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Stories spark the imagination of Purdue’s first Beinecke Scholar

Arden Woodall

Arden Woodall loves teaching, and she loves stories. The intricacy of how readers and stories intersect and how perspectives shape both meaning and our identity as we interact with writing intrigues her.

Her own relationship with teaching and stories changed in an instant when she was selected as Purdue University’s first Beinecke Scholar. The prestigious national award provides significant financial support for graduate studies and will redirect her path from the high school classroom she imagined leading after graduation to a doctoral program in Comparative Literature. Her top choices are Duke, Yale, and the University of Chicago. But first, the junior plans to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship where she will use her Spanish minor to facilitate teaching English as a second language to native Spanish speakers.

“I’m nervous, and really excited for all of my options,” says Woodall. “I had always pictured myself in a high school teaching English… I think I’ll still end up back there someday. There is value in taking risks and saying yes to things even when you can’t see how they fit into your plan.”

Responding to news of Woodall’s selection, Professor of English Robert Lamb notes, “I can think of no one more deserving than Arden to be our first Beinecke Scholar. Working with her both in and outside of class has been nothing short of a thrill, and I know she is destined for great things in her life and career.”

The daughter of “huge book nerds,” Woodall shares that her father taught her to read when she was just three. As a cadet teacher in high school, the Noblesville native says she fell in love with students and her role teaching them. After field experiences as an English Education student, the love has only grown stronger.

At the same time, in her classes as an English major and Creative Writing minor, her studies at Purdue have deepened her relationship with stories and the notion of perspective feeds her intellectual curiosity.

In a class with Professor Lamb, she studied The Scarlet Letter, a book she had read and enjoyed in high school. “I learned to love it in all different ways from a different teacher,” she says. She fondly recounts a semester of heartfelt exchanges while enrolled in Lamb’s class. “I have him to thank for all of this,” she says. “He sent my name to NISO [National and International Scholars Office].”

As a result, Woodall applied for and won a Gilman Scholarship, which allowed her to study abroad in Spain during the summer of 2022. Living with two host families and taking classes, she was intrigued to listen to the same stories from the different perspectives of her host families and instructors. “All of our stories are the same and also different,” she muses.

This year, her professor Arianna Banack referred her for the Beinecke Scholars program. “I’m so grateful to Dr. Banack,” says Woodall. “She’s inspiring, patient, she really sees you as a human. She’s everything I want to be as a teacher.” Once she decided to apply, Woodall put her all into the Beinecke application. She wrote eight drafts of her application working with NISO advisor Lindsay Sheedy. “I’m from a lower middle-class family, so the scholarship means a lot,” she says.

Woodall takes pride in being Purdue’s first ever Beinecke Scholar. “It’s cool to represent my people [in the English Department]. I like being a liberal arts kid in a STEM school. It makes me feel kinda special.”

Special describes her relationship with her father as well. Woodall says one of her favorite books is Stephen King’s 11/22/63, in part because it was one of the first books she ever read out loud with her dad. “Reading out loud is very transformative. Of course, poetry is meant to be spoken, but reading prose out loud is very transformative, too. It has so much more weight.”

Along with writing poetry and prose, she is a manager of the Heart & Soul choir in Purdue Musical Organizations. “I started at Purdue in 2020. When college was too much, my choir and music were another thing to turn to. Music is another form of storytelling.”

Sharing the news of her scholarship created a memorable moment. “My dad cried when I told him. He said, ‘You’ll be the first doctor in our family.’ I will. It feels like I’m making history for my family.”

As Purdue’s first Beinecke Scholar, Woodall has made history for Purdue as well, but it’s the career she will build and the impact of her perspectives that leave us excited to read her continuing story.

More on Arden Woodall’s publications and writing awards:

  • Her review of “Does My Body Offend You?” by Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquardt was published in the January 2023 issue of ALAN Picks (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English)) 
  • Her non-fiction prose piece, “It’s Strange,” will be published in the May 2023 edition of Purdue’s literary magazine The Bell Tower.
  • First place, flash fiction/prose poem category, for a historical fiction vignette called "Proud," 2023 Purdue Literary Awards.
  • First place, School of Languages and Cultures Award for Literary/Cultural Analysis, for an essay in Spanish called "Suspenso de lo desconocido," 2023 Purdue Literary Awards.

More on Purdue's faculty and staff support for Arden:

It takes a village to get a prestigious scholarship. Ariana Banack, English Education; Bob Lamb, English; and Marcia Stevenson, Spanish, showed their strong support for Arden with beautiful letters of recommendation. Josh Boyd, Communication; Andrew Flachs, Anthropology; and Peter Moore, Honors College, served on the committee that selected Arden as Purdue's nominee and advised her application. The National and International Scholarships Office guided Arden through her application. Our acknowledgment and thanks extend to all. 

More on the Beinecke Scholarship Program:

The Beinecke Scholarship Program was established in 1971 by the Board of Directors of The Sperry and Hutchinson Company to honor Edwin, Frederick, and Walter Beinecke. The Board created an award to provide substantial scholarships for the graduate education of young men and women of exceptional promise. The program seeks to encourage and enable highly motivated students to pursue opportunities available to them and to be courageous in the selection of a graduate course of study in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. For 2023, twenty students were awarded Beinecke Scholarships.