Kenton Rambsy, Assistant Professor of English and Digital Humanities, University of Texas Arlington
KU Degree: MA English (2012); PhD English (2015)
Why he’s a Hawk to Watch:
Kenton is charting new academic territory by placing rap music squarely within an academic tradition by displaying the overlaps between famed writers and rappers.
What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?
I have been recognized for my ability to expand the canon of African-American and American literature. My course, “The Life and Times of S. Carter” places songs by the rapper Jay Z in a broad African American literary continuum of autobiographical and semi-autobiographical works. In my course, students compile metadata on Jay Z in order to produce thematic data visualizations, literary timelines, and a list of key terms that demonstrate the literary merit of rap music and its close ties to the larger field of African American literature.
What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?
My lowest career moment was being denied a highly competitive dissertation fellowship—The Woodrow Wilson Dissertation fellowship. The award would have supported me financially while completing my dissertation. The fellowship is very prestigious and highly competitive. Many of the former recipients have gone on to produce ground-breaking research and join the ranks of elite academics. After being denied, I began to question my academic merits and wonder if my research was worthy enough since I was not awarded the fellowship.
I ended up searching out other opportunities that would facilitate me financially while I completed my dissertation. Luckily, I secured an internal fellowship from the University of Kansas’s English department and was able to have an entire year off from teaching to focus solely on writing and researching. With the support of the fellowship, I was able to complete my dissertation in less than a year and pass my defense with highest distinction.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to be in a position to financially help minority students who want to pursue advanced degrees in humanities. Because there are so few African-American PhD’s, I would be excited to help support and mentor black male students that will contribute to innovative research and teaching methods in the academy. Ultimately, by identifying promising black male scholars and supporting them financially, I can help to ensure that colleges and universities will have diversity among professors and intellectual thought.
What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?
I would tell my 18-year-old self to remain flexible and try not to plan every step of my career. It goes without saying that I should set goals and work hard to obtain those goals. However, I should also let serendipity kick in from time to time. There are many stages of life and we do not get any do-overs. While I am in a particular stage/phase, I want to encourage my 18-year-old self to enjoy it fully because it only happens once. And, for better and for worse, when a particular stage is over, it’s over.
What’s your best career pro-tip?
Set clear goals and be able to measure your progress in reaching those goals. I believe that you can train yourself to be creative if you work within guidelines. Be clear about what goal you are trying to accomplish and then consider all the possible routes to accomplish your mission.
What do you do after you’ve clocked out?
Head straight to happy hour! I head to happy hour to wind down. In addition, I meet so many people in the Dallas community. Happy hour is good to network with many of the young professionals in my current city. I have met good friends and joined many civic organizations by meeting and engaging with a variety of people at various happy hours between 4-7.
What is a fun fact about you that no one knows?
I am a big yogi. I practice yoga daily and have developed incredible discipline from it as a result.