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UA Little Rock student discovers passion for bookbinding

Mitch Gundrum

In 2018, Mitchel Gundrum, a former executive information technology support specialist living in San Francisco, was ready for a career change. 

“I did some research and realized UA Little Rock had the best professional and technical writing program online,” said Gundrum, a Wisconsin native. “I was working full-time, so I wanted to get my bachelor’s degree but needed the flexibility of an online program.” 

One of Gundrum’s spring 2019 classes included grant writing with Dr. Barbara L’eplattenier, professor of rhetoric and writing. Through this class, Gundrum wrote and earned a $19,500 grant from the Windgate Foundation for his favorite nonprofit, the San Francisco Center for the Book. 

The nearly $20,000 grant will help extend the center’s visiting instructors program, which provides workshops and lectures on the arts of letterpress printing and bookbinding. The funds will cover travel, housing, and lecture fees for six additional instructors for the center’s 2020 lecture series. Additionally, the grant will help students in need attend the workshops by covering class material fees and a student stipend. 

“The grant writing class was an amazing opportunity to get support for their organization,” Gundrum said. “It’s very difficult to get such a high level of instruction in such a niche market like bookbinding. To be able to get classically trained instructors in San Francisco is a great opportunity. I am beyond words at how well the project turned out. I’m trying hard not to get a big head over my first grant being successful, but it does make me want to try my hands at more grant writing.” 

After his success in the grant writing class, L’eplattenier recommended Gundrum apply for the Washington Center Academic Internship Program. He spent the summer working as an archivist intern for the Lincoln Archives Digital Project, which is dedicated to digitizing all federal records housed within the National Archives created during President Abraham Lincoln’s administration. 

“I applied with Dr. Barb’s blessing. She gave me some assistance during the application since I tend to be a very lengthy, verbose writer,” Gundrum said. “I worked to digitally archive and translate more than 500 documents from 1861-1865, the years of Lincoln’s presidency.”

The internship gave Gundrum a chance to get his foot in the door and gain some professional experience.

These are a selection of some of the Gundrum's bookbinding work.
These are a selection of some of the Gundrum’s bookbinding work.

“I jumped at the opportunity,” Gundrum said. “For me, it was beneficial to work at the archives, to learn new technology, and to work with older documents that need to be preserved for the future.”

L’eplattenier said Gundram is a great example of how UA Little Rock students can use their classes to pursue meaningful interests.

“Mitch is passionate about bookbinding and used the grant-writing class to develop a deeper relationship with an organization that focuses on bookbinding,” L’eplattenier said. “Then he used the requirements of his internship through The Washington Center to interview and network with prominent people in the book restoration world like Elmer Eusman, head of the Conservation Division at the Library of Congress, and Katie Wagner, senior paper conservator at the Smithsonian Institute Libraries. It’s really exciting and a wonderful example of how students can build on what they’ve learned in their classes with other experiences that UA Little Rock offers”

Gundrum, who graduated with his bachelor’s degree this month, has already embarked on the next step in his professional career. He has enrolled in the two-year bookbinding program at North Bennet Street School in Boston, one of a handful of programs in the country that offers hands-on book arts education taught by traditionally trained instructors. The two-year, comprehensive bookbinding program teaches students how to make, restore, and preserve books and other printed treasures. 

“Restoring old books and bringing them back to life is something that really clicked for me. I am out here in Boston to learn to professionally repair and restore old bindings,” Gundrum said. “I never thought I would go to school again after my bachelor’s degree, but here I am.”