Bookshelves line the room in Donna Potts’s office in Avery Hall. Mementos from former students are within an arm’s reach, and photos from a research project-in-progress sit stacked on a filing cabinet.
Potts is a professor and the chair of the English
department, yet she still finds time to dive into her own creative projects,
her favorite of which is a book of poetry she wrote called “Waking Dreams.”
“I think through the process of writing it, I was coming
to terms with my dad’s suicide,” Potts said. “I think that kind of creative
writing allowed me to process it in a way that none of my scholarly writing
Potts focuses on Irish literature and poetry in her scholarly
writing, sometimes with an environmental emphasis, she said.
Her love of Ireland developed when she read William
Butler Yeats as an undergraduate, Potts said. She lived in Ireland once as a
research fellow and a second time as a visiting lecturer.
“I love the Palouse,” Potts said. “I’m reminded of
Ireland when I look out on the hills.”
Potts and her husband were professors at Kansas State University for 23 years before they moved their family to Washington state in 2013. Her husband is also a department chair at WSU, but of the department of mathematics and statistics.
When it comes to her role as chair, Potts said her
favorite thing is advocating for her faculty and staff.
Potts said she thinks she brings a personal touch to
“I can’t help but do this,” she said. “I do tend to think
of [my students] as my children. I find myself sharing stories that they can
Sara Quenzer, a WSU senior double-majoring in English creative writing and journalism and media production, said she has taken three classes with Potts and works with her at WSU’s literary journal, LandEscapes.
Quenzer said Potts’s teaching style reminds her of
professors in old movies: jumping right in and usually not using any visual
aids. Even though it took getting used to, she said Potts is an involved and
“She’s been super helpful in terms of being a professor who actually cares about their students’ mental health and well-being,” Quenzer said. “She’s always been willing to share her own experiences so I feel comfortable sharing my own.”
Potts said failure is a test of greatness and she
remembers students more for their positive contributions to her class than what
grade they had.
“That part doesn’t matter,” she said, “it’s if they have
passion about learning.”