English major learns to facilitate social change through writing and conversation

Published: May 8, 2023

Student smiling in on UMBC campus
Clair Volkening '23, English. (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

Clair Volkening 

Degree: B.A., English
Hometown: Boonsboro, MD
Post-grad plans: Technical editor, Defense Intelligence Agency

Humanities Scholar Clair Volkening has used her voice as a writer, editor, and facilitator to help UMBC community members build connections with one another and to inspire social change. 

Volkening, who is also a member of the Honors College, was a participant and a coach in UMBC’s Center for Democracy and Civic Life’s (CDCL) STRiVE program, where she developed her leadership and civic engagement skills. Because of her contributions to STRiVE, Volkening was recruited to participate in CDCL’s first cohort of the ConnectionCorps program, a year-long facilitator training program for students. As a ConnectionCorps facilitator, Volkening facilitated community conversations involving students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local and state leaders on various issues. She also facilitated workshops for students involving reflection, storytelling, and discussion.

Volkening extended her coaching and leadership work further by helping students along their academic journeys. She was a tutor in UMBC’s Writing Center, assisting fellow Retrievers with strengthening their writing skills. This experience inspired her to join the editorial team for UMBC Review, the university’s student-organized, peer-reviewed undergraduate research journal. That work, she says, was an “incredible learning experience” that informed her burgeoning career pursuits as an editor. 

A group of students, some standing and some kneeling, wearing costume masks posing for a photo.
Clair Volkening (back row, second from the left) and fellow UMBC students at the Meyerhoff and Honors College’s Masquerade Charity Gala in February 2023. (Photo courtesy of Clair Volkening)

Has there been a mentor or fellow student who influenced your time at UMBC?

David Hoffman, who earned his Ph.D. at UMBC and is director of the CDCL, and Elaine MacDougall, lecturer in English and the director of the Writing Center, influenced me the most during my time at UMBC. Working with Hoffman at CDCL events and learning from him has changed my outlook on life in all areas, not just school. MacDougall is a role model and someone who has taught me so much. She helped me find myself as a tutor and leader.

“There have been so many mentors and students who have made a huge impact on my time here, including many of my fellow Humanities Scholars who have made UMBC feel like home. Sally Shivnan, principal lecturer in English, and Lia Purpura, UMBC’s writer in residence, have helped me grow in my creative writing and have shown me what it is to live like a writer.”

What has been the best part of your UMBC experience?

“The people, by far, have been the best part of my time at UMBC. From my professors to my friends to the teachers in classes at the Retriever Activities Center, the people at UMBC make the university what it is. So many of the conversations that I’ve had with people on campus—whether they were serious and introspective, or silly and fun—have taught me about how community is formed and how we can all exist as people in our world.”

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