Name: Brooke Kile
College & Majors/Minors: I attended Butler University in Indianapolis and started off as a music major. During my second semester I fell in love with my English seminar and decided to change my major. I graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in 2004. After five years of working in higher education I decided to go back and get my masters (bonus of working in higher education: many institutions give free tuition or have tuition exchange at the graduate level so I didn’t have to take out more loans). I earned my M.S. in Management from the University of St. Francis (IL) in 2011.
Current Location: Indianapolis, IN
Current Form of Employment: Institutional Research
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I’m currently the Director of Institutional Research at Marian University in Indianapolis. I usually tell people that Institutional Research is like the analytics/big data arm of higher education—I write a lot of sql code to query and retrieve data out of various data sources and then report out to federal or state agencies on how many students we have, their demographics, counts of students enrolled in each major, etc. A large part of my job is also taking massive amounts of data and translating it into meaningful information that helps administrators understand our students, our programs, and where we have opportunities or challenges.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
After a brief stint as “Word Processor” at a consulting firm (I proofread bibliography entries... I lasted six months) I got a job in the financial aid office at a small university back in my home state of Minnesota based on my prior experience working in the admissions office during my undergrad. The financial aid job was supposed to be temporary until I went back to graduate school to become a professor. Well, that didn’t work out as planned but it was the best thing that could have happened. I discovered I really liked working in financial aid and at a college.
In 2007 my college boyfriend (now my husband) and I decided to move to Chicago. I found a job as a financial aid compliance analyst. We stayed in Chicago for 8 years and my job roles transitioned from internal staff training and policy writing to report writing using a Business Intelligence (BI) tool. I was named Project Manager for an internal BI launch in my department and that’s where I really started to get into databases, data, and reporting.
The Institutional Research thing was not part of the plan. When my husband and I decided we wanted to move back to Indianapolis, I started applying for financial aid jobs and couldn’t get a callback to save my soul. It was awful and I really began to doubt myself. It was actually one of my IT colleagues that suggested I look into Business Intelligence or Institutional Research. I started applying to those types of jobs and finally heard back from employers.
Eventually, I accepted the offer from Marian we moved back to Indianapolis in September of 2015. I’ve been in the Institutional Research (IR) area for about three years and love it.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
I was a peer tutor in college and learned a lot about helping people gain confidence in their writing abilities. Too often, peer tutoring can be a place where a student takes a paper in, the tutor destroys it with red ink, and the student goes back to make changes. I was lucky to have a tutoring director who helped us understand our job was to teach people to become confident in their writing. As a supervisor, my job is to help my employees gain confidence in their skills and abilities.
I also spent a good five years writing internal policies and procedures for my financial aid/bursar office. This helped me hone my skills of balancing policy language with practicality for implementation. I wish I could say I mastered the skill but it really is an art. If I had to go back and do it again, I’d cut out 50% of the words. Less is always more.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
The narrative pre-recession (2008) was much different. There wasn’t this intense focus on immediate outcomes and the return on investment of a college degree being measured by your first paycheck. I had to graduate in three-and-a-half years due to finances so I was more worried about graduating in college than I was about what would happen afterwards. I think my jobs in the admissions office and in the writing center helped tremendously when I started applying for jobs, but when I started out I was applying for administrative assistant positions. I had no idea how to brand my skills or even what English majors did (aside from going to grad school).
I did, however, take my studies very seriously. I tried to stretch myself on assignments, took risks, and put a lot of effort into coming to class prepared. It’s paid off in the long-run as I feel more comfortable now taking risks and stretching myself in my professional work. My professors were always challenging me and along the way I learned how to challenge myself. This has been one of my biggest assets as a professional. A challenge is an opportunity in disguise. I’ve been successful because I don’t shy away from a challenge and can instill confidence in others that it's a worthwhile endeavor.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Find a practical niche in your studies like taking one or two courses on technical writing, grant writing, copy editing, writing in healthcare, etc.
Volunteer your writing skills out to a local non-profit or charity. You’ll learn something about a specific industry (including their lingo) and how to translate your skills into something outside of academia.
Read. Never underestimate the power of being well-read.