“Be flexible.  Be versatile.”

“Just say yes.”

“Get involved.”

“Know that there are lots of different paths:  ask yourself, where do I see myself?”

These pieces of advice, and so much more, were on offer from two Widener English alums:  Ashley Babcock, Director of the Writing Center at Montgomery College, and Emma Ricciardi, a final-year grad student in Library Science at Rutgers and a former intern at the Library Company of Philadelphia.  Ashley and Emma took time from their busy schedules to visit campus last week and share stories about and strategies for building a career with an English major.

What skills from that English major did these successful alums highlight?  They include:

  • editing
  • critical thinking and analytical skills
  • independent thinking
  • managing information
  • being able to read people and situations
  • writing
  • being able to defend ideas
  • listening well to others

Ashley began by tracing her path from English and Creative Writing major to full-time faculty member at the Art Institute in Washington, DC, to a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership, to a position combining faculty work and administration.  A major theme that emerged from her story was the importance of saying yes to opportunities that allow for the demonstration of flexibility, initiative, and drive.  She also highlighted the need to balance setting clear goals with being willing to change course and follow the unexpected.  Her current work in qualitative education research allows her to draw on her background as an English major especially in the use of narrative inquiry, and she is envisioning developing a new phase of her career publishing that research and teaching courses in higher ed leadership.

Emma described knowing from early on what she wanted to do:  develop a career as an archivist by gathering up as much different experience in the field as possible.  Key ideas from Emma’s story included being versatile, and seeking out experiences and opportunities that let you develop that versatility.  She suggests using every chance you can to train yourself to do and make new things, to show that you are both trainable and that you don’t need to be trained.  Emma made the excellent point that employers don’t want you to be able to do just one thing, and being able to learn new things quickly is the best quality a new member of the career force can have.

Both women highlighted the necessity of knowing all kinds of technology and tools:  social media, blogging, Excel (ESPECIALLY Excel!).  Both women stressed the importance of extracurricular involvement, even in interests outside the major:  these activities provide the chance to develop “soft skills” and expose you to a wide range of other enriching experiences that make you interesting and can lead to unforeseen opportunities.  They also give you a chance to be a leader.

And both women said majoring in English was invaluable for finding a job:  it is basically the universal sign to any employer that you can write, read, and think.  All in all, it was wonderful to see the success these alums have found after graduation, and we were grateful to them for sharing their wisdom.

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