William Tooma G’17 on Drew’s Arts & Letters Program

“It is special. It is unique and it has tremendous value”

July 2024 – In 2013, Dr. William Tooma G’17 began researching doctoral programs. He earned his Master of Arts in English from William Paterson University and was seeking to continue his education.

In doing so, Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate StudiesDoctor of Letters (DLitt) program kept appearing in his searches. “I took it as a sign and arranged to tour the campus and speak with then Dean Robert Ready about the program,” said Tooma. “It took all of five minutes for me to realize that Drew was where I wanted to be. The interdisciplinary nature of the Arts & Letters program was the true deciding factor.”

Drew’s Arts & Letters program offers both a masters (MLitt) and doctoral degree program with courses in seven concentrations—Creative Writing, Teaching Writing, Literary Studies, Historical Studies, Fine Arts & Media Studies, Religious Studies, and Teaching in the Two-Year College—that build upon Drew’s strengths and breadth in disciplines that spans the humanities, creative and performing arts, religious studies, and teacher education. Through small seminar-style classes that meet in person, online, and in hybrid formats, the program enables students to customize each course of study to meet their individual goals. 

“Only at Drew University could I have earned a degree such as the DLitt,” said Tooma. “Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the degree itself, I was able to take courses in literature, film, history, and spirituality.”

This interdisciplinary coursework led to Tooma’s dissertation, The Black Eagle of Harlem, a three and a half-hour biographical documentary on Hubert Julian, one of the first persons of color to fly a plane. “I had completed two documentaries prior to my dissertation, but it was during that process—coupled with my overall time at Drew—that led me to realize that biography studies was where I really wanted to focus my energy,” he said.

His experience at Drew gave Tooma the ability to embark upon creating a nine-hour, nine-part docuseries on the story of Teddy Ruxpin, Ken Forsse: Come Dream with Me Tonight. “That project brought me to the attention of the History Channel and I was featured on their program, The Toys That Built America, in December 2022.

Tooma has returned to Drew, this time as an adjunct assistant professor in the Art & Letters program. He is also an associate professor of English and chair of the Humanities Bilingual Studies Division at Essex County College.

“The Doctor of Letters degree is the only one of its kind in the entire United States of America,” said Tooma. “It is special. It is unique and it has tremendous value. Dr. Pain T’54,’55 [former dean of the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies], the driving force behind bringing the Oxfordian model of the MLitt and DLitt to Drew University, was ahead of his time when he did so. His legacy lives on in the Arts & Letters program.”

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