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Portrait of Susannah Poland at the University of Massachusetts
Susannah Poland, Photo: Myles Braxton

When it comes to the art of writing, having a mentor alongside makes all the difference in your journey. At Commonwealth Honors College, students are fortunate to have an exceptional mentor, Honors Writing Coach Susannah Poland, a dedicated M.Ed candidate in the international education program with a passion for helping students excel through writing.

Writing an Honors Thesis

Susannah’s journey as a writing coach is a testament to her love for written work. Her fascination with writing took root while she was pursuing her BA in Anthropology at Stanford University in 2012. During her time there, she embarked on the challenging task of developing an honors thesis. This experience played a pivotal role in shaping her career aspirations, and her perspective on the world of knowledge and learning.

For Susannah, the process of writing her undergraduate thesis wasn’t just about the end product — rather it was her passage of self-discovery. She explored the history of meaning-making around beadwork produced by the Chagga people in colonized East Africa. This beadwork, made from Italian glass trade beads, was collected by British and German explorers in the late 19th century as “ethnographic objects” for European museums. Susannah learned firsthand the significance of the sequence of learning, and how knowledge is truly generated. This transformative process humbled her and deepened her understanding of education.

"Developing a literature review for this project led me to scholarship beyond the Western cannon, including the work of Indigenous and Global South academics who have revealed the imperial roots of anthropology — my home discipline," she explains.

The difficult and reflexive process of developing a thesis also made Susannah wrestle with the question of how social justice applies to research. Questions like: “Who benefits from a research project? Who creates its terms and analytical frameworks, and how does these shape the findings?” But with her deepened understanding of education, one of the main takeaways from her experience was recognizing that learning isn’t about where you start; it’s about the progress you make and the wisdom you gain along the way. Susannah believes that every individual who walks through her door has the potential to improve their writing skills — regardless of their current level of expertise.

Taking Writing Out Into the World

Susannah’s writing journey did not end with her undergraduate thesis. It expanded into a diverse array of professional roles — each of which enriched her perspective. She conducted research on emergent feminisms for the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, conducted ethnography on Mount Everest, developed curricula for National Geographic Student Expeditions, and documented Buddhist education reform in Bhutan. Her experiences in Bhutan were particularly enlightening, as she worked to encourage Bhutanese individuals to take an active role in shaping their own narratives. 

"Bhutanese students’ personal narratives and their writing for Bhutanese audiences were both central to their academic growth. In addition to supporting those practices, I also coached students who wished to study and work in the US and Europe in skills specific to writing for Western audiences," she explains.

Throughout her years of experience and teaching, Susannah has coached young writers from various backgrounds, and she is more than thrilled to bring her learning to CHC students. Susannah Poland is more than just a writing coach; she’s a mentor who understands the transformative power of writing. Her own journey through the world of academia and her commitment to helping others on their journey makes her a valuable resource at the Commonwealth Honors College.

If you are looking to enhance your writing skills, seek guidance from Susannah. With her support, you can unlock your full potential as a writer. Make an appointment with the Honors Writing Coach, or come to the Drop-In Writing sessions on Wednesdays from 1 - 3 p.m. in Conference Room 235 in the CHC Hub.

 

Article posted in Academics for Current students