Professor fosters imagination through writing in classroom

While all students have their personal favorite professors, one professor stands out as a beloved educator: adjunct lecturer in English Ashley Pankratz ’05. Pankratz’s current course offerings of INTD 105: War Stories, ENGL 305: Advanced Creative Nonfiction Workshop I and ENGL 307: Advanced Creative Nonfiction Workshop II not only draw students in because of the compelling topics themselves, but also because of her warm and engaging nature.

Pankratz graduated from Geneseo with a bachelor of arts in English. She explained that she lived in Canandaigua and was an off-campus resident, rendering her unprepared for the culture shock of living in Geneseo permanently when she became a professor. Upon leaving her diverse community, she realized that she was not able to engage politically and culturally in her new environment. Despite this, Pankratz noted that she had been able to use her experience to “further expand her empathy and different understandings of the segments of rural culture.”

With a numerous amount of unfinished stories, writing has been a passion of Pankratz’s since early adolescence. She explained that she spent most of her free time reading and writing and decided to hone in on her skills as a writer when she eventually declared herself as an English major in college.

“It was something that I knew I could do well and I could do it independently,” she said.

Pankratz was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, but has not affiliated herself with the religion since she was 18 years old. She did, however, note that her involvement did influence her as a writer.

“It helped me to develop a very active inner life,” Pankratz said. “There were a lot of times when I would be socially engaged with others for a religious function and the material didn’t quite interest me intellectually … so in response to that, my imagination developed significantly.”

Although she admitted that she kept mostly to herself as a student in Geneseo, Pankratz explained that she branched out during graduate school at the University of Michigan. She joined a writer-in-residency program through Inside Out Detroit, helping young children to explore their own inner lives and talents in creative writing.

Despite this early experience with the world of education, Pankratz noted that she originally had no plans to become a professor, citing her personality as a cause for hesitancy. “Deep down, [I’m a] very shy individual,” she said.

Pankratz acknowledged that she is very self-aware when it comes to her strengths and weaknesses, some doubling as both. For instance, she explained that her experiences as an anxious person often leave her in a state of constant fretting, but on the other hand, it also allows her to strive for perfection in her work. Another weakness she noted is her empathy; although, she did admit that it’s a good quality for writers to possess.

“When we are truly empathetic, we are taking on the pain of others,” she said.

Her deep sense of empathy has helped her make the decision to become more active in animal rights and to live a vegan lifestyle. Pankratz explained that she always loved animals growing up and she currently owns three horses, three dogs and five cats. Pankratz focuses a lot of her writing on animal rights, gaining a new set of skills that provide her with the strength to actively contest cultural norms in relation to the treatment of animals today. 

“We ate meat meals growing up and didn’t even think twice about it, and yet we treat domestic animals with love … and went to great lengths to keep them healthy,” Pankratz said. “I needed to change the way I was living in order to align myself with my values.”

Pankratz encouraged other students who are interested in any kind of activism to “find a community that is supportive of your activism … [while] maintaining your sense of self.”

“You’re constantly bombarded with things that are troubling to you, so breaking that routine to do something that makes you feel good is really important,” she said. “It’s a really essential component of being an activist.”