Interdisciplinary Legacies: Interviews and Reflections with Dr. Eileen Landis-Groom and Dr. Angela Beck

An audio interview and multimedia timeline by Amelia Chesley

Timeline Threads

The work we do as scholars, teachers, and mentors takes time.

Sometimes it takes more or less time than we imagine it will, but in any case we need time to live and learn, and legacies need time to grow. The content below follows a timetable of notable events in the careers of Dr. Eileen Landis-Groom, Dr. Angela Beck, and myself, bookended by some history of our campus and speculation about the future.


"Embry-Riddle West"

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University purchases land for a new campus in the sunny high desert of north-central Arizona.

transcript for clip 1978

[Angela Beck/AB] So Eileen might have told you, Embry-Riddle purchased this campus 40 years ago, more than 40 years ago, from Prescott College, which is a small liberal arts college that still exists downtown. And all the buildings—every single building—was tiny, little slump block buildings. And I cannot believe the physical change in the campus in the last 20 years. The quality and size of the dormitories, the quality of the library building, oh my gosh—when they first opened the library, we had graduation on campus and we marched—after graduation, everyone just marched up to the library and they had the grand opening. It was fantastic. Fantastic! The building that we are in and some of the other STEM buildings did not exist.

Just try to imagine—gently sloping hills with slump-block buildings that look like a military base. It really did. There were none of the athletic fields, half the parking lots weren't here. The chapel where I got married was not here. Health Services was much smaller. It just, it's incredible the growth to try to keep up with the student population. And so I'm really proud of administration for dumping as much money as they have into new buildings.

Beautiful landcape photograph of the forests and mountains surrounding Prescott, Arizona.

Interdisciplinary Arts

After earning two degrees in English (from Bucknell University and Western Washington University), Eileen Landis-Groom completes her interdisciplinary Doctorate of Arts degree at Idaho State University in Boise, Idaho.

transcript for clip 1985

[Amelia Chesley/AC] Eileen Landis-Groom completed an undergraduate degree at Bucknell University, as an English major in the early '70s. For her Master of Arts, she continued studying English at Western Washington University—and there she found teaching so enjoyable, so rewarding, that she just had to find ways to keep doing it. She took substitute teaching jobs and later joined a teaching program that sent her to Venezuela for 2 years, where she worked with students and colleagues from all over the world. Eventually, she pursued a doctorate at Idaho State University—an interdisciplinary Doctorate of Arts degree that allowed her a chance to deeply explore literature, creative writing, novels by and about women, composition theory, and pedagogy. And of course, to do more teaching. She completed that doctorate in 1985.


A Professor (and professors in training)

Dr. Landis-Groom begins teaching at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. At about the same time, Angela Beck begins her graduate studies, while a very young Amelia Chesley (that's me, your lovely narrator) starts learning to read.

transcript for clip 1986

[Amelia Chesley/AC] The next year she took a position at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Not long at all after that, I started kindergarten about 700 miles away to the north, and as I was learning to read and write and play the piano after school, Angela Beck was studying linguistics as an undergraduate and master's student in Southern California.

["Nine Count" by Reflections fades out.]

[Angela Beck/AB] I studied Applied Linguistics as an undergraduate at San Diego State University. And that included a minor in Japanese, which I have not used. [laughter] But I went from there straight into the Masters, still at San Diego State, under Ann Johns, Dr. Ann Johns, and this was in the mid to late '80s. This was when genre was becoming the thing for teaching students how to read and write. And there was a growing awareness of the sociocultural nature of reading and writing.

A scanned page from ERAU-Prescott's 1990 yearbook, featuring the Department of Humanities. Eileen is featured in two of the central photos.

Creative Writing 

Leveraging the talents of everyone on campus, Dr. Landis-Groom and her students launch The Black Box literary magazine. The response to this publication over the next few years is overwhelmingly positive.

transcript for clip 1987

[Amelia Chesley/AC] The department hosted all kinds of events, in those days. Eileen remembers film screenings, poetry readings, and a creative arts night for students and faculty to show off their artistic talents.

The other notable page in this yearbook is all about The Black Box, which at the time was a very new student organization. I'll read what it says.

[Electronic music fades in again: "Perpetuum Mobile" by Kraftamt via CC Mixter.]

[AC reading from the yearbook] The Black Box began in 1988 as a small group of students who liked to write creatively and noticed a wealth of creative talent hidden behind fronts of technical barricades erected in the minds of their fellow students. Knowing that these barricades were not only uncomfortable but unhealthy as well, they decided that something had to be done. As a result of this need to express oneself, this group organized a club to gather any creative works that could be squeezed from the masses on campus—poems, stories, photographs, cartoons, sketches, anything. Somehow the name The Black Box was affixed to the group because they, like a flight data recorder black box, were to record events and unusual attitudes which transposed around them. An alarming response ensued, and one page, then two, then three started appearing in a section of the campus newspaper. In the spring of 1989, with the consensus of the Student Government Association (SGA) and Humanities faculty, The Black Box was to be run for one semester as a student service organization.

The response to The Black Box as a bi-semester publication was overwhelming, and at the end of the '89 spring semester, the student government unanimously voted in The Black Box as a permanent service organization, entitled to all of the privileges stipulated in the SGA bylaws. The Black Box is presently a well-staffed, student-run organization which produces a bi-semester magazine featuring works of art and writings of the students of Embry Riddle Aeronatual University–Prescott (ERAU–Prescott).

["Perpetuum Mobile" by Kraftamt fades out gradually]

Until this semester, The Black Box magazine had been on hiatus for a few semesters, but we're not going to let it die. In fact, one of my colleagues and I have just put the finishing touches on the layout for a new double issue to come out in the next couple of weeks.

The front page of the first installment of The Black Box literary publication, included as an insert with the student newspaper. Photo of two black-and-white print copies of The Black Box magazine; both have simple, monochrome typographical designs.

Prescott Campus & Community

Eileen settles in to her life in Prescott, enjoying campus events, making friends, and making the most of all the wide open outdoor spaces.

transcript for clip 1990

[Amelia Chesley/AC] There were unexpected trajectories for Eileen Landis-Groom, also. At one point early in her time here, as the result of what she calls "kind of a fluke," she lived on the Prescott campus, near the Chancellor's house, just a short walk from the main campus buildings. Serendipitously enough, this housing option was available and cheaper than her apartment in Prescott Valley at the time.

[Upbeat xylophone and plucked strings play under the narration: "TwoPound" by Muffuletta via Blue Dot Sessions.]

Back then, everyone had to wear many hats in the department. Eileen emphasized that everyone taught first-year writing, and for several years everyone also advised students in the various aviation and engineering programs.

The whole campus was smaller then, and the local area far less developed around it. Eileen remembers seeing and hearing coyotes all over the trails and the scrub land to the north. Today there are two or three subdivisions and municipal buildings and highways sprawling out into that space. But some of the trails are still there. I wonder if, in my occasional hiking excursions, perhaps I've walked my two small pugs through the same desert patches where Eileen and her dog Beanie may have walked 30 years ago.

Eileen feels strongly about keeping at least some of the acreage around our campus open and undeveloped—not only because it's better for the land and animals and ecosystems of that space, but also for the beauty of it.

[Plucked cello strings fade up and away again: "TwoPound" by Muffuletta via Blue Dot Sessions.]

Eileen loaned me a copy of a rare Embry-Riddle yearbook from 1990. On page 86, we have the profile of the Humanities department, not Humanities and Communication as we call it now, just Humanities.

[Energetic electronic music fades in under this quote: "Perpetuum Mobile" by Kraftamt via CC Mixter.]

[AC reading from the yearbook] In a university such as Embry-Riddle, it is very important that in the midst of all our technical classes, that we never lose contact with a part of ourselves which can only be brought out by the members of the Humanities department. This department, led by Berta Parrish, helps the students of ERAU to see more than just the technical aspects of their lives. The Humanities Department consists of the English department of the school, as well as the Social Sciences, including History and Psychology. It is through this department that the students learn about life in a more open-minded way. It is also through this program that the students are able to strip away some of the narrow-minded technical bonds controlling their lives and allowing them to experience Embry-Riddle in a way that is sometimes comforting, sometimes disturbing, but always educational. It is also through this program, the closest thing to a liberal arts program offered through the school, that the students discover what their lives can become, rather than what their lives will become.

["Perpetuum Mobile" fades out]

Eileen shows up in two photographs on this page, with captions that emphasize her friendships with faculty and students.

Eileen and her dog Beanie hiking the trails north of campus. Photograph.

Writing Across the Curriculum

With other writing faculty in the Humanities department, Eileen put together a campus newsletter all about Writing Across the Curriculum. Even faculty outside the department seemed to enjoy the newsletter's grammar quiz.

transcript for clip 1993

[Amelia Chesley/AC] Working with colleagues in our department and across our campus, Eileen Landis-Groom supported her own students—and other people's students—in becoming strong and confident writers. She also supported other faculty in learning about Writing Across the Curriculum. She developed workshops and even a campus newsletter all about teaching writing in the disciplines.

In some of the papers Eileen shared with me, I found a 1993 edition of this newsletter. It was 6 pages long, printed on orange paper, and referenced the previous issue's grammar quiz, which apparently was quite popular with the other faculty.

The Writing Center tutoring that Eileen took charge of starting in 1988 took up a great deal of her time. She and other willing faculty volunteered some of their office hours to hold drop-in tutoring sessions for any student—not just their own. Eileen says she learned so much more about aviation accidents than she ever thought possible as part of this tutoring.

Sometimes the Writing Center hours were held in faculty offices, or in the student union, or in whatever other learning spaces were available on campus. Eileen not only recruited the volunteers but also organized the schedule and made it public through contacts at the library and academic support services. This volunteer system of decentralized Writing Center tutoring continued until about 2005, when Eileen says she decided she just couldn't do it anymore.

Photograph picturing the first page of the January 1993 WAC Newsletter: two columns of text printed on orange paper.

Teaching and learning in Flagstaff, Arizona

Angela Beck earns her PhD from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. She teaches there as an adjunct instructor for a few years.

transcript for clip 1999

[Angela Beck/AB] When I finished with my Master's there, I wanted to go do a doctorate study, and I had my choice between a full ride at Berkeley or working my way through Northern Arizona University. And Ann Johns said, "Uou will go to Northern Arizona University," [laughter] "so you can work with my colleagues, Bill Grabe and Federicka Stoller and Mary McGroarty."

And I am so glad she put her foot down, because she was absolutely right. They were on the forefront of some of the sociocognitive, neurolinguistics, cognitive linguistics studies in composition theory. So I went to Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Arizona, got my doctorate there in '99.

While there and also while at San Diego State, I was able to teach as a graduate teaching assistant, and I loved it so much that I started teaching part-time as an adjunct for NAU.


Feeling at Home 

Dr. Angela Beck visits the Prescott campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for an interview; she accepts an Assistant Professor position not long after and begins adjusting to this unique institution.

transcript for clip 2002

[Angela Beck/AB] When I first stepped on this campus, the person who interviewed me was Dr. Patric McElwain. And Patric took me on a walking tour of the campus, which is very different than the current campus. And I remember standing outside the Davis Learning Center (DLC) Auditorium, on the hill above the DLC Auditorium and looking out towards Flagstaff, that 99-mile view that you can see all the way to Flagstaff, and I told him, just blurted out, "I can feel myself teaching here; I feel at home here." And the next day I had an offer. And so that's a treasured memory of mine.

[Amelia Chesley/AC] I have my own treasured memory of the building Angela mentions there, the Davis Learning Center. Dr. Beck was the chair of the search committee that brought me out for a campus interview. And after my teaching demonstration in one of the DLC classrooms, Angela walked me from there to the campus Visitor Center where I'd be given my own official walking tour of campus. She praised the short lesson that I'd just given on document design and resumes, and remarked that I had interacted with those students as if I'd known them for weeks. She was telling me that I already belonged there.

I didn't get my offer the very next day, but when it did come, and when I ultimately decided to accept it and move back west, I did feel a little bit like I was coming home.

Exterior of the Davis Learning Center, a beige brick building on Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott Campus landscape photo through the pine forests around ERAU-Prescott's campus, with the San Fransisco peaks far in the background.

"Our students can't write!"

During Dr. Beck's first year at ERAU–Prescott, faculty from the College of Engineering recognize that their students need more support in learning to write and ask for help from the Humanities & Communication department. She experiments with linked courses and integrated curriculum for several semesters, ultimately developing an integrated capstone program (and meeting her future husband!).

transcript for clip 2003

[Angela Beck/AB] Another one of my best memories was when the College of Engineering came to us my first year here and said, "[ahem] Our students can't write—do something about it!" [laughter] And I said, "Well..." And actually, I was very pleased they came to us—they recognized the need, they let us go and look at the need, they let me go and look at their papers and documents and sit in on some of their courses. And this was the beginning of the team teaching on campus.

We started with a linked course. So we had a COM 221 Technical Communication course, populated with engineering students who were all enrolled in a particular Engineering Capstone course. So they had their capstone instruction, and then they had me as their communication instruction, and we tried to link the two courses together. It was not successful. Not because the students were terrible, or I was terrible, or the teacher was terrible, but because I was not embedded in the capstone course and I had to get everything at secondhand. "What is it your teacher really wants? What are their expectations?"

So that lasted a semester, and the next semester, I asked permission to volunteer extra time to go sit in and volunteer my services for an engineering course. That was Dr. Ron Madler, who was an Assistant Professor at the time—he certainly was not Dean yet. That was more successful, to the point where when Dean Madler stopped teaching that course the very next semester, he said, "You know, this is a pretty good thing, why don't you try out Jim Helbling?" And so this is how I met my future husband.


An undergraduate in Technical Writing

I (Amelia Chesley) receive the first of three degrees in my chosen discipline: a BS in English with a concentration in Professional and Technical Writing from Utah State University. After graduation, I work as a web developer and graphic designer.


Tenure, leadership, & change

Dr. Angela Beck earns tenure and is immediately chosen to serve as Chair of the Humanities & Communication Department.

transcript for clip 2008

[Angela Beck/AB] I came to Embry-Riddle in fall 2002, where I have earned my tenure and promotion. And the day that I earned my tenure and promotion, the department said, "You are now our department chair!"

[Amelia Chesley/AC] How long were you the chair?

[AB] Six years. And then, when I was finished being a department chair, I was able to get back into composition studies for more than just reading about it, to actually doing research.

In retrospect, it seems so logical, but at the time, I felt a little bit battered around between my doctoral studies and then coming here, and they had different needs.

I taught values and ethics, I taught Japanese literature... I taught all sorts of things that I'm not so certain [laughter] my degree completely prepared me for.

[AC] Yeah, Japanese literature is not even a course that we offer any more.

[AB] No, no. That's correct.

dramatic landscape photo of a rainbow arcing over the resevoirs near the EARU-Prescott campus.

Team teaching with Engineering faculty

After years of volunteer work with engineering faculty and many in-depth discussions about how best to fit the advanced technical communication course officially into the curriculum, Dr. Beck's team teaching model was established as a required, credit-bearing component of our engineering capstone courses.

transcript for clip 2011

[Angela Beck/AB] And that is one of my absolute best memories is the first successful teaming where we had a chance to negotiate duties, we shared very well and communicated very well. It helps that his mother was an English teacher, I think. And he was a good communicator about what his expectations were. He had documentation I could look at, he had sample papers, he had models. He wanted me to lecture; he didn't begrudge me time in the classroom. In fact, he wanted me there for every class, and not just 10 minutes at the beginning of class, or whatever. And so we started this team teaching. And so for 6, 7 years? Nine years—I volunteered without pay, to teach an overload to team teach, until we were finally able to get into the catalog. We were finally able to take a volunteer service project and make it a required course and put it in the undergraduate catalog.

[Amelia Chesley/AC] But that took 9 years...

[AB] It took years, it took a lot of discussion between the College of Engineering and our department—fruitful discussion, but discussion. It took a lot of discussion with our deans at the time, because in order to make this advanced technical communication, 400-level COM class work, they had to fit it into the engineering curriculum. And the only way to fit that in was to take something else out. So they gave up Speech, which in hindsight, was probably not the course to give up. Yeah, but it was that or Values and Ethics and I refused to give up values and ethics. Students need business ethics, period. Especially the engineers.

[AC] Yes.

[AB] And one of the primary motives for teaching in the disciplines is to provide our students with the so-called "just in time" teaching. And when the engineers came to us and said, "Our students can't write," what they really meant was, "Our accreditation board, and our board of visitors, and our board of advisors, and our industrial advisory board all came and said your students can't write as well as they could in the discipline. So we want you to fix that... and give them just in time instruction, so that they're more buffed up before they go into their disciplines." That's really what they meant. And that's what we can do for physics. That's what we can do for astronomy; that's what we can do for forensics biology.

So that was one of my best memories, again, is when we finally turned it into a credit-bearing course. And I could get credit for teaching it! Those years and years of work, were generative for me, because I was able to get multiple publications and chapters and conference proceedings, and a husband. [laughter]

[Bright, twinkling arpeggios fade in and under the narration: "reCreation" by airtone via CC Mixter.]

[AC] Our current department chair has been piloting and developing a linked cornerstone course with the intro to engineering course and our 200-level technical writing course. This is just one of the ways that Angela Beck's program development has rippled out from her initial volunteered linked course, into all kinds of new pedagogical initiatives on our campus.

interior photo of the Shearwater capstone design team of 8 students, with Dr. Jim Helbling far left and Dr. Angela Beck next to him.

A PhD in Rhetoric & Composition

With the help and encouragement of many mentors, I completemy dissertation (all about the online volunteer community at and earn a PhD from Purdue University.

photograph of three diplomas layered on top of an empty wooden frame, one each from Utah State University, Texas Tech University, and Purdue University.

Welcome to Office #314

After my campus visit to ERAU–Prescott, I eventually accept a position here and move to Arizona during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Landis-Groom graciously surrenders her office space for my benefit.

transcript for timeline clip 2020

[Amelia Chesley/AC] When I was hired at Embry-Riddle in 2020, Eileen Landis-Groom, knowing that she would be retiring soon, gave up her central office—room 314 in our main academic building—so that I could settle into the department properly.

["Precarity" by airtone fades in once more, playing underneath the narration.]

With her new office somewhere distant and what with all the COVID precautions that year, I barely saw Eileen around as I got to know my new institution. But she sent me a very sweet email that October: "I wanted to tell you," she wrote, "that this is the time of year when you will be seeing ravens doing all sorts of aerobatics and often flying just a foot away from your window. It's quite amazing." Now that I've spent 3 years in that office, with its grand picture window facing west, I definitely agree.

A sunny view of Granite Mountain from Office #314. Photograph.

Making a record

Both Dr. Landis-Groom and Dr. Beck prepare to retire at the end of spring semester and fall semester of 2022, respectively. I insist on interviewing them both and preserving their memories and advice before they go.


transcript for timeline clip 2022

[Resonant chimes fade in and out again: "Empty Rooms" by _ghost via CC Mixter.]

[Amelia Chesley/AC] Two of my senior colleagues retired in 2022, concluding their decades of service to the university where I am now just finishing my third full year. That means I haven't had much time to get to know Dr. Eileen Landis-Groom and Dr. Angela Beck. But I do know that they are pretty much legends in our small Humanities and Communication department.

[Rising piano arpeggios fade in and out again: "Empty Rooms" by _ghost via CC Mixter.]

Dr. Landis-Groom has been involved with our growing campus and department for more than 30 years. She not only went above and beyond mentoring and advising students—she was the backbone of our creative writing course offerings, and, for decades, she led students from across campus in producing a literary magazine, The Black Box. On top of this, she created and maintained the first writing center tutoring program that our campus ever had.

Dr. Angela Beck developed much of the curriculum for our technical writing courses, instituted an intensive integrated capstone course with the College of Engineering, and served as beloved chair of the department. Her influence and impact cannot be overstated.

Both have taught thousands of undergraduates, served tirelessly in many corners of our campus community, and offered their wisdom and friendship to dozens of current and former faculty.

[Melodic piano fades in and plays under narration: "Nine Count" by Reflections via Blue Dot Sessions.]

To me, they've been most graceful, powerful examples of women in academia. I'm going to miss them.

In the months before Dr. Landis-Groom and Dr. Beck would leave their desks and go on to enjoy their hard-earned rest, I set out to capture some of their stories and advice. I asked about their scholarly and professional experience, their favorite memories, their greatest challenges, and greatest successes. I asked them what they wanted to be remembered for.

I wanted to know how the institution and the program have changed over the years and their opinions on those changes. I wanted to make a record.


And what will the future bring?

Maybe someday, when I'm about to retire, someone younger and smarter than me will ask about my memories and experience from the early 21st century. I wonder what will have changed in that time for our disciplines, for higher education, and for the world.

transcript for timeline clip 2052

[Amelia Chesley/AC] Someday, in 30 or so years, maybe someone will sit me down and ask, what were things like way back in the early 21st century? What's changed since the 2020s?

I don't know what new things will be pushing us around by then and which old things will be fading away—nobody can exactly predict the future.

["Nine Count" by Blue Dot Sessions comes in again and fades slowly under the narration.]

But looking back with these two accomplished women has helped me to more tangibly realize the kinds of change that I should try to be prepared for in my career, whether at this institution or any other. Their stories have also pushed me to think about the kinds of changes and evolutions that I can bring about—the ways that I can shape and mold and influence this department into the kind of workplace and community my colleagues and I want it to be. Together we're going to have an impact on what students learn as they come through the courses we offer in our department, so we may as well try to make that impact as positive and meaningful as we can.