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In All the Write Places: Honors Student Makes Her Mark Early

Alexa Paleka ’20 says writing is “one of those things I just ‘get.’ ” That much is obvious after glancing through her impressive list of accomplishments after one year at St. Norbert College.

From earning an A in an English 305 Literature Theory and Writing class, regarded as one of the most difficult in the major, to having a paper published in a national research publication and accepted by multiple conferences, Paleka quickly earned a reputation for exceptional drive and ability in her very first undergraduate year.

“As a little kid, I was already into English and grammar and spelling,” Paleka admits. “I’m particular about writing style, but I didn’t really think about it coming into college.”

That afterthought quickly turned into an area of emphasis as the first-semester student wowed John Pennington (English) with her first paper, which he suggested she take a crack at primarily to see if she could handle the class.

“She agreed, and then turned in the strongest first version of the essay in the class,” Pennington said. “Her essays were always brilliant and she developed a fondness for Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books.”

Paleka’s interest in Carroll continued beyond the English author’s popular “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” fantasy to its sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass.” It was in this work that Paleka felt comfortable delving more deeply into feminist theory and worked to strengthen her first draft. By the end of the semester, Paleka knew she had a strong piece of writing in her possession and asked Pennington for his assistance in submitting a combination of her two Carroll essays for publication.

“At the time of writing it, I was still learning about the book and theory,” Paleka said. “I had no intention of publishing; I was just looking to survive the class. I spent the whole first semester holed out in my dorm room. I just wrote and wrote and wrote.

“I figured I’d put it out there (for consideration) and if it’s not developed enough, oh well, I’m just a freshman. I wanted to try it, and it ended up working out for me.”

Did it ever. 

Paleka’s paper was published in Feminist Spaces at the University of West Florida, an online undergraduate and graduate research journal dedicated to the academic collaboration of writers within the women’s and gender studies community. It also was accepted to the “Pippi to Ripley: Gender and Sexuality in Fantasy, Science Fiction and Comics” conference at Ithaca College in New York.

The cherry on top was the paper’s acceptance to the “Mum’s the Word: Voicing the Female Experience in Popular Culture” conference at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick in Ireland.

In the midst of the publication journey, Paleka saw a post on Facebook looking for student editors at UReCA, an online journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity for the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC), an umbrella organization for all honors programs. Despite having no formal editing experience, she was accepted for one of the 10 positions.

Paleka has spent the summer editing and approving submissions from honors programs across the nation for publication. It’s the first time a member of the St. Norbert Honors Program has had a direct connection with the NCHC.

“Some of my high school teachers told me I was a good writer,” Paleka recalled. “I didn’t think anything about it.”

She certainly is now. And, as Alice would say, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

Sept. 5, 2017