Teaching Professor of English
MU Faculty Member since 1999
Ray Ronci cares. In decades of experience as a professor, his abiding concern for the welfare and growth of his students has ensured that as the world has evolved, his classes have evolved as well. Having taught everything from composition to Buddhist literature to “Rethinking Literacy in the Digital Age,” Ronci is always striving to adapt his teaching to provide the maximum benefit for his students. Whether this means tweaking course plans to better suit a classroom full of education majors or reading literature aloud to immerse his students in the art they are studying, his enduring enthusiasm for teaching is evident.
Students consistently say Ronci’s classes affect them on a personal level, profoundly shaping their understanding of literature and its connections to their daily lives. Alexandra Socarides, chair of the Department of English and a Kemper Fellow, highlights Ronci’s ability to match high academic expectations with deep empathy for his students and their futures.
“Ray is a teacher of great rigor and great compassion, two things that we don’t often see referenced in the same breath,” Socarides said. “His ability to teach some of the hardest and most confusing works of literature while at the same time keeping the complex lives of his students front and center is a talent that few teachers have. Ray demands greatness from his students—in the work they produce, in the attention they give to that work, in the standards they hold for themselves—and in doing so he helps create better human beings.”
Haris Fazlić, a former student of Ronci and now a graduate student at Tulane University, recalls Ronci’s talent for performing poetry in an immersive fashion that breathes life into the words his students read on the page.
“The best example I can think of is Ray Ronci standing in front of a dozen or so people reciting Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ in its entirety. Describing the experience to the uninitiated is impossible, but not one person in that room was left unmoved. The changing levels of inflection, accentuation and speed redefined the way I thought poetry could be performed. The sheer impact of the verse left some stunned, but the veracity with which Prof. Ronci explained every detail afterwards made it feel even more powerful. It was the first time I could physically feel myself being taught—that it was happening right before my eyes and I knew it. A poem can certainly be read (I still read ‘Howl’ from time to time), but hearing it performed was unforgettable; I still remember every sway, screech and pause for breath.”
Francesca Cudney, who is majoring in secondary education at Mizzou, found her outlook broadened by Ronci’s emphasis on relating literature to the world outside the classroom.
“Dr. Ronci introduced many of us to new subject matter and inspired us to look at things in a whole new light,” Cudney said. “I enrolled in the professor’s 20th century American literature class, postmodern American poetry, in the fall of last year and was drawn in by his wisdom and the experiences he was always sharing. It was a pleasure sitting through his class, as he often made many connections from what we were learning to the outside world.”
David Read, professor and former chair of the Department of English at Mizzou, considers the breadth and style of Ronci’s course offerings to be singular among his peers.
“Dr. Ronci’s role in the English department is unique,” Read said. “He teaches a cluster of undergraduate courses that have been extremely popular for many years and involve a very personal approach to content and delivery that has not, and I would say cannot, be duplicated or even approximated elsewhere in the department’s curriculum. His effect on the students who enroll in his courses is immense; indeed, for many of those students he is the instructor who most vividly represents the quality and impact of their educational experience at MU.”
Ronci is committed to helping guide his students through the increasing commotion of a digital world. Some of his courses now include texts that delve into the neuroscience of the reading brain, and he encourages students to think of any kind of message, from advertisements to hairstyles to footwear, as a text to be read. He also makes sure he is available outside class for any reason, whether his students have questions about assignments or simply want to talk.
Ronci earned a bachelor of arts degree in poetry from Emerson College; a master of arts degree from the University of Colorado; and a doctoral degree from the University of Nebraska. He has previously received the Mary Lago Teaching Award, the Purple Chalk Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Education from Mizzou. He also has received several awards for his poetry. In addition to being the MU Buddhist Association Faculty Advisor, he is also a member of the Composition Committee and the Undergraduate Studies Committee in the Department of English.