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Last modified: Thursday, March 30, 2006

T.J. Rivard

The Sylvia E. Bowman Award

Associate Professor of English
Division of Humanities and Fine Arts
Indiana University East
Appointed to IU faculty, 1996
B.A., Bellarmine University, 1983
M.F.A., Indiana University, 1989

"There are three rules to writing fiction. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." T.J. Rivard is fond of the quote from British novelist, playwright, and short-story writer W. Somerset Maugham — but fortunately for his students at IU East, Rivard has a gift for helping them figure out the rules for themselves. His innovative teaching style gives students a chance to help create the class, find their voices within the course context, and assess the course as it progresses.

"From this, I hope to create active learners, students who will investigate and explore the world of ideas and their imaginations, using the tools that the classroom community gives them and the ones that we discover and develop as the course goes along," Rivard says.

Writing fiction is Rivard's true passion, something he's done for the past 20 years. His published works include, among others, "Other Than Love," in Oxford Magazine, "The Raven and the Swan," in flashquake (nominated for a Pushcart Prize), "The Girl and the Snake," in Smokelong Quarterly, "The Monkey Rattle" in Eureka Literary Magazine, and "Morning," in Kentucky Poetry Review.

Rivard was one of the first people on IU East's campus to teach a distance education course, and regularly supplements courses with online components. He has acted as advisor to the IU East Writers' Club, established a national e-zine, and founded an undergraduate student journal to showcase the talents of student writers. Rivard has been honored with the Helen Lees Award for Excellence in Teaching (2000), the TERA Award for Excellence in Teaching (1997, 1998, and 2000 — he took his name out of the running when he became chair of the department), a mini-sabbatical award (1998), a President's Council on the Arts and Sciences award (1994), and a Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching Award (1994), and several grants and fellowships.

Taking students through the process of awakening their innate creativity is energizing for Rivard, who considers himself more of a guide than a leader. "When students lead the conversation, I become a coach and mentor, and we become a community with the same goals," he says. "The difference is a subtle one, shifting the classroom perspective from one where the instructor shows the students where they need to be … to one where we find that place together."

In his writing and literature courses alike, Rivard remains focused on how to better facilitate his students' learning process. "His democratic attitude to the relative status of individual courses extends to his students," says Mary Fell, professor of English at IU East. "It is impossible to tell, observing a visitor in his office, whether that student is a nervous freshman unsure of how to construct a thesis statement or an accomplished upperclassman discussing his senior project. All are treated with equal respect."

After each semester, Rivard, known as "T.J." to his colleagues and students alike, collects student comments that he uses to improve his courses. He used feedback from his Elementary Composition course to redesign the course to include more conversation, though most of the comments were positive even before the change. End-of-semester evaluations included such comments as "I have enjoyed this class and instructor more than any other in my 13 years of school," and "I came to this class with trepidation . . . he made me enthusiastic about the subject and I now know I can write with some degree of intelligence. I really enjoyed the class and his teaching—he's great."

The rules to fiction writing may not be clear-cut, but one thing is certain: students in T.J. Rivard's classes learn how to write. "Some of us learn to be good teachers. T.J. started as a good teacher and has developed into a great one," says Fell. "He is a great teacher because he himself loves to learn, and he imparts that desire to his students."