Associate Professor of English
Chair, Department of EnglishJoined USJ: 2001
What Mark Zelinsky is most proud of is the impact of The Queenes Companye, the student drama organization at USJ, on the students who take part. Many enter as tentative, uncertain, and even shy individuals, academically and otherwise. Through their work and the camaraderie that unfolds, they realize that their perspective is appreciated; they possess talent that can inspire others, and are “given the confidence to express themselves and become their own person.” For Zelinsky, that is the power of a theater company, which he describes as a nurturing, encouraging, accepting family. That is especially true of USJ.
Zelinsky’s path to Saint Joseph was circuitous. Upon entering college, he considered four disparate majors — veterinary, biology, English, and theater. A scholarship tipped the balance to theater, and he never looked back. “Theater is a tremendous bonding experience. You have a common goal, you’re together constantly, and everyone — cast, director, crew — get to know each other at your best and at your worst, when you’re tired, when you’re energized. Friendships are developed and cemented in a great collaboration.”
Upon graduating, Zelinsky did acting and directing in community theater, but also entered the business world as a customer service representative at a utility company. He excelled, and promotions provided a comfortable life and solid career. But he decided, by age 30, that it was not the path he preferred, so he pursued a personal goal of teaching theater at the university level. Seven years of academic work and two advanced degrees later, he had solidified his credentials and severely diminished his earnings. He next endured a few years as an adjunct faculty in the mid-west, where more time was spent driving between assignments than actually teaching.
The opportunity to revive a virtually defunct theater company with a proud tradition, in an attractive newly built space (The Bruyette Athenaeum), was irresistible. Zelinsky leapt at the chance. “A liberal arts college really isn’t a liberal arts college without a theater program,” he says. Zelinsky teaches an array of theater classes — from playwriting to drama — and leads two major theater productions each year, enmeshing students in every aspect. Alumni, faculty, staff, and community members are welcome to play a role, and often do. “Theater can be transformative — for students, for the audience, and for the community,” he points out. His students enter with a range of academic majors, and each contributes from their own perspective. Their work — and Queenes Companye productions — reflect USJ’s social justice mission and students’ passion. “If I could do one thing, I would have students come to college with an open mind,” Zelinsky says. “You don’t grow as much if you’re not open to possibilities. When you see something that interests you and start pursuing it, that’s when real growth happens.”
B.A., Simpson College
M.A., Washington State University
Ph.D., Louisiana State University