Posts filed under Communications

Sara Kincaid: Manager of Philanthropic Communications

Name: Sara Kincaid

Age: 33

College & Majors/Minors: University of Missouri-Kansas City; B.A. English – Creative Writing (Minor in Classics); M.A. English – Literature

Current Location: Kansas City, Missouri

Current Form of Employment: Manager of Philanthropic Communications at Children’s Mercy Kansas City

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I just started my new job in the Philanthropy department at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. Children’s Mercy was founded in 1897 by two sisters who dreamed of opening a hospital that took care of all children. Children’s Mercy still lives by this creed today and turns no child away, regardless of their family’s ability to pay. There are few people in Kansas City who have not been touched in some way by this award-winning hospital, myself included.

In my role, I am responsible for helping the various parts of our department (major gifts, planned giving, donor recognition, special events, etc.) communicate with our donors, potential donors and volunteers. I write endowed report updates, content for event programs, call scripts for our donor thank-a-thon, thank-you letters and more. I also edit invitations, programs and a myriad of other content. I work across print, web and digital communication methods to help tell the story of Children’s Mercy and its patients.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I didn’t get my first full-time job until 2011. I graduated with my Master’s degree right as the recession hit (2008) and there were no jobs anywhere. It took three years of submitting resumes and cover letters with no results. In spite of this, I kept trying.

My first job was at Hallmark Cards. Yeah, that Hallmark Cards. They’re headquartered here in KC! I applied via their website and got a phone call. Their HR department is pretty traditional. They love behavioral style interviewing, just FYI. I did a phone interview first with HR. Then, I went in for a round of in-person interviews and a writing/editing/InDesign test. And then, I got the job! I worked for three years producing business-to-business sales catalogs. I got to work with every product/card line that the company produces. I had a lot of fun there.

“Every job I’ve ever interviewed for has required some sort of writing test or project, by the way. So, be prepared for that.”

Fast-forward to 2017. A former colleague from my previous job (post Hallmark, pre Children’s Mercy) reached out to me via Facebook and urged me to apply for a job with Children’s Mercy. I applied on their website and was contacted later and asked to do a writing project. (Every job I’ve ever interviewed for has required some sort of writing test or project, by the way. So, be prepared for that.)

I went in twice for a series of interviews and then was offered the job! My best advice from this experience is: you never know who’s watching. The person who urged me to apply for the job, as I mentioned, was a colleague at my last gig, but we didn’t really interact much. I think I did one or two projects for her before she left. I was surprised and flattered that she reached out!

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

My previous job at the University of Missouri-Kansas City was pivotal. Switching from the for-profit sector to the nonprofit sector can be tough. There’s a lot of skepticism of people who make that switch. But being an alumna and having really good references helped me land the job.

 "The first local bookstore that accepted my book and put it on their shelf!"

"The first local bookstore that accepted my book and put it on their shelf!"

At UMKC, I began to learn the nonprofit ropes. I wrote letters for the chancellor and the vice chancellor, produced newsletters, wrote articles, video content and event scripts, managed multiple websites, ran the alumni association’s social media and anything else they threw my way. This job is absolutely the reason why I got my current position. I learned so much about stewardship and the nonprofit style of communication. Plus, I met important colleagues who educated me and helped me prepare for my ultimate next step.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Internships were very important for me and taught me a lot about how the working world functioned. I did two internships, one in undergrad and one in grad school. The first was at a local PR firm. The second was with Andrews McMeel Publishing in their PR department. In these positions, I got my first few writing samples for my portfolio.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

I went into the “business” world and not education simply because every time I told someone what I was majoring in they’d ask me (as we’ve all heard): “Oh, so what are you going to do? Teach?” While I love educators and have great respect for them, those questions made me determined to prove that there were many things I could do.

If you’re an English major and you want to work in the “business” world, you have to be prepared to fight. I’ve had to fight hard for every job I’ve ever had. Maybe people in other fields and with other degrees feel this way too. I don’t know. But, from the writing tests to get my foot in the door, to getting opportunities once I’m there, I’ve had to fight, network, volunteer for extra projects and make my voice heard every step of the way. Often people won’t understand the things that we English majors know we bring to the table without us telling them. They think all we do is read novels all day. While that may be true in some respect, we bring our analytical skills, writing skills, a great vocabulary, passion, discourse skills and more. You have to be your own advocate and your own spokesperson out there. No one else will do it for you.

You can check out Sara's blog, Writer vs. the World, here. To learn more about Children's Mercy Kansas City, click here. You can also connect with Sara on LinkedIn.


Posted on January 26, 2018 and filed under English Major Stories, Interview, Interviews, Communications.

Lauren Pope: Marketing & Communications Associate

Name: Lauren Pope

Age: 26

College & Majors/Minors: English Literature / Creative Writing

Current Location: Kansas City, MO

Current Form of Employment: Marketing & Communications Associate

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’m currently the marketing and communications associate for a non-profit organization here in Kansas City. I work closely with the Director of Advancement to ensure the integrity of our brand, as well as manage and create all of the marketing materials. I work in both traditional and digital media maintaining the website and social media accounts and writing stories about our donors.

My favorite thing about marketing is that every day is like working a different job. It’s nice for someone like me who is creative and free-thinking to have a different task or project every day. One day I’m writing copy for our direct mailers and the next I’m visiting the Kansas City Ballet to write a story on our Youth Advisory Council. You never know what you’re going to walk into and I find that thrilling.

“I found the opportunity on LinkedIn. In fact, I found all three of my jobs I’ve had since graduation on LinkedIn.”

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My first job out of college was as a social media strategist with a small marketing company in St. Louis, MO. I found the opportunity on LinkedIn. In fact, I found all three of my jobs I’ve had since graduation on LinkedIn. It’s an amazing resource that allows you to put yourself in front of employers you might not dream of working for otherwise.

Last year I picked up and moved to Chicago on a whim after getting an offer with a University to run their social media accounts. Now I’m in charge of all of the marketing efforts at my current position. LinkedIn is a great way to market yourself and tailor your experience to get the job you want. Put those writing skills to use! If your LinkedIn isn’t reflecting your ability to write and tell a story about yourself, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I was a freelance copywriter and editor for a year after graduation. It helped me keep my skills sharp while I was looking for work. It’s more appealing to employers if you have work experience while you’re looking for a job as opposed to having a gap in your work history. It shows initiative. It also adds a layer of expertise to your work that employers will love. You can be a writer and an editor and employers love that because they’re getting two skillsets in one person.

“Your degree can get you in the door but your internship experience can get you a seat at the table.”

My internship with Fleishman-Hillard in St. Louis was probably my most beneficial experience. I had no marketing experience after graduating but was hired as the marketing intern because of my ability to write. I spent six months learning about marketing and specializing in social and digital media which helped launch me into my first full time job after college. Your degree can get you in the door but your internship experience can get you a seat at the table.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I researched! Nobody told me growing up about all of the career paths an English degree can lead to. You go through college with everyone making jokes that you’re going to end up being a bartender or a teacher and it can be frustrating. But there are so many avenues you can go down with this degree. I spent my time deciding what I liked about being an English major and deciding how I could turn it into a career.

Publishing, editing, ghost-writing, copywriting, social media, marketing, HR, internal communications, PR and crisis management, law school; there are so many things you can do. Find the thing that speaks to you and then find an internship in that field.

“The ability to write concisely and creatively will open so many doors.”

You can keep your English degree and work in a field unrelated to what you did in school. I believe firmly that an English degree teaches critical thinking, writing ability and creativity and those are all things that every employer is looking for. The ability to write concisely and creatively will open so many doors. Don’t let the fear of not being employable after graduation steer you off this path.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Internships: Experience will get you everywhere. Look at your English department website and see what they offer students. Contact local businesses and see if there are openings that interest you. Check out LinkedIn and see if there are volunteer opportunities that can help beef up your resume. No experience is bad experience. I interned in publishing for my entire last year of college and didn’t end up in publishing. But that experience still interested my future employers and the work I did there helped me later in my other internships and jobs.

Apply for Jobs You Don't Feel Qualified For: I applied to jobs that I was perfectly qualified for and sometimes over qualified for without hearing anything back. Once I decided to expand my job search I was given so many opportunities I'd never dreamed of. A lot of companies will ask for more experience than the job actually requires so don't be afraid to apply with less experience than they ask. It's about the skills you can bring to a position, not the number of years you've spent behind a desk. Even if you don't get the job, you will gain experience in interviewing. The more you interview the more comfortable you'll become with selling your skills as an English major to companies that might not have considered the value of having one on their team!

Have Writing Samples Ready: If you're going to say you're a writer, be ready to prove it. Write articles on your LinkedIn page, keep and maintain a blog. Any writing is good writing. I landed my first internship after sending in my senior creative writing piece about a murder mystery! The man interviewing me said that the sample was unorthodox but he liked that I showed creativity and the depth of my writing ability. You may even consider creating an online portfolio of your writing samples to have ready if employers ask for it.

Stay Focused: It's easy to get beaten down by the rhetoric you hear from people about an English degree. I found myself questioning why I had chosen an English degree a dozen times in undergrad. But if you're focused and determined to be successful, it will work out. Keep your head down, work hard and set yourself up for life after graduation.


Posted on November 8, 2017 and filed under Communications, Interview, Interviews, Marketing.

Kyle Hendricks: Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Name: Kyle Hendricks

Age: 28

College & Majors/Minors: Major - English, Minor - Psychology

Current Location: Columbus, Indiana

Current Form of Employment: Full Time

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I am the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the United Way of Bartholomew County. I work closely with our Director of Resource Development on all of our donor communications and fundraising efforts to ensure that we are not just asking people to donate to United Way, but giving them opportunities all year long to engage and participate in the work of United Way and our partner nonprofit agencies in our community.

My daily duties vary but usually involve writing, editing, copywriting, graphic design, managing online platforms, social media, stewarding community relationships, speaking or giving presentations, and developing long term strategies for how all of these skills work together to help United Way raise money to help people in need.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

“There is a similar story to every job I have found my way into—I made a personal connection with someone without trying to sell myself. I developed our relationship over time and reached out when I had questions or ideas.”

After graduating college I was bartending at a local spot in my hometown. One day a professor came in for a beer and we started up a conversation. He was starting a new design program in town and we had a good talk on art and literature. He left that day and we kept in touch. I reached out not long after to see if he needed any help with his program and it turns out that he did. I started off working part time at this design space, running errands and doing some low end administrative work (all while still waiting tables in the evenings). I went on to work with him on a national architecture conference and direct some educational videos that were made specifically for that project. My work with the design program gave me the small professional experience and finished products I needed to get me started on a career path in professional communications. 

There is a similar story to every job I have found my way into—I made a personal connection with someone without trying to sell myself. I developed our relationship over time and reached out when I had questions or ideas. I took their advice and explored to learn how new opportunities they presented could help me grow.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I did an internship with a public relations agency in Indianapolis where I split my time promoting regional events and concerts and running book release campaigns for independent authors. This internship taught me important skills on the job, like how to write press releases, ad copy and online content. Every professional communications position that I have applied for has asked me for professional writing samples, and this internship gave me plenty experience and examples to use on my job search.

“If I had to do it over again, I would have worked more closely with my adviser to find a professional internship before graduation and I would have supplemented my class load with a few journalism and business classes.”

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I'll be honest—aside from showing up to class and doing the work, I did not do much in college to prepare me for my current career. I took the route of an English major because I wanted to learn how to get to the root of stories and how the great ones were created. I was exploring art, poetry and literature as I'm sure a lot of you reading this have explored in your time at school. Those pursuits gave me incredible experiences, an invaluable worldview, eyes, ears, heart and mind for good storytelling, and some hard writing skills. I learned how to be an artist in school, but I did not learn how to focus my skills in a way that allowed me to make a living. That came after graduation in all of the experiences I mention above (and many more less successful tries) over the past six years.

If I had to do it over again, I would have worked more closely with my adviser to find a professional internship before graduation and I would have supplemented my class load with a few journalism and business classes.

“Every office needs some form of a good writer, so you have a good start, but you’ll need other skills to fully develop your attractiveness to potential employers after school.”

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

1) If you're still in school, get some professional experience before you burst out of the academic cocoon. No matter what path you take you will need to learn things in a professional setting that you can't learn in a book or in a classroom or by waiting tables. Talk to your advisers about opportunities that you can connect to on campus or explore internships that your school may know about. Talk to your family members and friends about their jobs and work to see if you can find some things that interest you about those particular businesses or organizations. Every office needs some form of a good writer, so you have a good start, but you'll need other skills to fully develop your attractiveness to potential employers after school.

Don't sweat if you are already graduated and still need this experience. If you're a graduate and you haven't done any of the above, just start now! There is always time to learn. I didn't start my first true internship until I was 24.

2) Graduation is just another step in your growth process—it does not determine your employment or even your career path. You determine your employment and career by how you use your time, talents and energy after graduation. All of these tools are flexible, and deciding not to explore them to the best of your ability is a choice within itself.

3) Always value your relationships over your resources and ambitions. Like I said, every good job I have had started by making a personal connection with someone without trying to sell myself as a potential employee. Build your network consciously but not selfishly. I know this is hard when you are unemployed and can't seem to find a break, but if you stay patient and friendly you will find those connections, too.

4) Keep learning; you don't yet know all you need to know to do your job well. No matter where you are going, you will need to pick up new tools and skills to progress or even just to keep up. Sometimes those skills are hard skills—like figuring out how to code a website. Other times those skills are softer—like learning how to relate to and work with your older co-workers. Stay open to new experiences and stay kind through the rejections and tough lessons.

Along with learning, find resources that you can keep coming back to for personal inspiration and growth. A few that I visit weekly are the Creative Pep Talk podcast, hosted by Andy Miller, and The Daily Stoic, a project spearheaded by Ryan Holiday.

5) Wherever you are geographically, get involved in the community you live in. Volunteering is the easiest way to make a positive impact for others while also building your skills and relationships. Find the people you are passionate about helping and go find the group or organization that's helping them. If there isn't a group or organization in your area helping people you care about, then build one yourself. Making positive contributions to others will help you through your harder days by giving you a different perspective on your struggles and also increases your value to potential employers by showing them that you care enough about your community to get involved.

You can connect with Kyle on LinkedIn or reach out to him directly at kyhendricks (at) gmail (dot) com.


Posted on July 14, 2017 and filed under Interviews, Interview, Communications, Marketing.

Aíne Norris: Senior Communications Administrator

Name: Aíne ("AAN-yuh") Norris

Age: 30

College & Majors/Minors: M.A. in English (research concentration), Virginia Commonwealth University; B.A. in English (minor in Religious Studies), Virginia Commonwealth University

Current Location: Richmond, Virginia

Current Form of Employment: Senior Communications Administrator, Virginia Commonwealth University

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’m currently a Senior Communications Administrator at Virginia Commonwealth University in downtown Richmond, VA. My role specializes in academic and faculty communications, and I’m responsible for the strategy, content, social media, and maintenance of a variety of university websites within that area. My role also includes writing, design, and project coordination.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

After receiving my B.A. (2008) I continued working full time for Apple Retail, specializing in business sales for corporate or large-business customers. At that point in my life I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my English degree, and found it safest to stay put at my current job. Apple was a fantastic employer and I learned a lot about technology, consumer trends, customer service, and how people use technology. This knowledge prepared me for the day in 2011 when one of my clients, the co-owner of an integrated communications agency, hired me as an Account Manager.

Working at an agency offered the opportunity to learn a variety of new skills, but was also the first job where my English degree was needed and sought after. Copywriting, editing, concept brainstorming, proofing advertisements, and website development all require a firm grasp on effective communication and language, as well as attention to detail and linguistics.

“Today my work requires a variety of skills, but the strongest and most useful is the ability to write and communicate in an effective way for different audiences.”

In 2013 I began work at my alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, working in communications and using a lot of the skills I cultivated at both previous jobs. Today my work requires a variety of skills, but the strongest and most useful is the ability to write and communicate in an effective way for different audiences.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I’ve freelanced for Richmond GRID magazine and worked as a website content writer for Elevation Fitness, a workout software company, amongst others. I always encourage recent graduates to pursue freelance writing gigs (even unpaid ones!) in addition to their full-time work. A successful English writing portfolio doesn’t have to rely solely on Chaucer or Fitzgerald; writing about current events, local news, or niche topics helps cultivate your communications voice in a way that isn’t quite as formal as a university paper. Freelance writing keeps your writing sharp and offers opportunity to experiment with different styles to find what works. Get hard copies of your articles (or use screenshot software), print them out, and put them in a portfolio to show prospective employers.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

The term “post-grad” is tricky for me, because I ended up going back to university part-time for my master’s degree in 2014, graduating in December 2016. I’m actually considering more graduate work to potentially switch gears and focus on research and teaching in the near future.

However, both my undergraduate and graduate work have taught me not to turn down opportunities to use or fine-tune your English reading, writing, and editing skills. If you have an opportunity to learn something new that can be added to a resumé or CV, take it. Want to work on a newspaper or in journalism? Learn AP style. Want to specialize in website content? Learn about SEO and keywords. See an interesting corporate-level writing job? Take a course in technical writing. We live in a world where everyone has the power to communicate via social media, but only select individuals have the power to craft words that are truly powerful.

“English majors are detail-oriented, granular thinkers with the capability to read, write, and edit. Many fields need minds like this, so don’t sell yourself short.”

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Don’t put yourself in a career box based on preconceptions of what it means to be an English major. There are very few jobs where effective written communication isn’t important, but it’s all about having the right skill set. English majors are detail-oriented, granular thinkers with the capability to read, write, and edit. Many fields need minds like this, so don’t sell yourself short. Attend departmental alumni gatherings (or organize one, if it isn’t offered from your university) and learn what other English majors are doing.

More than anything, my advice is to keep learning, formally or informally. New jobs and uses for the English language are born daily (just think: 10 years ago we didn’t even have social media directors writing and scheduling Twitter/Facebook/Instagram posts for companies!) and if you stay current and keep learning, you’ll always find a job that needs an English major.

To learn more about Aine, click here. You can also connect with Aine on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter


Posted on March 11, 2017 and filed under Communications, Interview, Interviews.

Tabitha Cornwell: Project Manager

Name: Tabitha Cornwell

Age: 30

College & Majors/Minors: Arizona State, BA in English; University of Phoenix, MS in Psychology

Current Location: Phoenix, AZ

Current Form of Employment: Full-time, higher ed administration

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work at the University of Phoenix as a project manager of learning content. My department handles the acquisition and management of all the types of materials that may go into a course—textbooks, educational technology, internally-developed tools and multimedia, open-source or free web content, and anything else the instructional design teams throw at us. As a core (and relatively small) team in the middle of a huge institution, we maintain a working knowledge of products we currently offer, pending requests coming down the pipeline, industry norms and trends, as well as the legal and contractual obligations associated with each of these product types. It's my job to maintain close and productive relationships with our internal customers (primarily college staff) as well as external vendors and suppliers.

A typical day might involve presenting a training surrounding our processes to staff in production before going back to my desk and calling my publisher rep to find out why an eBook file isn't rendering properly. I also work with vendors to establish and maintain QC processes that ensure we're providing consistent eBook experiences for students. It's essential for me to be able to translate between academic requirements, technical specifications, and high-level snapshots expected by executives.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

As a teenager, I volunteered for the local library system for five years, since I practically lived there anyway. That hands-on community work introduced me to the world of networking, opening doors to several jobs funded by local government grants. As president of a library branch's "teen council," I met with corporate sponsors and participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony while still in braces (and a terrible haircut, thanks Mom!). At thirteen, I was part of a group teaching senior citizens basic computer and internet skills, and by sixteen, I had revamped and updated the curriculum as the sole instructor. 

 "I'm the one in the fuchsia top looking up." -Tabitha

"I'm the one in the fuchsia top looking up." -Tabitha

With the grant extinguished, I began working for a program sponsored by the Arizona Science Center that introduced middle school and younger students to scientific concepts in hands-on workshops (think CSI lab in which one of the instructors is the culprit). Looking back, these classes were a precursor to the current STEM wave in education. 

Because my mom worked in computer networking for my school district, I was usually taking apart computers or running CAT-5 cables under desks. I dabbled in web design, taught myself some coding skills and ran a small website for a genealogical society my family belonged to. I saved every penny from these early jobs and eventually bought myself a Blue Dalmatian iMac named Spot. (Spot still lives in my home office, though his fan needs a thorough cleaning. I'm thinking about converting him into a fishtank.)

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

Despite entering with a slew of AP credits, ASU still required me to take ENG/102 as a freshman. Within the first week, I was essentially running daily tutoring sessions in the back of the class. Looking back, the professor could have been really grouchy about my co-opting her students, but instead, she referred me to the director of the on-campus Writing Center for a job. Within another semester, I was the student coordinator. In my earlier teaching work, I had realized I have a knack for analogies, and meeting students at their level of understanding. Over time, I began to realize that ability was one of my most unique, transferable skills.

A few months after I'd graduated, a friend forwarded me a few postings for admin, entry-level positions at UOP, where she worked. I immediately gravitated to one in their online tutoring center—for math (yikes!). After poring over the job description a few million times, I realized they weren't actually looking for a math expert, but someone to keep the center organized. I also guessed that fewer people might apply because of the scary "math" word in the title, and I was right—the position only had about 20 applicants. In the interviews, I pitched myself as someone who could add perspective of a student who needed math tutoring, because I'd been in that position myself. It worked! Though it was a pretty basic admin job, scheduling shifts and managing payroll for about 50 faculty tutors, I really enjoyed working with a group of intelligent, thoughtful academics coming from a wide range of experiences and industries. I'm still close with several of these awesome individuals.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

The problem with being interested in everything is that it's impossible to settle on a major! I enjoyed my Writing Center work more than any of my classwork—in fact, when I look back, it's still my all-time favorite job. Somehow, I was too stubborn to see the obvious choice (Dear English Major would have been sooooo helpful). I found myself nearing the end of my four-year scholarship with credits all over the map and no degree in sight. I was juggling four jobs and trying to complete five courses per semester. My body couldn't take the stress, and a bad cold turned into pneumonia. I broke up with my boyfriend, moved back home, transferred campuses (and writing centers!) and met with the umpteenth (and final) advisor to review my credits. Suddenly, the answer was obvious, and those AP credits finally came in handy.

“I resisted the English major for years because it seemed like the easy way out, and because it didn’t represent a clear path to a career. No longer ignoring the obvious degree choice forced me to confront those preconceived notions, and suddenly, I was passionate about my coursework, engaged in every class discussion, and stretching my brain with every assignment.”

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

If there's one thing I wish I could go back and tell myself, it's that struggling does not equal learning, and that you don't have to fight for something in order to consider it an accomplishment. I resisted the English major for years because it seemed like the easy way out, and because it didn't represent a clear path to a career. No longer ignoring the obvious degree choice forced me to confront those preconceived notions, and suddenly, I was passionate about my coursework, engaged in every class discussion, and stretching my brain with every assignment. I developed rich relationships with my professors and am happy to say I still keep in touch with some of them.

If something doesn't come naturally to you, there's no shame in finding a better fit. Especially in creative fields, people take their own talents for granted because they've always had them, and they lack the context and experience necessary to really understand that uniqueness. It's the same reason we have such a tough time pricing freelance creative work. Remember that learning what you don't enjoy is just as important as learning what you do. The world will be hard enough on you—be kind to yourself! This strengths-focused approach has been tremendously useful in making staffing recommendations, conducting trainings, and performing interviews.

You can connect with Tabitha on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter and Instagram


Posted on February 15, 2017 and filed under Communications, Project Management, Interview, Interviews.

David Baker: Media Producer

Name: David Baker

Age: 45

College & Majors/Minors: University of Illinois Chicago – BS, Literature; Columbia College Chicago – MFA Creative Writing

Current Location: Corvallis, Oregon

Current Form of Employment: Media producer at Oregon State University

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’m the lead for a group of video, film and digital media producers at a large land-grant university. We produce everything from marketing materials, broadcast commercials to web videos and documentary films. All of it either advances the reputation of the university, or informs the public about the major issues of our time.

In addition to doing all of the administrative work, budgeting, some video production and editing, I write many of the video scripts. Writing is often overlooked in planning, and having cranked out papers, stories and articles over the years, usually at around midnight the night before deadline, I’m pretty comfortable in that role.

“Storytelling has led me to some interesting places. It’s definitely a real skill. Any team needs a storyteller, someone who can rough an idea into a beginning, middle and end. Technicians and administrators don’t quite get it. They think it’s easy or some kind of magic. But if you can tell a story, reliably, you’ll eventually become the person they all depend on.”
Vintage: A Novel
By David Baker

Storytelling has led me to some interesting places. It’s definitely a real skill. Any team needs a storyteller, someone who can rough an idea into a beginning, middle and end. Technicians and administrators don’t quite get it. They think it’s easy or some kind of magic. But if you can tell a story, reliably, you’ll eventually become the person they all depend on.

I also do my own thing. I produce independent documentaries and I’ve published stories and a novel with Simon & Schuster called Vintage. I’ve also done some screenwriting. That side work sometimes pays off. I’ve earned some trips to Europe and a camping trailer in that way, though I’ve found I still need a straight gig to pay any kind of mortgage.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I worked at Kinko’s, which is now FedEx Office. It was in downtown Chicago. I thought it would be temporary, but it lasted four years and pretty much started my career. I worked the night shift because I wanted to write on the job like Faulkner when he was a security guard. It kind of worked. I got through much of grad school that way.

We had a desktop publishing center where people designed flyers and brochures and typed up resumes. I always eyed that desk because sitting down seemed a lot easier than standing at a photocopier or binding machine. So when there was an opening, I made my move.

The web was just coming out at that time, and we got this program called Adobe Pagemill. So when web requests started to come in, I took the lead. If you can write a paper dissembling Chaucer at 11:00 p.m. the night before it’s due and still get a ‘C’ or a ‘B,’ you can figure out HTML and Pagemill. So that’s what I did. That led to a job in consulting and eventually into Flash and motion design and finally back to video and film production because I was the guy who could write scripts and storyboards on the fly.

“...English majors are especially adept at these changing circumstances because of our education, because we learn to be analytical and apply our own voice, ideas and talents to a problem. We learn the mechanics of stories, which are the real currency of human existence. We’re flexible. We have to be. And the dawn of the web as a profession was a perfect era for the English major. A lot of us are in digital communications because of that.”

So my point is that careers are actually accidental and not planned. I see it all the time with young interns who go on into the workforce. And English majors are especially adept at these changing circumstances because of our education, because we learn to be analytical and apply our own voice, ideas and talents to a problem. We learn the mechanics of stories, which are the real currency of human existence. We’re flexible. We have to be. And the dawn of the web as a profession was a perfect era for the English major. A lot of us are in digital communications because of that.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I wrote a screenplay that fared well in a contest a number of years ago. Someone bought the option and I ended up working with producers, rewriting it for a budget. That collaborative writing process was very helpful in allowing me to learn to work with others, to try to help the person investing all of the money and time into a film realize his vision. It really stripped out my own ego.

The film never was made, but I still have some friendships and it gave me confidence since someone was willing to pay me a couple months’ wages to do something creative. They also bought me a plane ticket to LA and a cheap hotel room in Santa Monica. We had dinner and talked about casting Leonardo DiCaprio for the lead in a script that I had written (and we did so with straight faces, but then everyone in LA does that). Still, it was a wonderful experience. I remember lying in that bed that night unable to sleep thinking for the first time, “Hey, I guess I’m kind of a writer.”

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I didn’t do enough. I read books and wrote stories. That’s never a bad thing. I also probably smoked way too many cigarettes. I also played in a bad hair metal band, which wasn’t helpful at all.

What I wish I would have done, which is what the interns I work with now do, is jump on any internship I could find that did something related to my interests. Even if I volunteered for free. Write articles. Write scripts. Work on the school paper. Get clips. Edit a literary magazine. Edit videos. Write marketing copy. Take photos. Write for blogs. Whatever, as long as it’s not working in the cafeteria (which I also did) or sitting around rehearsing Queensrÿche cover songs.

“What I wish I would have done, which is what the interns I work with now do, is jump on any internship I could find that did something related to my interests. Even if I volunteered for free. Write articles. Write scripts. Work on the school paper. Get clips. Edit a literary magazine. Edit videos. Write marketing copy. Take photos. Write for blogs.”

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

The internship thing is key. It often leads to real work. When you’re in college or when you’ve just graduated, that’s your only real leverage: work for free. Once you have a relationship, maybe kids, mortgage or car payments… you no longer have that leverage. If you can swing it, that’s time to work somewhere for little or no money. I know some students are in a tough spot and need to work retail or something to eat and pay rent… that’s what I did. But still, if you can somehow manage to do it, even for six months… volunteer. Work for free somewhere cool. Do your research, knock on ten different doors and say, “hey, I like what you’re doing and I’m willing to do it for free for six months.” If you kick some ass, and if they have any kind of soul, they may start paying you. They may even keep you. At the very least, you’ll get a cool bullet on your resume.

Our department has hired four of our interns into full-time roles over the years. Those are creative gigs with benefits where we send people all over the world to film and write stories about research and all kinds of cool things.

Some of our interns at OSU have gone on to great jobs working in commercial and film production, and I’m always pleased when the top item on their first resume is working for our department, or when I see their names on television show or feature film credits.

I also always advise our students to work on a demo reel and portfolio before they get into the market. Back in my day, it was your clips and your little black portfolio binder that you had to tidy up to get a creative or writing gig. Today it’s a website. You’d be surprised how many professionals don’t have a decent website with good samples. It’s not even that hard if you have a couple nice photos. Wordpress is still free.

To learn more about David, visit his website at DavidAlexanderBaker.com.


Posted on January 12, 2017 and filed under Interviews, Interview, Communications, Author, Filmmaking.

Ashley Hennefer Warren: Full-Time Researcher & Writer

Name: Ashley Hennefer Warren

Age: 27

College & Majors/Minors: University of Nevada, Reno B.A in English Literature with a minor in French, M.A in Literacy Studies, emphasis on Research/Information Science

Current Location: Reno, Nevada

Current Form of Employment: Full-time researcher and writer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’m the founder/lead researcher at Ashley Warren Research, where I research in a variety of ways. This includes doing research for novelists, helping beginner genealogists with their family history, writing reports for non-profits, and so on. I also create e-courses to help others learn how to research.

I'm also the researcher/technical writer for ShortStack.com, where I write white papers, conduct studies, facilitate usability tests, and create documentation. I’m kind of a researcher/writer-of-all-trades.

And when I have time, I’m a contributing writer to publications including the Reno News & Review, GOOD, and The Mary Sue. I absolutely love all of the work I do and feel lucky every day to be where I am.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My first job was writing a column for a newspaper at 13 years old. I lived in a small town after growing up in the Bay Area, and I asked the local newspaper if I could write a teen column, and they said yes! Soon after that, they hired me on as a paid intern and staff writer, and I worked there until college (along with other odd jobs). My mom had always encouraged me to participate in writing and reading contests growing up, so I think by the time I was a teen, I was ready to start writing for the public. Being in a small town certainly helped get my foot in the door.

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life so far; I think I always felt that if I were going to pursue something English-related long term, that I needed to be scrappy and get as much job experience as I could. Luckily, that has paid off.

I got my current job at ShortStack through a friend who knew I loved to write about and research social media-related topics (my Master’s thesis was about social media and activism). At the time, I was the director of curriculum for the Reno Collective, a coworking space.

Funny enough, the same day I got offered my job at ShortStack, I also got offered a job teaching English 101 at a local community college. So I did both for a while; I don’t think I’ve ever just had one job at a time in my whole life! But I love ShortStack and I’ve been here for more than two years. I also love teaching and try to do it whenever it fits into my schedule.

My research company, Ashley Warren Research, arose out of my desire to balance my technology-based research with literary-focused research. I feel like I now have the perfect balance of science and literature in my life.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

It’s so hard to pick just one! I’ve been fortunate that all of my major career jobs have been relevant to my degree. Aside from my current roles, which I love, I was the Special Projects Editor at the Reno News & Review and I was awarded Journalist of Merit in 2012. That was a great opportunity to be active in the Northern Nevada community.

Truthfully, though, research is my main passion (but writing is closely linked with that, so both are very important to me). Working at the campus libraries at my university was life-changing for me. I set my sights on becoming a librarian, which was my graduate school emphasis. I started the Northern Nevada Tool Library in graduate school to get experience running my own library.

While in graduate school, I was a graduate writing consultant for the University Writing Center, and that was an amazing experience. I got to work with scholars from around the world, and I got to do my own research about literacy. My boss, Maureen McBride, was amazing, and gave me opportunities to lead and teach. Having a mentor is priceless (my graduate advisor, Dr. Dianna Townsend, also deserves a heartfelt shoutout!). That really helped me hone my own research, teaching, and writing skills. At the same time, I was a fellow for the Northern Nevada Writing Project and did research on local literacy (my project was about using video games in classrooms).

And while this isn’t paid work, I do a lot of community service, most recently assisting with refugee resettlement in Northern Nevada. I provide literacy and ESL tutoring to refugees from the Congo and from Syria. Volunteer work is some of the most fulfilling work I do. It also proves how fundamental writing, research and language are to the world.

“Before graduating, I started my own literary and arts magazine for women, called Wildflower. That is what got me my job at the RN&R, actually; they interviewed me about my magazine, and then offered me a job a few weeks after that. After that, I started another web magazine called The New Artemis, about travel and recreation, which helped me get some more writing and editing work.”

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

 Writing while on a train from Prague to Budapest.

Writing while on a train from Prague to Budapest.

I studied English Literature in college with the goal of being a researcher in the future. But I volunteered and took any job I could that was related to English, writing and research. I was the editor of the University of Nevada-Reno literary journal, The Brushfire. I worked at the main campus libraries as a circulation and research assistant. I interned for the Nevada Historical Society. I was also a Resident Assistance in the dormitories. Before graduating, I started my own literary and arts magazine for women, called Wildflower. That is what got me my job at the RN&R, actually; they interviewed me about my magazine, and then offered me a job a few weeks after that. After that, I started another web magazine called The New Artemis, about travel and recreation, which helped me get some more writing and editing work.

I also traveled whenever I could. Travel is incredibly important to me. I went on an English department trip to London, England and a sociology department trip to Istanbul, Turkey, and a couple of smaller trips in between. I am a full supporter of studying abroad but many students, like me, can’t afford to go for a whole semester, so shorter trips can still be just as informative and life-changing!

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

 Doing field research for an article about falconry. 

Doing field research for an article about falconry. 

In graduate school, I learned how important it was to collaborate across disciplines. Although I had a background in humanities, my graduate work was largely STEM-related. Now, I have a passion for all of it: science and math and writing and art, because they are all related. And I don’t believe that there are “art people” and “science people.” It’s OK to have a preference, but I think the majority of people enjoy both. I know many highly analytic writers, and many creative engineers, and they all benefit from not being stuck into perceived notions of the STEM vs. humanities debate. Being an English major is an amazing foundation for so many careers. I know English majors who went on to medical school. My point is, academic silos are damaging to all students. My husband is a very talented engineer, but he had similar hardship finding employment after college, whereas my skills made me qualified for a variety of jobs. (We are both happily employed now, and very grateful!)

My most ardent advice is this: Be a self-starter and be open to doing anything related to your field, even if it’s not exactly what you want to do. Be interdisciplinary. Be active in your community. Understand the value of your skills. Pick a niche and carve a space out for yourself. Think outside of your goals; sometimes, goals and dreams can cause tunnel vision when there are a ton of opportunities out there. You may find that you have new goals!

If you want to be a novelist, write novels and self-publish them. If you want to write for a magazine or newspaper, start your own. Create an English student club if there isn’t one already, and partner with students from another department. Join literary groups and be open to feedback. Be a citizen journalist or scientist. I truly believe every English major should have a blog that they regularly update, even if writing isn’t their career goal. There are so many great ways to offer your skills to the world, and you may find career opportunities because of it.

It’s important not to wait for opportunities or for your dream job. It’s easy for us English majors to get discouraged when we feel like we have to sacrifice our values or passions for money. All of my best jobs and opportunities have come from me putting myself out there; I don’t think I’ve ever actually gotten a job by applying for it. (By that I mean: I’ve applied for hundreds of jobs in my life, but the ones I’ve gotten came from networking and collaborating!) You have to fight for your career and for a good life.

To learn more about the services Ashley offers, visit AshleyWarrenResearch.com. You can also follow her business through Facebook.  


Posted on October 17, 2016 and filed under Writing, Communications.

McKenzie McCormack: Communications Consultant

Name: McKenzie McCormack

Age: 23

College & Majors/Minors: University of Washington, B.A. in English Language & Literature

Current Location: Olympia, WA

Current Form of Employment: Communications Consultant

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work for the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA), most people don’t know what that is, so here’s the synopsis:

“The Washington State Health Care Authority purchases health care for more than 2 million Washington residents through two programs — Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) and the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) Program. We work with partners to help ensure Washingtonians have access to better health and better care at a lower cost.”

I am a Communications Consultant for HCA’s Health Information Technology team! I do a lot of the writing for the team, create deliverable materials, proofread and edit, manage the website, and answer email inquiries.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My FIRST job was working on a farm as a berry picker when I was 11, however, my first influential job out of college was working for the Washington State Senate. I was working as a barista at a small coffee shop and as a cashier at REI when I found the Senate job on indeed.com. I applied thinking it would be a long shot and was beyond surprised when they invited me for an interview. I worked for one session, and then decided I wanted to try state work, so I applied for a handful of jobs through careers.wa.gov and ended up in my current position.

“Writing and performing poetry taught me how to use language in a creative and powerful way, and it taught me to speak with confidence. I definitely used these skills in writing cover letters, in interviews, and in my day-to-day work.”

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

This is my first writing-related job, but when I was in college I was a spoken-word poet and it taught me so many different things that helped shape me into who I am today. Writing and performing poetry taught me how to use language in a creative and powerful way, and it taught me to speak with confidence. I definitely used these skills in writing cover letters, in interviews, and in my day-to-day work.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I was constantly in the Career Adviser’s office discussing different paths I could take with my degree, I attended job fairs just to get an idea of what was out there for English majors, and I signed up for the English department’s listserv (they sent out job listings, internships, workshops, etc.).

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Be confident! Apply for that job even if you don’t think you will get it—the worst they can do is say “no.” Be bold with your cover letters, and put some passion in there—employers want to know that you care. Be patient; you might be a barista for a while, and that’s fine. Keep an open mind; chances are you won’t land a publishing job right out of school, but you might land a pretty neat communications job with a state agency. You are talented, you are smart, you are an English major!


Posted on September 17, 2016 and filed under Communications.