Room 109C in Mark Hopkins Hall is slowly becoming clearer as the semester comes to an end. An office which is typically full of papers, books, newspapers and student work is now tidy, but also rather empty.
After 20 years of teaching, Jenifer Augur, English/Communications professor at MCLA, will be retiring at the end of this semester, leaving behind a legacy of strong and inspiring teaching.
Augur’s love of education, creative writing and journalism are all evident in the classroom and in her work with The Beacon over many years.
Mark Miller, chairperson of the English/Communications department, can speak to her abilities.
“She has a high standard and I think the students appreciate that,” Miller said. “I can say that I’ve had more than one student say—sometimes in the context of a senior portfolio and some cases in an independent note or letter—she changed their lives. There is no higher compliment for a teacher.”
As Augur starts to reminisce and talk about teaching, there is a noticeable energy boost in her voice and body language.
“I have no regrets becoming a writing teacher,” Augur said. “It is the most rewarding thing I ever did in my whole life.”
Augur taught five courses: Writing and Reporting the News I, Magazine Writing and Editing, Creative Writing: Fiction, Issues in Journalism, and News Editing Practicum (The Beacon).
“It has been fun,” Augur said. “It’s been a challenge, it has helped me grow as a person and professionally as well.”
Her favorite parts of any course were the special moments when the class came together and became connected.
“One of my favorite moments is when we were writing each others’ obituaries for the news writing class and I overheard one of the girls say that she was an avid Beatles fan,” Augur said through a smile. “And so I asked what her favorite Beatles song was. She said the title of one that didn’t ring a bell and I said ‘Which one is that?’ and the whole class started singing it.”
Augur starts to sing the song “In My Life” by the Beatles.
“I just got goosebumps,” Augur recalls. “We were all in it together, you know?”
On the flip-side, Augur also loved interacting one-on-one with students. Being connected on a more individual and personal level inspired Augur, making her time here worthwhile.
Lauren Levite, copy-chief of The Beacon, has spent a lot of time with Augur both in and out of the classroom. Augur is her adviser, and taught her Writing and Reporting the News I course.
“It was just such a fun class—she knows how to crack a joke,” Levite said. “Jen is so funny and you can tell she knows what she’s talking about. She’s been doing this for a long time.”
During her time on The Beacon, Augur was always willing to help Levite become a better writer and editor.
“She’s really been helpful,” Levite said. “Being the copy-chief, she’s been able to help me a lot specifically with editorial things. She is always there when I need her—her office is right next door, so she is widely available for her students.”
Levite is just one among many in the legacy of students to have been inspired by Augur. Andrew McKeever, a journalist at iBerkshires, worked closely with Jen Augur when he was a student at MCLA, and in his final semester, in 2007, when he was the Managing Editor at The Beacon.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for everything she did while I was there,” McKeever said. “In journalism, you have to work to make decisions and those decisions are public. She always let the editorial board make the decisions, but had a great ability to pose questions that really made you think about what to publish and why.”
Augur’s life up this point has been anything but ordinary. She initially went to college for a very different major.
“Believe it or not, I started out in college to be a marine biologist,” Augur said.
Augur attended Southampton College of Long Island University, but did not pursue a marine biology degree. Instead, she doubled majored in English with a concentration in professional writing and biology.
She became the Editor of “The Windmill,” her college newspaper, and graduated in 1982. A college course in humanistic psychology inspired Augur to obtain her master’s degree in that field.
“It’s about the positive side of psychology,” Augur explained. “How creative you can be, how beautiful you are, the potential you have to grow into this self-actualized person.”
There were only three schools that offered a masters in Humanistic Psychology, and West Georgia College was the only one to accept students without a bachelor in Psychology. So Augur packed up her bags and moved to Georgia for six years.
“I drove down to Georgia and got caught up in this southern culture,” Augur said.
After graduating in 1987, Augur returned to Berkshire County to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction at UMASS Amherst.
“In between, I did a lot of fun things,” Augur said, “Including driving to Alaska alone, taking a cargo ship across the Atlantic Ocean, backpacking through Europe, and working at, among other places, the top of Mount Greylock and as Managing Editor of the ‘Adams Packet.’”
Before graduating from UMASS Amherst, Augur was a reporter for the Berkshire Media Group. This company owned several different newspapers in the area. Augur worked for two: “The Berkshire Courier” and the “Adams Packet.”
Augur began teaching as a graduate student at UMASS Amherst. After graduation, she taught at Berkshire Community College for two years.
For the next two years, Augur taught at Simon’s Rock College of Bard before coming to MCLA in the fall of 2004. In 2009 Augur won the Junior Faculty Award at MCLA for her exceptional teaching abilities. She has been an adviser to the College newspaper for 12 years.
“Jen is totally student focused,” Miller said. “And certainly I think the students notice this and deeply appreciate it. I do too. We’re just going to miss her terribly. I think she is a very positive presence in the department.”
“I graduated ten years ago and still remain in contact,” McKeever said. “That says a lot. She’s smart, down to earth, and personable. She’s not just there to advise for the year or so a student is on The Beacon, but she is a positive role model throughout the graduate’s career. She is certainly one of the most memorable and influential people in my own development and career as a journalist.”
When Augur exits her teaching role at MCLA, she will also be leaving The Beacon in the hands of its current faculty adviser, Shawn McIntosh.
“Jen has been a great co-adviser to work with at The Beacon,” McIntosh said. “I try to emulate her pragmatic, yet empathetic approach in working with student journalists, and her dedication to the art and craft of writing reminds me of why I decided to get into journalism in the first place.”
Augur’s highly ambitious life will not end with retirement.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in college,” Augur said. “And really, really want to return to the ocean to be a marine biologist again.”
Augur also has four drafted manuscripts she plans to finish and publish. She looks forward to working on her novels and being near the ocean.