As a first generation college student, I entered Kutztown as an English major with the weight of family and friends’ scrutiny over my selection of a major. Without fail, whenever I said I studied English and literature, the people close to me would retract, pause and ask what I was going to do with an English degree.
One of my first English courses was Introduction to American Literature, a class myself and a lot of my cohort consider one of the “Gen Eds” of the English major. During those first months at college, the text that resonated with me the most was Emerson’s transcribed speech, “The American Scholar.” Emerson argues that one can simply engage in the repetitive, secluded action of reading and studying for the sake of personal thought, or one can engage in scholarly activities as a contributor of a collective society to make sense of the world. Although a canonized writer, Emerson’s contentions evoked two responses in me: one, his piece motivated me to begin reading literature beyond the western canon in order to make sense of the rapidly globalizing and postcolonial world, and two, his message made me consider and reconsider what my role and career would be as an English scholar after Kutztown.
At the beginning of my junior year, I began working for the Kutztown University Writing Center, which required me to look at papers from any discipline offered on campus. Although I felt like a proficient academic writer, I often lacked the language to discuss the nuances of grammatical structure. I enrolled in a copy and line editing course, which dramatically changed my understanding of written language and the meaning one can create through a carefully crafted sentence. After taking that course, I looked into adding Professional Writing as a minor and found not only would it complement my English courses but also I could still graduate on time.
After graduation, the Professional Writing minor helped me attain several internship and job opportunities, I believe wouldn’t have been as readily available without the minor. I acquired a Fulbright Scholar Grant to teach English and literature in Sri Lanka, largely due to my tutoring experience and enrollment in several postcolonial English courses at Kutztown. Further, I was able to work as a politics and law intern at a think tank and a copy editor for an online medical app provider. Both positions required me to copy edit articles for grammatical and content issues as well as construct pieces for a nonacademic audience.
Since completing my Fulbright, I’ve taken those writing and copy editing skills and attained a job as a Managing Editor at the University of Vermont. The writing skills and job opportunities a minor in Professional Writing provide have had dramatic effects on my professional experiences post-graduation. The minor requires students to engage with writing styles that as an English major, I would not have otherwise been exposed to, including creative writing and numerous types of journalism. Also, as an English major, several of the courses overlap for major grid requirements. Adding the Professional Writing minor means taking an additional course for a few semesters, and the occupational results are huge. For me, a Professional Writing minor meant I could more concretely address students’ grammatical and stylistic issues and take those practical skills into the workforce.
Deciding to add Professional Writing as a minor was one of the most professionally advancing moves I made at Kutztown. My role as an English scholar has dramatically changed since my freshman year. However, by adding the minor, I was able to attain the concrete skills needed to transition from a student who loves to read and discuss texts to an employee who is able to use that scholarship in a practical job that contributes to a larger society.
Rebecca Van Horn
Rebecca Van Horn is a recent English B.A. grad who is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary History and Culture at Drew University. Here’s what she has to say about her Kutztown English Department experience:
“Taking English courses at KU has had an immeasurable effect on the success of my academic endeavors, but more importantly, on my identity as a citizen of a global community. The courses I took with Dr. Shaw, Dr. Ronan, and Dr. Herr sharpened the critical and analytical tools I needed to excel in both international and graduate-level academic settings and provided the intellectual curiosity that motivated me to adventure there.
As a junior at KU, I spent a semester in Aix-en-Provence, France, studying the works of Émile Zola and Marcel Proust, and my research on Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis allowed me a four-month stay on the island of Crete. My analysis of Kazantzakis’s novels–deftly directed by Dr. Jonathan Shaw–culminated in a presentation at the University College London’s Intellectual History Seminar in September 2015. Most recently, in January 2016, I presented a comparative study of James Joyce and Flann O’Brien in Donegal, Ireland, for which I was awarded the Transatlantic Connections Conference Literature Award. Dr. Herr’s course on the Modern British Novel introduced me to these prolific Modernist authors and inspired the research that is continuing to take me around the globe.
During the last semester of my senior year at Kutztown, I was offered fully-funded acceptance to Drew University’s interdisciplinary History and Culture Ph.D program, and I am currently enjoying doctoral classes ranging in content from Dante’s Inferno to the poetry of Lord Byron. These are feats that simply would not have been possible without the mentorship, direction, and profound support of our exceptional English Department. Kutztown professors truly are changing lives!”
Keyanna Butler is a 2013 graduate of our Professional Writing program. She works for Alloy Entertainment, a division of Warner Brothers, where she writes about The Vampire Diaries and live tweets that show and other favorites. She also maintains an indie author assistant service, reviews books on a blog, and recently started a freelance editing service. Here are Keyanna’s reflections on the program and what she does now:
“I’m from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and attended Prep Charter High School in South Philadelphia. Many of my teachers were Kutztown University alumni and that is how I heard of the school. I opted to go to community college for a couple of years and then transfer to a university when I was ready. When that time came, Kutztown University was the college I chose. I had friends from high school there so I wouldn’t be alone and the English program sounded amazing. I felt like I could get a great education there.
My predictions about Kutztown ended up being right on the money. The English department was filled with professors who loved their craft and were eager to share their teaching and experiences both professionally and personally to help their students grow. Some of my favorite classes were classes that helped me realize talents and skills I didn’t know I had such as Magazine Writing and Screenplay Writing. Others helped me revisit things I had always loved but lost somehow in the shuffle of life, like my love of reading while taking classes such as British Literature and Black American Literature. There were many projects that stood out to me like taking Advanced Composition with Dr. Folk and doing a project on the art of FanFiction and creating my own blog page. Also, taking writing classes with Professor Nurczynski. It was a paper from her class that won me an award from KU and another that won me an award and also led to my first publication as a writer, which ended up being a highlight of my college career.
Currently, I am a freelance writer for Alloy Entertainment, writing pieces for vampirediaries.com themed around their shows The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. I also live tweet during my favorite TV shows and have a very interactive twitter account where I am followed by many network social media accounts. In addition to that, I am finding my love of reading again and have a book blog where I review books I read and promote authors. I am giving personal assistant services to authors by running their social media and things of that nature. And lastly, I am launching my own freelance editing business that I hope will take off soon. All of these careers are skills and passions that I never would have found if it weren’t for KU’s English and Professional Writing programs.”
Check Out Keyanna Butler’s Work:
Kutztown alum Joanne Rosa graduated as an English major and has landed her dream job. As an undergraduate, Rosa interned in production management for The Wendy Williams Show. Until that point, she considered a career in education. After her internship, however, Rosa wanted to pursue work in television and film.
“I love how fast paced the broadcast and entertainment industry is. I thrive on this sort of environment. I am always thinking in the mindset of, ‘How can I get this done quickly and efficiently?’ This is where my best work has come from in and outside of the work place,” Rosa said.
Following the internship, Rosa worked as a travel assistant for The TD Jakes Show, which was temporarily using Wendy Williams’ studio to shoot 20 episodes. This experience allowed Rosa to gain professional skills. She recently returned to The Wendy Williams Show as part of the production management team.
“What I’ve learned is that everyone from interns, cameramen, productions management, PR, marketing, all the way to the Executive Producers has a specific and important role to assist in making the show the success it is,” Rosa said.
Rosa contributes some of her success to the faculty within the Kutztown English Department. During the times she felt a lack of self-confidence in her work, she would look toward her professors for critiques and advice. Through her entire journey during her English career, Rosa learned how to place herself successfully into work post-graduation. As she works for The Wendy Williams Show, Rosa also is a freelance writer within the editing and production fields.
“Nothing is out of reach,” Rosa advised. “Proofread your work on a hard copy. You’ll be thankful when you see your mistakes in ink on paper. Don’t sweat the small thing, unless it’s grammatically related [because] punctuation is everything. Showcase your intelligence without being condescending. Treat every introduction like an interview (because it is). There is always room to make something better; find a way to make it happen.”