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Grad student aims to improve community literacy

aimee kling

Aimee Kling

By Chaz Lilly

Ten years after she finished her undergraduate degree, Aimee Kling decided to go back to school. Although she had a good job working as an administrator and content manager for a company in Asheville, she wanted to continue to pursue her passion for learning and find ways to help others.

Kling decided on Western Carolina University’s graduate program in English Studies and focused her research on improving community literacy.

“Community literacy is not just helping people learn to read and write,” Kling said. “It’s about helping those who might speak English as a second language, or showing people how to obtain a driver’s license, how to vote – it’s about learning how to be involved and active in your own community. These tools help people find better jobs, access to education, and ways to grow socially and economically.”

Kling was interested in learning more about community literacy because she had been working to help others as a volunteer at Literacy Together, an Asheville-based nonprofit that offers several programs – for all ages and demographics – to improve literacy.

Kling had worked as a tutor, working with individuals one-on-one, and teaching in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program. In those classes, she has helped a variety on non-native speakers, including Ukrainian refugees.

Kling now sits on the board of directors at Literacy Together. 

“The ability to read and write is a gift easily taken for granted by those who haven't struggled to grasp it, said Amanda Wrublewski, executive director of Literacy Together. "However, for the one out of 10 adults in our community reading at or below a third-grade reading level, it is a challenge that can sometimes feel impossible to overcome. Our volunteer tutors, like Aimee, recognize the impact that low literacy can have in someone’s life, and celebrate the idea that we are all lifelong learners.” 

Kling’s research at WCU, supplemented by her volunteer work, has brought academic success. She’s had an abstract accepted for consideration by a peer-reviewed journal in language and literature studies. The paper centers on her community literacy work, specifically identifying COVID-19 as a democratizing force in adult literacy education. 

She was also elected to the Modern Language Association’s Delegate Assembly for a three-year term as a delegate representing careers outside the classroom.

Kling said the MLA has been a great professional and academic development resource.

“I participated last semester in the MLA’s second annual Public Humanities Incubator, and I was featured in a showcase and acknowledged as a public humanities incubator fellow at the awards ceremony at the conference in Philadelphia this January. I also participated in a virtual roundtable discussion at that conference on teaching beyond the university setting, highlighting alternative career pathways for English and humanities grads,” Kling said.

She has also presented at the Southeastern Association for Cultural Studies, WCU’s graduate student research symposium, and the Conference on Community Writing. She’s slated to present on a panel with her thesis adviser and English Studies faculty member Jonathan Bradshaw at the Rhetoric Society of America conference this May. 

“Aimee is a great example of how students in the humanities can synthesize classroom learning and public engagement,” Bradshaw said. “She is an award-winning and insightful thinker within her discipline because she always looks for ways her learning about rhetoric and writing can benefit her community and improve the lives of others.”

Kling placed first in the university’s Professional Writing Contest, second in the Three-Minute Thesis Competition and was named the Dean’s Outstanding Scholar Award for the graduate English program.

Continuing her work in community literacy, Kling is now developing her own technical and business writing course. She devised the idea and drafted the syllabus in one of her graduate classes. Partnering with NCWorks, which offers workforce and professional development resources, Kling will be helping adults with low levels of functional literacy or formal education. The class will run for 12 weeks this summer.

“The course will consist of three main parts: a focus on forms of writing in the workplace; a focus on audiences; and a portfolio project that students will be able to present to potential employers when they complete the course. Students will also have the opportunity to co-create the course so that it meets their specific career needs and goals,” Kling said.

Currently, Kling is documenting everything she’s learned in and out of the classroom. This fall, she will defend her master’s thesis. The working title is: “Community Literacy: A Service, a Skill, & a Democratic Imperative.”

After the thesis, Kling’s unsure of what’s next, but she knows she wants to stay plugged into WCU’s community.

“I do really hope to stay tied to WCU in some way,” Kling said. “I love the faculty in the program and would love to be able to continue to work with and learn from them.”

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