cathedral, Oxford's Bodleian Library and Christ's Church, the Tower of London, the London Zoo among dozens of other Harry Potter-related destinations;
  • Stopping in at Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station;
  • Exploring sites in London's Zone 1 associated with Harry Potter; and
  • Experiencing "The Making of Harry Potter" at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Watford.

"Most of the trip built up to Thursday's visit to the Harry Potter Studios," said CMU senior Taylor DesOrmeau of Novi. "After watching a brief introduction in a theater, the screen went up and behind it was the door to the Great Hall of Hogwarts. We walked through the door and there were five or six people from our class already in tears. It was a great moment."

Sommers believes CMU may be the only school to teach Harry Potter in this format.

"Any university can – and likely does – teach Harry Potter, but not many places do it like this," Sommers said. "We did our best to re-examine Harry Potter, as a cultural phenomenon, the way the British experience it instead of simply reading and cutting into the text."

Sommers says his biggest challenge might be keeping his students engaged through the end of the semester after such an expansive adventure.

"This trip exceeded everything we set out to accomplish in the entire semester. I'm so proud of all my students, they are the real magic of these courses," Sommers said. "I may have completely taught myself out of the classroom, but that's not a bad thing."​


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Book by English professor Ari Berk inspires new Disney film​

March 6, 2015

From "The Chronicles of Narnia" to "Alice in Wonderland," Disney has brought many children's books to life in some of the most beloved movies of all time. In one of its newest movie ventures, Disney plans to bring a Central Michigan University professor's world of goblins to life on the big screen.​​

Disney has begun scripting a film adaptation of "Goblins! A Survival Guide And Fiasco In Four Parts." The illustrated fantasy book is written by CMU English professor Ari Berk and illustrated by renowned artist Brian Froud, who was the conceptual artist for Jim Henson's "Labyrinth" and "The Dark Crystal."

"Goblins!" is a humorous guide-style book about the folklore-like creatures and their interactions with the human world, as studied and presented by Berk and Froud. Froud's goblin illustrations and Berk's text create an entire world for the mischievous creatures and present a catalogue of their hilarious antics.

​"Goblins!" became a popular book that attracted the attention of two incredibly talented artists and executives. According to Berk, director Peter Segal and his producer Michael Ewing both read the book and approached Berk and Froud about making it into a movie. When the film option contract was signed, they assembled the screenwriters and immediately started working.

Berk and Froud are executive producers on the film.

"This team of professional filmmakers are diving into the fantasy world Brian and I have created to tell a new story from our book. How cool is that?" Berk said.

Berk is honored to have his work picked up by one of the most famous names in the film industry, but there is more to it for him than just a movie deal. To see his work influence other creative minds who want to expand the scope of the original vision is the biggest compliment at the end of the day.

"This movie deal just goes to show that there are ways to make art more than a hobby," Berk said. "It all starts with studying what interests you, cultivating creativity and believing you have a unique story to tell."

Disney's "Goblins" is planned for a 2017 release.

Learn more about Ari Berk and his work at


Human Rights, Literature, the Arts, and Social Sciences International Conference​
October 30 - 31, 2015
Campus of Central Michigan University
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The international conference will emphasize the role of literature (the Humanities), the Arts, Social Sciences and the Law in the discussion, representation, and promotion of human rights. We wish to bring writers, artists, theorists, scholars, and lawyers into a series of conversations that engage the issue of human rights, including the ethical, political, social, economic, and cultural implications of either violations or the constructions of human rights.   

In addition to our continued emphasis on the rights of indigenous peoples, the 2015 conference will focus on the following: health and human trafficking (modern-day slavery of women, men, and children, child soldiering, debt bondage, and forced marriages), paying attention to how human trafficking intersects with a wide range of other human rights topics. We hope to examine the nature, causes, and implications of human trafficking within local, national, and global contexts. What factors contribute to or enable human trafficking? What factors and policies—local, national, and global encourage or undermine combating the problem? What are the implications of human trafficking for health as a right?  What are the connections between health and human rights as well as the preservation of human dignity? 

Keynote Speaker:
Barbara L. McQuade is the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009. She previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Detroit for 12 years and Deputy Chief of the National Security Unit from 2005 to 2009.​