Beth Kander-Dauphin and Tammie Rice are the first two graduates of the low-residency master of fine arts in creative writing program at Mississippi University for Women. Founded in August of 2015, The W’s MFA program in creative writing was designed to provide coursework in fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, drama, writing workshop classes and internships. It was established for writers who have begun careers or who have family or other obligations.

“The low-residency nature of the program, coupled with the affordability and quality of a W education made it a very appealing option. Also, being able to take on graduate school without sacrificing my day job was vital,” said Kander-Dauphin. She credits her fast track to graduation to the support and flexibility of the faculty.

“It can be tough to really develop connections at a distance, which was definitely something I considered when applying to a low-residency program. But with the on-campus residencies, video conferences, an ‘always here for my students’ mentality, I truly felt connected to my teachers,” explained Kander-Dauphin.

For her thesis project, Dauphin merged her two writing concentrations--fiction and playwriting. She took a full-length script, “Unshelved,” she penned and adapted it into a full-length novel while also writing a 300+ page novel over the course of a year.

“I truly see this program as an investment in my writing career. I am thrilled that it’s a terminal degree, since down the road, returning to teaching is definitely an interest of mine,” said Dauphin.

Originally from Des Plaines, Ill., Dauphin received her bachelor’s degree in American studies from Brandeis University. She earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan before returning to Jackson for a decade. In 2014, she and her husband moved from Jackson to Chicago. Shortly after their move, she decided to pursue an MFA in creative writing.

A native of North Carolina, Rice lived in Columbus for almost 20 years. She received her bachelors of arts in English from The W. She returned to North Carolina after Hurricane Katrina after having completed 24 hours in the education master’s program from The W.

Unfortunately, Rice’s 21-year-old son was in a fatal automobile accident in North Carolina, which resulted in grief, isolation and separation from her social life.

“I knew that if there was anything that could force me to leave my house, to re-enter the world after my self-imposed isolation, it would be school, specifically a writing program,” Rice said.

She said her past relationship with The W and her confidence in director Dr. Kendall Dunkelberg created a deep sense of responsibility to give her best. She chose The W knowing she would be able to write the story that she needed to tell which turned out to be therapeutic. The experience allowed her to reflect on the memories of bringing up her son while she was a student at The W.

Rice wrote a variety of genres, including poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama. She read more than 60 memoirs about life, death, alcoholism and childhood written by famous authors. She also served as the managing editor of Ponder Review and brought the magazine from concept to print, while she was an MFA student.

“This journey to the MFA allowed me to develop as a writer, strengthening my work, but it also provided the place to write about my grief, giving me the time and structure to become strong enough to carry that weight as I go out into the world again,” said Rice.

Dr. Dunkelberg, director of creative writing and professor of English, said, “I am very impressed with the work that the graduates have done over the last two years. It is commendable also because both of them had full time jobs besides school work.

This program has really helped them to become better writers in different genres of writing.”

Both Dauphin and Rice graduated in August 2017.