Her path to premier scholarship is not what one might call a traditional one. After earning her MFA in English, from Akron in 1971, Susan Delagrange went on to pursue a career as an architectural painter. A chance phone call almost 20 years later, would take her from painter to pioneer in an emerging field.
“Interestingly enough, I came to Ohio State Mansfield by accident,” laughs Dr. Susan Delagrange, “A friend called to say that the campus needed somebody to teach a first year writing course.” Dr. Delagrange joined the staff at Ohio State Mansfield in 1994 as Writing Center Director and Administrator of the First Year Writing program in 1996. Shortly after she began, she made a choice that would change everything. She took a course.
“It had been almost 30 years since I had done University teaching and I thought I would go back and take a course or two to refresh me on new ways of looking at and teaching of writing and rhetoric.” She notes, “And I’m afraid I was hooked. I applied to a graduate program and received my Ph.D. in 2005.”
Dr. Delagrange achieved a Ph. D. in English with specialization in rhetoric and composition. She moved from an instructor to become a member of Ohio State’s tenure track faculty and began to explore the area of digital rhetoric, which is writing created and distributed in digital mediums.
Shortly after joining Ohio State’s faculty, Dr. Delagrange set out on a unique project. The project was focused on rhetoric and the digital “I wrote it off and on for four years.” she notes, “As I was writing it, I knew that it was different from other things that I had read on the topic of visual of visual inquiry and argument. When I became a faculty member, I decided that I was not going to put off this digital project – this idea that we can use visual argument in a way that is as rigorous and valid as we argue with words.”
The study was new, and, in fact, the newly minted professor feared it might be too new. Delagrange explains, “One of the problems images have always had is people think, ‘Well, it is an emotional argument, and therefore’ And yet it is. It can be and that is what I set out to prove.”
That apprehension was not to last long. Portions of work were presented as conference papers and were met with widespread enthusiasm. When her research was compiled into a digital book entitled Technologies of Wonder: Rhetorical Practice in a Digital World, it was not just good by the field’s standards, it considered by many to be ground-breaking. “This is a rich, smart text and a delightful read;” reviewed Dànielle DeVoss, professor of rhetoric at Michigan State University, “It will offer much for us to wrestle with, consider, and attempt to enact in the coming years, as the field’s understandings of and approaches to visual rhetoric become ever more nuanced.”
Experts in the field have also taken notice. The book received Computers and Composition’s 2012 Distinguished Book Award, and The Winifred Bryan Horner Outstanding Book Award from The Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition. In March, the book earned the 2013 Conference on College Composition and Communication Outstanding Book Award, which is considered the top award for scholarship.
In addition to her research, Dr. Delagrange also teaches students to produce visual arguments and how to analyze them. Her students on the Mansfield campus enjoy courses that are, in part, studio courses. In addition to writing essays and research papers, students find themselves producing public service announcements, and digital documentaries, and other digital projects.
When asked about the best part of her work. Dr. Delagrange is quick to respond. “ It may be cliché to say ‘the people,’ but I love the students at Mansfield. It’s one of the reasons that I stayed when I earned my Ph.D. I decided that the student population had been such fun to work with for the previous 15 years that I wanted to stay. Ohio State Mansfield is a great place to teach young men and women.”