ASU English professor fosters deep thinkers and problem solvers


Amanda Stoneman

Professor Devoney Looser in the Department of English at Arizona State University found her calling to encourage deep thinking and foster lifelong learning as an undergraduate at Augsburg College.

“I was a first-generation college student. I had no idea anyone thought I could go to graduate school,” Looser said. “Cathie Nicoll and other professors who were my mentors helped me imagine a path to a PhD and a college teaching career.”

In 1989, Looser received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Augsburg College. Four years later, she earned a doctorate in English with a certification in women’s studies from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Looser first taught at ASU as a visiting assistant professor of English in 2000. Twelve years later, she returned to the university after teaching at Louisiana State University and the University of Missouri.

“When I joined the faculty as professor in 2013, it was a return to a place I remembered fondly,” Looser said. “I’m so grateful to be a part of an institution that values access and excellence — that defines itself not by whom it excludes but whom it includes and how they succeed. This is an incredibly dynamic, interesting place to be a faculty member.”

Looser teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on Jane Austen, British literature and the history of women’s writing. She also taught a workshop on academic job market preparation for graduate students in the humanities, coaching students on application materials and interview preparation.

“I have one of the best jobs on campus,” Looser said. “I get to read, write about and talk about books for a living! What’s not to love? It’s so gratifying to introduce students to new authors and books, especially when you see their excitement in the process of discovery; I try to foster it and feed it.”

The model of problem-posing education is one Looser values as a professor. She believes this philosophy of teaching is critical to encourage deep thinking and a commitment to lifelong learning in her students. 

“I’m not afraid to show students what fires me up. They owe it to themselves to keep looking for the thing that fires them up,” Looser said. “If we want to live in a world of problem solvers and deep thinkers — people who tackle complex issues, who consider moral and ethical complexities, and who can trace the nuances of history and culture — then the liberal arts and sciences are crucial.”

When it comes to being prepared for the workforce, Looser said English majors need to bring their excellent written communication, high-level research and well-practiced analytic skills. They’ll need to hone their abilities to place ideas in historical and cultural contexts. They’ll also need to bring with them an understanding of the persuasiveness and pervasiveness of storytelling.

“Everything from sales to branding to corporate communications requires storytelling,” Looser said. “And by that I don’t necessarily mean saying things that are true or untrue. I mean putting together ideas that speak to us, that rouse our emotions and energies.”

Looser’s faculty responsibilities also involve research. She just finished a book, “The Making of Jane Austen,” which will be published in June by Johns Hopkins University Press. Since this year is the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death, the book will celebrate the author and examine how she became an icon. Publishers Weekly just named Looser’s book to its Best Summer Books (Nonfiction) 2017 list.

“I get to spend a portion of each year in some of the world’s greatest libraries and archives,” Looser said. “I’ve had opportunities recently to share some of my discoveries with a wider public, beyond academe. I hope I’m putting together knowledge that will be of interest to others in ways that are new and fresh.”

When not in the classroom or at the keyboard, Looser serves as the faculty adviser to the university’s roller derby team, the ASU Derby Devils. She advises the team on questions of organization and promotion, and skates with them on occasion.

“I never would have imagined that even my favorite hobby would become part of my job,” Looser said. “The Derby Devils are an incredible group of student-skater-leaders, and I feel incredibly lucky to have a way to get to know our amazing ASU students this way, too, outside of the classroom.”