Current MFA Students

Summer Awad

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Summer Awad is a second-year CWE student from Knoxville, Tennessee. Having started her writing journey as a spoken word poet, Summer has branched out into playwriting, nonfiction, and page poetry, and she is grateful to be able to do all of the above at Iowa State. Her writing explores themes of race, ethnicity, gender, diaspora, migration, identity, and place. Her semi-autobiographical play, WALLS: A Play for Palestine, was produced at The New York International Fringe Festival in 2016. Her poetry has appeared in Writers Resist, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, and Exposition Review. Prior to coming to Iowa State, Summer spent four years working in refugee resettlement. This led her to teach an honors seminar on refugee resettlement in Spring 2022 in addition to her courses in Speech Comm 212; she hopes to teach in honors again in the future.

Julia Bilek

Julia Bilek traveled the circumference of the globe for forty days in 2001. En route, she discovered the crimson-sapphire-gold-leaf icons of Russian cathedrals, meditated with Mongolian Buddhist monks, and watched endless fields of wildflowers scroll by her window on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. She wondered, for the first time, what it meant to be a pilgrim.
In the years since, Julia has earned a bachelor’s degree in world religions and art history, as well as a master’s degree in cultural anthropology. She writes creative nonfiction and ethnographic accounts of American religious spaces, including urban religious architecture, traditional Native American cosmographies, wilderness as sacred space, transnational religious placemaking, and pilgrimage practices.
Her work as appeared in the blog Pilgrim on the Potomac, CRUX literary magazine, as Teachers’ Guides for the Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater, and in stage productions by Germantown Stage, Landless Theatre Co., and Figure-Ground Arts Collaborative. She is a poet, playwright, curator, photographer and lover of nature, culinary enthusiast, teacher, and wanderer.

Jessica Brock

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Jessica Brock is a writer, 2nd year grad student in the MFA Creative Writing & Environment program, and GA instructor of English 150/250. She also holds a BA in Film & Media Studies from Arizona State University. Through an ecogothic lens, Jessi aims to explore motherhood, identity, environment, and generational trauma. Her recent fiction is published in the Roadrunner Review and Fugitives&Futurists. Jessi currently lives in Iowa with her husband and two young children.

Professional link:

Hanna Burr

Graduate Assistant [WLC]

Hanna Burr is a first year MFA student specializing in Creative Nonfiction. She was born in Nashville, TN, and caught the travel bug when her family moved to Ecuador for a year when she was sixteen. Since then, she has reflected on the effects of travel and immigration on identity, celebrated the deep connections that can be formed with strangers all over the world, and grappled with the isolation that comes with the personal transformations that travel and dislocation trigger.

She fell in love with Madrid when she undertook a research trip there to study women’s empowerment in Spanish Classical Theater. After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University with a double major in English and Spanish, she moved to there to teach English. In her free time, she learned to dance salsa, became an avid podcast listener, and continued to explore poetry as a second genre.

Hanna is fascinated by the blurry lines between foreign/familiar and natural/unnatural, and her pieces often tussle with unresolved ideas and the liminal spaces. She is obsessed with food, both as a sensory experience, a site of cultural fusion and expression, and as a fundamental aspect of addressing climate change. She hopes to explore foodways in her writing over the next three years.

Christal Campa

A first year MFA student, Christal Campa double-majored in English and Sociology at Boise State University before migrating to Iowa. She is enthusiastic to join a creative writing program fused with environmental imagination and research. While studying at Boise State, she took all of the classes available to her related to environmental writing and research. She even created a few independent studies for herself, researching ecological grief and the genre of cli-fi to learn how they relate to motivating (or demotivating) activism. Fascinated by the way writing can separate people from the natural world around them or inspire and connect them to it, she is excited to spend the next three years learning and teaching in the Creative Writing and Environment Program.

Seemi Choudry

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Born and raised in Venezuela, Seemi Choudry is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants who moved with her family to Chicago at the turn of the century. After graduating from Loyola University, she became a public servant fighting the good fight in true Chicago-Community Organizer fashion. Eventually, she joined the Mayor’s Office as the Director of the Office of New Americans.

In 2019, Seemi moved to Berlin, Germany to further research the Newcomer Community as a Robert Bosch Fellow. Over the years, she has worked in community development, immigration rights and nonprofit management domestically and abroad.

Before starting her MFA, Seemi lived in Costa Rica where she learned about permaculture farming and worked on personal projects. Currently, she is writing the manuscript for her memoir. When not writing, she’s either cooking, playing soccer, immersed in international film, traveling or spending time with her family.

To read some of Seemi’s work, visit her website at:

Connor Ferguson

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Connor Ferguson was born and raised in southeastern Iowa and received his high school diploma from WACO High School in Wayland, Iowa. He graduated from the University of Maine Orono with a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing in 2019, and graduated from the University of Maine Orono with an MA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing in 2022.

His work on diversity and inclusivity in academic spaces has been published in The Dangling Modifier and presented at the Northeast Writing Centers Association conference; he held a McGillicuddy Humanities Center Undergraduate Fellowship, completing a project titled "Queering the Fin de Siècle: Recognizing Queer Identities in the Modernist Era of Literature".

Connor's academic focuses include Modernism, genre fiction, young adult literature, space-and-place theory, queer theory, narrative structure, critical communication pedagogy, and multimodal pedagogy. When not writing or studying, Connor works in radio, collects vinyl records, is an advocate for video games as an art form, and considers the increasingly blurred line between urban and natural landscapes. He lives in Des Moines with his partner and their three cats.

Kelli Fitzpatrick

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Kelli Fitzpatrick (she/her) is a sci-fi author and editor from Michigan who writes fiction, screenplay, essays, and game content. She is a candidate for the MFA in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University with a minor in Philosophy. She was a 2021-2022 Pearl Hogrefe Fellow. Kelli’s writing often explores themes of A.I. minds, climate change, the Great Lakes, community, and the metaphysics of time and space. A former high school teacher, she is a strong advocate for public education, the arts, and gender rights and representation.

In 2016, her story “The Sunwalkers” won the Star Trek Strange New Worlds contest from Simon and Schuster. She has short stories in Flash Fiction Online, KYSO Flash, Crazy 8 Press, and others, and her essays on sci-fi media appear at, Women at Warp, and in print from Sequart and ATB Publishing. Her screenplay “Broken Hot Mess” placed fifth in the NYC Midnight Short Screenplay Challenge. She has written tabletop game content for Modiphius Entertainment and Archvillain Games, and proudly serves as an assistant editor for The Dunes Review.


Fred Johnson

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Fred Johnson is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing and Environment and a 2021/2022 Hogrefe Fellow. A slightly startled Brit, Fred completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Liverpool, England, and his MPhil at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Between then and now he worked in trade and academic publishing. Although he applied with a poetry portfolio, he generally writes whatever feels least terrifying at any given moment.

Claire Jussel

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Claire Jussel is a first year MFA student from Boise, Idaho who has unwittingly lingered in the Midwest after studying history and English at St. Olaf College. She most recently worked at a children’s bookstore in Minneapolis, and previous places of work and fascination have included park-rangering in Wyoming, mending library books, and occasional lighthouse keeping. Primarily a poet, she also explores creative nonfiction and visual arts. Her work gravitates towards themes of place, home, memory, and connection with the natural world. Her work has appeared in West Trade Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, CP Quarterly, and she serves as an associate poetry editor for West Trade Review.

Kentaro Kumanomido

Graduate Student [ENGL]

Kentaro Kumanomido is an artist and second-year MFA candidate in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University.  Kentaro comes to the program with a broad background in the humanities, including a BA in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis and an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University.  Kentaro's current work in poetry and performance-making addresses ecological issues through the lens of 'critical agrarianism.'

Matt Moore

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Matt Moore is a creative writing student whose work is informed and inspired by his life in rural Northwest Missouri. Matt playfully charts new lines of flight between genres, mediums, and hybrid forms of telling with which he attempts to capture those fleeting dialectical sparks between the frictional and intersectional tectonics of memory, identity, and place. In this pursuit, his interests concern the production of rural space, the metabolic rifts between the human and non-human, intergenerational commodity waste, and the labor regimes of late-stage capitalism particular to rural bioregions.

When he’s enjoying himself most during the End Times, Matt may be found playing music, playing games, or playing cheap yard sports whose participation demands the least prerequisite skills. He is also the proud caretaker (some might say fur dad) of his own veritable menagerie of rats, cats, and dogs, all of which are, yes, indeed plural.

Shalini Singh

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Shalini Singh is a multigenre writer and MFA candidate from India in the Creative Writing & Environment program at ISU. She is the Miller scholarship recipient and the Fellow for Creative Writing & Environment, 2022-23. She holds a bachelor’s & Master's degree in Laws. Before she was a corporate and civil litigation lawyer, she has been an ardent reader and reviewing books for National and International publishing houses, journaling her journeys, writing prose poetry, experimenting with hybrid genres.

In her last stint with the Ministry in New Delhi, India, Shalini decided to pursue her goal for giving herself the gift of time and community, yearning for mentors she has read and cherished. Having travelled extensively in India, Shalini has taught underprivileged kids and students from various Classes since a long time now. Her writing is focused on whatever strikes a chord with her in the moment as Shalini believes in writing less but living more to be able to write. Having written on themes that revolve around environmental justice; disappeared and disappearing people; macrocosm & microcosm, latent patterns in society; rituals that are lost, pareidolia, landscapes, disregarded facets of human lives, Shalini wishes to explore the natural bounty, trekking, camping, harvesting food, binge watching shows, working with brands, meeting like minded people.

Shalini has been Longlisted by The Bombay Review as 20 Under 30 South Asian Writers for Fiction 2021-22. Nominated for Pushcart 2022 and won the Verse of Silence Poetry Contest 2021. She is now editing Fiction and Poetry for Taco Bell Quarterly, Reading for Best of the Net, 2023. Some of her works have been published in The Nation, Outlook India, The Good Men Project, Tofu Ink Press, The Spectacle, Dreginald, LitGleam, The Metaworker, and Spectrum.

Zoe Stonetree

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Zoe Stonetree grew up in eastern and central Maine, then headed a few miles west to pursue her BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maine Farmington. She has also lived in Juneau, AK, Boston, MA, and Ames, IA.

Zoe has been an editorial assistant at AGNI, a poetry reader for Harvard Review, and a poetry fellow at Alice James Books. Her essays and poems explore the intersections of local identity, landscape, daily life, artistic practice, and conceptions of home and belonging. She also likes phenomenology, ecology, and relief printmaking. Almost everything she writes is ultimately about Maine.

Kendra Tillberry

Graduate Student [ENGL]

Kendra Tillberry uses creative nonfiction essays to build connections between our lives and the physical world. In her writing, she braves unforged paths and leans into vulnerability to convey a rich, emotion-filled experience. Kendra has been published in How We Are, the online literary magazine dedicated to telling stories from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kendra earned an MA degree in creative writing and publishing from the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota and a BA in political science and English literature from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. For six years, she worked as a communications strategist in school public relations where she served two of the top five largest school districts in Minnesota. An avid traveler, Kendra has been to more than 40 states and 15 countries around the world and uses these experiences to enrich her writing.

Usually, she’s writing or reading, but when she’s not, you can catch Kendra hiking or spending time with her beloved gaggle of humans and animals she calls her “geese.”

More information can be found at:

Eleanore Tisch

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Eleanore Tisch (she/her) is a poet, born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She began her love affair with language, theatre, and art at a very young age, ever inspired by the city teeming around and within her. She studied Writing & Literature in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and went on to earn her M.A. in Education Foundations, Policy, and Practice from CU-Boulder.

She brought a piece of the Rocky Mountains with her when she moved back to the midwest (quite literally). She loves school (or rather, any setting where folks can gather, read, respond, and discuss) and is intent on working towards reforms for a more equitable, just, and sane public education system. Her writing incorporates information scrappily, from anywhere she can find: a textbook assigned by a professor, an advertisement on the L, a sheet of paper blown onto her porch by unknown winds. She practices listening to the world with her whole body.

She believes deeply in the power of language to harm and to heal, to bless and to vex, to bring a human being more deeply into themselves and their surroundings. She is obsessed by the miracle of bodies, the multiverse, by organic patterns, lightning bugs, thunderstorms, octopi, and her two cats, Goose and Otter.

A first-year MFA student, Eleanore is honored to be a 2022-2023 Pearl Hogrefe Fellow. Work is play and play is work - she couldn't be more excited to do both while studying alongside her cohort in Ames.

Geneva Evie Toland

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Geneva Evie Toland (she/her) is a writer, farmer, naturalist, and educator currently residing on the ancestral lands of the Baxoje people. As a first-year MFA student and 2022-2023 Pearl Hogrefe fellow in Creative Writing and the Environment, Geneva is humbled and excited to spend the next three years writing at the intersection of land and body.

Her work is informed by her studies in environmental science, ecology, and ethnobotany at Vassar College and the Wilderness Awareness School, her apprenticeship in equity and justice work at Fierce Allies, her experience with chronic illness, and her devotion to the more-than-human world.

When not at her desk, Geneva can be found looking for birds and wildflowers, playing her guitar and writing songs, or in her robe watching New Girl.

Leah VanSyckel

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Leah VanSyckel is captivated by the speculative, sensory, and sacramental along with their interactions with environmental imagination and outdoor engagement. A second-year candidate for the MFA in Creative Writing and Environment, she focuses on fiction but plays across genres, exploring themes of hospitality, home, and place in poetry, non-fiction, and game narratives. Broadly inquisitive, Leah is happy to learn whenever possible, from conversations with friends, through texts, or by practicing the liturgies of faith. She pursues joy and abundance through hiking, swimming, and time with family.

Elizabeth Wenger

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Elizabeth J. Wenger is a creative nonfiction writer from Tulsa, OK. She is interested in exploring various ideas and definitions of ‘The Natural’ in politics, culture, technology, and the built environment. Wenger graduated from the University of Kansas in 2019. Since graduating, she’s been just bopping around and having a good time.

Allya Yourish

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Allya Yourish is a poet from Portland, Oregon with a passion for curation and visual art. She studied representations of grief and memory in Holocaust museums at New College of Florida, moved to France to be an au pair, lived as a Tumbleweed in the Parisian English-language bookshop Shakespeare and Company, received a Fulbright grant to teach secondary school in Kuala Krau, Malaysia, and worked as a News Assistant for the New York Times. Her work focuses on crystallizing beautiful moments and making intentional space for tenderness. When not writing, she’s usually talking about her cats, camping at Ledges, or despairing in front of a too-long to-do list.