Brita Thielen ’11

“I am currently a PhD Candidate in English at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, where I teach undergraduate writing and conduct research at the intersections of rhetoric, identity, and food writing.”

Clubs and Activities at CSB/SJU:

Pseudonym, 24-hour Play Festival, Alternative Break Experience trip to U.S./Mexico border, Study Abroad (Roman-Greco).

Current Job:

PhD Candidate/Graduate Teaching Assistant at Case Western Reserve University.

What was your favorite English class? Why?

It’s hard to pick just one! I really enjoyed my creative writing classes with Jessica Harkins and Mathew Callahan—they always provided such thoughtful and helpful feedback on my creative pieces. I also have great memories of the Irish literature course I took with Matthew Harkins; I still re-read The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien regularly. And of course Literary and Critical Theory with Luke Mancuso! His passion for the subject and positive demeanor made class such a joy.

What Professor Left a lasting impact on you?

I would have to pick two: Jessica Harkins and Christina Tourino. Both were members of my Honors Thesis committee and really pushed my creativity and critical thinking.

Did you do an Internship while at CSB/SJU? How did it help you?

I interned with the Literary Arts Institute during the summer before my senior year. I learned how to digitize broadsides from past events and add them to the LAI website. I was also lucky enough to help plan a reading by David Sedaris! I also worked in the Writing Center for 3 years, which definitely gave me skills in providing feedback to student writers—something that is integral to my graduate teaching.

Did you do any Study Abroad programs or clubs when you were at CSB/SJU?

Yes, I participated in an Alternative Break Experience trip to the U.S./Mexico border over winter break one year, and I was also a member of the Roman-Greco study abroad cohort in Fall 2009. Both were fantastic experiences. I served as co-President of Pseudonym for three years and helped organize the annual poetry slam and club events with visiting writers (like Louise Erdrich!), as well as edit the club literary magazine. I was also involved with the Theater department—I worked in the costume shop and on the tech crew for Macbeth, and I participated in the annual 24-hour Play Festival as an actor.

What class was most beneficial to your future career?

This is a tough one, as I could list many. If I had to pick one, though, I would say Postcolonial Literature. My scholarly research keeps coming back to questions of identity—how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how writing contributes to both. Postcolonial Literature was one of the first times I was exposed to works and class conversations that dealt explicitly with these topics.

How did your English education at CSB/SJU help you land your first or future jobs?

After graduation (and a short stint teaching in Honduras), I was hired as the Director of Client Support at In Touch, a corporate compliance and ethics hotline company in Minneapolis. My boss was impressed by my critical analysis abilities, attention to detail, and written communication skills honed through the CSB/SJU English program. I also remember discussing my study abroad experience during the interview, as my boss was a big traveler. So you never know what might get you noticed!

Why did you choose the profession that you chose?

I had thought about going to grad school for English during college because I really enjoyed the academic environment and knew I liked research from writing my Honors Thesis. I was less sure that I would like teaching, however. Working as a volunteer sixth-grade teacher in Honduras after graduation made me realize that I did enjoy teaching but wanted to work with older students. I waited a few years to pursue graduate school so that I could get some other work experience and be certain that the multi-year investment in graduate school would be worth it to me.

What is one piece of advice that you have for current students?

There’s a lot of pressure to know exactly what you want to do career-wise after graduation; however, try not to get too hung up on that. Your first job after college is just the first step on your career journey, and you will continue to learn and develop new interests after graduation. On a similar note, don’t be afraid to take classes outside of your major or comfort zone. Not everything you do has to point you clearly towards a specific career or be obviously “practical.”

Have an update?

If you are an English grad, we would love to hear what you have been up to after college.

English Grad Update

Brita Thielen ’11

English Major, Hispanic Studies Minor

Brita would be happy to talk to undergraduates who are considering graduate school in English. Reach Brita via her professional website.

Some of her most recent works include:

  • “Consuming the Past: Food Metaphors in the Intergenerational Food Memoir.” Consumption and the Literary Cookbook, Routledge 2020.
  • “Course Design: ENGL 150 Writing as Inquiry—Explorations of Identity and Privilege.” Composition Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, Fall 2020. Co-authored with Ashanka Kumari.
College of Saint Benedict
Saint John’s University

Jessica Harkins
Chair, English Department
SJU Quad 350B

Laura Schmitz
Temporary Department Coordinator (Through spring 2024)
SJU Quad 362D/451