English Major Concentration: Creative Writing
Current Position: Assistant Professor of English at Western Carolina University
After graduation, I taught 4th grade at a bilingual school in Honduras (where I learned I loved teaching). Then I spent a year teaching ESL in NC before pursuing my MFA (University of Iowa). After my 3 years at Iowa, I took a job as an assistant professor (of English) at Charleston Southern University (I should say that one weird/serendipitous thing about getting that job was that I later learned Kathy Lyday had come years before—probably while I was still at Elon—to evaluate the program at CSU; one of her central recommendations was that they hire a writing person, and when they finally secured the line to do so, I got the job.) After 5 years at CSU, I took a job as an assistant professor at Western Carolina University, where I am now.
Did your degree in English with a concentration in creative writing prepare you for your professional career?
My path was perhaps more linear than most—my English degree directly prepared me for a graduate degree in English and then a job teaching and working within the field. More specifically, I learned how to read critically, to develop an appreciation for diversity within literature (in terms both form and content), and to talk specifically and articulately about the art of creative writing. I felt fully prepared for MFA-level workshops when I arrived to Iowa, and I know that many of my colleagues didn’t—they didn’t know how to talk about seemingly amorphous concepts like style and voice or how to recognize why a piece was successful. Moreover, I know that my training in English better prepared me to be an engaged citizen and rhetorician (I can write a mean letter to an insurance company with the skills gained from my English degree).
Is there value in an English degree?
It’s immeasurable, in part because lives don’t typically move in a linear fashion. This is not a professional degree in which one finds a job that contains the word “English” after graduation. The degree creates better communicators, writers, thinkers, and creators. Many of the changes that happen during the course of a degree in English aren’t entirely noticeable along the way, but upon reflection, a graduate might recognize how her worldview has expanded, how her understanding of nuanced and complicated social and cultural experiences has deepened, and how her ability to engage the world—advertisements, political speeches, shifty used car salesmen, etc.—has been sharpened and made more critical.
What was your best experience as an English major?
At both the university and department levels, Elon did an amazing job of bringing in outside voices—writers, scholars, politicians—so I know that my time there opened up the world to me in grand ways. I also developed many relationships with faculty that have lasted well beyond my college days. That couldn’t have happened, at least not as broadly, at a larger university. Plus, as a professor now, I recognize how hard it is to maintain relationships with alumni when life is already so busy. Professors in the English department at Elon made these post-graduation relationships seem easy, and I’ve benefited in innumerable ways from the continued advice, updates, and information.
Any advice for English majors?
Get everything you can—read a lot, write a lot. Don’t worry too much early on about jobs and next steps. Instead, try to make yourself a versatile reader and writer and thinker. Become a Swiss Army Knife. When you’re working into your senior year, then you can reflect on all of the practical skills you’ve developed along the way. Once you do, don’t be ashamed to market them—tell potential employers that you can write concisely, that you can learn quickly, that you can problem solve, that you can communicate at different levels, etc. But you should also know that first and foremost the degree is making you a better person. I’m serious about this. You should be too. Secondly, you are—whether you notice it at the time or not—becoming incredibly employable in the process.
“I’m thankful for such a talented, open, and teaching-focused department. It’s meant the world to me.”