If you’re a college student fearing how your major will translate into a job post-graduation, you’re not alone.
Amy Collins ‘96, founder of Squid Ink Literary Agency, told students she felt the same fear at the end of her Wheaton years.
“Once I got to my senior year and I started thinking about what I was going to do when I left, I remember specifically thinking … it felt like I had swallowed cold steel because I had no idea what I was going to do when I left Wheaton,” Collins said on Oct. 23 during the second event of the English Alumni Speaker Series.
The English department recognized that English students continue to face a difficult task in finding a first job and thinking through career options. Their response was to create the four-part English Alumni Speaker Series, which began this fall and is partly supported by the Opus: The Art of Work, a new institute of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. The series carries the tagline, “Think all English majors become teachers? Think again.”
Collins and three other English department alumni in the publishing industry spoke at the second Speaker Series event, which focused on alumni in publishing and writing. The three other panelists were David Congdon ’05, academic editor at InterVarsity Press; Randall D. Jahns ’84, senior vice president of Bible ministry relations at Crossway Publishing; and Eric Siewert ’09, international relations agent at Tyndale Publishing.
The alumni shared their backgrounds and career paths and offered students advice to assuage fears about job hunting and career building. The alumni emphasized that English majors have highly marketable skills that can translate into a variety of career options beyond teaching, including publishing. Siewert said the English major teaches students how to “read, analyze, study, pull apart and think about different concepts and ideas … and then you have to communicate it.” Communicating well offers “a leg up on everyone else,” Siewert said.
The alumni encouraged students to prepare for a career by developing skills, working hard and interning, but also to balance work with trusting God’s plan for the future.
The first panel of the Speaker Series featured English alumni in business. A third panel, planned for February 2015, will be comprised of recent graduates talking about how to land a first job. A final panel is scheduled for March 2015. The theme is still under consideration.
The English department began thinking last year about how to help English majors consider vocation early on in their Wheaton experience.
“We needed to help them answer the question, ‘What can I do with an English major other than become a teacher?’ said visiting assistant professor of English and coordinator of the Speaker Series, Allison Gibson. “A lot of students aren’t aware of what options there are for an English major that has great communication skills.”
In June, Gibson created and sent a survey to Wheaton College English alumni asking about their post-graduation careers.
Gibson said that as she read through the responses, “It was really cool to see what our alumni were doing, because they are doing all these really surprising things.” Some alumni are now working as film directors, psychologists or sociology professors.
“I thought if I was that surprised and curious, certainly our students would be too,” Gibson said.
Gibson sees the Speaker Series as a success so far, drawing a large and varied crowd and providing students with practical advice as well as theoretical explanations of the benefits of an English major.
Although the Speaker Series is focused on English students, the alumni provided advice applicable to any college student and said that many non-English majors are even found in publishing.
Gibson highlighted the importance of the panel discussion to all students, not English majors alone.
“Just like we’re trying to get English majors to think outside the box about their future … we are trying to get all Wheaton students to think outside the box about what kind of fields might suit them,” Gibson said.
The publishing panel discussion concluded with a time for questions and answers. One student asked the panelists, if they could go back to college, would they change their English major? The reply was a unanimous “no.”
A recap of the Business English Alumni Speaker Series event is available on the English department website at wheaton.edu.