Research funding is the life-blood of innovation and discovery on college campuses. Grants and fellowships support the work of many talented graduate students at West Virginia University. Where those funds leave off, private support picks up.

WVU’s Robert E. Stitzel Graduate Student Travel Fund Award, awarded this year to two students in the Department of English, provides much-needed support for graduate students in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

“Donor support is critical to the college’s mission. As the college strives to prepare graduate students to engage, explore and lead in an ever-changing world, private gifts open pathways to unique experiences and opportunities for research and professional development,” said Robert Jones, dean of the Eberly College. “At the same time, donations like the Stitzel Travel Award strengthen Eberly’s resources critical to strong student recruitment.”

The award provides both recipients with $1,000 each in travel funds for research or conference participation. Teresa M. Pershing and Kathryn Ridinger Smorul, both doctoral candidates, were this year’s recipients.

Pershing will use the award funds to travel to various archives, including the New York Public Library and the British Library in London.

“As a graduate student, money is tight. This money makes travel possible that otherwise would not even be considered,” Pershing said. “The opportunity to examine and read first edition copies of Romantic texts is invaluable, and this money makes it possible.”

Her dissertation examines queer theory, which studies gender and the socially constructed ideas of sexual identities in our society. It was a class she took while obtaining her master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University that sparked her interest in the topic.

“I hope to offer students a new vocabulary and paradigm for understanding sexuality in particular and identity generally,” she said. “With that in mind, I value the opportunity to help students develop their own relationships with theories, authors and literary movements; it is amazing the parallels we can draw between our own experiences and the political and personal lives of long dead authors and their characters.”

After attending schools across western Pennsylvania, Pershing arrived at WVU, which she says has offered her limitless opportunities to grow and develop as a young professional. She has worked for the Center for Writing Excellence, served as a graduate student representative on the Strategic Planning Committee for the Eberly College, and taught courses for the department.

“I’m fortunate to be in a department that encourages its students to engage in a range of activities in order to develop academically and professionally,” Pershing said. “Furthermore, the department faculty models the behaviors they wish to see in their graduate students. Their doors are always open and I am comfortable approaching any faculty member with a question.”

Smorul, who would like to teach literature and writing at a small college or university, will be using the award funds to visit the library at the University of Maryland. She is specifically interested in American & British female modernist authors. This library is unique due to its Djuna Barnes archives, including 20th century news articles and drawings which tend to be difficult to find in print.

“I think many female authors of the early 20th century deserve more attention than they’ve been given in the classroom and in scholarship. It is my goal to bring more of these authors’ works to the forefront so we can better understand the position of women in the early 20th century, particularly working class women,” Smorul said. “Through my teaching and scholarship I hope to show how performance writing engages with important issues for women, such as suffragism, the professional sphere and domestic work.”

The first chapter of her dissertation examines 20th century newspaper articles that involve serious moral implications. She plans to submit an abstract to and attend the Comparative Drama Conference hosted by Stevenson University in Baltimore in 2013.

The Robert E. Stitzel Graduate Student Travel Fund Award was created by a gift made through the WVU Foundation. The award was established in honor of Robert E. Stitzel, professor emeritus in the School of Medicine. Stitzel dedicated more than 40 years of service to WVU, including 16 years as the director of Graduate Education.

In June, the WVU Foundation launched its largest comprehensive campaign in the history of the University, the $750 million A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. To make your gift in support of research or graduate education, contact Bonnie McBee Fisher at



CONTACT: Rebecca Herod, Eberly College of Arts & Sciences

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