Departmental program connects English majors with recent graduates for advice on navigating professional waters.
By Olivia DiMatteo
"What are you going to do with an English major?”
The inevitable question, commonly slung across the family dinner table on a student’s first break after declaring, can be difficult to answer for one whose feet haven’t yet hit the pavement. However, the CCU Department of English is working to offer its students concrete answers.
Social content director, design researcher, production assistant, attorney: These are just a few career paths highlighted through the English Futures Speaker Series (EFSS), a program designed to help English majors explore options in the job market.
Established in January 2019, the series was born of CCU faculty’s desire to facilitate student exploration of nonacademic careers. Professors eager to provide English majors with pragmatic goals felt students would enjoy and learn the most from those having recently entered and found success in the job market.
“We all went to graduate school and became professors, but the reality is that most of our students won’t do that; they don’t need to do that,” said Daniel Hasty, associate professor in the Department of English. “Because the avenues to find those jobs are so much different from those for finding a tenure track position within academia, we wanted to provide them with tangible options for the future.”
EFSS sponsors three visiting professionals from various fields and geographical locations each semester. Recent guests have included CCU alumna Parris Booker, criminal defense and family law attorney; Zach Lamm, product and design researcher at San Francisco-based SoFi; the Honorable Terry L. Wooten, federal judge for the District of South Carolina; CCU alumna Sommersill Tarabek, production assistant in animation at Blue Sky Studios; Lara Hrabrota, regional recruiter, trainer, and senior sales representative for W.W. Norton Inc.; and Danny Nowell, social content director for French/West/Vaughan (FWV).
Content in each of the sessions, which have drawn dozens of English majors, commonly includes an insider’s description of the career, an overview of the steps required to gain access to the industry, and a connection between the skills students are learning in the English major and their implementation in the workplace.
Hrabrota’s September 2019 presentation covered her experiences in the publishing world, including advice on internships, networking, and using job boards to one’s advantage.
In regard to the major, Hrabota affirmed that she relies on the critical thinking and analytical skills she gained from her English classes every day.
“It’s about being able to analyze a piece of writing,” Hrabota said of her work as a senior sales representative for Norton textbook company. “I have to be able to look at a situation or a text and analyze it: ‘How can I look at this from multiple perspectives? How can I sell this to an instructor who likes to teach this way versus one who wants to teach that way?’”
Hrabota also makes frequent presentations in her work and regularly draws from the skills she honed in upper-level poetry classes.
“I hated doing them at the time,” she admitted to laughs from the crowd, “but they have really helped me in my career. I have to be able to convey specific, important information to a crowd in an appealing way.”
English major Lauren Palazuelos said that coming into Hrabota’s presentation, she recognized the broad range of options awaiting her.
“As a senior, I am completely overwhelmed by the prospect of graduating. What will I do next? How can I use my degree?” Palazuelos said. “Lara’s presentation really opened my eyes to an entirely new career path that I hadn’t even considered and actually aided in my current publishing work with Archarios [CCU’s student literary magazine].”
These are the very outcomes the English department hopes to set in motion. Hasty emphasized the importance of students’ starting their career exploration while they are still in school — especially within the walls of the University.
“Take a class that’s going to get you on-the-job training and get your foot in the door,” said Hasty. “There are so many great opportunities in the college. That way, when they get to their fourth year, they've got some marketable skills to help them move forward.”
With Hasty’s advice and the EFSS, CCU English majors can reply with confidence to that snarky question and still enjoy their dinner.