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Phil Wingert of Bethlehem, Pa., a graduate of Liberty High School, revels in doing things his way. He’s currently Lafayette’s only dual-degree, double major in chemical engineering and English. The more technical subject isn’t crowding out the artistic one, either, as he pursues departmental honors in English.

Wingert is writing a work of “creative nonfiction,” which he describes as the gray area between fiction and nonfiction. He’s drawing upon his experiences during a semester at Vesalius College of the Free University of Brussels as a participant in one of Lafayette’s faculty-led study abroad programs.

“With stories and essays based on adventures in Belgium, France, Italy, and the Netherlands fused together into a large body of travel writing, I’m trying to make a worthwhile contribution to the creative nonfiction genre,” he says. “In my essays I’m attempting to craft the plethora of emotions pertaining to how it feels to be light years away from the society most Americans grow up in, and what happens to the mind, body and soul as a result.”

Wingert says he will present personal anecdotes “with an air of fiction” in the hope of ending up with “something more adventurous than your average book of travel writing.”

Wingert’s thesis adviser is Susan L. Blake, professor of English. Creative nonfiction isn’t a new thing, she says, but the genre, encompassing essays and anecdotes, has only recently been identified as an art separate from other nonfiction forms.

“It’s creative in that the writer forms it and creates an experience for the reader,” Blake says. “Phil’s project is imaginative and innovative. I have no qualms about its academic validity, even though it’s not a standard thesis topic.”

Among Blake’s areas of special interest and expertise are American, African American, and postcolonial literature. She is the author of a book about her experiences as a Fulbright lecturer in Togo.

Wingert says, “The English department has embraced my wish to remain fully versatile, knowing very well of my heavy time commitments in engineering, and their belief in me is a great source of motivation. I also don’t want to let myself down.”

“There have only been a handful of people doing the really crazy thing I’m doing,” says Wingert of combination of engineering and English. “I’ve been working since freshman year to make sure it all fits together.

“I’m very happy right now, though a little overworked,” he adds. “No member of the faculty at has ever questioned my ambition and intention to complete a degree in English alongside one in chemical engineering, and I have always appreciated this above all. Now that the English department, especially Susan Blake, has embraced my wish to attain honors, I am fully convinced that I am in an optimal learning environment. Any place where dreams can be sought for and reached is a wonderful place to be a part of, and I am thrilled to have found that here at Lafayette.”

Wingert says he may eventually use his combination of scientific know-how and communications skills to teach engineering. He also dreams of writing a novel.

“I took on this honors project to come one step closer to my life dream of completing a novel. With the experience of this thesis project, my scope for writing long, coherent works is now growing finer than it ever would have been,” he says.

He is a member of the Theta Chi fraternity.

Categorized in: Academic News