James Francis Flynn (Class of 2003)

photo of James Francis FlynnJames Francis Flynn was born and raised in Oxford, Ohio. He has lived or studied in Livry Gargan, France; Maastricht, Netherlands; Olympia, Washington; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Florence, Italy. Flynn has worked as a dishwasher, a computer technician, an archivist, a proofreader, and a clerk at Blockbuster Video. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois, where he works as a freelance writer and filmmaker. His first feature film, Eastern College, is currently playing film festivals around the country and will be released on DVD in 2009.

"I realize that the seminar-based learning we did made me much more eager to press others, to ask questions, to be engaged in groups rather than being a passive listener who simply absorbs."

What would you identify as the key elements and core values of the Western Program as you experienced it?

"From my perspective, there are two things that made Western truly special and beneficial as a college experience.

"The first is that the program was an interdisciplinary one that focused on the connections between various disciplines and academic divisions, and used seminar-based classes with various reading and writing prompts to foster critical thinking skills.

"The second is that Western was committed to being a living/learning community. We all went to the same classes, ate at the same dining hall, had the same professors, lived in the same dorms.

"These two aspects are paramount for me because as I get older, I realize how important it is to read and write well, and how that skill is tied in with your ability to think logically and critically about any aspect of life, society or culture. As I'm aging, I am also understanding more and more how important interpersonal relationships are to us as human beings, both professionally and personally. I made a lot of friends at Western who I still keep in touch with today, and not just on Facebook."

How has your experience of the Western community shaped your subsequent participation in other communities?

"I would guess that my experience has made my participation in other communities more participatory and proactive rather than submissive and reactive. When I look back, I realize that the seminar-based learning we did made me much more eager to press others, to ask questions, to be engaged in groups rather than being a passive listener who simply absorbs.

"I remember being in a literature class in Italy where most of the students were content to simply takes notes based on the lecture the professor was giving, whereas I was consistently probing, questioning, maybe even being obnoxious and interrupting. I feel I got more out of the class than I would had I simply sat back and let his words wash over me while I looked out the window and daydreamed."

What impact has your Western education had on your professional development and career path?

"I've been working as a freelance writer and filmmaker since I graduated, and this is a clear extension of the focus I had at Western, which was in creative writing and film.

"I was able to use the program to create a distinct major, one that doesn't otherwise exist at Miami, and take classes from a variety of departments (English, theatre, mass communications and film studies) to craft a focus that fit my interests quite well.

"Additionally, when I look at the work I've been doing the past few years, I find that the detailed structure of the senior project was an extraordinary template for my work on feature films. During my senior year, I was focused on meeting all the deadlines for the senior project, and building my paper and the short film that accompanied it step-by-step, piece-by-piece.

"As I write feature-length screenplays now, I am able to take that training and apply it to give myself minor, manageable goals and gradually build those into something bigger, a whole that is the sum of those small parts. In other words, the senior project structure made me realize that that old maxim is true: slow and steady does indeed win the race."

What do you most value now about interdisciplinary education?

"Besides what I described above, I value most my memories of my time there. I feel I had a unique and wonderful college experience, and I must have loved it a lot because it took me five years to complete."

What are your aspirations for the new program?

"I would hope the new program would focus on small, seminar-based courses that emphasize critical thinking skills across disciplines using reading and writing to foster those skills. I would also hope that there is a very specific living/learning plan to give the new students a sense of the community I experienced during my time at Western."

[January 2009]