Faith, community and the pursuit of knowledge. For some, these three things seem incompatible. For Joel Overall, they combine to form a way of life.
Joel is a doctoral student in Texas Christian University’s composition and rhetoric program. He’s also an ACU graduate with an undergraduate degree in Integrated Marketing Communications and a master’s in English. For him, the ACU experience was the springboard for a journey into what it means to be a Christian and a scholar.
“I liked the Christian mission and the attention students got,” he said. “Working closely with faculty has always been important to me. The mentoring I received in the English department was a big help.”
As he took courses like Web Design and Major British Writers, Joel began to explore new ways of helping students and faculty communicate. He helped with a campaign to save the ACU bandwidth, worked with the business advising program, and during his graduate studies, served as a graduate instructor who worked with the ACU Writing Center.
The power of words
Joel’s purpose throughout his academic studies has focused on words – their purpose, their function, their use and their meaning. As an undergraduate studying journalism, he found himself fascinated by creative writing, even taking it as a support field for his major.
“That propelled me into the English program,” he said. “Teaching writing is almost as much fun as writing itself. How people approach logical arguments while being productive – the new wave of rhetoric is communication, getting people to come together on an issue.”
At TCU, Joel is trying to publish and present his work as much as possible, in addition to teaching one course per semester as a graduate assistant. This semester he’s taking on another job as well: working in the new media writing center helping faculty learn how to use new media in the classroom.
“I’ve been able to help them think through how to implement these techniques,” he said.
He also helps students who need support or extra tutoring in the writing center.
Music as rhetoric
For his dissertation, Joel is studying the works of Kenneth Burke, an American rhetorician of the early 20th century. He’s using Burke musical critiques to better understand his rhetorical theory, dealing with attitudes and perspectives to bring a new light to Burke’s later work in the 1950s. For some members of academia, this blending of disciplines – rhetoric and music – is a divergence from the school of thought that words are the only legitimate form of rhetoric. However, Joel argues that music is also rhetoric, albeit of a different form. And his examination of Burke’s rhetoric is teaching him to look past the polarities of a divided modern society and examine the true meaning of many forms of rhetoric.
“Words and symbols – they are action,” he said.
As Joel explores the tensions between academia and community, his faith is always a binding agent, melding the sometimes disparate worlds of words and daily life. For him, the story of Jesus is all about rhetoric and how it affects humankind.
“When I think about the story of Christ and who he is, he was all about communication,” Joel said. “Christ crossed those polar opposites.”
And, with a little help from Kenneth Burke and the assistance of his academic community, so will Joel.