From Oklahoma to California, then Peru

Professor Rayshell Clapper instructs her short story writing course in the humanities building.

Ethan Anderson, Correspondent

When asked what Rayshell Clapper’s favorite part of home was, the memory of her mother’s porch swing transcended eras. Swinging near fireflies in the midnight air, around the only time you could go outside in Oklahoma during summer. 

Clapper left her hometown in Oklahoma to further her teaching career at Diablo Valley College, stationing herself at the forefront of the English department’s recent developments. As the chair of DVC’s creative writing committee, she organizes annual contests and author readings; while also teaching two developmental English courses, accompanied by a short story writing class.

“I constantly see Ray going out of her way to help students and colleagues,”said English professor and colleague Ian Thomas-Bignami in an email interview, “the line outside her office is a testament to how hard she works to support students and how much students value her instruction.”

Having started with a Bachelors in English from East Central University in 2002, some believe that professor Clapper represents the drive all educators aspire to attain. That motivation originated in 2001, when her path to becoming a professor unveiled itself in a way that she could only describe, as the universe bestowing fate.

“I didn’t think I was going to be a teacher, I actually wanted to write for like National Geographic. I wanted to be a freelance writer like that, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or how I’d go about it,” said Clapper.

Early in her life the plan was to become a flight attendant wayfaring across the world to research, for her personal writing projects. The idea brought with it a novelesque sense of adventure; however, all of those aspirations came to a halt during the 9/11 attacks of 2001 in New York. The airlines were frozen and the United States had begun a new war, causing Clapper to scramble in finding another career path.

In 2005, Clapper’s journey led to a Master of Arts degree in English, with a primary concentration in creative writing and Native American literature. Not to mention an additional Masters in English Education from East Central University in 2006, to place the cherry on top. According to her colleagues, Clapper’s work ethic has never ceased to impress. Her goal to attain a Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction from Oklahoma City University by May 2019, while remaining a full-time professor, is the most profound evidence.

“There is quite almost literally always a student in her chair talking to her,” wrote the English department chair Alan Haslam in an email interview. “Ray is either hunched over an essay pointing things out to the student or looking attentively at the student, listening. This is a cornerstone of her pedagogy.”

When she arrived at DVC in 2016, her contributions would grow to give students new opportunities. Nevertheless, being hired at DVC was an intensive feat to overcome. In order to make it past the first step, she had to be chosen out of a pool of over 200 applicants. The second set would be from at least a dozen, until finally around 5 applicants were able to be vetted by the President, Vice President, and members of the English department. 2016 marked the year when the English department gained numerous instrumental staff members, who have served as the foundation for new programs at DVC.

“(Clapper is known to be) a workhorse–if there’s a departmental meeting, it’s a good bet she’s there. Her biggest solo coordinating effort is probably Lit Week each Spring and Fall,” said Haslam. “But she coordinates the departmental creative writing committee, and regularly contributes to lit committee concerns.”

Clapper also volunteered to become the creative writing committee chair, and her deep participation has led to professionally published authors reading their work for students. Her role in the committee is vital for the scheduling and organization of events or writing contests. The contest itself is the forerunner to Lit Week, an event where the winners are given a chance to read their material in front of a crowd. The contest opens Feb. 8 and closes Mar. 9, with more information on the DVC website.

The 2018 fall semester was the start of professor Bignami’s new English mentorship program, designed to pair English majors with a professor in the same subject. Students are provided a place where they can ask questions related to their studies, or gain information about the transferring process. “Professor Clapper was an early volunteer for the mentorship program and has been doing wonderful work with her mentees,” said Bignami.

Amongst all of her accomplishments at DVC, a new one will be remembered for a long time after the summer of 2019. She applied and earned the chance to run a study abroad course in Peru, which will take place Jul. 15 to Jul. 28. Students will travel to Machu Picchu, Inca archaeological sites, Museo Larco, and experience the wealth of culture that Peru has sustained through-time. The class will be centered around creative writing, in an area with endless amounts of inspiration. When boiled down, Clapper’s love for writing is an illustration of moments and memories in life that have become a piece of art.

She spoke of her mother’s Oklahoma porch swing, dancing under the pollution free starlit night; which for her brings tranquility. The hypnotizing sounds of cicadas near the well loved porch, all reminiscent of Clapper’s peaceful countryside, and moments that have led her to build a piece of California’s educational future.

“I am a big believer in our experiences shaping us, right? Everything we do is influenced by what we experience before, in some way, sometimes it’s direct sometimes it’s indirect,” said Clapper. “Sometimes it’s conscious sometimes it’s not, so all I’ve experienced educationally in life, the struggles the glories, all of those lead me to the decisions I make next.”