Though she’s always had an interest in storytelling, writing is a skill that Marissa Robins ’23 didn’t foster until her college career at Stony Brook.
“I actually struggled a bit in my English classes early on in school,” said the multidisciplinary studies senior. “I’ve tried creating comics and dreamed of animation, but writing is what felt most comfortable in terms of getting the stories in my head out into the world.”
After receiving a diversity scholarship and being accepted into the prestigious Elk River Workshop taking place in August, Robins will get to hone her writing skills in a scenic summer program in the Montana wilderness, not far from Yellowstone Park — a setting that has inspired conservationists, writers and artists for more than a century.
“It’s an honor to be accepted into a workshop like this,” she said. “This wasn’t something I would’ve ever thought I could do.”
The Elk River Workshop gives Robins a unique opportunity to meld a desire to further her writing skills with an interest in the environment. In the program, faculty members lead workshops with a maximum of 10 students for four daily sessions. The workshops are augmented by craft talks, student readings and lectures by guest speakers. Students may also participate in a variety of excursions and outdoor adventures.
The writing workshop concludes an interesting academic path that saw Robins begin her Stony Brook career as a STEM student. She eventually gravitated toward multidisciplinary studies thanks to her interest in both writing and geology.
“I found that my geology courses were filled with interesting material,” said Robins. “My mineralogy class was one of my favorites since identification of rocks is something I find engaging.”
While she enjoyed geology, Robins credits her peers and professors for making her writing classes fun and creating an environment that was appealing. She specifically cites David Taylor, an assistant professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS); Robert Crace, visiting lecturer, fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry in the Lichtenstein Center Undergraduate Studies; and Felix Grygorcewicz, a fiction lecturer in the Lichtenstein Center, with helping her along.
“I was learning a lot regarding my writing, and everyone was so kind and provided great constructive feedback,” she said. “I am not a very confident person, and they all helped push me in the right direction in terms of figuring out what I want to do with my writing. The reminders to allow myself to dream, the helpful techniques to fit into my writing style, and, of course, the encouragement to put myself out there and attempt to get opportunities like this one meant so much.”
“Marissa is an outstanding writer, a joy to mentor, and an interdisciplinary thinker,” said Taylor. “She moves easily from geology to creative writing and finds inspiration from the entire spectrum. We need voices like Marissa’s now, which offer the best from science and humanities and articulate a sustainable and just future. I’m very lucky at Stony Brook to work with students like Marissa, who will be tomorrow’s leaders.”
Looking beyond her upcoming graduation in May, Robins hopes for a career as a technical writer that would enable her to continue creative pursuits.
“That’s the career I had in mind when I changed my major to multidisciplinary studies,” she said. “I would like something that can fund my writing habits while still being both enjoyable and manageable with my personality and skillset.”
She hopes the Elk River Workshop gives her a valuable first step down that path.
“Improving my abilities is something I am always striving to do,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful to get to attend the Elk River writing workshop. I received a lot of help at Stony Brook, and I don’t want to take it for granted. My goal is to learn more about myself and writing, and more about the natural world from this experience. I have always found writing to be a powerful tool to evoke emotions. Just being able to pursue it is a gift.”
— Robert Emproto