Retiree Returns to Earn Master’s In Rhetoric and Writing Studies

Jim Dierker connects with the “spell and magic” of rhetoric to energize his chapter-two career

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Jim DiekerAt 69, Jim Dierker keeps moving. He recently returned from a trip to Tokyo, Japan to watch the Rugby World Cup. While in Japan, Dierker played an international rugby match with an elite Japanese all-star over-60s team, rode bullet trains, toured holy temples, and sipped Sapporo at the factory. His daughter invited him to Japan as a reward for three years of rigorous work toward his master of arts degree in rhetoric and writing studies (RWS). Aside from travel and academic work, Dierker is busy — he coaches youth rugby, surfs, plays bass in a garage band, writes, and rewrites. 

After a career spanning more than three decades, Dierker retired from Anheuser-Busch, hung up his sales and marketing suit, and jumped into the Rhetoric and Writing Studies (RWS) master’s program at SDSU, where he discovered the “magic of rhetorical words and symbols.”

It was 2016, when Dierker, in the twilight of his career, contemplated his next move. He recalled a comment his mother made, years ago, that resonated with him. When asked about the secret to getting old, his mom replied, “You have to keep on moving — a moving target, can’t get hit.”

Dierker followed her advice.

He decided he didn't want to stand still after leaving the corporate world. He didn't want to be a marshal on a golf course, nor did he want to be the guy in a TV commercial promoting a retirement home.

A good friend asked Dierker to “think about what you really like to do.” Dierker thought about it and concluded that he really likes writing, teaching, and training people. He had experience in all these areas as a businessman, but felt it was time to hone his skills and share his wisdom in a new arena.

He researched where he might find a master’s writing program. After testing the waters with a few courses in communications and rhetoric from SDSU’s Open University, and meeting with advisors, he determined RWS was the right fit.

But, Dierker questioned himself, “Can I write with the academic best at a master’s level?”

Associate Professor Paul Minifee told him, “Yes, you can do this,” giving Dierker an added shot of self-confidence.

According to Professor Minifee, “Jim is one of the most fascinating students I've had at SDSU. During student introductions on the first day of class, Jim shared about his experiences as a former athlete and journalist, and how curious he was about writing in a different form, within a different discipline.”

Jim Dieker in front Hepner Hall with graduation cap“Jim blessed our class with stories about and sayings from some of ‘the greats,’ an array of legendary figures that included Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, and folk-rock musicians,” Minifee said. “By the end of the semester, Jim's thirst for more wisdom grew, as he learned how to re-examine his understanding and appreciation for the ‘greats’ while also flexing his newly acquired skills and ‘moves.’ Truth be told, I Iearned more from Jim than he did from me.”

Interim Dean Glen McClish served as a catalyst for Dierker. “He really coached me,” Dierker said. “I took Professor McClish for RWS 601 — the ancients. He’s like the velvet glove. He’s amicable and presents well, but he is tough! He reminded me of a football coach who demands grass drills after a tough practice.

Dierker shared, “I felt like quitting many times, but I also wanted to push myself and get through it.” Support from professors and his internal competitiveness catapulted him to the goal line.

“The magic of rhetoric and words and symbols just blew me away,” Dierker said.

He discovered a newfound love of the ancients. “It was almost religious. Like reading holy scripture. I connected with the spell and magic of it. I knew the techniques but didn't know what you called this literary judo — in sales we used rhetoric all the time,” Dierker noted.

“Once I had my thesis premise down, it was like running a marathon. Thesis, here we go!” Dierker exclaimed. “At SDSU I found that the scholars were amazing and intimidating, but they were like teammates — we labored together.”

Reflecting upon his experience in the master’s program, Dierker said, “What an amazing adventure, and a personal adventure for me — to overcome the intimidation of going back to school, to actually write a thesis, and finally to have a chance to teach as a TA and now an embedded tutor — it’s so rewarding!”

“I recommend SDSU to anyone — you can always go back to school. And, if you fail, at least you tried,” Dierker said. Failure, though, is not an option for Dierker, who keeps moving toward new goals.

Post-master's degree, he continues on the teaching path with the ultimate goal of becoming a part-time lecturer at SDSU. He's also in the midst of writing and producing a rugby documentary on the history of the American game. "It's a pipe dream and almost like another thesis, but I am determined to get it in the can," Dierker said.