Shelby Escott

Shelby Escott

Photo by James Tensuan, '15 Photojournalism

Dean's Scholar

Major: English
College of Humanities and the Arts

Why did you choose your major?

Until the age of thirteen, I despised reading and the prospect of deciphering words on the page. But that summer, with nothing better to do, I went to the library. I had always loved being read to, and had developed a love for history, and at that stage of life had a not so slight obsession with piracy, that’s where it started. The first book I took off the shelf that summer, I read in a single day, and then I did the same with my brother’s, and on through the entire summer, I read. Words and their patterns, the ability to convey meaning through the right combinations, it was like alchemy, a magic I was learning with endless possibilities. Reading and writing became more than a passion, it became and identity, and I dedicated my life to it.

What does receiving this particular award mean to you?

It means I am on the right track. I tend to be almost completely inwardly focused when I work, forming thoughts and ideas into arguments and statements that make sense to me in my own mind. But when I inevitably turn my work in or present my ideas to others, only then does my work feel complete. Words are meant to communicate and interact with others, and to know that mine are doing just that and that I am doing it well is beyond encouraging. To be recognized by a professor who has shaped my academic career for just doing what I love means the world to me.

Who has had the greatest influence or impact on your life?  In addition, tell us about a SJSU faculty member who contributed to your academic success.

My mom, who tirelessly encouraged me to pick up a book and give it a chance, who introduced me to the doorways to magic, adventure, and knowledge. Without her, I would never have met the wily Bloody Jacky Faber, hero of my childhood. Never would I have encountered my writing inspiration, Ernest Hemingway. And I never would have known that the perfect genre does exist in magical realism. Not only did she teach me how to read, she gave me to most important gift in my life, the love of reading.

Professor Katherine Harris has, from my first semester at SJSU, completely changed my perception of knowledge and of myself. When I started here, I began as shy and incredibly self-deprecating, believing myself to be below the level of all of my peers. Professor Harris promptly disproved this belief by asking questions pertaining to my work, causing me to go deeper into my thought processes and question my own reasoning and beliefs. In this way, she taught me that knowledge is not something that can be quantified and measured, but unique to the individual and defining in its use. She taught me to not fear knowledge or its absence, but to seek it, share it, and use it. While my time on this campus and under her instruction will last only two years in the grand scheme of things, Professor Harris’ teachings will remain far after the graduation date.  

Describe an experience that has shaped who you are today.

In my final year of community college, my favorite and most inspirational professor, Bill Paskewitz, died in a freak accident mid semester. The man we affectionately called “Scary Bill” had taught my sister before me, and encouraged me to stop comparing myself to her and others and to act as an individual. This was life changing advice, and has carried me through my college career and life in general. At the time, I was working with the student newspaper, and was the only writer not intimidated by Bill, whose stories I covered exclusively. So the day the news broke, it fell to me to write the school’s obituary for this much beloved, sometimes menacing art professor of twenty-six years. I liked journalism, but never had a passion for it until this point. I tracked down and spoke to his family, coworkers, associates, and friends. I learned all I could of his story and strove to retell it in my own words, feeling like I was failing miserably to capture his incredible life in the wake of his sudden death. I still feel to this day that I did not know how to tell a story before this moment. Fiction is my first love, but it springs from reality, and this is how I learned that lesson.

In memory of Bill Paskewitz

What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?

Your major is not going to be effortless, but by no means should it cause you to lose your passion. College is hard, and it will challenge you beyond what you think you can take, but this is how learning works. I did not get to where I am by killing myself in every one of my classes, you cannot give more than 100% because there is no such thing. We students are human and need to be reminded of that when we attempt and inevitably fail to be more than that. So I say to you, don’t try so hard. College is not supposed to be a life and death situation, it is a time for curiosity driven exploration and finding the thing that makes you passionate. Do what you love and get through what you don’t. Because when you love what you study, the academic excellence part will follow.

What makes you a Spartan?

Curiosity. The seeking of knowledge is the driving force behind all action. The attainment of knowledge is not the end of the search either, because once knowledge is attained, curiosity does not fade, but rather grows. When I learn something new, my first impulse is to share what I have learned with others, because I am curious to see how this knowledge affects others. In this way, curiosity has driven me to interact with my classmates, to ask questions of my professors, to befriend those as curious as me. Curiosity makes me a Spartan, because without it I would be solitary, but with it, I am a part of the Spartan whole of knowledge seekers.


Nominated by Katherine Harris
Professor, English

"Shelby is one of our exemplary English majors with a penchant for exploring all literary types, forms, and media. In my Gaming & Narrative class, she dove headlong into the visual representations of projects especially with constructing her first game in Twine. She consistently elevated the conversation, even during difficult conversations around #gamergate and the 2016 political climate. She's thoughtful in her ideas and writing -- from Gaming to nineteenth-century novels to the Frankenstein Bicentennial. One of her reviews is live on the Frankenstein Bicentennial"