English prof. reflects on love for U, open-ended learning and teaching


N-AlfAlf Seegert is one of several professors at the U to receive the Early Career Teaching Award this year and he is both honored and surprised to have been chosen for it.
“I like that I qualify as a young faculty member even though I’m in my forties,” he said.
Seegert teaches in both the English Department and the Honors College, and focuses on what he calls “nature and virtuality,” teaching with the philosophy that virtuality extends further than what the digital age has made it out to be.
“When someone talks about virtuality, usually what they think of are computer-generated images in movies or video games or cyber space,” he said. “Those are all different versions of the virtual, no question. But when I teach virtuality what I like to focus on is how virtuality pre-exists digital reality by millennia. How dreams, memory, fantasy, imagination … are modes of the virtual.”
Seegert has been a professor at the U for four years now, but his history with the school extends back nearly two decades, when he received his first bachelor’s degree in 1996. In a rare case, Seegert is a professor that received all of his degrees from the school he teaches at. The reasoning for it, he says, is an undeniable love for Utah.
“I am a longstanding person at the U,” he said. “It’s unusual to be a member of the faculty and [to have gotten] your degrees here, but that’s how it worked out. I love Utah. I’ve been dragged away multiple times and I always come back.”
Seegert originally studied philosophy as an undergraduate and had different plans of where to go in his life other than teaching, but he found himself drawn to English in graduate school.
“I wanted to be a rock musician at one point,” Seegert said. “But I think it’s just that I fell in love with the material [while in school]. The English Department rocks because it’s so open-ended. I’m doing [a class on] video games. Anything that has a really strong basis in narrative [falls] under English.”
Seegert’s love for the diversity of subjects English covers has spread to his students as well. Megan Gessel Brewster graduated last year in English, and took multiple courses with Seegert because she enjoyed his teaching so much.
“Alf certainly deserves this award,” Brewster said. “I really loved how although the courses were centered on literature, there was no realm of study considered irrelevant — astronomy, history, biology, art — he incorporated it all and that was all the better for students.”
Brewster also feels that Seegert creates a safe space for beliefs in his classroom.
“I felt my beliefs were both respectfully challenged and civilly protected in his discussions,” she said.
Ultimately, Seegert found himself teaching because of a love of learning within himself — something he fosters by teaching others.
“I love teaching and working with students,” he said. “I learn more from my students than I do from any other type of research.”
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