February 2001

Translating college into career

Angeline Dufner

As an academic advisor, I heard a recurring refrain: "I'd really like to be an English major.  But what would I do with it when I graduate?  I don't really want to teach."

The longevity of the myth that English majors are headed for teaching is surprising, especially since it is usually untrue.  For many years, most English majors at St. Benedict's and St. John's have not elected the corollary licensure program that would qualify them for teaching in public schools.  Perhaps the myth continues because students know that the employed adults who teach their high school and college English classes were once themselves undergraduates who majored in English.  A more probable explanation, though, is that the route between the undergraduate English major and employment is not as obviously marked as it is for the major in nursing or accounting or elementary education.  It simply cannot be. Instead, the road--if there is a road--branches repeatedly and in many directions because graduates with a degree in English have a wide range of career options in front of them.  This issue of The English Web looks at some of that diversity.

For some undergraduates, teaching is the career they want.  And with baby-boomer teachers moving into retirement, opportunities for a future in high school classrooms look bright.  Those who choose it, of course, need to elect a licensure program along with their English major.  If they expect to teach in a state outside Minnesota, they will want to identify any special requirements that might exist in that state.

Students who want a teaching career in a college or university need first to choose a graduate school that launches them toward the appropriate credentials. Although opportunities for college and university teaching in English were significantly down between 1991 and 1997, MLA's Job Information List (Spring 2000) shows a sharp improvement in 1998, when available openings increased by almost two hundred tenure-track positions.  The following year showed an added gain, with a 2% increase over 1998.  Nonetheless, the market remains competitive: in 1997, new English doctorates numbered 1,080 but 694 tenure-track teaching positions were advertised; in 1998, new doctorates numbered 1076 with 899 positions advertised. Obviously, there's a gap; not everyone getting a Ph.D. will be teaching.  Still, the ratio of opportunity is far better today than in 1996, when new doctorates in English numbered 1013 whereas available tenure-track openings were only at 590.

Most English majors, however, do not expect to teach.  Instead, they find careers in other areas.  The articles that follow offer only a small window to look toward what some of those careers might be.

First, though, we remember one of our recent graduates, who had little chance to explore career opportunities or experience the other adventures that life offers most of us.  Without warning, Andrew Carlson, a 1997 English major, died in an accident while vacationing with his wife in Mexico.  May he know joy in the eternity that still remains ahead for family, friends, and teachers left behind.

Eulogy for Andrew Carlson 

On January 2, 2001, Andrew Carlson ('97) died in an accident while vacationing in Mexico with his wife, Deborah Doom ('95).  Both Andrew and Deborah were English-major graduates, Andrew also a classics major.  At his funeral at St. John's, one of those who remembered Andrew aloud for family and friends was his mother Barbara, former Vice President of Institutional Advancement at St. Benedict's.  

Waiting at the Window

Barbara Carlson



In this life, Andrew was born at high noon on March 9, 1974.  He was a happy baby whom his older sisters sometimes resented, but mostly cherished.  And it seemed as if it wasn't long at all before he was running around the neighborhood, discarding his pants at will--being, as we said, butt-naked.

Andy inspired my only attempt at serious poetry:


      Floss-headed sprite, 3 years tall.

      Defiant Oedipus craves mother's hand

      Steals moments of kool-aid loving  

      Then dashes out to catch a worm.

      Tenders the wilderness of 14th Street,

      Pounds the peaks of a treehouse  

      While I wait at the window.

Now I realize that my rather inept words describe our relationship throughout his life.  He always needed me--needed me fiercely at moments--and then he dashed out, always dashed out to other pursuits, and he always came back--briefly.

When Andrew was just over four years old, our family took a camping trip around the shores of Lake Superior.  And it was on that trip that this four-year-old told us with great solemnity of two other lives he had lived, one in Japan and one in Canada.  The details have blurred in our memories over the years, but at the time Jerry and I were struck by the specific circumstances he described, circumstances that we didn't think a child of that age and experience could know: the food he ate in Japan, his father's death in Canada, being crushed by a tractor.

We do not claim this as belief--that Andy lived before--but we do not deny it either.  It may explain why he seemed to be old from the moment he was born.  If he is in another life now, we hope he's tall and slim.  He would have wanted that.

Andrew wasn't perfect.  As a five-year-old, he was a real sexist, hardly acknowledging the existence of women.  And he was a bit arrogant at the age of seventeen.  But other than that we found no faults. And, of course, he gave us wonderful memories:

      of him vacuuming his nose  

      of skipping school one day in kindergarten

      of Boundary Waters trips  

      of climbing the fireplace wall at the cabin    

      of leaping through the air with Christine to the music "Dance of the Valkyries"

      of Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof and Kent in King Lear  

      of coke cans hanging from the ceiling

      of him yelling, " Dad is looking pretty warm," and all three kids piling on top of Jerry and nearly smothering him 

      of New Years Eve parties that literally rocked the floor of the living room

      of Andy staying up till 4 or 5 in the morning, watching TV, listening to his headset, drinking, eating, and writing or drawing Star Wars stuff.

      It always seemed that he was going to bed just as we were getting up.

      of his love affair and marriage to Deb

      of his phone calls to Jerry every time he was sick

      of our son, the future teacher, at his Honors Thesis defense

     of our phone calls during every Viking game from the heart of Packerland.

And there are the hopes and expectations interrupted:

      a visit to the cabin with the New York crew on January 19

      our planned trip to the Boundary Waters next September

      a trip to Six Flags with his brother-in-law Jeff

      his novel on the Vikings, with his dad as research assistant

      Andrew as uncle

      Andrew as teacher

      Andrew as father

His dad Jerry was proud of him, of what he was as a son and as a man.  Andy was his best buddy. Together they were always ready to play.   Now there is a terrible void.

His sister Christine has found comfort these days in the theory that Andrew lived life so fully and touched so many people because he was going to be here only for a short time.  Andy and Christine had a special bond. They fought honestly and loved intensely.  Christine felt at times that he was the older sibling.   At other times, it was perfectly obvious that he wasn't.  They played and laughed and talked a lot.  He made life fun.

His sister Kelly, whom he recently called the cell-phone geek, gave Andy and Deb an album of family pictures for their wedding.  In her letter to him, she said she enjoyed seeing how he had grown up from a funny little kid who liked to get into trouble and just play around to a smart, handsome man and a wonderful brother.   She said she wasn't just giving Andy and Deb pictures, she was giving them her love and happiness.  Andy's gift to her was a very special affection and attention.

His godparents Ada and Coe said he packed more into twenty-six years than most do in fourscore and that he and Deb enjoyed their wedding more than any bride and groom they've known.

Our friend Linda says Andy's gift was in giving intense attention to who a person was as an individual, not as a member of a family or a group, not as identified in relationship to someone else.  And he had a kind of radar that found the wounded places in people.  He had a desire to heal those wounds, not by what he did, but by helping that person find his or her strength.

What we have learned in the days since his death has filled our hearts: that he wouldn't let the introverts be quiet and that he was a literal lifeline for some of you.  We ask that whatever gift he gave to you stay with you for the rest of your lives and that you do one more thing: pass it on to someone else Andy would have loved.

As for me, I shall always wait at the window.


News from the chair

Ozzie Mayers

The English Department received an early Christmas gift this year in the form of a generous scholarship given by T. William Coughlan, Vice President of Coughlan Companies, located in Mankato, MN.  This scholarship of $3,000 comes specifically from the Capstone Press, the Coughlan publishing house which specializes in children's books.   The scholarship will be awarded each year to an English major who demonstrates interest in publishing and editing.

In addition to the scholarship, Mr. Coughlan has also offered a paid internship at the press.  He sees both of these gifts as ways by which the CSB/SJU English Department can invite its majors to consider careers in publishing and editing.  The person who encouraged Mr. Coughlin to designate our English Department as the recipient of these gifts was Colleen Sexton ('90), current Managing Editor of Capstone Press and former English major from CSB.   Intrigued by Dr. Cindy Malone's Editing and Publishing course, Colleen saw a natural link between Capstone Press and the English Department's course.

The first Capstone Press Scholarship will be awarded this spring. The internship will be offered in 2002-03.


English 315: Editing and Publishing

Cindy Malone

In February, 2001, seventeen students began exploring the rapidly changing landscape of literary publishing.  The English Department's Editing and Publishing course, offered for the fourth time this spring, developed from a collaboration between Graywolf Press and the College of St. Benedict.  Each spring, staff members of Graywolf Press travel from St. Paul to our campuses to explain the intricacies of acquiring, editing, designing, producing, and marketing books.  Under this professional guidance, students turn the classroom into a publishing laboratory: they acquire hot new work, bid against each other at auctions, argue about subsidiary rights, agonize over budgets, and dream up strategies to match books with readers.

After tracing the development of a book from the author's proposal to the celebration of its launch, students form mock publishing companies.  For the final project, each publishing company must state its mission and create a title that reflects that mission.   Students design and compose copy for the cover, write a biographical sketch of the author, develop a short description of the book for the publishing catalog, and work out a production timeline and (while weeping and gnashing their teeth) a budget.  In the past three years, final projects have included a volume of linked travel narratives, a children's book about a boy with dyslexia, and a coming-of-age novel about a young woman exploring the United States.

While Editing and Publishing focuses most fully on contemporary literary publishing, the course also introduces students to book arts.  When the course began in the spring of 1998, students asked Sister Mara Faulkner, OSB, for a collection of her poems so that they could publish them.  The finished product was an edition of four handmade, laser-printed copies of The Watchers.  Using blenders, the students recycled stationery and ground up lavender to produce sheets of handmade paper.  The typed pages were sewn together with a Japanese stab-binding.

The next year, 1999, Jon Hassler gave the class a section of a work in progress, a children's book in verse titled Carrington Clote.  Students created multiple versions of the book, including a letterpress-printed, hand-illustrated version that folded out into the form of a hopscotch game; a laser-printed coloring book; and a tactile accordion book in the tradition of Pat the Bunny that folded into a little purse.

Last year's undertaking included several projects.  One was a leather-bound book of ghost stories from St. John's (handwritten on sheets rinsed with lemon juice and baked to the golden brown of ancient parchment).  Another was a travel journal with handmade pages created from recycled Study-Abroad jeans.  A third was a meditation on the lessons that daughters teach mothers in words and images transferred to semi-transparent vellum.  Each year, the students exhibit their work at the end of the semester.

The Editing and Publishing course offers traditional students an introduction to publishing and book arts during spring semesters.  But in the summer, the College of St. Benedict also hosts a publishing course open to anyone.  Inside Books provides an insider's view of the publishing industry for those interested in learning more about the process of bringing books into the world.  This week-long workshop, focusing primarily on small presses, literary magazines, and alternative publishing, will take place again this summer (2001) from July 15-20. 


Burning Bright and Balanced

About the author:

Perhaps surprising to some is that English majors--frequently viewed as quiet, reflective people--are often sought out for public roles.  Janet McNew, former member and chair of the English Department, reflects on aspects of that seeming contradiction through the perspective of her experience now as Provost at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Keeping a Balance

Janet McNew


Twenty years ago, I went for a memorable walk with Father Hilary Thimmesh.  I was a young assistant professor of English at CSB/SJU, and Fr. Hilary was a senior full professor with a reputation for intense engagement with the literature he taught.  He had been away during my first year in Collegeville-something about helping a small, struggling monastery in the West.  I'd heard stories about Hilary's teaching Lear so passionately that he and every student in his class wept as they read of the wretched king raving on a stormy moor.  As we circled the lake, then, I hoped to gain some insight into this soulful, fascinating colleague.  He answered my wooly question about what was hardest for him about his work slowly, memorably: "Keeping a balance between contemplation and community."

Only a few months after this conversation, Father Hilary became President of St. John's University, and it was years before he was again able to immerse himself and his students in contemplating Shakespeare.  From 1979 to 1993, I taught at CSB/SJU, rising through the professorial ranks and becoming chair of the joint CSB/SJU English Department.  When, reluctantly, I left in 1993, it was to pursue what seemed to be a talent for administrative leadership.  I became Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.  Although I still teach a course a year at IWU, I have found myself, like Hilary, pulling away from the intensive engagement with literature that drew both of us to seek PhDs and to become English professors.  Why is it that folks who start out as contemplative lovers of the solitary pleasures of reading poetry become presidents and provosts?

For me, the answer has to do with the second half of Father Hilary's balancing act-with community.  I joke about comparing my job with being a vicar in a Jane Austen novel (overlooking for this purpose the unsatisfactory Collinses and Eltons and pointing instead toward the more admirable types played by Hugh Grant in the Hollywood versions).  Organizationally, I am known as the "chief academic officer," but that corporate language utterly fails to capture the nuances of what it means to be charged with keeping a college community healthy and vitally connected to the ideals of liberal arts education.  As Provost/Dean, I am primarily involved with building and maintaining a small college community that is more like a country parish than a market-driven business enterprise.  I am responsible for overseeing the hiring, development, and evaluation of faculty members and for supporting the best energies of those people as they create innovative academic programs.

Hardly a day goes by that I don't regret having too little time for contemplation and for the deep, concentrated reading of great literature that inspires my best insights.   But, also nearly every day, I enjoy the satisfactions of community-building-of helping a deserving faculty member get promoted, of solving a resource problem for a struggling department, or of settling a misunderstanding between aggrieved professors.   Among my hardest and also most crucial jobs is keeping everything that we do attached to the ideals that brought us to our work.  When college professors get tired or discouraged, we grow cynical, and cynicism corrodes the spirit.  College professors dedicate their lives to showing students the joys of discovery and the beauties of the liberal arts.  If they lose sight of those high purposes, they suffer, and the community suffers.

Now and then, I quote poetry when I talk to the faculty.  At last fall's opening faculty conference, for instance, I used Blake's "Tyger, Tyger" (and many images brought in live from the Web) to illustrate the challenges to traditional teaching posed by information technology.  Partly, I do it because it's the way I think-through the images and narratives with which I've filled my mind.   Mostly, though, I want to stay in touch with the wellsprings of my vocation and to call my colleagues to keep faith with theirs.  When my work is most fulfilling, I remember Father Hilary and imagine that I have reached equipoise between contemplation and community.   Then, of course, the phone rings.  It's the architect for the new library calling to insist that we make a decision about whether the roof will be copper or slate, while on the other line the budget subcommittee chair is waiting to discuss salary raises for next year.  Poetry goes on hold-never, I hope, for very long.

Texts of our lives

Monza Naff



 My career route may seem circuitous, even a detour, to some: from  professor of literature and writing in universities to executive director of and  teacher in an organization called Inner Growth Services.  For me, though, it's  been a clear path, one step after another, through the same wilderness.   From my earliest years, the exploration of ethics, spirituality, and psychology in literature compelled me most (as my students at CSB/SJU may remember).  Throughout the twenty-six years I taught in the classroom, that passion increased, widening and deepening.  But the confines of literary "field" divisions finally proved intellectually limiting, and university politics sapped too much creative energy.  So I took my love of teaching and my love of literature and writing to another environment.


Twenty years ago, walking from one classroom to another and, later that night, in my journal, I dreamed of teaching people to write passionately about the texts of their lives, using the writing of others-from many genres, many centuries-to inspire us all.  In the scene, we were all sitting around my dining table at home in our comfortable clothes and stocking feet, cups of steaming tea or coffee at our sides, our writing in front of us.  Or outdoors in a circle of trees.  Or beside a river.   No grade book between us, just words among us, with strong ideas and vital language.  And between our meeting times, the dream went, I'd have time for my own writing because I wouldn't be grading papers.

It took me twenty years to translate that dream into my life, but now that's what I do.  In my classes in "Creative Writing and the Inner Life," for example, I teach people from their 20s to their 80s how to craft the ideas that bubble up from their meditations, their deepest knowing, into works of art.  I use everything I ever learned about pedagogy regarding the teaching of writing; I read widely to glean examples of the principles I want to highlight; I guide my students with rigor and love to make their unique voices as strong as they can be, or--as they named it at their annual public benefit reading--serve as "the midwife to their voices."

In the past few months I've read and used in my classes books, individual articles, poems, and essays from newspapers and magazines of every stripe.  The nearly thirty years I spent teaching in the academy serve me well every day: I analyze everything I read (after all that time, I can't help myself!) and now am never bound by what I "should read to keep up with my field."  Furthermore, neither my students nor I am ever bored.  They're writing personal and academic essays, articles, memoir, short fiction, novels, plays, poems, and book-length works in several disciplines-and it's vibrant, funny, gripping, fascinating stuff!  Many get their writing published, giving others the opportunity of hearing their extraordinary voices.

Like my students, I also write.  In 1999 I published two books of poetry, a collection called Healing the Womanheart, which in 2000 won the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Publishers' Marketing Association of America, and an award-winning chapbook entitled Exultation: A Poem Cycle in Celebration of the Seasons.  Other books are underway-a non-fiction book about rituals for closure and moving forward, a collection of essays on cultivating an eco-feminist faith, a collection of short stories, and another collection of poems called Conscientious Objections.  That I am a working writer in several genres supports my students in concrete ways: we share many of the same struggles, and we brainstorm strategies for overcoming obstacles that are part of a writing life.

In my work through Inner Growth Services, I also write grants, consult with non-profits and small businesses to create their print materials (brochures, mission statements, annual reports), write and present keynote addresses for conferences, offer writing workshops and give readings of my work around the country.  As a clergywoman, I officiate at many rituals- weddings, memorial services, passage honorings-all of which include writing to make each one unique.  Finally, I work with private clients, editing writing projects or counseling with them about ethical/spiritual issues in their lives.  In other words, reading and writing and discussing values are at the center of every day.  It's as if my beloved college professor, Dr. Marjorie Lewis, who counseled me into a major in English, had this work in mind when she asked me, "What would you rather do in a day than anything else?"  I answered, "Reading, writing, and talking with other people about reading and writing that matters, profoundly matters."

The experience and training I had in undergraduate and graduate school in English as well as my years of teaching literature and writing inform my current work.  In university classes, I always told my students that I had a theology of education, in which rigor and compassion married to create a life of excellence and constant transformation.   I still do.  Now I teach in a different kind of classroom to students of different ages and with more varied texts.  But those goals of excellence and transformation are the same.

About the author:

Dr. Naff has taught in universities for twenty-six years: at Texas, the College of St. Benedict (1978-80 and 1986-87), and Oregon.  Most recently she has been a faculty member at the Robert D. Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.  She says that she will be delighted to hear from any of her former CSB/SJU students or colleagues who would like to get reconnected.  Her e-mail address: [email protected]

English majors make great editors

Shelly Fling

A few weeks into my first job out of college, I sat in my editor's office and watched her slice open a stack of letters and résumés from job seekers.  She hardly glanced at them before shoving the lot into her wastebasket.  I was startled, certain that the applicants had spent days agonizing over the color of the stationery and how to phrase their introductions only to be rejected in a matter of seconds.  I had drafted a letter of similar purpose to her the previous fall and recall ripping false start after false start from the typewriter.

In my letter, I had asked whether I could spend the month of January, before my final semester in college, observing the workings of her city magazine.  What I proposed was an unpaid mini-internship that would allow me to get a taste of a career as an editor.   But I had doubted that I would hear back from her, especially since my major was English, not journalism.

As my senior year rolled on, anxiety about what would happen after graduation began stalking me.  My college friends had chosen majors that stamped them as hot commodities.  They recited their lineups of job offers at hospitals, banks, and accounting firms as if they were skimming movie listings.  They had dozens of options.

I struggled to remember what I had been thinking as a sophomore when I declared English as my major.  How had I expected to buy groceries and pay off school loans one day?   I suddenly couldn't recall a book or a poem that I'd read in the past three years of English classes whose author hadn't been dead for decades.  How would my ability to recite the Lord's Prayer in Old English land me a job?  What bearing did The Waste Land have on financing a car to commute to work?  I questioned whether I had learned anything at all in my English coursework that a pragmatic employer out there might find useful.

Guilt set in.  I had been foolishly indulgent.  I loved the written word and had spent thousands of dollars so I could loll about in the words and ideas of literary greats like an elephant drunk on fermented fruit.  And now I was going to pay for it.

But then, as I sobered up, the magazine editor called with my letter in hand.  In a five-minute conversation she told me the day and time to show up.  My month-long internship turned into a job offer and an entry-level editor position on the magazine's staff.  That summer, as I watched the mail carrier deliver, day after day, letters from college graduates seeking employment, I wondered why mine had not been immediately tossed.  I asked the editor.

She told me that the first line in my letter had not offended her and so she read on.   She thought the entire letter was well-crafted--clear, thoughtful, and intelligent--and she was grateful that I hadn't tried wit or humor to win her favor (actually, I had done so in several drafts, but those wound up in wads on the floor).   That I didn't have a résumé or previous editing experience hadn't mattered to her.  She had guessed that the person who signed the letter had promise and decided to give her a chance.

Even at that moment, I hadn't entirely understood the value of my English degree.   I knew I could credit it with helping me compose a smart letter (something I would learn not all college-educated people could do) and with preparing me to handle a wide assortment of writing and editing tasks that would come my way.  But I hadn't even considered that having studied Sophocles, Virginia Woolf, and Bob Marley would ever amount to more than credits on a transcript.

Most editors are groomed for the trade by other editors.  But being an editor requires ability that can't simply be picked up from a colleague.  A good editor has spent many hours reading a variety of genres and discussing themes and meanings.   A good editor has extensive writing experience (essays, journal entries, articles, stories, poetry).  A good editor not only understands the rules of grammar and punctuation but loves them and knows they are worth fighting for.  A good editor has a sensitive ear for sound and meaning.  A good editor knows a little bit about a lot of things and is suspicious of every unfamiliar word and fact in a story.  A good editor knows how to make hundreds of quick decisions a day, from whether to assign a story to an untried writer to whether to use a colon instead of an em dash.

Editing involves deciding what topics and ideas will turn into compelling stories; ferreting out the point the writer struggles to explain; considering a story's structure, rhythm, logic, and payoff as well as the value of each word in the piece; and grasping the conflict and often complex issues behind the story.

The writing and literature courses I devoured in college gave me not only a solid background for an editing profession.  They gave me perspective.  Reading the works of great writers and thinkers and then sitting in the dorm at the keyboard to tussle with my own ideas about their thoughts opened little peepholes into lives, times, and beliefs I wasn't even aware existed.

I happen to enjoy editing.  But if I had chosen another career, say, in politics or business, I can't think of a more beneficial degree than English.  The lessons I learned in my English studies have given me multitudes of reference points that I use daily to navigate through my work and through life, the way a ship's global-positioning system uses satellites to guide it around reefs.

About the author:

Shelly Fling, who graduated with an English major in 1987 is now the editor of Minnesota Magazine at the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. She has been an editor for thirteen years, including at Minnesota Monthly, Twin Cities Business Monthly, and McGraw-Hill Publications.


From copy writer to marketing manager

Kay Weiss

The clearest career path I envisioned for myself in college was simply "something to do with books."  I knew I loved the written word and I loved books.  I knew that I didn't want to teach; I toyed with the idea of journalism, but wasn't sure.  It was a class assignment that led me to the career counseling office and a search there that led to a position I had not heard of: copywriting. 

My original plan for completing a degree included an internship in the final semester, this at the recommendation of my advisor, Dr. Dufner.  I had learned enough about copywriting to know that this work was undertaken not just in advertising firms, a type of business that did not at the time have great appeal for me, but also in publishing houses.   That did appeal.  I could combine a love of books with an opportunity to be creative and make a living, albeit a modest one.

My internship led to a job offer that has taken me from the position of copywriter to that of marketing manager.  Although I am perhaps unusual in having stayed with the same company for all these years, I have worked freelance for various firms, including Oxford University Press, and have also done editorial work for my publishing house.   I work in a very collegial industry and serve on the board of its trade organization.  In doing so, I have met and made friends with people from all over the world.

In retrospect, I don't think I could have chosen a better undergraduate major no matter what my final career path.   "Back-to-basics" people stress "reading, writing, and arithmetic."  An English major challenges students to master two of these, to use them to obtain, process, and communicate information.   Such skills are core to every occupation, from doctor to artist to accountant to teacher.  The ability merely to compose a simple, clear business letter or a persuasive proposal I owe to my degree.  To advance in my career I continued my education, taking marketing courses and recently completing a Master's degree.  But, again, my degree gave me a comfort with writing assignments that was instrumental in my further studies, especially in preparing my thesis.

No less important to me is the great enjoyment that books-bound or online, fiction or nonfiction, serious or decidedly not-continue to give me and the insight they provide into different lives, cultures, and times.  A snowy Sunday afternoon or a lazy summer evening are equally well spent with a good book, and further enhanced by a discussion of it with friends.  The love of books and the ability to communicate that love to others will be a lifelong benefit of my degree in English.

About the Author:

Kay Weiss graduated with an English major in 1986. Since then, she has been employed at the Liturgical Press at St. John's, where she worked her way to her current position as Marketing Manager.   


Working in corporate America

Cory Busse

If I had college to do over again, I think I would have done a few things differently.   I would have studied abroad.  England probably.  Or Spain.  Either one would have been cool.  I definitely would have asked out Lynn Millerbernd when I had the chance.  And I'd like to think that I would have reconsidered the tattoo, although that may be giving myself a little too much credit.

One thing I'd never change, though, is my English major.

The first job I got out of college was one as a proposal writer.  I had three things going for me when I applied (not coincidentally, these will likely be the same three things you will have going for you):

1.  My college diploma.  Granted, they're a dime a dozen nowadays, but try getting a job that doesn't  involve a polyester uniform and a

     name badge without one.

2.  My youth.  My first boss and I both knew that my experience working the swing shift at Cinnabon didn't really go very far.  So don't

     drive yourself crazy trying to spin that summer job you had working the water slide at Valleyfair into "management experience."

     What employers are "buying" when they hire a fresh college grad is not experience or knowledge or wisdom.  Youth and

     enthusiasm go a long way.  Don't underestimate them

3.  My English major.  I have a well-written cover letter and résumé.  I speak intelligently.  I can write a graceful sentence.   Moreover, I

     can string several of them together.  (I can also use cool transitional words like moreover correctly).   

These things got me my first job.  What's more, they got me my second, third, and fourth jobs.  What keeps me in my current job is that third point above.

As fellow English majors, you'd be amazed at how rare we are in the "real world."  If you don't believe me, try using a word like ostensibly in a corporate environment.  If at least one person doesn't comment on your vocabulary, you've witnessed a modern-day miracle.

I'm surrounded by people-bright, educated people-who insist on using "impact" as a transitive verb.  When I point out to people that their memos are filthy with passive voice, they tell me that they wrote them that way because "it sounds nicer."  Not only should you not be sheepish or tentative about being an English major, you should recognize that you're bringing a valuable gift to the world around you.  Despite what they tell you in the dorms or on the bus, the business majors and computer science majors have nothing over you.  English majors are just as important to the world.  Without us, the world would be one big Jay Leno "Headlines" segment.

Beyond our inherent value to the work world, our commonality as English majors tends to reside in our love for reading and writing.  I don't know many English majors who don't have a burgeoning creative spirit.  For those of you who don't intend to go the corporate route, I applaud and admire you.  In fact, the most important piece of advice I can give to any English major is this:

If you want to write, teach, sing, dance, act, direct, sculpt, paint, freelance, etc., do it now.  Don't tell yourself that you will work a corporate gig for a while and then go back and pursue that dream.  You'll get sucked in by the money that Corporate America has to offer, and it's difficult to extricate yourself from it.   Take it from a would-be writer.  I have yet to figure out how to write screenplays for a living without taking that huge risk of giving up the house, the car, the stuff.  (And allow me to put to rest the myth that English majors don't make a lot of money . . . I do.)

I still hope to give screenwriting a career shot someday.  And even if it doesn't work out, I have my English degree.  I can speak well.  I can write clearly.

There are some skills that never become obsolete.

 About the author:

Cory Busse, who graduated with an English major in 1995, is a 28-year-old writer living in Bloomington, MN.  He works as an associate product manager for MGI PHARMA, INC., a small, specialty pharmaceutical company, also located in Bloomington.  His screenplay, Shimmer, recently moved to the semi-finals in the Chesterfield Screenplay Competition and finished in the top ten in the Morrow Screenplay competition.  In addition, he has just published an article for Salon.com that focuses on his career as a stand-up comedian.