Eastern Gateway Students Produce Literary Journal

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Eastern Gateway Community College students show their written and visual artistry through the college’s online literary journal.

The Oak Tree Journal started last year, and the second edition is set for an April debut.

Its faculty adviser, Ralph Pennel, is a writer and the editor in chief, founding editor and fiction editor of the Midway Journal, an online literary journal. He’s one of the founding editors for the Oak Tree Journal and has worked with literary journals at other colleges where he’s worked.

But the journal at Eastern Gateway is different.

“This is the first time I started an online journal for a school,” Pennel said. 

For the past few years up until this year, most Eastern Gateway students have attended classes online and lived all across the country, so an online journal made the most sense. 

“But it also opened up the door to reaching a wider swath of students with a wider swath of backgrounds,” said Pennel, who teaches writing at Eastern Gateway. “It’s worked out perfectly.”

Pennel credits John Crooks, Eastern Gateway interim president, for getting the journal started.

“I ran it by Dr. Crooks, and he took off with it,” Pennel said. “He’s the reason the journal exists.”

Many colleges have online journals, but one thing sets the Oak Tree Journal apart.

“We’re the only online journal from a community college in Ohio that has submissions from the other community colleges in Ohio,” Pennel said.

Students from Cuyahoga Community College contributed to the upcoming issue, and the other community colleges have been invited to submit as well.

“That was a planning point …,” Pennel said. “We decided when we were planning what the journal would be that was actually one of the things we wanted to do.”

Ralph Pennel

Most professional journals take submissions from everywhere. Oak Tree Journal founders didn’t want to do that. They didn’t want community college students to be competing with professional authors.

Students fill the editor roles, too.

“We wanted a student-run journal where students are making the decisions,” Pennel said. “It’s their work. It’s completely a student-run operation with faculty advisers.”

But they wanted to open up to all community college students in Ohio.

“I think there’s only two other community colleges that have a literary journal,” he said. “We’re the only one that is taking submissions from all the schools. It just made sense.”

It’s a way to connect people, Pennel said.

“We have these online abilities to contact and reach out to people, so it just makes sense to spread the wealth that way and give everybody a chance to participate in what we’re doing,” he said.

The Oak Tree Journal enables students to tap into and express their creativity. It includes poetry, fiction, nonfiction and art produced by students. It also features an alumni and a faculty spot.

“For our first issue, we got mostly poetry and nonfiction,” Pennel explained. “For this next issue, we’re going to have mostly poetry and art.”

Since the writing he teaches at Eastern Gateway leans more toward business and essays, what students submit to the journal shows him a different side of their writing.

“It’s been an absolute blessing to get to see the creative side of the students that often I don’t always see based on the subject that I teach,” he said.

Shajuan Jackson of Akron works as the poetry editor for the Oak Tree. He graduated in December from Eastern Gateway in business management, with a certificate in social media and digital marketing.

He has a master’s degree in creative writing.

He got involved in the journal through the Writer’s Circle at the college, which Pennel advises. He received positive feedback on his work from fellow students who urged him to submit it to the journal.

Shajuan Jackson

“I actually first got in just submitting my work as well,” Jackson said. “From there I just had an interest in, first of all, just continuing my work with poetry. … From there, I got to be the poetry editor.”

Pennel reached out to Jackson about the editor role and notes that Jackson is being humble about his writing experience.

Jackson has worked in film and television and has written scripts for New York Fashion Week.

“Being a student, it kind of happened right at a good time for me,” Jackson said. “I had decided to pursue my education at EGCC just to sort of revamp my career, revamp my everything.”

The journal lined up with his background.

“To me, it felt like a perfect opportunity, almost like a sign. It’s here, and the opportunity is here for me to take,” Jackson said.

It gave him and other students the opportunity for their work to shine, he said.

Plus, he gets to say he was part of the first issue.

“That says something,” Jackson said. “I’m very happy that I got to sort of build my beginning – sort of a beginning and a launch in this direction.”

Pennel said the feedback from his colleagues has been great.

“Outside of the school directly, the feedback has been really positive too,” he said.

And the word is spreading.

“We know through our online presence through Facebook and Instagram and Twitter that people are excited about what we’re doing too,” Pennel said.

Pictured at top: Ralph Pennel, left, and Shajuan Jackson.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.