College of DuPage Students Reap Benefits of Experienced Instructors

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By Mike McKissack

College of DuPage instructors are bringing their experience as published writers to the classroom, sharing their talent, knowledge and experience with students enrolled in Continuing Education writing courses.

Dr. Mardelle Fortier has taught at College of DuPage since 1985 and currently teaches Writing Workshop and World's Greatest Love Stories. Encouraged and motivated by her mother’s poetry-related games from long childhood roadtrips, she said she became a writer at age seven and was later drawn to teaching through her passion for reading and writing.

“When I was in college a professor advised me, ‘Never teach your first love; try your second love.’ But then a student from another college asked me, "Why not teach your first love? That's where your enthusiasm lies.’ I took his advice, and have for years taught creative writing. My first love is reading and writing, especially in the imaginative area. It is exciting for me when the imagination takes off,” she said.

Fortier earned her doctorate from the University of Illinois and has taught in colleges and university throughout Chicagoland, including Benedictine University in Lisle and Loyola University in Chicago. An award-winning poet, she has had approximately 200 poems published and has 25 stories in print in a variety of venues such as Black Petals, Calliope and Woman’s World. Since 2013, she has published two books of poetry: “White Fire: For Olympic Skaters” and “Moon Fire: Poetry on Skating,” which feature poems about figure skating.

Fortier said that as a teacher, she helps students in a variety of areas, spanning from the technical to the mental and emotional.

“In creative writing classes, I have guided students through all aspects of creative writing, from finding time to solving technical problems such as knotty plot problems, and point of view choices, as well as sales and marketing and establishing a presence on social media,” she said. “For new writers, I suggest that they listen to the way people talk. They should pay attention to the physical details around them: how people dress, how settings look. I hope to assist students to empathize and understand a wide variety of people.”

She said she most enjoys teaching when students become excited about writing and reading, and that she particularly enjoys seeing them publish their own work.  She said that teaching also provides inspiration for her own work.

“I have been inspired by my students to be more myself on the page,” Fortier said. “I started as a writer with many inhibitions and self-censored. I found that students are often more willing to confide their embarrassing, funny and vulnerable moments. Now, I don't worry as much about what others think and I complain less about difficult life experiences because ‘everything is copy’.”

Carmela Martino’s first novel “Rosa, Sola,” a middle-grade novel loosely based on events from her childhood, was named a Booklist Top Ten First Novel for Youth and received a Catholic Press Association Book Award. Her second novel “Playing by Heart” is a historical novel inspired by two sisters who lived in 18th century Milan. The book was chosen as winner of several awards, including the 2018 Catholic Arts and Letters Award (CALA) for Children’s/Young Adult Fiction, Moonbeam’s 2018 Gold Medal in the Young Adult Historical category, and earned the Book of the Year for Outstanding Young Adult Fiction from the Independent Author Network.

Since starting at College of DuPage in 1996, she has taught a variety of writing classes, including Finding Your Writer’s Voice and Writing for Children and Young Adults. Professional experience in both publishing and self-publishing allows her to provide insight to her students in a range or areas, Martino said.

 “As a published, working writer, I can answer my students’ questions about both the publishing industry and the writing process,” she said. “I’ve published a wide variety of work from newspaper essays and magazine articles for adults to poems, puzzles, short stories, and novels for children and teens. I can relate directly to whatever type of writing my students are interested in.”

While Martino was drawn to writing at an early age, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to earn enough as a writer and decided to major in mathematics and computer science. After college, she worked as a computer programmer and database analyst. After five years, she signed on with a computer training company, a career move that rekindled her interest in writing. After the birth of her son, she left that company and became a freelance writer, producing feature articles, essays and columns for “New Catholic Explorer, the Chicago Tribune, Writer’s Digest and Catholic Parent.

Inspired by the books she read daily to her son, Martino subsequently returned to school, starting with credit and noncredit classes at COD, eventually completing an M.F.A. degree in Writing at Vermont College.

Whether it was through creating course materials for computer programmers or writing articles containing publishing tips, Martino said she has always enjoyed sharing knowledge with others and especially enjoys working with students in a classroom setting, nurturing their creativity and seeing them develop and find success as writers.

She emphasizes two habits for beginning writers.

“One, read voraciously, especially in the genre you’re interested in writing. To grow as a writer, it helps to read and study what works and what doesn’t. Two, writing is like any other skill; to improve requires practice, practice, practice,” Martino said.

The Continuing Education program at College of DuPage offers a variety of credit and non-credit courses, classes, programs and workshops that provide learning experiences through a broad range of disciplines in personal development, professional advancement or life enhancement.

(Pictured, from left: Dr. Mardelle Fortier, Carmela Martino.)