Name: Nagisa Toyooka
College & Majors/Minors: BA in English, University of Southern California
Current Location: Los Angeles, CA
Current Form of Employment: Supplemental Instruction Leader at El Camino College
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I currently work as a Supplemental Instruction (SI) Leader for mathematics courses at El Camino College. Every academic semester, I get assigned to a different course where I attend class with my students, discuss with the professor what class material I should review during “SI sessions,” and promote and facilitate review sessions that are tailored to the specific class I’ve been assigned to. It’s an interesting position and maybe a little confusing to the students who sometimes think I’m a tutor (which I’m not because I don’t work with students one-on-one) or if they ask me about their grades (which I don’t know about because I’m not a TA). I would describe it as a combination between being a teacher, TA and a tutor. Many colleges and universities around the country use the SI program as an academic program to help students succeed in stereotypically difficult courses.
I know that as English majors many of us get asked if we would ever teach. I was one of the skeptical ones, but being in my current position, it’s definitely the most rewarding position I’ve ever been in and it makes me rethink what I want and what I value in my long-term career goals.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
Long story short, between my junior and senior year in college I realized that although I love writing and being immersed in artistic creativity, as I career I wanted to do pursue something that would continue to intellectually challenge me and be math-biology oriented. I wanted to pursue a research career in public health.
But, instead of switching majors or staying in school for a few extra years, I decided it was better for me to graduate on time and figure out if what I thought I wanted to do was what I wanted to do with my life. Some of my first few jobs outside of college were working as a cashier at a ramen restaurant, working as an editorial intern at Tokyopop, and organizing specimens as an Implant Retrieval Lab volunteer at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children. I feel like the volunteer experience was what convinced me to follow that inkling I felt during my last years in college.
After a few years in the workforce, I decided to go back to school to complete prerequisite courses that would help me to apply to graduate programs that interested me. I decided to complete lower-division requirements at El Camino College where I started working as a tutor at their math study center. While I worked as a tutor, I heard that the SI program was looking for new SI leaders and I applied. I’ve been a student in an SI session myself when I was a student at USC and I remember thinking that if I had the opportunity to be an SI leader, I’d want to do it, so I’m really glad I’ve been able to do this!
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
In addition to working as a SI leader, I also write for Hubpages, which is a user-generated-content website. When I was an intern at Tokyopop, I wrote an article every week on their “Learning Japanese” blog. Before that position, I wasn’t really interested in writing online or blogging because I had an image that blogging was like a diary except you write online. But the Learning Japanese blog showed me that blogs aren’t necessarily about personal stuff, but it could something informative and educational.
This is kind of a tangent, but having an English background and being a math tutor I feel like it makes me a different kind of instructor than say, an instructor with a science-math background. I try to be mindful of how I communicate with my students, especially if they make mistakes. I’ve noticed many students have “math anxiety” which I think comes from feeling discouraged about their mathematical abilities so when I talk to my students, I make it a priority to sound encouraging even though they may totally be approaching the problem wrong! I believe I’m able to do that kind of “thoughtful” communication because of the verbal and written communication training that comes from being an English major.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I wish I could say that I worked several internships, networked like crazy and landed a prestigious position after college, but that wasn’t the case.
I think networking is for real, but I also don’t think it’s the end of the world either even if we don’t have a large professional network. I feel like networking increases the chance that our resumes get looked at and bypasses some red tape, but the probability that we actually get hired for the position is the same whether we got an interview because we know someone at the company or submitted an application online.
I always worked throughout college and I’m sure subconsciously it has helped me develop the kind of work ethic we need to be successful after college. I feel like with me it’s the opposite—being in the real-world helped me realize things I could have done better as a student. When I went back to school, I realized the power of having relevant experience on my resume, but it’s hard for me to do internships during the academic year (because I work and go to school), but every summer I made sure I did something research-y oriented because that’s what I would ultimately like to do.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
I feel like the best thing about being an English major is that it doesn’t prepare you for only one type of job or one type of career. If I met someone with say, an engineering degree, I kind of have an idea of what kind of company they would want to work for or what type of career path they might lead. But having said that, I also feel like the best thing about being an English major is also what makes it the hardest thing—there’s so much you can do with it that it can be really overwhelming! If there’s any advice that I could give, I would suggest that if a student is interested in becoming an English major, I would ask them to ask themselves why they want to study it and how it fits in with the rest of their life goals.
This is another tangent, but I read somewhere online once (and I agree with this statement) that when employers are hiring nowdays, they look for really specific skills that we may or may not learn during school, so I would also suggest that along with getting an English degree to get marketable experiences and skills which they could pad their resumes with.