Get to know Patrick Thomas
Patrick Thomas has been in Ohio for most of his life. From Dover, Ohio he ventured to Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania for his undergraduate studies and taught high school English for three years before returning to Ohio where he earned his Master's degree at Kent State University, as well as his PhD through their Literacy, Rhetoric and Social Practice program. After Kent, Patrick decided not to return to high school instruction and instead started work as an assistant professor of English at the University of Dayton in 2011.
Patrick's place in the English department isn't stereotypical of the major. His research and coursework have a different angle. He teaches courses in professional writing and business communication, report and proposal writing, composition, and a theme-based writing seminar that focuses on various themes. This semester the course focuses on video gaming as a new literacy practice and an inﬂuence on pro-war ideology. He has taught graduate-level courses in new media writing and professional writing, and a senior seminar in writing and democracy as well.
"I really like teaching my report and proposal writing classes because students in those classes do a client-based project, writing grants for local agencies,”"he said. Recently, one group of students working with a free clinic was awarded a grant to purchase a dental X-ray machine. "Those kinds of experiences make writing worthwhile to students."
But with the perks come certain challenges, and UD seems to have a unique set.
"Creating new courses, given our current curricular changes," explained Patrick, "our students don't want something that’s been done before. They don't want old lessons or recycled tests. They want the best and the newest that you've got. It's a great challenge," he continued.
When he’s not standing in front of a classroom or guiding students through the process of writing resumes, cover letters and grant proposals, Patrick focuses on his research. His interests lie in the writing that is done once outside of an academic setting. One example of this is his dissertation, which looked at soldiers who started writing while in Iraq and Afghanistan as a way to maintain connections with people back home.
"There’s a whole array of writing practices we study that have nothing to do with school," he said. "Writing is labor in our culture, we are rewarded for our ability to write. On one hand, I'm concerned with how this writing changes what we value about literacy; that we value writing now more than we value reading. On the other hand, definitions of writing are also changing."
Patrick's research is also, by nature, interdisciplinary. Working with Anna Langhorne, from the Department of Communication, Laura Kolaczkowski in English, and Kurt Jackson from the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, Patrick is analyzing how people with Multiple Sclerosis use the Internet to learn about their disease and make treatment decisions. Anyone with a laptop that knows how to spell "Google" typically comes home from a doctor's appointment with a diagnosis as well as a pile of unanswered questions: What are the long-term effects? Are there any complementary treatments? Some people log on to WebMD when they get the sniffles or have an allergic reaction. Some, unfortunately, experience more critical illnesses that necessitate more in-depth exploration. Patrick's research potentially addresses all of these concerns.
"I think a lot of people choose English as a major because they like to read," Patrick said. "I did not grow up with a heartfelt love for literature. I was always the one in literature classes with the weird interpretation, or I just never got it right." Patrick was more interested in what people do with writing and, thankfully, there is a place for that in the English department. However, like any good English professor, he does have a book recommendation: Everything Bad Is Good For You by Steven Johnson discusses how many culturally low brow past-times (video games, reality TV, etc.) are meaningful to our self-development.
A young professor working through tenure doesn't always have a lot time for pleasure reading or hobbies. But when he gets a free moment, Patrick does have a few. He enjoys music and sings for the Bach Society of Dayton. He plays the violin, enjoys cooking, volunteers at the Dayton library and travels any chance he gets — his favorite place ever? Paris. Though, "Dayton has some amazing local restaurants," he said. "If you’re a foodie it is a really cool place to explore." Patrick recommends Roost in the Oregon District. During his travels, Patrick also collects, interestingly enough, teapots. He picks them up from the places he goes — museums and art shops in various cities and travel destinations — and displays them around his home.
For as much as he loves to travel and see the world, Patrick appreciates what Dayton and the University in particular have to offer.
"What don't I love about UD?" he laughed. "I like the fact that I work in a department that is a really engaged and engaging group of people, intellectually. And the students," he continued, "there's so much potential. It's just so exciting."