Assistant Professor Matt Rossi received the 2021 Community Partner Award from the College of Arts & Letters (CAL). This award honors faculty members who demonstrate significant community contributions as well as outstanding “participation, student mentorship, and overall leadership.” One of five WRAC faculty members to receive CAL faculty awards in 2021, the honor highlights Rossi’s ongoing efforts to foster a strong, creative local community through his work with the Lansing Makers Network and the REO Town Reading series.
Rossi began working with the Lansing Makers Network (LMN) when he first moved to Lansing, knowing that his own work would benefit from the community makerspace. LMN provides tools and equipment for creative projects, as well as a collaborative space for creative and curious people like Rossi. “I’m a strongly kinesthetic thinker, and making things helps my mind work,” he said. The practice of making especially benefits his writing, Rossi added, by providing focus and helping him maneuver through the writing process.
In 2019, Rossi and others at LMN began to see the need for a new strategy to allow the organization to better serve the community. “We wanted to find ways to make the space run more fluidly and to build a team of people interested in guiding the culture and the ethos of LMN’s community,” he said. To do this, Rossi established LMN’s volunteer program, which allows community members to contribute by assisting with classes and events, improving the makerspace, or staffing open hours. Through this program, LMN was able to expand into a “more functional space” during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to better support creativity in the local community.
Rossi also runs the REO Town Reading, a curated monthly reading series that gives local writers the chance to present longer-form work to an audience. He says that he saw the need for a reading series as soon as he moved to the area. “When I first came to Lansing, every time I asked writers where they presented their work, the answer I got was that there were no regular readings in the area.”
To address this community need, Rossi started REO Town Reading in 2018. This series, which is held on the last Thursday of each month, provides a space for new and established writers to present their work–including poetry, essays, and stories–and to network with each other. In 2020, The Cube published the REO Town Reading Anthology, “a celebration of the literary community in Lansing” comprised of work by writers from the first three years of the series.
In addition to running LMN’s volunteer program and REO Town Reading, Rossi prioritizes creativity and connection in his work as an Assistant Professor at MSU. In his WRA 101 classes, he teaches the Remix project with a creative design focus, helping his students apply “rhetorical moves around audience and expression to design and make an object that addresses a need in the community.”
Rossi invites his students to come to LMN and be a part of the community throughout their Remix projects and beyond. He also encourages other faculty members to get involved and has co-hosted an MSU-affiliated faculty learning community at LMN since 2019. “Since [making] has been such an important part of my teaching at MSU… [the learning community] focuses on engaging in design and making in classes that weren’t directly related to that.”
What I love about working with a community is that it allows people to stretch their imaginations into much deeper places than they could on their own.—Matt Rossi
Rossi says that he especially enjoys working in community spaces because of the new creative opportunities that collaboration with others can present. “What I love about working with a community is that it allows people to stretch their imaginations into much deeper places than they could on their own. I see this all the time. A person at LMN will start a project with one thing in mind, start chatting with another person at the space, and soon they have an idea for their project that seemed impossible only an hour ago. Or a new poet will meet someone at the REO Town Reading and suddenly they have a mentor and someone to give them feedback that makes them grow as writers.”
Whether he is working with an editorial team of student interns to publish the REO Town Reading Anthology, or inviting English, Austrian, and German writers to share their work virtually at an REO Town Reading, Rossi is constantly reminded of the importance of others when it comes to making a difference in the community. “American culture tends to celebrate great individual accomplishments as though they occurred within a vacuum, but in reality it’s the accomplishments of the collective… that makes cultures thrive,” he said.
In this way, the 2021 Community Partner Award is a confirmation of the work that Rossi does to build a strong, creative local community, but he says it demonstrates WRAC’s commitment to community as well. “I see it as confirmation of the depths to which CAL and WRAC value our role in shaping the culture of our community.” Faculty members like Matt Rossi help WRAC continue to foster creativity and collaboration within the department and into the East Lansing and Lansing area.
Kara MacKenzie (she/her) is a sophomore at Michigan State University majoring in Professional and Public Writing and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is the website and communications intern for WRAC, where she helps to create and implement engaging content campaigns that draw attention to people in WRAC and the amazing work they are doing. She is especially passionate about the intersections between rhetoric and social justice, and hopes to one day use her writing skills to benefit an organization that works toward positive social change.