Today, in our newest addition to our Staff Snapshots, we catch-up with our Content Development Director, Jen Shoop!
Good afternoon, Jen.
So let’s begin; please tell us little bit about yourself.
I am a rare D.C. native — you don’t find too many of those! I grew up in a beautiful stone house off Rock Creek Parkway with four rough-and-tumbly siblings and two brilliant and supportive parents, who instilled a love of books at an early age. (The climax of my childhood years? Getting my own card to the D.C. Public Library. I could barely write cursive at that point, so the name I signed on the back was a scrawly mess!) I attended an all-girls Catholic prep school here in D.C. and then matriculated to UVA, and cherished both learning experiences, which I found rich and challenging in different ways. Just before leaving for college, I met my husband Landon at a high school graduation party. He was two years ahead of me at UVA, which at the time seemed incredibly mature and important, and though he was pursuing an electrical engineering degree (a notoriously nerdy and difficult program at Virginia), he was the absolute life of the party. We dated for seven years before tying the knot in 2010.
As I intimated earlier, my parents have long emphasized the importance of education (there are 15 degrees in our family of 7), so I knew when I graduated from Virginia that I would go on to earn a graduate degree, which I completed in literature at Georgetown University in 2009. I was contemplating going on to earn a Ph.D., but happened to see a job posting for Saylor just after I’d graduated, and the rest is history.
Cool, it’s nice to have a few D.C. Metro Area natives on board with us here at Saylor. But unfortunately, we don’t get to see you much around here at the office. Where do you normally live now?
Despite waxing poetic about my “native D.C. status” above, I currently live in Chicago! My husband works as a City Manager for Groupon, which is headquartered in the Windy City. The Foundation was generous enough to accommodate a telecommute arrangement, so I work from home most of the time and work from the D.C. office 1-2 weeks per month.
So, you mentioned that you first heard about our program following your completion of your M.A. Could you please tell us a little bit more about that?
The Dean of my graduate program at Georgetown occasionally circulated pertinent job listings to my classmates and I via email. I saw a job listing for a part-time position designing literature curricula for a new foundation (Saylor!) and was intrigued. (I was also semi-shocked — many of us in the program joked about the uselessness of a literature degree outside of academia, but here was a position that directly put the M.A. to use.) I initially thought it would be an interesting, short-term supplement to the free-lance academic editing work I had been managing, but I loved the work and Alana — at the time, the only Foundation employee! — and I developed a great rapport. She asked me to come on board as a full-time editor to review the work of other faculty members after a couple of months, and I jumped at the chance. I’ve been with Saylor since — nearly four years now!
Great, we’re glad that you’re here with us too. Could you please tell us what your typical day is like, here at Saylor?
I am the Saylor Foundation’s Content Development Director, which means that I oversee all courseware development. I spend most of my day supporting my fantastic staff — helping them iron out the issues that inevitably arise in a large operation with so many moving parts, providing feedback on projects and deliverables, and setting targets/monitoring progress. The rest of my day, I’m working with faculty members on new or high-priority projects and initiatives that need shepherding, brainstorming on how to improve the ways we do things, implementing changes to our process and communicating those changes to the team, recruiting new faculty members, and connecting with the other senior staff members on strategic initiatives. I also try to spend a little bit of every day outside of Saylor.org–looking at how other online courseware programs are doing what they’re doing; reading about how they are being received; etc.
Wow! It sounds like you’ve been pretty busy. In the midst of the different courses you have helped us develop over the years, is there one that you’d like to recommend to our readers?
I think ENGL001: English Composition I is pretty sharp. I have a special place in my heart for college writing courses, as I was in a writing associate fellowship program at Georgetown and very much enjoyed working with students to help them sharpen their writing skills. ENGL001 enshrines the pedagogical principles I learned and embraced in graduate school, and I think that it importantly tells students: “Hey, writing is hard! Writing is a process.” In other words, it pushes students to change the way that they think about writing. Building that metacognitive awareness is crucial.
Yes, ENG 001 is one of those gems. We also have an iTunes U version of that course available for all the Mac users out there. Let’s move onto the fun questions, shall we?
First up, what is your most unusual hobby?
Hm. I don’t know that this is particularly unusual, but I love cooking and entertaining. If I could host a formal dinner party every night of the week, I would.
Ooh, nice…cooking is definitely a common hobby here at Saylor. Are there any dishes or recipes that you enjoy?
I like to take on big challenges that people don’t normally mess with making from scratch, like English muffins and Snickers bars (I used this recipe). I like a challenge.
Wow, those look delicious! Speaking of special things, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I’d love to be able to transport myself to different places in the blink of an eye. It’s tough living away from my family and friends–I miss them every day. (It would also be nice to be able to instantly beam myself to the D.C. office vs. file through O’Hare’s interminable security line every few weeks.)
Having traveled a bit myself, I can definitely relate; security lines are never fun. Are there any books or movies that have given you the ability to escape from all of that craziness?
I’m nearly finished with Julian Barnes’ “Flaubert’s Parrot,” and I’d highly recommend it. It’s part lit crit, part fiction, and part (presumably) autobiography, and the blend of genres alone could sustain hours of interesting discussion, raising as it does issues of art, truth, and reality, and the relationship between them. Barnes is a fantastic writer — his prose is dense, visual, almost imagistic in texture — and yet he pulls it off with a conversational pithiness that’s incredibly appealing. It’s rekindled a love affair with Flaubert. Next on my reading list: Flaubert’s letters, volume I, and his “A Simple Heart,” both of which just arrived courtesy of Amazon.com. I may also need to re-read “Madame Bovary.”
Wow, you truly do have a love for reading. But before you get back to those page-turners, any messages to the people?
Stay curious; read as much as you can. These are lessons I’ve inherited from my parents, who are the best-read, most intellectually curious people I know, and I think they’re particularly pertinent to the work I’m doing now and to the students we’re hoping to reach at Saylor. Make learning, in the formal sense, a life-long pursuit.