Bulldog Burrows: Dr. Melissa Etzler

Dr. Etzler’s office is a representation of the work within her classes. Photo by Grace Hensley. 

MASON KUPIAINEN | STAFF REPORTER | mkupiainen@butler.edu

The personal spaces we inhabit are a reflection of ourselves — from dorms to offices — and that much is true for members of the Butler campus community. Read on to discover the next of our Bulldog Burrows through a Q&A-style interview. 

If one were to find a professor who decorated their office at all, they might find professors who don their workspace with collections relating to their years of personal work. Dr. Melissa Etzler takes a different approach to her collection; she collects student projects from her various courses. Etzler teaches courses in German as well as two First Year Seminar courses, one focusing on the TV show “Breaking Bad,” and the other on “Stranger Things.” By displaying previous students’ work, Etzler is able to represent her courses and her students’ creativity all in one location. 

THE BUTLER COLLEGIAN: Can you describe briefly the courses that you teach? 

MELISSA ETZLER: I teach three sections primarily. I do [two sections of] FYS that I do on a regular basis, “Breaking Bad” and “Stranger Things.” I started [the “Stranger Things” FYS] last year; that’s the new one. Otherwise, I do teach German. In German, I’ll teach basically whatever level is necessary from the 200-level language courses. Next year, I’m going to do some of the upper-division courses. Some of those that I like to do are German history through graphic novels and German film, but anything in the upper division of German. 

TBC: Has this been your only office? 

ME: I’ve moved probably three times. I have been in this one now for maybe two years. 

TBC: How have your offices changed over the three moves? 

ME: The first one was one of the little cubicle suites. That’s right down the hall [in Jordan Hall]. From here, I can’t remember which number it was, but it was one of the smaller cubicles. One year, my colleague in German had the scholarship to do research in Austria for the year. I crashed in her office for the year, [which] was actually upstairs in modern languages. After that, I came to this one.

TBC: How has this specific office evolved over the years? 

ME: I’ve added quite a bit. I’ve started out mostly with FYS representation. Then, I added a couple of the German projects that we did that were from a course where they had to read a novel in German, pick their favorite chapter and try to represent it with this graphic novel program that was available online. There have definitely been additions over there [on the shelves], which is why it’s also kind of clustered. 

TBC: Is there anything that you’ve always felt was important for you to make your office a personal space? 

ME: People ask me why I love FYS and have so much fun doing it. The first thing I always think is I have complete autonomy. It’s amazing, right? My job enables me to watch “Stranger Things” and talk about it with people. It’s fabulous. I do want my office to replicate what I do here on a day-to-day basis and what I enjoy doing. Here, you have representations of the highlights of what I do in the classroom. 

TBC: Is there anything that you would say distinguishes your office from other professors? 

ME: I don’t know how many other offices have a really good representation of artwork that is created within the class itself. Most of what I have hanging up in my office are final projects that students do. I do like to be able to give them that level of creativity too. 

It works out to my benefit as well, of course, because I get to decorate my office with these wonderful creations that come up. You can’t really hang up an academic paper, right? This is the perfect example of what we do in FYS. You can have this one visual element that says a thousand things about what the course entails.

TBC: Why do you put up student work? 

ME: They’re fabulous. I wish I was that talented. I mean, they’re amazing. If I were to try to replicate, [for example], the symbols that go into “Breaking Bad,” “The Yellow Wallpaper” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” my work of art would look terrible. By comparison, students are really clever. Basically, it’s like, this is the fulfillment of what I would love to do myself but cannot because I think it’s a good inspiration. Especially since I do FYS, to have incoming students come here and say, “Oh, what’s that? That’s really cool. Oh, I could do that as a final presentation. Awesome. I’m gonna do something creative as well.” 

TBC: Is there anything specific that’s your favorite aspect of your office? 

ME: I think it [is my] Gus [painting]. Yeah. Because that’s probably the best representation of everything that I’ve done over the years. It’s got the color scheme, which we talked about to death [in my] “Breaking Bad” [course]. It’s got references to sort of the comic book heroes that Gus is meant to be, essentially. That’s kind of got everything in a nutshell. 

TBC: What dictates the student work you put on display? 

ME: I ask the student when I see it. I think, “Oh, that would look perfect in my office.” I do ask for permission. 

TBC: Have students ever been inspired by a piece of work in your office to do something similar in their own projects? 

ME: If so, they haven’t told me directly. I have on occasion shown in class different works of art that are in my office and be like, “Oh, this is a project that someone did. This one’s from 2014.”  If it was a direct inspiration, no one has [said], “Because you showed me that, I wanted to do this.” 

I think [the inspiration is] in there because a few people have asked, “Oh, I like the picture that you have on Canvas. Could I do something like that for my presentation?” So I think more indirectly, but I’m sure it has influenced a couple of presentations at least in artworks for sure. 

TBC: Is there any representation of the Butler community in your office? 

ME: Teaching honors, I’ve gotten a couple of the honors stickers in here. That’s a pretty good representation. Basically, I think it comes about more through the fact that they enabled me to teach these classes. The fact that the Butler community is so supportive, that I’m allowed to teach year after year “Breaking Bad” and “Stranger Things,” they’re successful courses. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m just still kind of shocked because my job is so cool. The community is like, “[Oh], we see your job is cool. We see that you’re good at it; keep doing what you’re doing.” But some of the representation, obviously, I’ve got to put up any awards that I’ve managed to get over the years somehow. 

Things that I’m proud of for having been here for five years: [being a part] of this community, and it’s still going on. That’s definitely something, the fact that I’m appreciated by the community. It’s pretty amazing. That’s how [the academic awards] sneak their way up there. Students provide the fun stuff here.


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