We’re featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today’s new graduate is Jennifer Russo. She lives in Walpole, MA.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

I volunteer for “Birthday Wishes” an organization that provides birthday parties for children in homeless shelters. I am also on the board of directors of the summer camp I attended as a camper and staff member.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

When I retired, I decided to pursue my passion for writing children’s books. I took many courses through the Gotham Writer’s Workshop and attended SCBWI retreats and seminars. My sister suggested that since I was putting in all of this work, I should get a master’s degree. I didn’t think a degree in children’s writing existed, so I went online and found the programs in VT and Hamline. I loved Hamline’s approach and applied thinking it was a long shot. Now I’m graduating!

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I always enjoyed writing. I wrote and illustrated my first book in 6th grade called “Our Ninth Planet Pluto” (Pluto was a planet at the time.) It had a Mickey Mouse theme while providing facts about Pluto.

Fast forward, I didn’t take any creative writing classes in college, and after a very short stint as an elementary school teacher, my career was as a human resources communications consultant. I began taking creative writing classes after I retired.

What do especially remember about your first residency?

I was scared returning to school after more than 40 years. The first couple of days were exhausting getting back into a classroom setting and taking notes (and writing reflections). I took Mary’s advice to heart about being gentle with ourselves. What I quickly realized was that advisors and students were supporting my journey to grow as a writer. I left knowing I was a member of a community.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

I came into the program with the beginnings of a MG contemporary novel. I’m graduating with nine complete picture books that I am ready to start querying. They include a chicken who does math, twin sisters who view life from opposite perspectives, a boy who comes to terms with a dog’s death and The Princess and the Pea told from the pea’s point of view.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?

My goodness! I looked back at some beginning drafts and can’t believe the difference. The lectures on craft and the amazing guidance and feedback from workshops and my advisors have been invaluable. I now have the skills to develop a character, a voice, a theme and tell a cohesive story in 500-700 words. I didn’t have a clue how to do that two years ago. And, I continue to learn with each draft I write.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?

Two words: DO IT!