Michelle Eble

By Ann Blakeslee

Today we honor a colleague, scholar, and friend who, through her leadership and mentoring, has made an incredible difference in our profession and in the lives of many students and professional colleagues. ATTW, and our field, would not be what they are today without the vision and leadership of Michelle Eble. Michelle has brought a passion and a “fierce” enthusiasm to her professional work that are laudable. 

Michelle currently is a full professor at East Carolina University, where she started her career in 2002. She supervises graduate teaching assistants in technical and professional communication and teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses in TPC. She has mentored countless students, and the impact of her dedication to her students has been exemplary. 

Michelle’s mentoring and collaborative orientation also extend to her scholarship, which effectively unites theory and practice and promotes inclusive and collaborative knowledge-making while also amplifying marginalized voices. Her scholarly work is an important vehicle for supporting and advocating for others. 

And finally, her service to our profession also has been exemplary. She has served on the ATTW Executive Committee for nearly 15 years and has been our President, Vice President, Past President, Conference Coordinator, Treasurer, and, currently, Co-Editor of the ATTW Book Series, not to mention her numerous committee roles. Her leadership has been visionary and has contributed to many of the positive changes we have seen in our profession over the past decade, changes that have shifted our focus and contributed to our field’s increased commitment to equity and justice. In short, Michelle has been a significant force in everything she has undertaken. Today, we honor Michelle Eble’s achievements not only with gratitude but also with a sense of awe for the extraordinary contributions she has made to ATTW and to our profession.

Her colleague and friend, Dr. Will Banks, captures well the essence of Michelle’s leadership and the significant contributions she has made in her many roles with this organization:

As a past-president of ATTW, Michelle served . . . to enact her vision of collaborative leadership and effective mentoring. As president, Michelle oversaw the future of this important organization, and through her academic and ethical commitments to diversity and change, [she] encouraged ATTW to pay greater attention to ethnic, racial, and gender diversity, as well as to issues concerning LGBTQ+ persons. Under her leadership as both president and past-president, ATTW has included more sessions about diversity issues at conferences, more scholarships for diverse graduate students and early career faculty to attend conferences, and more submissions on more diverse topics to the leading journal in the field. Most recently, she and several colleagues . . . drafted “Anti-Racist Scholarly Reviewing Practices: A Heuristic for Editors, Reviewers, and Authors,” which multiple academic journals and university press publishers have adopted as de facto practice. . . . To me, this is Michelle’s vision of ethical mentorship in practice. 

Michelle’s own mentor, Dr. Jeff Grabill, also addressed Michelle’s many contributions to ATTW:

Like the close colleague being elevated with her, Michelle has had a massive impact on ATTW over a number of years, literally shaping the organisation, particularly because of her commitment to making ATTW and the field a more inclusive, accessible, and just place. Consider this. Michelle has been devoting time, energy, and care to this organisation for nearly 15 years. And if you read the story of her career, she has devoted much of herself to her students and colleagues for the entirety of it.

ECU colleague Dr. Erin Clark added, “Michelle is devoted to making things better for those who come after her, and she knows that if we want to see change in the field, we have to make it.” 

A few of Michelle’s colleagues who have served on the ATTW Executive Committee with her also shared their perspectives on her leadership. Dr. Michele Simmons, who preceded Michelle as ATTW president, said:

Michelle has been (and continues to be) a driving force for positive social change in ATTW and the field of technical communication. When I chaired the ATTW conference in New Orleans in 2008, I agreed only if Michelle would be local arrangements chair. After she addressed every problem before anyone else knew there was an issue, I began calling her the ATTW triage queen. But her contributions have long gone beyond conference and organizational logistics. Through her leadership, she established the ATTW amplification award, arranged keynotes that focused on technical communication through a social justice lens, setting a precedent for the direction of the organization, and she remains a constant guiding presence–always ready to help. . . . 

And Dr. Angela Haas, who followed Michelle as president, and who is also being elevated to Fellow this year, said,

Representing Michelle’s commitment to ATTW over the years and its trajectory toward a more inclusive and diverse community . . . is an impossible task. First, she’s generous with her time, labor, mentoring, brill, and even finances. If anyone in the organization asks for her time or expertise, she is on it. . . . Michelle is also one of the most highly skilled and resourceful problem solvers. . . . But perhaps most importantly, she is a fierce visionary and do-er. She uses her privilege and positionality . . . to champion the social justice turn in our organization. And she doesn’t just talk the talk; she walks the walk. From recruiting and retaining a more diverse executive committee to creating the amplification award, . . . Dr. Michelle Eble has demonstrated that intentional coalitional work can and does make positive organizational change happen. . . . Michelle’s example and legacy evidence, . . . as she put it in one of our many conversations, that “the best collaborations are those that result in transformative work that never could have been done alone.” I am honored to have been mentored and befriended by Dr. Michelle Eble, and my life and career have been made so much richer for it. 

Michelle has left her mark on ATTW. She has also left her mark on our profession, both through her scholarship and through her mentoring and collaborative work with students. Erin Frost described Michelle’s commitment to her students and work saying, “[Michelle] understood years ago that change starts with students, and all her work has put students first. . . . She fiercely supports them and amplifies their work. In fact, ‘fierce’ is a word that comes to mind often when I think of Michelle. She is fiercely dedicated to a more socially just future for TPC.” 

Another ECU colleague, Dr. Matt Cox, also used the term fierce to describe Michelle: “Michelle Eble has been a consistent and fierce advocate for others as a scholar and as a human. I’ve personally experienced her support and care from the time I first came to East Carolina. . . . She also taught me to, like her, support others (“paying it forward”). . . . I want to emphasize how true this also is about Michelle . . . at her home institution. I will always be grateful to Michelle for who I am professionally.” ECU colleague, Dr. Nikki Caswell added, “Michelle cares deeply and fights hard without little thought to how it might impact her own career. She’s a strong advocate and mentor, a smart researcher, and a dear friend. She gives so much of herself to the field and expects little in return—beyond people doing the right thing!”

Michelle’s mentoring has clearly had a significant impact on the lives of her students; for so many, it has been transformative. Her former student, Dr. Cecilia Shelton, now at the University of Maryland, had this to say:

Rather than subscribing to a model of mentorship that simply duplicates her own scholarship and intellectual commitments, Michelle’s mentorship made room for me to carve my own path informed by my experiences and commitments. . . . I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing today without the time she invested in me. That’s who Michelle is––she shows up in exactly the way that you need her to with no hesitation, and she figures it out with you, not for you. Some mentors tell you what work you ought to do; the best mentors teach you how to do the work you want to do. Thank you, Michelle, for always being in my corner. 

Another student of Michelle’s, Dr. Temptaous McKoy, now at Bowie State University, shared,

I was admitted into the ECU PhD Program Fall of 2015. Before being admitted, I visited the campus . . . [and] had the pleasure of meeting . . . the Grad Studies Director Michelle Eble. She had plum hair, a smile to light the room, and such a welcoming spirit. I knew coming in I would not have all of the skills on paper to complete the program, but I would have the drive. From the Fall of 2015 to July 2019, Dr. Eble served as a key mentor in my life. She was the Dissertation Chair that fought with and for me! She has advocated for me in ways that have truly shown me how to be a great mentor and friend. When I look at the work I do and have done, I am proud to say and share that I am a student of Dr. Eble. Her tenacity, courage, and boldness are characteristics I’ve seen in her and [in] myself. I am proud to see such an impactful mentor of mine elevated to Fellow.

Michelle is an educator who reads and listens attentively to the words and ideas of others and who makes others feel seen, valued, and heard, particularly those who may not have felt heard in the past. Dr. Carolyn Dunn, another student and now ECU colleague, described Michelle’s attentiveness as life changing:

I met Michelle while I was wrapping up my master’s degree . . . in 2003, and she sat in on my Portfolio presentation. I remember how open she was, how obviously curious and enthusiastic. . . . Here was a woman younger than me, more accomplished and educated, and she was listening to me, really listening, and . . . making me feel as if my ideas had merit, as if I had said something unique and brilliant. . . . She made me feel welcome, as if I deserved to be there. And for a woman who came of age in the 80’s, a woman who had learned while working in the private sector that my voice didn’t really matter unless it was raised in service to whatever goal management had identified as worthy, a woman who had learned to keep her head down and work and “be one of the boys,” this was life changing. 

Dunn also said, “Hillary [Clinton] was right . . . that it takes a village. And in my village, Michelle Eble will always be a matriarch, a wise one, a good and loving soul imbued with the force. I am standing here because she walked with me. And I try to pay it forward in my own interactions with students.” 

Will Banks described how Michelle’s approach to mentoring and supporting students and colleagues is also enacted in her scholarly work. He said, “Central to Michelle’s career has been her commitment to a non-hierarchical model of mentoring. Michelle has always worked with pre-tenure faculty to help them acculturate into our department, but in the last fifteen years, as a tenured faculty mentor, she has also invested in them significantly as scholars and as graduate faculty.” Banks added: “Michelle has written with many students over the years, welcoming them into projects she was already doing as well as offering them support as a co-author so that they could learn first-hand how to move ideas to manuscripts, through the peer review process, and finally into print.” Additionally, he shared,

Michelle’s commitment to recruiting multiply-marginalized students into our doctoral program did not stop at the admissions door, but has continued as she mentored them and their work into conference presentation and scholarly publication. Michelle is always the first to offer to read a draft and offer feedback for students (and early career colleagues), and her commitments here are also obvious in her award-winning collection, Key Theoretical Frameworks: Teaching Technical Communication in the Twenty-First Century, co-edited with Angela Haas. . . . Michelle and Angela actively recruited and mentored many of these writers in their collection because of their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to the important work these multiply-marginalized scholars were doing in our field. . . . In this collection, Michelle’s commitments to equity are prevalent, and her vision of mentorship is on full display in the fine work that she and Angela helped to bring about through soliciting diverse voices and providing supportive feedback on works in progress. 

Banks describes Michelle as “the sort of scholar who [has] used [all of] her positions . . . to advocate for others.” He said, “She finds real joy in supporting the success of others.” 

With all the testimonials we received, we could easily write a book in Michelle’s honor. In an attempt to summarize, we share two final comments. First, Jeff Grabill summed up well Michelle’s incredible impact on our field:

There are any number of important things I learned from too many years playing football, and perhaps the most important is that teams are great not because they have the best athletes. They are great because they have exceptional people who are “glue,” who knit together a whole from parts and make something special. Michelle is exceptional. She has always been exceptional and one of my most valuable and beloved colleagues because she does the work of the academy––all of it!––with a commitment, quality, and care that is humbling and has made us all better.

And finally, Dr. Carleigh Davis, Michelle’s former student and now assistant professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, shared this:

When I was writing my dissertation, in an effort to get chapters out of me, Dr. Eble often told me, “writing is never done, only due;” that’s true now, as I write this message. Any commentary on what Dr. Eble means to me, and to our field, will never feel fully complete; there is always another student she helped, another piece of advice, another article or chapter of hers that I assign to my own students every semester, that shouldn’t go unacknowledged. So, this is only a snapshot: a representation of thanks that is never done, only due. 

To Dr. Eble, we offer our heartfelt congratulations coupled with our “fierce” gratitude and admiration for the innumerable contributions you have made. We are so proud to have you as a colleague. For the service, contributions, and dedication to your students and colleagues and to our profession lauded in this citation, as well as the countless additional contributions we have not been able to list, we rise today in your honor! 

We are pleased to welcome Dr. Michelle Eble to the community of ATTW Fellows!