SNU 2020 valedictorian Alisa Robinson B.A. in Psychology
My experience at SNU has taught me to think bigger, anticipate changes, listen, take risks, and most importantly to take advantage of opportunities.

2020 Valedictorian Alisa Robinson

Sierra Nevada College is proud to announce that Alisa Robinson, Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, has been chosen as the valedictorian for the class of 2020.

Over the course of the past four years at Sierra Nevada University, I have grown to be a true academic who embodies what it means to be a Sierra Nevada University Eagle. I was a teaching assistant, tutor, and student mentor for the psychology department, and one of the primary researchers for Dr. Christina Frederick’s NIH and Nevada INBRE Pilot Grant Project. My senior research project will be presented at the 2020 UCLA Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference. Beyond the campus, I was a peer support group co-facilitator at the Douglas Center of Hope and Healing for several years, and volunteered with the North Lake Tahoe-Truckee Leadership Program.Shortly after I started at SNU, I became aware of the faculty and staff support that allowed me to freely explore my interests. This freedom to explore, both within and beyond the realm of her psychology courses, was empowering. My personal experiences with the pervasive influence of media grew into a minor in Marketing. A web design course led to my interest in the intersection of web design and psychology, and from there to new skills in coding and graphics programs.

My experience at SNU has taught me to think bigger, anticipate changes, listen, take risks, and most importantly to take advantage of opportunities.

If you had asked me 4 years ago what I expected upon graduation, I would have told you that, along with a diploma, I would now know everything there is to know. That fundamentally changed one day during my Sensation and Perception class. Dr. Robert King introduced Beau Lotto and the concept that to thrive in this world, that doesn’t truly exist as we perceive it, we must question everything. I left the classroom that day knowing less than I thought I knew when I entered it. That would have been a setback if I was still that naïve freshman, but my time at SNU had prepared me for that moment. Instead of feeling angry with myself, I felt excitement. I no longer fear uncertainty, rather I am intrinsically motivated to question everything to find it, because without uncertainty there is no room for growth. When I let go of the extrinsic motivation provided by my grade point average I truly began to learn.

I look back on this day and remember the excitement I felt, and feel proud in the transformation that occurred. The hands-on education I received allows me to face uncertainty with courage instead of fear.

2020 Valedictorian Candidates

“Each of these nominees embodied Sierra Nevada University’s mission. Their experiences showcased what makes SNU an incredible place to learn. Beyond their individual accomplishments, each of them also demonstrated curiosity, academic dedication, and significant personal investment in our larger culture and community.”
Provost Shannon Beets

SNU 2020 valedictorian candidate Piera Bernhard, BFA in ArtPiera Nicolee Bernhard
Bachelor of Fine Arts, major in Art     Summa Cum Laude
“Piera Bernhard completed her thesis art exhibition last November and will graduate with her bachelors of fine arts degree this May. She worked for the fine arts department throughout her time at SNU. You’ll find her sailing Lake Tahoe and touring the west in her mobile studio van the summer. She hopes we’ll all have the courage to leap into the unknown and pursue our dreams.”

SNU 2020 valedictorian candidate Brooke Boltz, B.S. in BiologyBrooke H. Boltz
Bachelor of Science, major in Biology     Magna Cum Laude
“Sierra Nevada University has given me many unique opportunities to be successful in my career. While earning my B.S. in Biology, I have gained invaluable experience interning at the UC Davis TERC Chemistry Lab, developed crucial leadership skills as a Resident Advisor in the dorms, and established lasting relationships with mentors and professors along the way.”

Sadie Brown
Bachelor of Arts, major in Psychology     Summa Cum Laude

James P. Cowan
Bachelor of Fine Arts, major in Art     Summa Cum Laude

SNU 2020 valedictorian candidate Sarah Craggs, B.S. in Environmental ScienceSarah Jene Craggs
Bachelor of Science, major in Environmental Science     Magna Cum Laude
“All educational journeys are unique and mine is no different. As I reach the end of my time at sierra Nevada University, I’m filled with gratitude, not only for knowledge gained, but for the enthusiasm to pay it forward.”

SNU 2020 valedictorian candidate Gabby Dodd, B.A. In Interdisciplinary Studies in Journalism and CommunicationGabrielle Dodd
Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, major in Journalism & Communication     Magna Cum Laude
“When I came to SNU four years ago, I had skiing on my mind and no clue what I wanted to study. Quickly, I discovered my skill in writing and found my place in the journalism program, where I am now the managing editor of the Eagle’s Eye, the assistant for interdisciplinary chair Katie Zanto, and I’ve also spent my years competing on the freeski team.”

Luka Gobec
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, majors in Global Business Management and Finance & Economics     Summa Cum Laude

Monique Hurdle
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration , major in Entrepreneurship     Summa Cum Laude

Cole Lyon
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, major in Entrepreneurship     Summa Cum Laude

Ryan Alexander McCarthy
Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, major in Outdoor Adventure Leadership & Art     Magna Cum Laude

Jordan McDonald
Bachelor of Arts, major in Art     Magna Cum Laude

SNU 2020 valedictorian Alisa Robinson B.A. in PsychologyAlisa Robinson
Bachelor of Arts, major in Psychology     Summa Cum Laude

SNU 2020 valedictorian candidate Austin Thomas, B.S.B.A. in EntrepreneurshipAustin Thomas
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, major in Entrepreneurship     Summa Cum Laude
“My decision to study at SNU was a total game-changer. The community and opportunities I experienced here are going to stick with me for life, and I can’t be more grateful.”

Sierra Nevada University art students joined a traditional calligraphy class in Shiga Kogen Japan
SNC offers more immersive classes - abroad, in the field, and here at Lake Tahoe.

New Schedule, New Opportunities

SNC Tahoe Focuses on Hands-On Learning

The Sierra Nevada College faculty are always looking for more ways to offer the in-depth, immersive classes that make an SNC education so engaging. The college’s new academic schedule does exactly that. The school year is now bookended by short blocks in which each student takes one intensive class.

students faculty and river guides are a community around the campfire - Sierra Nevada College environmental science and outdoor adventure leadership students in field courses on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River
Sustainability conference proposal for an electricity generating bicycle by Sierra Nevada College students
picture of aqueduct in Tomar, Portugal where SNC Tahoe Humanities will be visiting in 2020

The Alternative Schedule debuted in September 2019. As with any big change, there were a few unexpected glitches to iron out. The short block format, however, got positive reviews. In these two to three week sessions, students can dive into projects, attend a conference, travel to study abroad, or go on an intensive field course. With no possible conflicts, professors can schedule the class time to fit the material.

The spring 2020 Short Block runs from April 28 through May 13. In addition to travel and field courses, there are workshop-style courses using the campus’s technology resources. There are also several CORE classes offered for students to fill in requirements.

Some of the Spring 2020 Short Block Special Topics and Travel Courses

Biology: A backpacking exploration of the flora and fauna of the north coast of California.

Fine Arts: Meet distinguished ceramic sculptors face-to-face at the 2020 California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Arts in Davis CA.

Creative Writing: Practice Adventure and Travel Writing and study LatinX Literature in Tomar, Lisbon, and Sintra Portugal.

ODAL and Environmental Science: Explore the natural history of the Rogue River in 10 days rafting through 50 miles the ‘Wild and Scenic‘ river canyon.

Fine Arts: Discover authentic southwestern Japan: ceramics museums and potters, Shodo calligraphy and traditional indigo dying, tea ceremonies and Japanese baths.

Sustainability: Build a prototype for the Gooddler award-winning G[enerating] Bike, a low-tech, accessible solution to climate resiliency and power access.

5 new friends at Sierra Nevada University orientation river camp adventure
Becoming a college student is a rite of passage. At SNC, you'll start with adventures that show how exciting learning can be.

Choose Your Own Adventure at Sierra Nevada Orientation

Becoming a college student is a rite of passage. You’re not just starting at a new school, you’re making the transition from adolescence to adulthood. At Sierra Nevada College, you’ll start with an adventure that shows how exciting learning can be.

SNO – Sierra Nevada Orientation is an innovative two-phase program. The first phase is a special camping adventure: A four-day trip for you to meet your fellow students, explore your new home, all while learning skills that will serve you well during college and after graduation. Best of all, you get to choose the adventure that best suits your interests and personal style.

Phase 1 – In the Wild

Fall 2019 incoming students got to choose between two adventures – high camp and river camp. Each trip included opportunities to learn valuable skills such as communication, creativity, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Peer mentoring and teamwork are other important pieces of the experience. Student guides lead new students as they get acquainted, make and break camp, cook and eat, and explore together.

High Camp

High campers started their 5-day backpacking expedition camping on Patterson Lawn the night before they departed. Since they had to carry everything that they used for the duration, the first night was a trial run to make sure everybody had the gear they needed. At 7:00 a.m. the next morning they set off for their trailheads in the Desolation Wilderness, above Lake Tahoe.

Two student leaders, all experienced in the outdoors, led each of four groups of about 10 students on a different 4-day route. Desolation Wilderness, despite its name, is actually a majestic setting high in the mountains. The students traveled 25 to 30 miles, completely self-sufficient. They learned about sustainability and stewardship of the land as they did trail maintenance. At the end of each challenging but fruitful day, they slept out under the stars.

For transfer student Sam Rusak, he felt that High Camp was an effective way to make friends, which is one of the hardest parts of coming to college. “At first it was kind of awkward not knowing anyone, but after we finished building camp that first night on campus, everyone was close,” said Rusak.

student enjoying the slack line at the campsite in Coloma CA at the Sierra Nevada College orientation river camp adventureTrying out the slack line
a group of new college students meet on the campus for the Sierra Nevada College orientationMeet-and-Greet!
student is ready for whitewater rafting at Sierra Nevada College orientation river camp adventureReady for whitewater
River Camp

River campers spent two days whitewater rafting down the South Fork of the American River, alternating adrenaline rush with peaceful floats. The guides, a mix of students and faculty, navigated through Class II – Class III+ rapids with the help of their raft teams. Along the way, they pointed out wildlife, geology, and the importance of sustainability and river protection. After that, they spent two days hiking the foothills and high passes of the Sierra Nevada range.

Each day’s activities ended around the campfire at their base camp in Coloma, California. Everybody gathered for dinner and conversation under the willows and oak trees along the river’s edge.

Phase 2 – On Campus

The second SNO phase brings everybody back together on campus. There are plenty of casual activities for you to meet more friends and explore the amazing opportunities close to campus. And, of course, there’s the usual introduction to the mechanics of college – academic policies, financial aid, dorm rules, library facilities. The main focus of the week, however, is a group of hands-on workshops. These introduce you to the college’s core themes and immersive learning style. This fall, students rotated through each of three workshops.

In the Entrepreneurship workshop, the class discussed various issues that we face in the Tahoe Basin. These included wildfire, housing, traffic, lake clarity, recreation and tourism, trash and recycling, and climate change. Students were divided into groups which each included a variety of personalities and communication styles, for a variety of perspectives. Then each team used entrepreneurial thinking and teamwork to propose a solution, build a prototype, fill out a sustainable business model canvas, and create a professional presentation.

Incoming freshman Kristin Helser learned a lot in the entrepreneurship workshop. “I really liked trying to come up with a project that would help solve a problem that affects us, and figure out what it took to design and produce the solution,” she said.

a student is overwhelmed during an entrepreneurship workshop as two other students look on at the Sierra Nevada College orientationEntrepreneurship can be challenging!
Animal Behavior students spend class catching crayfish at Hidden Beach at Lake TahoeA beautiful place for a crayfish census.
float test - students have built a boat out of scrap materials for a creativity workshop at the Sierra Nevada College orientationIs it seaworthy?

In the Sustainability workshop, students went to Chimney Beach to measure the crawfish population in Lake Tahoe. The students had their first college taste of collecting data for research. Environmental science is one of the many pieces of sustainability which will be part of their education at Sierra Nevada College. And they were introduced to the opportunities they will have to live and learn in such a beautiful, special place.

In the Creative Arts workshop, student teams built boats out of scrap lumber, fasteners, and duct tape. Empty 55 gallon plastic drums were the flotation. Each group’s boat had to be decorated with a unique paint job and flag. And each boat had to be able to support one designated paddler for a 200 yard regatta. The regatta was held on Lake Tahoe, and filmed both from the shore and a drone by digital arts students. The boats were tested for seaworthiness during construction in a kiddie pool on campus, but this did not turn out reliably mimic conditions on the lake!

Skills for Success

Each of these adventures is as much fun as it sounds, but they are also an important part of your future success. They introduce you to the valuable skills that will be at the core of your Sierra Nevada College education. These are the skills that will serve you well in college, in your future career, and throughout your life.

Communication: This includes written and oral communication but also active listening skills. Whether you are out in the wild or working on a team project, your success depends on your ability to listen and follow directions, as well as to communicate effectively with others.

Creativity: Creativity comes in many forms, including solving a problem in a unique way. New adventures and perspectives encourage you to think outside the box.

Entrepreneurship: The ability to take risks and innovate, and the willingness to develop and organize a new venture, are hallmarks of the entrepreneurial spirit. Each SNO activity is an opportunity to take on a project and see it through to completion, to the benefit of everybody involved.

Leadership: Leadership means taking responsibility for yourself, as well as cooperating with others for your mutual success. These are key skills that every potential leader must master.

Take your place among the EAGLES! That’s an acronym for Experience, Adventure, Group Leadership, Environment, and Style.

The second and third place winners of the 2019 student symposium at SNU Tahoe stand proudly with their awards.
Students from every department came together to share their work at the annual Student Symposium, held on May 9th.

2019 Student Symposium

“To my fellow students, faculty, provost, and all that were involved, keep being you and bringing your lens to the world. Without innovation we remain stagnant. Without the artistic mindset we lose everything worth seeing. You are all worth seeing! Congratulations all!”

– Jaime Edwards, second place winner.

The student symposium on May 9th was the culminating student event of the academic year. It brought together the very best student research projects and presentations from each department in a showcase for active learning. The judges chose 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners, and the audience voted for the People’s Choice Award. The cash pool for the event totaled $5,000.

2019 Winners:

1st place – $2,500 – Ryan McCarthy (Fine Arts & ODAL): I am You, You are Me.

Student symposium winner Ryan McCarthy shares the artist statement for his art project I Am You. You Are Me.“To me, the most beautiful moments in this world are the ordinary and the uncanny. A visual representation of our lives would show a series of trivial mundane moments forming a flat wave form punctuated by the occasional high or low. These are the moments I wish to capture and celebrate. Many people only measure their lives by exciting experiences or moments of pivotal changes, but I aim to measure my life by the extraordinary ordinary moments where I can revel in the bliss of existence at the intersection of bizarre and awkward.”

2nd place – $1,200 – Jaime Edwards (New Media Journalism): White Town: A Collection of Poetry and Photography Using Colors to Portray Emotions.

“I put together a collection of my poetry and photography and used color psychology research to portray deep emotions I have throughout each poem.This project reflected me in so many ways and was the most passion filled piece of work I have created during my college career. To be recognized and receive such incredible feedback from such successful faculty and professors is everything and more.”

3rd place – $650 – Rhett Gause (Digital Arts & Journalism): Just Passing Through: A Collection of Short Stories, Songs, and Illustrations from the People and Places We Have Known.

“I want to tell real stories, that I have collected, in a more cinematic way by providing rich details that hopefully describe a beauty that is based on utility—like an overgrown barn that peeks through the mist on a rainy day on some coastal California road, an old beat up Toyota flatbed full of surfboards, or the ragged sun baked hat of a climbing cowboy that lives down in the volcanic tablelands. These visualizations are pure and indispensable. They capture neither trends nor fleeting moments, but the values of a place and the things, and people, that last.”

All three winners are in the Interdisciplinary Studies program.

People’s Choice Award – $650 – 2019 Valedictorian Eva Jazbec (Biology & Environmental Science) – A Longitudinal Retrospective Analysis of ME/CFS Patients Enrolled in Ampligen (Rintatolimod) 511 Open Label Trial From 2011-2019 at Sierra Internal Medicine.

Interdisciplinary Studies student Rhett Gause won third place at the 2019 student symposium at SNC Tahoe.Rhett Gause
Student symposium winner Ryan McCarthy stands next to his exhibit I am You. You are Me.Ryan McCarthy
Interdisciplinary Studies student Jaime Edwards shares her project White Town at the 2019 student symposium at SNC Tahoe.Jaime Edwards

The other student presenters included:


Samantha Conaway – Party Pals
Kyle Hogan-Barnedt – Basecamp Lodge
Jake Shields – Auto Appoint
Samir Somji – Nevada Crest

Fine Arts:

Lillian Bennett – Isolated Holm
Anna Bunnell – Unsettled Residue
and Ryan McCarthy with his winning project, I am You, You are Me.


Christian Delli Veneri – Is Dilution Really the Solution to Pollution? A Look into LNT Practices on a Wild and Scenic River
James Kohagen – Distribution and Population of Signal Crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus)
as well as Eva Jazbec, winner of the people’s choice award.

Humanities & Interdisciplinary Studies:

Grant Diedrich – The Missing Links
Vanessa Dunn – The Climate Surrounding Global Education
Nicholas R. Kozeniesky – The Impact of Visible Tattoos on Candidate Hire-ability
David I.K. Moniz-Lewis – Isochronic Tunes: The Impact of Sound on Brainwave Entertainment and Stress
Ryland West – White Picket Fence
as well as second place winner Jaime Edwards, and third place winner Rhett Gause.

The judges for the event were Jonathan Brieter, Richard Gire, Anza Jarschke, Mary Kenny, Robert King, June Saraceno, Chuck Levitan, Beth Taliaferro Bouchard, and Lara Schott.

2019 Tahoe Slam winners Griffin Peralta, Pan Pantoja, SaMoura Horsley, and mistress of ceremonies Elisa Garcia
Griffin Peralta beat out nine other competitors for the title of Grand Champion at the Annual Tahoe Slam on April 26, the last Friday of National Poetry Month.

2019 Tahoe Slam @ SNC

SNC hosted the Annual Tahoe Slam on Friday, April 26 this year. Ten competitors vied for the title and for the prizes – first place gets a $300.00 gift certificate, second $200.00, third $100.00 – plus bragging rights. SNC students Deja Maestas and Nikki Sardelli competed, alongside other poets from the region and several UNR students. The Tahoe Slam Champion for 2019, Griffin Peralta, is a Reno-based poet and member of the Spoken Views Collective.

Griffin Peralta, winner of the the 2019 Tahoe Slam, held at Sierra Nevada College during National Poetry MonthSlam 2019 Grand Champion Griffin Peralta
The audience at the 2019 Tahoe Slam, held at Sierra Nevada College during National Poetry MonthThere’s always lots of audience participation!
Sierra Nevada College art and creative writing student Nikki Sardelli performing at the 2019 Tahoe Slam, held at Sierra Nevada College during National Poetry MonthSNC student Nikki Sardelli

The Annual Tahoe Slam is held every year on the last Friday in April, poetry month. Past MCs include Patricia Smith, Denise Jolly, Raina Leon, the UC Berkeley Slam Team, and other spoken word performers. The MC this year was Elisa Garcia, a Reno-based spoken word artist. Slams are performance infused deliveries of verse, with a three-minute limit. Judges are chosen randomly from the audience. This is a lively event with a lot of audience participation. There are no tame whispered verses here!

2019 Winners:

First place: Griffin Peralta
Second place: Pan Pantoja
Third place: SaMoura Horsley
Mistress of Ceremonies: Elisa Garcia

photo: (clockwise from top left) Griffin Peralta, Pan Pantoja, SaMoura Horsley, Elisa Garcia

The Annual Tahoe Slam is the last event in the season for the Writers in the Woods literary speaker series. The series brings well-known poets and writers from all over the country to the Sierra Nevada College campus. Audience members are welcome to meet and exchange ideas with the guest writers during intimate readings and workshops. All events are open to the public.

The 2019 – 2020 Writers in the Woods season is bringing Rebecca Makkai, author of the Pulitzer finalist in fiction The Great Believers; Lacy M. Johnson, author of The Reckonings; Michael Branch, local author of How to Cuss in Western; Gayle Brandeis, reading from her new book Many Restless Concerns: The Victims of Countess Bathory Speak in a Chorus (A Testimony); June Sylvester Saraceno, reading from her new works Feral, North Carolina, 1965 (a novel), and The Girl from Yesterday (poetry); and Kaveh Akbar, author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf.

The 2019 – 2020 Writers in the Woods Schedule

Rebecca Makkai, whose most recent novel "The Great Believers" is a 2019 Pulitzer finalist, will open the 2019 - 2020 Writers in the Woods.

Pulitzer Finalist Opens Literary Series

Cover of "The Great Believers" by Sierra Nevada College MFA in Creative Writing faculty Rebecca MakkaiRebecca Makkai will be the first author in the 2019 – 2020 Writers in the Woods literary speaker series. Makkai’s most recent work, The Great Believers, was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. The book was also a finalist for the National Book Award; winner of the ALA Carnegie Medal, the LA Times Book Prize, and the Stonewall Award; and one of the New York Times Ten Best Books of 2018.

Makkai is also the author of the novels The Hundred-Year House and The Borrower, and the short story collection Music for Wartime. She is on the MFA in Creative Writing faculty both here at Sierra Nevada College and at Northwestern University in Chicago, her home.

About The Great Believers
Publisher’s Description

A Novel of Friendship and Redemption in the Face of Tragedy

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for a Chicago art gallery, is about to pull off a coup, bringing an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDs epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago epidemic, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways the AIDS crisis affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. Yale and Fiona’s intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of 80’s and the chaos of the modern world, as both struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.

Praise for The Great Believers

Writers in the Woods brings well-known poets and writers from all over the country to the campus for intimate readings and workshops. All events are open to the public, and audience members are welcome to meet and exchange ideas with the guest writers. The readings, on Friday evening from 7 to 9 pm, are free to everybody. Workshops are Saturday mornings from 10 am to noon, with a nominal fee of $50 for community members.

2019 – 2020 Season

Learn more about this season’s authors

Register for a Workshop

September 27 – 28
Rebecca Makkai
The Great Believers

Writer and activist Lacy M Johnson, author of 'The Reckonings'October 18 – 19
Lacy M. Johnson
The Reckonings
Nevada author and desert rat Mike Branch, author of 'How to Cuss in Western'November 1 – 2
Michael Branch
How to Cuss in Western
Headshot of Author Gayle BrandeisFebruary 7 – 8
Gayle Brandeis
Many Restless Concerns: The Victims of Countess Bathory Speak in a Chorus (A Testimony)
June Sylvester Saraceno
Feral, North Carolina, 1965 (a novel), and The Girl from Yesterday (poetry)
March – TBD

Kaveh Akbar, author of 'Calling a Wolf a Wolf'April 10 – 11
Kaveh Akbar
Calling a Wolf a Wolf
Rebecca Makkai's novel "The Great Believers" was named to the NY Times 10 Best Books of 2018
Rebecca Makkai's new novel, The Great Believers, was just named to the NY Times 10 Best Books of 2018.

Writers in the Woods Authors Make News

Writers in the Woods brings exciting authors to campus from all over the country for intimate readings and workshops. The monthly events give both students and the general public opportunities to meet accomplished writers in a relaxed, personal environment.

Rebecca Makkai

Writers in the Woods, Fall 2016

Rebecca Makkai’s new novel, The Great Believers, was just named to the NY Times 10 Best Books of 2018.

“Set in the Chicago of the mid-80s and Paris at the time of the 2015 terrorist attacks, Makkai’s deeply affecting novel uses the AIDS epidemic and a mother’s search for her estranged daughter to explore the effects of senseless loss and our efforts to overcome it. Her portrait of a group of friends, most of them gay men, conveys the terrors and tragedies of the epidemic’s early years and follows its repercussions over decades. Empathetic without being sentimental, her novel amply earned its place among the contenders for the Booker Prize and the National Book Award.” —The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2018

Makkai is on the faculty of SNC’s MFA in Creative Writing program. She is the Chicago-based author of the novels The Hundred-Year House and The Borrower, as well as The Great Believers, and the short story collection Music for Wartime. Her short fiction won a 2017 Pushcart Prize, and was chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2008-2011).

Praise for The Great Believers
“Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers is a page turner… among the first novels to chronicle the AIDS epidemic from its initial outbreak to the present—among the first to convey the terrors and tragedies of the epidemic’s early years as well as its course and repercussions…An absorbing and emotionally riveting story about what it’s like to live during times of crisis.” —Michael Cunningham in The New York Times Book Review

“Makkai knits themes of loss, betrayal, friendship and survival into a powerful story of people struggling to keep their humanity in dire circumstances.” —People Magazine

“Symphonic… The Great Believers soars… magnificent… Makkai has full command of her multi-generational perspective, and by its end, The Great Believers offers a grand fusion of the past and the present, the public and the personal. It’s remarkably alive despite all the loss it encompasses. And it’s right on target in addressing how the things that the world throws us feel gratuitously out of step with the lives we think we’re leading.” —The Chicago Tribune

“Busily Dickensian, her prose a relentless engine mowing back and forth across decades… missing no chance to remind us what’s at stake… Warmly dimensional… Compulsively readable.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

“To believe in something is to have faith, and Makkai dispenses it fiercely, in defiance of understandable nihilism and despair—faith in what’s right, in the good in others, in better outcomes, in time’s ability not to heal but to make something new.” —National Book Review

“A striking, emotional journey… Makkai creates a powerful, unforgettable meditation, not on death, but rather on the power and gift of life. This novel will undoubtedly touch the hearts and minds of readers.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Luis Alberto Urrea

Writers in the Woods, Fall 2015 and Fall 2016

Luis Alberto Urrea’s novel The House of Broken Angels was named one of the NY Times 100 Notable Books of 2018.

“In Urrea’s sprawling, tender, funny and bighearted family saga — a Mexican-American novel that is also an American novel — the de La Cruz clan gathers in San Diego to celebrate the 70th birthday of its patriarch, who is dying of cancer.” —The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018

Urrea is the author of 17 books. His novels include Into the Beautiful North, an immensely popular community read choice, and The Hummingbird’s Daughter, named a best book of the year by many publications. The Devil’s Highway, Urrea’s 2004 non-fiction account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

June Sylvester Saraceno

Writers in the Woods, Founder and Fairy Godmother

June Sylvester Saraceno’s poem “The Ordinary Day Begins” is included in the anthology All We Know of Pleasure, women’s writing about sex. Her literary company in the anthology includes Sharon Olds, Anne Sexton, Dorianne Laux, Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, Lucille Clifton, Erica Jong, Audre Lorde, and Louise Glück.

All We Know of Pleasure: Poetic Erotica by Women is a breathtaking, eros driven, somatic poetic love letter to women’s bodies. So many of the poets who changed my life and writing live inside this book, and isn’t that the truth of it, that poets give our desires and ecstasies back to us? I read it with my whole body, dripping with delight.” ―Lidia Yuknavitch, author of “The Book of Joan” and “The Chronology of Water”

June is the founder of Writers in the Woods, chair of the English department at SNC Tahoe, and the author of the books of poetry Of Dirt and Tar and Altars Of Ordinary Light. She will be reading at an event for the anthology at the spring 2019 Associated Writing Programs conference in Portland, OR.

photo of author Claire Vaye Watkins

Claire Vaye Watkins

Writers in the Woods, Fall 2018

Claire Vaye Watkins’ longform article on Dennis Hof was recently published by the New Yorker. Hof was the (in)famous owner of several Nevada brothels, including the location of HBO’s “Cathouse,” and a posthumous Nevada State Assembly candidate. (Two days after the article was published he won the seat, despite his death on October 16th.)

Watkins is the author of the novel Gold Fame Citrus and the award-winning short story collection Battleborn. She grew up in Pahrump, Hof’s stomping grounds, and drove by two of his brothels every day on the school bus.

“A beautiful debut novel. . .Watkins’ vision is profoundly terrifying. It’s a novel that’s effective precisely because it’s so realistic — while Watkins’ image of the future is undeniably dire, there’s nothing about it that sounds implausible. . .One might think there are only a few ways to portray a landscape that has become, essentially, nothing, but Watkins writes with a brutal kind of beauty, and even in the book’s darkest moments, it’s impossible to turn away.” —The Los Angeles Times on Gold Fame Citrus

Cover image for Gayle Brandeis The Art of Misdiagnosis, Surviving my Mother's Suicide
Gayle on her experience with writing about personal trauma as both catharsis and art.

Gayle Brandeis on Grief, Catharsis, and Healing

SNC creative writing professor Gayle Brandeis’s mother died by suicide shortly after the birth of Gayle’s youngest child. Her memoir, The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide, explores the tangled mysteries of her family, her own experiences with misdiagnosis and illness, and the compassion that comes from breaking silence. Recently, the book has taken her into some unexpected new places, and we asked her to tell us a bit about them.

From Gayle –

I was invited by Elpida Rouka to speak at the Yale World Fellows program. Elpida has worked for the United Nations for over 15 years, most recently is the Chief of Staff to the UN Special Envoy on Syria. She was recently awarded a Yale World Fellowship, which draws change makers from around the world to learn from one another. She reached out to me last year after she saw my essays at The Grief Diaries; she had lost her brother to suicide the year before and was looking for solidarity and solace. I was so moved and grateful to connect with her – suicide loss can be a particularly lonely type of grief. It’s so important for us to share our stories with one another to help us feel less alone, and to help break the cultural silences around suicide.

At Yale, I read from my memoir, and was in conversation with her about coping with complicated grief. The event, on November 15, was a very moving experience. It led to a really deep and powerful discussion about loss and healing, especially using writing and art as a means of catharsis.

In a nutshell, for me the catharsis comes in the first draft, when I am just writing for myself. Catharsis literally means “purge”, and that first draft is about purging the story from my body and mind, getting it out of my system and on to the page. The “art” part comes in next, shaping that messy catharsis into something that will be meaningful (and hopefully beautiful) for others, and not just myself.

I was also recently invited to speak at the UCLA Conference on Art, Neuroscience and Psychiatry on Nov 2-3. I was on a panel on Writing and the Brain, where I spoke about writing about trauma as both catharsis and art. The other panelists were David Peterson, the creator of the Game of Thrones language “Dothraki”; neurologist and epilepsy specialist Dr. John Stern on language and the brain; and mystery writer Joe Ide talking about creating the minds of his characters. It was a really fascinating conference and I was very happy to be part of it! I love where my writing has been taking me.

The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide was published in November 2017 by Beacon Press. The paperback edition was just released in October of this year.

Gayle Brandeis is also the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write and the novels The Book of Dead Birds, which won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement (judged by Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, and contest founder Barbara Kingsolver), Self Storage, Delta Girls, the children’s book My Life with the Lincolns, which received a Silver Nautilus Book Award, and the poetry collection The Selfless Bliss of the Body. Her essays, poems and short fiction have been widely published and have received numerous honors, including a Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award, the QPB/Story Magazine Short Story Award, and a Notable mention in The Best American Essays 2016. She teaches in both the undergraduate and master’s degree creative writing programs at Sierra Nevada College, and in the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles.

New in-state tuition at the [email protected] extension center is bringing the total tuition and fees cost down to $237.50 per credit.

Sierra Nevada College Lowers Tuition for Nevada Extension Students

Nevada students looking to finish a 4-year degree just got a windfall in a new in-state tuition reduction. Students attending Sierra Nevada College classes at Truckee Meadows Community College’s Dandini Campus through [email protected]’s extension program will now pay only $225 per credit. The total per-credit cost in tuition and fees for 12 credits at [email protected] with the in-state tuition would be $237.50 per credit, compared to $253 per credit at University of Nevada, Reno.

“This is a significant reduction, in line with our belief that creating many pathways to a college education is good for students and good for Nevada. It’s our civic duty to make education available as many ways as possible,” says Alan Walker, President of Sierra Nevada College.

In addition to the new in-state tuition structure for TMCC students, SNC also offers the significant, donor-funded Achieve Scholarship for its extension center students, and an online Prior Learning Assessment course. The PLA course lasts seven weeks and provides up to 15 college credit to adult learners for life and work experience.

“The partnership with SNC is a benefit to TMCC students,” said TMCC President Karin Hilgersom, “because students can opt to continue their education on the Dandini Campus. The new reduced tuition rate is another way that SNC is providing great value, and really helping students of all ages and backgrounds achieve their goals.”

Degree programs currently available through [email protected] are Entrepreneurship, Business Administration and Psychology. All programs result in a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree accredited by the NWCCU. For more information, contact

Sierra Nevada College is Nevada’s only accredited private four-year university. Sierra Nevada College is committed to using active learning and fostering a culture of competition that guides students to think on their feet, communicate persuasively, and acquire the higher-order thinking skills necessary to thrive in the real world.

Truckee Meadows Community College is a comprehensive community college located in Reno, Nev., and is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education. With five college sites and more than 20 community locations, TMCC serves more than 16,000 students each year in state-supported programs and another 9,600 students in non-credit workforce development classes.

Sierra Nevada University Fine Arts traveling Airstream exhibition trailer for the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts residency at Sagehen Creek Field Station in Truckee CA
July 31 - August 8
Come explore the exciting work of our gifted faculty, students, and visiting artists at public readings, lectures, and performances.

Summer 2018 MFA Residency Events

The bi-annual residencies for Sierra Nevada College’s MFA programs in Creative Writing and Interdisciplinary Arts include many public readings, lectures, and performances. Come explore the work of our gifted faculty, students, and visiting artists.

All Creative Writing events are held on campus in Prim Library. Interdisciplinary Arts events are held in the Holman Arts & Media Center on Tahoe Blvd. from July 31 through August 4. On August 5 the IA program moves to the Sagehen Creek Field Station, north of the town of Truckee at 11616 Sagehen Rd, Truckee CA 96160. IA events August 6, 7, and 8 are at Sagehen Creek.

All events listed are free and open to the public.

Creative Writing Faculty   Interdisciplinary Arts Faculty

Tuesday, July 31

Image of Matt Freedman, a sculptor, graphic artist, performer, writer, and curator with a background in cartooning and anthropology.IA
Matt Freedman — Visiting Faculty Lecture
7 - 8 pm | Holman Arts & Media CenterMatt Freedman is a sculptor, graphic artist, performer, writer, and curator, with a background in cartooning and anthropology. His current work explores what happens when DIY versions of modern spectacles revive half-remembered cultural myths. Locations for his solo shows, performances, and curated projects include PS1 MoMA, the Brooklyn Museum, The Kitchen (NY), Pierogi Gallery (Brooklyn), Brooklyn Academy of Music at FiveMyles, Sculpture Center (NY), and the Long Island University Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition. He is the author of the graphic journal Relatively Indolent but Relentless.

Thursday, August 2

Curator and art programmer Ashley Stull Meyers in her black leather motorcycle jacket.Los Angeles conceptual artist Rob Reynolds sits on a huge concrete block from one of his monumental outdoor installations.

Ashley Stull Meyers & Rob Reynolds — Visiting Faculty Lectures
7 - 9 pm | Holman Arts & Media Center

Ashley Stull Meyers is a writer, editor, and curator. She has curated exhibitions and public programming for arts institutions up and down the west coast, including in San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, and Portland. She is currently the northwest editor for Art Practical, and has contributed writing to Bomb Magazine, Rhizome, Arts.Black and SFAQ/NYAQ. In 2017, Stull Meyers was named Director and Curator of The Art Gym and Belluschi Pavilion at Marylhurst University.

Rob Reynolds is a Los Angeles based conceptual artist. His practice includes painting, photography, sound recording and performance, functional sculpture serving archival interests, teaching, and the open exchange of ideas. Rob’s most recent installation projects have been concerned with land use, perception and historical memory. Just Add Water (2013-2015), commissioned by the Natural History Museum of LA County, explored repressed histories of water in L.A. It included ten monumental watercolors and 13 hand screened banners with the names of nearly eight thousand people who built, fought, or were displaced or destroyed by the construction of the L.A. Aqueduct.

Friday, August 3

red ink editingCW
Student Panels
4:15 - 4:45 pm | Prim Library
MFA-Creative Writing Faculty Sampler
6 - 8 pm | Prim Library
Cuban-American textile artist Llane Alexis wearing - and holding - two of his pieces built from discarded denim scraps.IA
Llane Alexis — Visiting Faculty Lectures
7 - 8 pm | Holman Arts & Media CenterLlane Alexis is a multidisciplinary textile artist originally from Cuba. He began painting to cope with personal and political strife in his Havana barrio. Ten years ago, inspired by the never-ending waste he witnessed in the fashion industry, he began using discarded fabrics and mundane objects to make one-of-a-kind art objects from unwanted materials. He braids, stitches, and wraps the fabrics in a process of free creation that breathes life and an element of humanity into everyday, inanimate objects.

Partial view of artist Karen Krolak's piece Dictionary of Negative Space: an interdisciplinary lament.IA
Karen Krolak — Illuminating the Dictionary of Negative Space
8 - 9pm | Holman Arts & Media Center, Garage Door GalleryJoin MFA Candidate Karen Krolak as she discusses, digresses, and likely dances about her "Dictionary of Negative Space: an interdisciplinary lament." Do not despair. This is not the dusty dictionary of your youth. Inspired by a car accident that killed her mother, father, and older brother in 2012, the Dictionary of Negative Space examines the lacy spaces within the English language: the vast chasms of unnamed ideas related to mourning, trauma, and repair.

Saturday, August 4

image for "Lingua Franca", exhibit of the 2018 summer MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts graduates at Sierra Nevada College. Artists: Karen Krolak, Sarah Lillegard, Chelsea Mandell, Sam ShearIA
Lingua Franca — MFA Thesis Exhibition Reception and Graduation
7 - 9 pm | Holman Arts & Media Center, Garage Door GalleryArtists: Karen Krolak, Sarah Lillegard, Chelsea Mandell, Sam Shear
Curator: Ashley Stull Meyers
The works in Lingua Franca consider alternatives to language where traditional conversation fails. The four artists situate this negotiation amidst human gestures, images and forms in search of animation, and criticism for the fraught nature of easy words. They grapple with the possibilities of the language of materials, attempting to form a vocabulary that is yet to exist and call out the shortcomings of existing terminologies. The end result is an incomplete archive of strategies for counting what is absent.

Sunday, August 5

Photo of Dine author Brendan BashamCW
Visiting Artists Reading
with Brendan Basham, Arianne Zwartjes, and Camille Dungy
7 - 8 pm | Prim LibraryBrendan Basham is Diné, born in Alaska and raised in northern Arizona. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Santa Fe Literary Review, Red Ink, Yellow Medicine Review, Juked, and Sheepshead Review. He is visiting from the Institute of American Indian Arts, and is currently finishing his first novel.

Arianne Zwartjes grew up in mid-coast Maine, and is an essayist, poet, and wilderness EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). Her most recent book is Detailing Trauma: A Poetic Anatomy, which explores in vivid, sometimes graphic detail the many types of wounds from which the human body and spirit may suffer—and heal. She is also the author of (Stitched) A Surface Opens, disem body : a tracing, and Surfacing of Excess.

Camille T. Dungy is the author of the essay collection Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys Into Race, Motherhood, and History and of four collections of poetry; Trophic Cascade, Smith Blue, Suck on the Marrow, and the sonnet collection What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. Responding to the lack of African American poets in anthologies of nature poetry, Dungy edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry.

Monday, August 6

Two Pines Redux
Alumni Reading Series
6 - 7 pm | Prim Library
Artist, writer, and educator Julie Weitz, wearing a sweater as colorful as her art, in front of her color photographs.

Jared Stanley & Julie Weitz — Visiting Faculty Lectures
7 - 9 pm | Sagehen Creek Field Station*

Jared Stanley was born in Arizona, grew up in Northern California, and lives in Reno, Nevada. He is the author of three collections of poetry, EARS, The Weeds and Book Made of Forest. His collaborations with the public art group Unmanned Minerals and the Intermedia Artist Megan Berner include It Calls From the Creek and Surrender. Stanley has received Fellowships from the Center for Art + Environment and the Nevada Arts Council.

Julie Weitz is a visual artist, writer and educator based in Los Angeles. Her videos and photographs consider the psychological, physiological and social dimensions of virtual experience, and her installations examine our bodily relationship to the screen and moving image. Weitz’s work has been featured in Artforum, Art in America, The L.A. Times, The New York Times, L.A. Confidential, Photograph Magazine, Hyperallergic and on KCRW's Art Talk. She is a regular contributor at Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles.

Tuesday, August 7

Author Steven ChurchCW
Reading, Conversation & Book Signing
with Steven Church
4 - 5 pm | Prim LibrarySteven Church's latest book, I'm Just Getting to the Disturbing Part: On Work, Fear, and Fatherhood, was just released from Outpost19. He is also the author of The Guinness Book of Me: a Memoir of Record, Theoretical Killings: Essays and Accidents, The Day After The Day After: My Atomic Angst, Ultrasonic: Essays and One with the Tiger: Sublime and Violent Encounters between Humans and Animals.

Two Pines Reading
Graduates Reading Series
7 - 8 pm | Prim Library
Photo of American interdisciplinary artist Macon ReedConceptual artist Macon Reed working on an installation for the Whitney Museum

Macon Reed & Roman De Salvo — Visiting Faculty Lectures
7 - 9 pm | Sagehen Creek Field Station*

Macon Reed works in sculpture, installation, video, radio documentary, painting, and participatory projects. Her work has shown at many venues including PULSE NYC, BRIC Media Arts, ABC No Rio, The Kitchen, Roots & Culture, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, ICA Baltimore, and the Athens Museum of Queer Arts in Greece. Reed studied Radio Documentary at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, and Physical Theater at the Dah International School in Belgrade.

Roman De Salvo is an American conceptual artist whose sculpture and installations utilize everyday objects and materials in inventive and unexpected ways. His work combines his interest in craft, technology, language, and materials with wit and play. De Salvo’s work has been featured in the 2000 Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art; Giverny Garden Projects at the Musée d’Art Américain, (France); the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum (Ridgefield, CN); and American Idyll for the Public Art Fund in Brooklyn, NY.

Wednesday, August 8

Graduates from the 2014 low residency Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program held in IrelandCW
Graduation Ceremony
4 - 5 pm | Patterson Lawn
Sierra Nevada College Fine Arts traveling Airstream exhibition trailer for the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts residency at Sagehen Creek Field Station in Truckee CASound artist Gabie Strong sets up her equipment for a performance during Sierra Nevada College's MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts residency.

MFAIA Open House
5 - 9 pm | Sagehen Creek Field Station*

Meet our students and faculty, see their work on location, have a snack, and experience a sound performance by visiting faculty Gabie Strong.

Gabie Strong is a Southern California artist and musician who experiments with sound performance, radio broadcasting, environmental installation, and video. Her work is a feminist exploration of the effect of living in the spatial disorganization of urban, everyday life. She often collaborates with other artists, musicians, and poets to create work that embodies the particulars of a specific lived experience. Her work has been presented at many venues including The Hammer Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, Pasadena Armory Center for the Arts, Knowledges at Mount Wilson Observatory, High Desert Test Sites, and LACMA.

Two Pines Reading
Graduates Reading Series
7 - 8 pm | Prim Library

* Sagehen Creek Field Station is located at 11616 Sagehen Rd, Truckee, California 96160

Sierra Nevada College's Master's of Fine Arts programs guide creative students through a uniquely practical process in crafting work which is both thrilling and marketable. Our low-residency schedules in Creative Writing and Interdisciplinary Arts are designed for working adults. Students work closely with accomplished faculty mentors during distance-learning semesters. Then twice a year, students, faculty, and visiting artists all come together at the college for a week of creative synergy.

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