Creighton Connections: English professor Brooke Kowalke, PhD
Creighton Connections: English professor Brooke Kowalke, PhD

In Creighton Connections, we speak with students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends about their experiences living in the new normal. All interviews are, of course, conducted over the phone or online.  

Check out the Creighton Connections archive to see how other Bluejays are adapting to life under COVID-19.

Want to share your story? Contact micahmertes [at] creighton [dot] edu

Brooke Kowalke, PhD

Kowalke is an assistant professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences.

What’s life like for you right now?

I am on sabbatical, so my life before “the new normal” was pretty predictable and calm with a lot of time to think and read and write. Now, I’ve got my husband working from home, my almost-6-year-old doing kindergarten via distance learning and my 2-year-old home just being the wild 2-year-old she is. I’m still doing a lot of thinking and a lot of writing and a lot of reading … but it’s about very different things! I am learning to Zoom like a pro and remembering what sight words are. Sabbatical projects now get worked on after bedtime whenever possible instead of being the center of my days. 

Have you been able to connect with your students?

I’m not teaching this semester since I’m on sabbatical, but I’ve been doing advising this week. I’ve emailed with some students and done phone calls with others. It’s been kind of nice that registration marches on and that we’ve had some opportunities to plan for the future — even though we’re all very aware of how very quickly even the best-laid plans can change!

Which of your ideas about modern life have been blown up in the last few weeks?

I think I’ve really been considering how much of what I do doesn’t have to be done. While not being able to be out and about — to run errands at the drop of a hat or go to a playground or the zoo — has been a big change, it’s been possible. It’s been good for me to realize that we can find ways to entertain ourselves or “make do” at home without too much trouble, and even have a lot of fun doing it!

I know that you, like many parents, are at home with your kids right now. What’s your situation like?

It’s a brave new world, that’s for sure! Miles is in kindergarten, and we are just getting started on his distance learning. Greta is 2 and a half and is thrilled that she gets to be around her big brother all day. I’m absolutely having to change my work patterns, but it’s also a lot of fun to see their relationship growing and also to see more of what Miles has been learning in more detail. I’m grateful that his school is keeping expectations realistic so our mom-son dynamic is preserved, even as I add the role of teacher. We’re doing our best to keep things fun (all while keeping Greta from climbing on and jumping off of tables)!

Any good TV shows you’re watching or books you’re reading?

I’m reading “Wool” by Hugh Howey. It’s not my typical read, but it was recommended by a friend I trust, and I’m enjoying it. It’s a little strange to read a post-apocalyptic novel right now, but there ya go. As for TV, I’ve been enjoying “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” mostly because I have fun dancing and singing along. But it also raises some really interesting and important questions.

What’s surprised you the most about these past few weeks?

I feel like I want to say what hasn’t surprised me about the past few weeks! I don’t think I ever imagined actually being in this kind of situation. And I feel like we went from our old normal to this new normal literally overnight. One day we were all going about our business as usual while keeping a watchful eye on the news and then that night we got the call that our district had canceled school for an extended period of time. Ever since, we’ve basically been at home. Things just turned on a dime.

What’s a surprising way you’ve been able to connect with someone?

We’ve been Zooming with my family members in California every day, and my parents have been reading a story to the kids each morning, so that has been a treat. And our neighborhood has come to life in interesting ways. We’ve got a walking trail behind our house, and the other day the kids and I were out on our deck and got to have some long-distance conversations with people. There’s a lot of waving and a lot of friendly nods as we walk the neighborhood, even as people cross the street to maintain proper distance. It’s funny how staying away from each other has also made us all seem more connected.

What’s a skill or hobby you hope to master while the country is closed?

Ooh! Good question. Does being a part-time kindergarten teacher count? Haha. If I could, I’d pull out my neglected banjo and work on that, but I don’t foresee that happening. I think, for me, I’d like to work on being more OK with change.

Who do you miss seeing the most?

I always miss seeing my family in California — and I miss my folks especially since they had to cancel a trip out here. But I also really miss seeing my writing partner. Our meetings were full of good energy and feedback, and I’ll miss those during this time.

Have you seen any stories of community or charity or leadership that have inspired you these past few weeks?

My son’s teachers have been amazing! I’ve loved seeing them encouraging the kids, and helping them (and me!) see this as an adventure. It’s been great to have them set a tone that is honest and caring, but also protective of the kids.

How can the Creighton community and values help in a time like this?

I had a student take the time to write me the nicest encouraging email since she’s graduating and didn’t think we’d probably cross paths again with all of this going on. I have had colleagues reaching out just to check in. I’ve been so grateful to have people take the time to connect and care. 

I think that those kinds of actions embody Creighton community and values — men and women for and with others. In a time that can feel so isolating, it’s amazing how those kinds of gestures just make you feel less alone.  

Interview conducted March 25, 2020

Read more Creighton Connections here.