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PSU Professor Gives Back
PSU Professor Gives Back

The economic benefits that accompany an MFA in creative writing don’t always amount to much. You may be able to sell your copy of “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” for a few bucks at Powells. But a well-written essay on the complexity of the unreliable narrator probably won’t draw corporate recruiters to your LinkedIn page.

At PSU, as in creative writing programs throughout the country, students pursuing an MFA generally rely on jobs, loans, or both. The program is able to offer only one graduate assistantship in each genre (poetry, fiction or nonfiction) each year, which leaves most students with limited financial support for a degree with limited financial rewards.

To help fill the gap, PSU Professor Michael McGregor and his wife Sylvia established the Giving Back Fellowship for MFA students in nonfiction. The fellowship is funded primarily by graduates of the writing program, and each gift is matched by the McGregors.

“During my first few years at PSU, I saw students decide not to come back for the second year of our program because the combination of debt, outside work and limited time to write became too much for them,” McGregor says.

“I hoped that even a small amount of funding might encourage them to continue, assuring them that people believed in them.”

Michael and Sylvia awarded the first fellowship in 2006 and it became an annual award in 2009. Since then, one or two fellowships have been given out each year. Although the first awards were for $1,000, this year’s award will be $2,000.

The fellowship is awarded based on need, standing in the program and writing excellence.

McGregor, the author of an upcoming biography of the poet Robert Lax, would eventually like to expand the fellowship to support more students with bigger awards.

“I’ve always hoped that someone would come along and, in effect, match our match, turning our doubling of alumni contributions into a quadrupling,” he says. “My dream is to be able to fully fund each student’s second year. And maybe someday their first year too.”