Debbie Lelekis is an assistant professor of English at the School of Arts and Communication. Lelekis graduated from the University of South Florida with her undergraduate and masters and obtained her doctorate from the University of Missouri. She teaches courses in American literature, British literature, world literature and a variety of composition courses. Lelekis is also the advisor for Kaleidoscope and Senior Capstone.
Why did you choose your profession?
I’ve always had a deep love for literature and writing. When other little kids were outside playing soccer or baseball, I was writing poetry and plays and putting on performances of my favorite stories. My English classes always sparked my interest the most in school. Once I was in graduate school and got the opportunity to teach my own classes, I knew for sure that becoming a professor was the right choice for me. It allows me to combine my passion for teaching with my interests in writing and research.
What famous person do people tell you you most resemble?
Are you working on any research?
Yes, I always seem to have at least two or three research projects going at any given time! My main area of research focuses on nineteenth and early twentieth century American literature. Last year I published the book American Literature, Lynching, and the Spectator in the Crowd: Spectacular Violence. In the book, I examine literary depictions of the witnessing and reporting of racial violence. I’m also really interested in Florida history and culture, which led to my current collaboration with a former student on an article about the history of Disney’s EPCOT and the film Tomorrowland. Additionally, I’m returning to a project that I started a few years ago on an 1852 novel set in Florida before the tourism boom.
What social media site do you use most? What do you do on it?
I use Facebook the most but I also post regularly on Twitter. I love being able to connect to friends, family, and colleagues that I don’t get to see in person very often. My Facebook posts reflect more of my life outside of academia, and I share all of the cute and funny pictures that I take of my daughter. My Twitter account is geared more towards my professional life. It allows me to keep up with what is going on in my field and I’ve found that it’s a great way to communicate about topics and events that I think are interesting and important.
What is your favorite teaching memory?
I love those teaching moments when my students are actively engaged with the material we are exploring together. A few years ago, the students in one of my literature survey courses created an interactive website with an annotated text of Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat.” They were responsible for researching and generating content on Crane’s life, the historical context, and the connections between Crane’s fiction and journalism, as well as annotating the text. They also designed and edited the website and presented information about the project on WFIT, in the Crimson, and during a coffee hour event hosted by the School of Arts & Communication. The students’ work corresponded with some of my own writing on Crane and Florida literature, so the project was truly a collaborative effort and an empowering experience for students.
If you could have personally witnessed anything during history, what would you want to have seen?
It’s so hard to choose just one event, but I think it would have been amazing to witness the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which granted women the right to vote.
What was the last gift a student gave you?
I’ve had many kind students over the years, but my favorite gift that I received most recently was a hand-written thank you card. It means so much to me when a student takes the time to express what they learned from my class and what they will carry forward with them.
If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which would you choose?
I would love to be a character on the show Once Upon a Time. I love the way they reimagine old stories and fairy tales.
What is your favorite book and why?
This is a tough choice for a book lover, but Huck Finn by Mark Twain is definitely on my top 10 favorites list. I love that I’ve learned something new each time that I return to the text. I enjoyed the book on a different level as a child than I did as a college student. Then, when I taught it in my own class, I gained a whole new perspective, and I love to experience it again through the eyes of my students.
Half empty, half full or it’s water?
Half full! At heart, I’m always an optimist.
Is there anything else our readers should know about you?
I’m excited about teaching the humanities elective “Science, Technology, and the American Narrative” again this fall. I designed this course specifically for Florida Tech in order to challenge students to unite their creative impulses with their writing and research skills through interactive assignments on films and classic texts.