A Junior's Experience in the English Department with Cathy Choi

Sunday, December 16, 2018
By: Caitie Buteau, English Department 2018 Fall Digital Media Intern
Cathy Choi

While most of the articles on this page are written about department events, alumni, or seniors, I wanted to take the change to highlight a current Junior’s experience in the English department as she looks into her second semester of Junior year and her final Senior year at Duke.

Cathy Choi is a current Junior from Fort Collins, Colorado who is studying English and Public Policy. On campus she is highly involved in the Duke University Marching Band (DUMB). After playing clarinet in DUMB and the Wind Symphony for the past two years, this year Cathy was selected to be one of the three drum majors for DUMB, a very prestigious honor that is a lot of hard work and a huge time commitment. On top of that, she is also involved in the Duke Disability Alliance and a prominent member in the Mu Kappa chapter of Chi Omega. 

I met Cathy my Sophomore year in adjunct Professor Jessica Hines’ Chaucer class. In a class of just ten or so people, we all got to know each other very well. She always had amazing insights on Chaucer’s views on women and religion in class while still managing to keep the material and analysis entertaining and engaging. 

She explained to me that the main reason she decided to pursue an English major was that the summer after her Freshman year she realized how much she “really missed reading and the intellectual discussion of books” and also “knew it would help with [developing her] writing skills.” Having read and helped edit some of her papers, I can say this much is true: Cathy Choi is a talented writer who has the ability to beautifully capture a book’s argument while skillfully adding in her own commentary and analysis and the department, I am sure, can only help her writing continue to develop and evolve. 

When we were talking, she wistfully thought back on many of the moments she remembered and valued from her time in the English Department. One in particular stood out. She recalled being in one of Professor Thomas Ferraro’s classes and how they were discussing Camille Paglia at the time. After walking out of the class, she was stunned by the realization that she was so enveloped in discussion that time seemed to literally fly by. 

As she finished up her Junior year, she will be taking the LSATs soon and working more on her writing and communication skills as she hopes to go to law school after she graduates from Duke. She knows that her “English major is going to be so helpful for being able to communicate [her] arguments both in writing and verbally [after] having to write essays [that] also challenge[d] [her] critical thinking skills.” One of her hopes is that in her Senior year she will have room in her schedule to continue to delve into the English Department and major and use all the resources that Duke has provided her. She wants to learn more about subjects she is unfamiliar with and is looking forward to applying to write her senior thesis at the end of next semester, though she is not set on what topic to apply with yet.

One of the reasons I decided to write about Cathy Choi is not just because I have enjoyed getting to know her in the classroom and discussing various academic things with her, but also because, in my opinion, she is a perfect example of what an English student at Duke is. She is highly involved on campus and does not see the English major as just a lead into becoming a writer or publisher. She sees the value in working on these foundational core skills of communication and argument formation that come with writing and critical thinking. She is thoughtful in her discussions while also being passionate, but mindful of other students’ opinions and views. 

A common theme in the English department is that many of the English majors have a real passion for discussion and her story about Professor Ferraro’s class is not an uncommon one. I know personally I too have been in classes where we get into such deep debates that we have lost track of time and even gone longer than the class was meant to be held for. If you are a parent, prospective student, or current student, think about Cathy’s time in the department and know that if you choose to take classes, or even possibly major, with the English Department, you will have a unique experience where you will meet amazing and thoughtful people that will help challenge your thinking and allow you and your writing and communication skills to grow in a way that will help you, not just in a career, but in life.