“Transforming the World with Words:” Sigma Tau Delta International English Honors Society at Purdue

High-achieving English majors at Purdue have the chance to join Sigma Tau Delta, an International English Honor Society and member of the Association of College Honors Societies, first founded in 1924. With a mission to distinguish high achievement and uphold academic excellence among English students, as well as to “promote interest in English language and literature,” Sigma Tau Delta has over “900 active chapters in the United States and abroad, with approximately 9,000 new members inducted annually.” Sigma Tau Delta seeks to “transform the world with words,” and does so through annual academic conventions and its published journals, The Sigma Tau Delta Review (for literary criticism and critical writing), and The Rectangle (for creative writing), as well as through scholarships and grants (“About Us”). With an active chapter here at Purdue formed in 1979, Sigma Tau Delta gives our members networking opportunities, all while highlighting their academic achievements for future professional experience.

Membership in Sigma Tau Delta comes with many benefits, beginning with the chance to share one’s writing through both regional conferences and international conventions. Student presentations are a main event during these conventions; active student members of Sigma Tau Delta can submit creative work and critical essays to a panel of judges for the chance to present in front of other members of the Society. Additionally, Sigma Tau Delta holds multiple regional conferences where students can submit work and present, if accepted. Many of these students have continued on to submit to larger conventions after their presentation at regional conferences. According to Dr. Jennifer Bay, the Faculty Advisor for Purdue’s Chapter of Sigma Tau Delta and a judge on the evaluation panel for regional conference submissions for the past two years, this is something she has seen often. Dr. Bay describes these smaller platforms as “springboards” for presentations at larger venues, giving students the confidence to present their work to larger audiences.

Sigma Tau Delta also gives members funding and internship opportunities beyond the scope of what is available here at Purdue, with 24 different scholarships, awards, and grants valued at up to $6000 each. There are scholarships for juniors, seniors, and graduate students, as well as for those studying abroad or attending a summer symposium. In fact, Sigma Tau Delta gives out monetary awards not only to students, but also to advisors and entire chapters, congratulating those who have furthered Sigma Tau Delta’s vision through service and student leadership. Other awards include grants for alumni in the classroom, undergraduate and graduate members in need of research funds, and papers presented at conferences. Sigma Tau Delta also offers internship opportunities, such as social media and content writing for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), editing Sigma Tau Delta’s journal publications, or even being a part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Past internships also have included prestigious opportunities with Penguin Random House Publishing in New York City, an internship one of Purdue’s own students was a finalist for. All of these internships are accompanied by stipends, supporting students accepting low or non-paying internships. With a myriad of possible awards and experiences, Sigma Tau Delta seeks to support its members in all their academic endeavors (“Scholarships Overview”).

Purdue’s chapter accepts applications at the end of every year and is working on expanding through further student outreach. Dr. Jennifer Bay spoke on how she streamlined the application process to achieve this goal through moving it entirely online, making it easier for student outreach, application, and acceptance. Along with the prestigious internships one can only apply to as a member, Dr. Bay also mentioned funding for travel to attend conferences, something that may not be as commonly offered here at Purdue. She said, “Even when you’re a master’s student, you can still apply for Sigma Tau Delta grants. It’s going to be expected of you to go to conferences, so you’ll need the grants.” It is these lifetime opportunities that make Sigma Tau Delta a worthy investment, one that more and more Purdue English students are taking advantage of. Last year, Sigma Tau Delta had more students join than in previous years. With an induction ceremony for the new inductees, we were able to network with other Sigma Tau Delta members, as well as with English students and faculty. My experience with Sigma Tau Delta has highlighted this aspect of networking; although, as an honors society, we do not have many meetings, it has still allowed me to meet others with similar interests and will allow me to do so again in the future through other networking events here on Purdue’s campus. When discussing Purdue’s chapter with Dr. Bay, she emphasized how we are “building momentum.” With more students joining each year, Purdue’s chapter will continue to grow, and further the academic excellence of Purdue’s English department, its students, and the University itself.


“About Us.” Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society, www.english.org/about/index.shtml.

“Scholarship Overview.” Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society, www.english.org/about/history.shtml.

Fayth Schutter is double majoring in Professional Writing and Mass Communication at Purdue University.



Online Accessibility and the 2020 Big Read’s Transition to a Virtual Platform

This year’s Big Read, like many past years’ programs, has been highly anticipated by both Purdue students and residents within the Greater Lafayette community. Offering the opportunity for readers to bond over literature with a large group of other people, the Big Read creates a town-wide book club, formed through the love of literature. Past Big Reads have given Purdue students, affiliates, and supporters—myself included—the chance to discuss award-winning novels not only with friends, but also with the author themselves; it is no wonder, then, that the Big Read is awaited annually. This year, however, the program is different. With the outbreak of Covid-19, Purdue itself has had to change the way it functions to protect its students and staff, and all events on campus have had to change with it. This year’s Big Read is unlike any we have previously seen, with the whole campaign going entirely virtual, increasing its accessibility. Although there is a disconnect due to a lack of in-person contact, this year’s Big Read is opening up possibilities for future years and changing how we think about the event at its very core.

As the summer started after a chaotic end of spring semester, one thing was clear: the Big Read was going to need to be online. With this being her first year as assistant director of the Big Read, Erika Gotfredson has had to consider the give and take of an entirely virtual campaign and use this knowledge while planning each event. The virtual platform of this year’s Big Read has allowed Erika to broaden her technological skills and reconsider the concept of accessibility within the Big Read. With more engagement in events due to the all-online platform—allowing audience members to participate from the comfort of their own home, on their own time—each event has become more accessible. Those previously unable to attend events due to prior engagements, personal restrictions, or distance can access most of these events long past the time they are posted, from anywhere in the world. With lectures on certain aspects of the book, such as the Russian/Slavic fairy tale elements, as well as recorded panel discussions, events that were once one-time-only opportunities have become evergreen tools for better understanding the novel. Some of these events are recorded through the likes of Zoom, while others are posted as podcasts or require present participation, like during the Kahoot Fairy Tale trivia night. Through different forms of media, the Big Read can reach out to wider audiences and create events that engage different types of participants.

Increased accessibility has changed the way the audience interacts with the content during events as well. In past years, many of the Big Read events have opened the floor to general book discussions for those in attendance. This year, however, has allowed the organizers to focus on the themes of this year’s novel, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. Each recent event has intentionally thought about the novel in different contexts, from the fairy tale aspects found within it, to its representation of the Jewish diaspora and feminist elements. As Erika says, “the audience is now thinking about the book in different ways that work together to benefit the understanding of the meaning of the book.” This sharing of the layers of literature is in line with the purpose of the Big Read. Having it entirely online furthers the program’s stated goal of helping participants “slow down and make time for fiction and poetry” in a “fast-paced digital world” (English@Purdue), proving that it is possible to merge digital culture with the joys of reading. Reading is escapism, especially when it comes to Spinning Silver; according to Erika, it “provides distance as it allows us to think through important questions,” such as the effects of anti-Semitism and gender norms.

Although there are clearly many benefits that go with the move to an all-online format, there are, of course, tradeoffs. There is something to be said for meeting in-person to discuss literature. Although a virtual format is accessible, there still remains an inherent level of distance. In past years, being able to meet and directly ask questions of a talented writer in the same room as you was a leveling experience—the author of a critically acclaimed book became less of a symbol to those in the room, and more of a person. However, with events all online, this leveling proximity is harder to achieve. Additionally, there is more room to hide in the shadows of online anonymity and also a risk that the audience will participate less actively in the events.

When discussing the Purdue Writing Lab’s involvement in the Big Read with Elizabeth Geib, the Assistant Director of Writing Across the Curriculum and Workshops, I mentioned this instinct to hide while online; face-to-face interaction seems to me to hold more draw for active participation. In directing the Writing Lab’s online module, therefore, Elizabeth asked us to consider ways to compensate. As a tutor at the Writing Lab, I have been working on a series of videos for the Big Read about “Writing Fairy Tales,” and have considered the merits of using voiceover for these tutorials, rather than a video of myself and my fellow tutors. Voiceovers may allow audience members to focus on the information being shared and how they may use it, rather than the faces of those speaking. With our own more passive engagement with the audience, we are leaving room for those watching these modules to prioritize their own creativity, cultivating a space where our anonymity as Writing Lab tutors gives way to more confidence and active participation in writing from those watching. Additionally, these tradeoffs to a virtual platform lead us to consider constant improvement with current and future online events. As Elizabeth says, “we are working on the things we can control and continue to ask questions about things we can’t control while working on finding other means [to reach out to our target audiences].”

We continue to test these boundaries through each new Big Read event. Moving to a virtual format allows us to vary the type of media we use, encouraging different modes of engagement. Some events allow for passive participation, while others, such as the Fairy Tale trivia night or the Enchanted live watch party on Twitter, allow for real-time interaction. For the trivia night and the Twitter watch party, undergraduate and graduate students from Purdue, as well as local high schoolers, interacted with one another online. These two events were casual and informal, allowing participants to tweet their genuine responses to scenes from the movie Enchanted, or to test their knowledge of fairy tales while competing for prizes via Kahoot, a game-based learning platform and online quiz app. This year’s virtual format is creating new possibilities for community-building. A larger variety of events, such as the Fairy Tale writing module or the book discussion podcasts, have been made possible due to the fresh start an online format provides. Although we are used to bonding over literature in-person, this year’s challenge is to discover how to do so virtually. With the accessibility of online events, we are discovering new ways to connect through books, and new technologies to deliver future Big Reads.

“English@Purdue: The Big Read.” EnglishPurdue The Big Read, cla.purdue.edu/english/thebigread/purduebigread/.

Fayth Schutter is double majoring in Professional Writing and Mass Communication at Purdue University.

Rumpelstiltskin Reimagined: A Review of Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver

Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver loosely follows the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin, reimagining the story of a young woman who (with the help of an otherworldly creature) spins straw into gold. However, while the source material clearly shines through the text and tugs on readers’ nostalgia for the Grimm brothers’ folktale, this tale offers a vastly different world, crafted in juxtaposition to the fantastical and utopian perception of fairy tale worlds. Miryem, this tale’s main protagonist, lives in a world of strife. She is an outsider in her own village, set apart and othered for her status as the local Jewish moneylender’s daughter. Immediately, then, Miryem flips the familiar story on its head, exploring the antisemitism within the European folklore tradition.

“The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard…Because that’s what the story is really about: getting out of paying your debts” (3).

A multi-perspective narrative, Spinning Silver primarily varies between Miryem, the moneylender’s daughter turned icily merciless moneylender herself; Wanda, a young woman whose father signed her away to work for Miryem’s family in recompence for his debts; and Irina, a duke’s daughter made enchantingly beautiful with adornments of magical Staryk gold. These three young women hold different worldviews, based on their disparate life experiences and social standing. However, each narrator’s perspective occurs in first person, thus assigning a stronger sense of agency and autonomy to these characters than a third person narrative would allow for, as well as connecting the reader more closely to the thoughts and actions of the protagonists.

Miryem performs the role of coldhearted moneylender, taking over from her father who could not achieve the same emotional detachment when collecting from the townsfolk. While Miryem’s cold mannerisms might put the reader off at first, the tale appeals to her family’s dire social and financial circumstances, as well as to her father’s empathy and his reluctance to collect debts given his family’s precarious position in the community. The townsfolk refuse to pay off their debts despite having ample wealth and demonize the moneylender due to his job as well as his Jewish heritage. Miryem recognizes the stereotypes—Jewish people as merciless and greedy, solely focused on their own self-interests—that the villagers place on her family. It is only after her mother’s grave illness that she decides to take an active role in the business, reclaiming the debts owed to them. Soon, as her mother’s health and the family’s living conditions improve, Miryem boasts of her near-magical ability to turn silver to gold, or, in other words, maneuvering herself from poverty to prosperity.

Beyond exploring the anti-Semitism Miryem faces, and her decision to reclaim her agency despite the village’s perceptions, Novik’s reimagining of fairy tales tropes allows for a more nuanced understanding of the various other social hierarchies and ideology that governs this world. Through Wanda’s peasant perspective, for example, Novik defamiliarizes these governing structures, likening them to magic. When Miryem teaches Wanda how to collect, count, and record money, an economic necessity to raise oneself out of poverty, Wanda adamantly thinks “she spoke as if it was ordinary, but I knew she was teaching me magic” (44). This process of rendering remarkably unfamiliar activities that readers likely take for granted allows the text to explore the nature of these ideologies that so often go unquestioned. By linguistically distorting and thereby estranging the reader from these practices, the text enables new perspectives on these social conventions. As Wanda learns to navigate her culture’s structures of power and privilege, readers can rediscover the power within their own simple acts of literacy and view them with the same wonder that she does. In this way, Novik heightens our awareness of truths ingrained within our own perception of the world.

Without giving away too much of the story, I want to emphasize how incredible this book is in terms of worldbuilding, plot, character development, and its connection to contemporary social and political issues (the novel was published in 2018). Spinning Silver has received much acclaim, having won the 2019 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and having been nominated for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel. This fractured fairy tale seeks to subvert the anti-Semitic stereotypes omnipresent throughout the text’s world as well as our own, and makes use of cleverly reimagined fairy tale tropes, like the significance of promises with Fae creatures and the implication of naming. The text emphasizes ambiguity, rupturing binary thinking about moral right and wrong, allowing for nuanced layers behind each character’s actions and their underlying intentions. For example, as I mentioned above, Miryem only assumes the coldhearted moneylender persona to save her family. Due to the alienation that her family felt at the hands of their community, she, and the reader, become increasingly confident and aware that, despite her initial façade of mercilessness, Miryem protects those towards whom she holds affection and affinity. As she later states, “I didn’t have a country to do it for. I only had people” (377).

“All of a sudden everyone around you was the same as each other but not like you. And then I thought, but it was like that for Miryem already. It was like that for her all the time, in town” (303).

Whittled down to its core, Spinning Silver calls for young people marginalized in society to exercise their own agency and autonomy wherever possible. Like this beautifully intricate fairy tale world, our own world is deeply flawed. Although we may feel powerless, Novik calls us to act anyway, like Wanda who “had not known that [she] was strong enough to do any of those things until they were over and [she] had done them. [She] had to do the work first, not knowing” (381).

Content warning: domestic abuse and antisemitism

Other Recommendations
This genre of fairy tale retellings has become quite popular, especially within Young Adult literature. While working to achieve different ends, and with vastly different worlds and characters, here is a brief collection of my recommendations to check out if you enjoyed Spinning Silver: A.G. Howard’s Splintered; Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark & Grimm­ series;

Gail Carson Levine’s Fairest; Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles; and Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles ­­series.

Ally Geoffray is a senior in English Literature and Professional Writing in the English Dept. at Purdue.

“Why You Read in the First Place:” A Review of Anne Bogel’s I’d Rather be Reading

Many of us have a love for reading. Whether or not we are fans of lengthy fiction novels, or short magazine articles in the likes of People, reading comes naturally to us, as either a hobby or something more—something we can build our life around. This is the way of the “reading life,” which author and blogger Anne Bogel knows well. She describes the “delights and dilemmas” of such a life in her essay collection I’d Rather be Reading (2018). As the creator of the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy and the podcast What Should I Read Next?, Bogel is an avid reader, with much to say about what to read and how to relish it. Her anecdotes and advice in I’d Rather be Reading are relatable to just about anyone who has ever listed reading as one of their favorite past times.

As someone who actively makes book lists for her followers, Bogel begins with one of the questions she is asked most often: “Can you recommend me a good book?” (11). It is both a simple and an incredibly difficult question. Good is subjective; what is a good book to one person may not be to another. When looking for a good book, we often want one that makes us feel, a book that enraptures us, if just for a few hours. Recommending such a book, however, is not easy. As Bogel says, “To hand you a great book, I don’t just need to know about books; I need to know you” (13). This theme runs through many of her anecdotes; “reading is personal” (14), and the books we read shape who we are. Living vicariously through the characters within them helps broaden our emotional horizons and prepares us for the future. We laugh and cry with these characters. The meaning and value they hold in our lives is irreplaceable. These books even change with us: “A good book when we return to it, will always have something new to say. It’s not the same book, and we’re not the same reader” (123). It is difficult, then, when we are asked to recommend a good book; we give these books meaning, and it is one of the best parts of reading.

The reading life, however, differs depending on the person, something Bogel validates through her assertion that there is no one right way to read.         It is often, she says, that people come to her to “confess their literary sins,” focusing on the differences between what they think their reading life should be, and what it is like (18). However, she makes a case against the word should: “Should is tangled up with guilt, frustration, and regret; we use it all the time, many of us to speak of the ways we wish we could be more, do more, or just be different” (62). She describes the word should as “bossy” (63) and “dangerous” (62). Should, in this case, attempts to get every reader to adhere to one way of reading, a singular way that does not exist. In literary spheres, it is commonly thought that, if one has not read what academia would identify as “the classics,” then one should be ashamed. I’d Rather be Reading, on the other hand, focuses on the subjectivity of the reading life. Bogel discusses the validity of those readers who barely read, those who only read the likes of Young Adult fiction, and those who do indeed love the “classics.” In reality, any book could be a “classic,” depending on who is discussing it.

Although reading can be quite personal, there is a social side to it as well. Bogel describes this dichotomy as such: “Reading is often viewed as a solitary act; that’s one of the reasons I love it, and it’s certainly my favorite escape and introvert coping strategy of choice. But reading is also a social act: readers love to connect over good books” (138). In fact, readers tend to create their own social spheres through the like of book clubs, where it is possible to befriend others with similar taste when it comes to reading. Such friends can eventually become “book twins” (111)—those who tend to enjoy the same books as you. These “twins” are good sources for book recommendations and discussion, and this sort of serendipity exists as a main facet of the social side of reading. Although reading may be personal and sharing your favorite books may be daunting, it is this same intimacy that helps create the social realm for readers. As Bogel says, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained—and I’ve found talking about books to be a reliable shortcut to getting to the good stuff with our fellow readers, to cutting to the heart of what matters” (138-39). Sharing the personal when it comes to books can increase your fellow reader friends, fand help you forge bonds through the power of books.

Although I’d Rather be Reading is an amalgamation of stories surrounding Bogel’s experiences as a reader, I’m sure that the stories found within it will connect with many people’s experiences. This book reminded me of how reading helped me make my closest friends back in middle school when all we wanted to do was talk about our favorite reads. It reminded me that it is not a problem that I have not read all the classics, or that I had a Twilight phase as a child—these are just the readers I have been, and there is no shame when it comes to the reading lives I have lived. Reading has let me live “thousands” of lives (51), and I’d Rather be Reading let me relive some of these experiences. As “a book that reminds you why you read in the first place,” (12), I’d Rather be Reading moved me out of my reading slump and made me want to pick up the next book on my to-read list, an experience I’d Rather be Reading looks to give to readers of all kinds.

Fayth Schutter is double majoring in Professional Writing and Mass Communication at Purdue University.

Joining the Student English Association

The Student English Association (SEA) is one of Purdue University’s nearly 1,000 student clubs and organizations. As Purdue’s Admissions website indicates, “One of the great advantages of a large university is the diversity of student activities. And participating in student organizations is one of the many ways you’ll be able to make your Purdue experience your own — by finding your niche among students with similar interests or goals.”

Dedicated to undergraduate students with a love of English literature, SEA welcomes all Purdue majors, providing them with opportunities to share their interests and passions. It also lets them collaborate to produce Purdue’s only undergraduate literary magazine, The Bell Tower, which is affiliated with the English Department and has been published yearly since 1995.

Brooke Dudzinski, an English Education major and former secretary (2017-2018) and treasurer (2018-2019) for this organization, breaks down the responsibilities of the Student English Association and tells us why English majors, in particular, should consider joining it.

Why should students consider joining the SEA?

Students should join the club because it offers Language Arts-loving students a chance to share their passion for reading and writing, a task that can be difficult to do on a STEM- focused campus. The club is always re-inventing itself and looking for people to fulfill leadership positions (a great resume builder!). Also, working on The Bell Tower is an extremely rewarding process. It is difficult and time-consuming during some periods of the year, but, worth it in the end. Working as a staff member on the magazine also makes for a great resume line.

When I was a part of the club, decisions were very democratic. Everyone’s opinion was taken into consideration. Feel free to speak your mind. The officers often wait on planning an event or a making a Bell Tower choice until it is clear all members will feel confident about it.

If you are curious, search for the club on Instagram (see our handle: @purdue_sea) to see announcements for past or future events.

What is The Bell Tower?

The Bell Tower is Purdue’s only undergraduate literary magazine. SEA publishes it at the end of each spring semester. The Bell Tower has essays, short stories, poems, and photography. In the past, it included winning entries from the English Department’s Literary Awards contest (held each April).

Everything in the magazine gets chosen through a selection process that eliminates or accepts pieces based on a set of criteria. The competition for pieces to be submitted typically gets announced through flyers at the start of winter.

All undergraduate students registered for an academic term at Purdue are welcome to submit their work to the magazine. The general reading period, during which the SEA reads and selects original pieces of poetry and fiction, occurs between the late fall and early winter, but the club edits and works on the magazine throughout the spring semester.

What does a typical SEA meeting look like?

Usually, there are two types of meetings, all of which typically occur on Thursday evenings.

During the first type, the club meets in a room in Heavilon or Beering (wherever is available and can house the amount of people we have signed up for the year). Either the club discusses and works on The Bell Tower, or it does other literary-themed activities, like black-out poetry or a discussion relating to our favorite quotes or authors.

Recently, SEA hosted an undergraduate internship panel, with student interns from the Purdue Writing Lab, The Exponent, and the English Department blog discussing their workplace experiences.

During the second type of meeting, club members attend the English Department’s “Visiting Writer Reading Series.” The series occurs on campus in Krannert. Free and open to the public, these events incorporate and highlight a visiting author, allowing them to read some of their work, answer questions, and even sign copies of their books for attendees. I actually discovered one of my new favorite authors, Kaveh Akbar, while attending the reading series and got a signed copy of his book.

The club has traveled off campus to attend book readings at Second Flight Books, a local independent bookstore. (You can check it out at: secondflightbooks.com).

Do you have any advice for students considering joining this organization?

As a senior, and as someone who knows a lot of other seniors studying English with similar experiences, I sometimes feel reader burnout. If you told me that four years ago, I would have been baffled, saying that I would never experience anything like this because I love reading so much and can finish a novel in a few hours. However, it is okay if you start to feel burnout when it comes to reading. That does not mean something is wrong with you or your passion is fake. College demands a lot of academic reading.

Regardless, you should nourish your passion. Take care of it when you can. Reflect and learn when you need to add recreational reading to your life and when you should temporarily eliminate it so you can better focus the next time you pick up a wonderful piece of literature.

If you do find yourself itching for a good book in the near future, here are a couple recommendations: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich.

Ally Geoffray is a junior majoring in English Literature and Professional Writing at Purdue.

Writing, Editing, and Publishing with The Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research (JPUR)

Undergraduate research at Purdue helps students become published writers. The mission of the Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research (JPUR), in particular, is to showcase undergraduate research happening on campus. “It’s really part and parcel of the educational mission of the University,” says Professor Kristina Bross, an English Department faculty member who as been a part of the Journal’s advisory board for many years. “It’s designed to help you all take the cool work that you are doing and bring it to the world.”

JPUR is an open-access journal run by Purdue students that publishes about 2,000 faculty-mentored research projects each year with the help of the Purdue University Press, Purdue University Libraries, Purdue Marketing and Media, and the English Department’s own Writing Lab. Since it is open-access, one of the Journal’s best features is that it does not charge institutions or the public for its use; readers can read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of JPUR’s online and print articles for free. The Office of the Provost sponsors the publication.

Whether you are interested in getting published or joining the editorial board, you’re probably wondering about the process that articles go through. Professor Bross says that the Journal’s process is much shorter than other journal proposals and it is designed to help students come to publication quickly. JPUR doesn’t just look for the person whose piece is already polished and ready for publishing; they also appreciate the developmental nature of research.

When a student submits an abstract, the abstract goes through a blind review. The writer of the abstract does not know who is doing the review and the editorial board does not know who wrote the abstract. The editorial board often makes suggestions for strengthening the work and sometimes, when they do say no to a piece, they ask the writer to revise and resubmit it. The review process has two tiers. The first tier is when the proposal is sent out to a subject specialist and that specialist tells the board if it is good work. The question asked is, “Will this have an audience that seems like a good fit for the Journal?” Then, the editorial board will look at the abstract and advisory board members like Prof. Bross will make a final assessment about what to do.

As of now, not as many English students submit to the Journal compared to those in other disciplines, but Professor Bross believes that English majors have offered some of the most accessible articles. “The interesting thing about JPUR is that it came out of a project promoted by the faculty on the more STEM end of things,” says Bross, “Then, under the previous director of the Press, they wanted to make it open to all disciplines…. I think it has been successful because it’s a general audience journal.”

“Get involved on the editorial board, absolutely, but our students should also be proposing,” she adds. “You get a great experience of taking a project that you’ve worked on and really pushing yourself to polish it, finish it, and make it with a real audience in mind that’s really going to read it.” In other words, the Journal distributes your work broadly beyond class where the general public can access it. Publication looks great on a resume regardless of career interest. It can also be a stepping-stone to other kinds of publications.

JPUR is also open to English majors interested in serving on its student editorial board. “There’s nothing that helps you refine your own practice more than looking at examples by so many others and trying to help them refine and sharpen their work,” Professor Bross says. The editorial board is involved in both making constructive comments and the publication decision process. Students are given the opportunity to gain experience in formal reviews of interdisciplinary writing. Being on the editorial board is a reciprocal experience; you bring your expertise to help others but you also can reflect on our own work, helping you to improve your own writing over the long term.

One such student is Eliza Van, a senior in English Literature who was the journal’s coordinator from August 2017 until August 2019. “The experience of working with JPUR isn’t just a resume-booster. It really helps you become a better writer, reader, and well-rounded English major,” Van says. “Being on the other side of the submission process, helping authors develop their articles was a great opportunity to learn how to match [readers’] expectations in writing and use the knowledge I had from English classes.” English majors, in particular, have the opportunity to take 400-level literature capstone courses, out of which great research essays for the Journal could come. “I’d encourage students in 400-level courses … [to] polish up and propose” something, she says.

As Journal Coordinator, Van’s duties varied, but her primary job was to oversee the journal’s operations. She was responsible for a long list of tasks: recruiting, leading, and training the student editorial board; mailing journals across campus and the country; managing emails and social media accounts; communicating with potential and accepted student authors; and accumulating faculty reviews for each submission. Basically, Van got experience in a little bit of everything, and then, in her second year, JPUR hired a marketing coordinator who took over distribution and the social media accounts. “Coordinating an entire volume of a full-length academic journal is hard work, but the satisfaction at the finish is unbeatable,” she says. Not many college students can say they had these many responsibilities in a position.

In short, JPUR leaves room for students to use their talents in a professional space, while also working on new skills. “No matter what your background is, you will encounter research from fields you didn’t know existed,” Van says, “It is enlightening and challenges you to get outside of your comfort zone and learn as you go.”


Libby Joson is a sophomore majoring in Professional Writing at Purdue University.

(Soon-to-be) Alumna Spotlight: Manuela Gonzalez Y Gonzalez

Hello, my name is Manuela Gonzalez Y Gonzalez and I am a graduating senior studying English Literature at Purdue. My journey has not been a linear one; I have had many majors prior to selecting English as my final destination, but I am fortunate to say that I am graduating with a full-time position lined up at Microsoft.

What was your path to and through the English major?

I always loved literature growing up, but I was really confused about what I wanted to major in when I got to college. Somehow, I ended up choosing Biomedical Science as my first major. One science major led to another and another. While taking the classes for one of these majors, which was Physics at the time, I decided to take a course for fun called “Great American Books.” It changed my whole perspective on English.

The class helped me realize that, sometimes, it’s okay to follow your passion. That semester, I decided I was done with science. I have always loved reading, talking about books, and asking big questions; the English major aligned perfectly with these interests.

By the time I became a junior, I decided that I wanted to see what I could do outside of college. I did not want to go to graduate school. I also did not want to be a teacher. One day, I decided to look at Microsoft, because I always loved technology. As I was looking into their internships, I found a position called “Programming and Technical Writers” and I decided to apply.

What was the application and interview process like for your internship at Microsoft?

The week after I applied online, Microsoft emailed me for a phone interview. They wanted to learn about my passions, why I was studying English Literature, what kind of writing I was doing, and if I liked creative writing. They also let me know that the position that I was interviewing for was actually not as a technical writer; they were looking for a content publisher intern, which basically means writing all kinds of stuff for Microsoft.

A week after our phone conversation, Microsoft asked if I was interested in flying to Seattle and doing an on-sight interview. They emailed me on Monday, and I flew out on Wednesday.

My interview was from 8am to 5pm. In the morning, I had to do an hour-long presentation about myself. They asked me for a portfolio of my writing, and they wanted me to talk in-depth about three of these samples. Then, I had lunch with the recruiters and, after that, I had three back-to-back interviews. Every interview was so different. In one of them, I talked about my passions the whole time. They wanted to know who I was outside of school and work. I found it interesting that they were really trying to get to know me. My second interview was full of mind-trick questions. There were a lot of extremely weird hypothetical situations proposed. My third interview involved brainstorming, talking about features from my favorite technologies.

What was your day-to-day routine like while you were at this internship?

My job was divided into three main tasks: working with marketing, writing, and program managing. I had to balance all of them, but every day was different. One day may be full of meetings where my team was trying to solve a problem or decide on specifics for a product. The next day, I might be writing the whole time. I also had to compromise a lot because I was working on a team. Everyone needed to be involved and everyone’s ideas needed to be heard. Just knowing that it was a safe environment to do this was amazing.

My team never had an intern before so I was like the guinea pig for them, which was actually good because, instead of treating me like an intern, they treated me like an actual employee. The expectations were the same. They gave me authority and freedom. By the time the other interns got there, I was someone they could come to if they didn’t know what was going on.

By the end of week 12, which was my last week, I had a finished prototype. I was really excited but scared at the same time because I had to present to my manager and my manager’s manager and the manager of my manager’s manager. They were all watching my presentation for this product. I truly felt like it was a great end for my internship. And, from there, Microsoft decided that they wanted me to come back as a full-time employee after graduation.

Is there anything that you learned through your internship that you want to share with other English majors?

One of the most important things that I learned is that there is a place and a need in the tech industry for liberal arts majors. Really, it was incredible seeing 1,200 people all from liberal arts backgrounds at Microsoft working together to advocate for tech. In the past, this was not that common, as companies tended to believe that their products would speak for themselves. Now there is a shift where companies are recognizing a need to have a voice for their brands—a bridge between the engineers and the customers. That’s what we do as English majors; we tell stories. Companies need that. Otherwise they don’t survive.

We are the voice of the company. What we write, everybody reads. Learning this was empowering for me. I really wish more liberal arts students would realize that, if they are passionate about technology, there is a place for them in the industry. I hope that, with my experience, I can shine light on opportunities for Purdue students. I want people to understand the prospects an English major can have after graduation. I want them to realize that we have valuable skills that can be applied to any field.

I encourage students to do internships. I feel that getting real world experience can make all the difference. Don’t be scared to apply to things. I never thought I would get this opportunity, but I did. Don’t be discouraged. Just keep trying.

Ally Geoffray is a Junior in English Literature and Professional Writing at Purdue.

Station Eleven: “Survival is Insufficient”

Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven begins with a modern world much like our own, filled with celebrities, paparazzi, and child actors as well as normal people just struggling to determine their place in life, hopping from one lackluster job to the next, until finally achieving an idea of what fulfillment might look like. But suddenly the familiar, handheld smartphones and the nightly theatrical performances of King Lear fall silent as a devastating outbreak of what the novel calls “Georgia flu” decimates the global population. Tracing the resulting chaos, and following a revolving set of characters, Station Eleven depicts groups of Midwestern residents (locals as well as those stranded in the aftermath of the pandemic) in their attempts to come to terms with what it has lost, figure out how to rebuild, and recover a sense of normalcy.

In Station Eleven, St. John Mandel depicts a post-apocalyptic world unlike many of her predecessors’ in that she focuses on a divide between before and after: how adults cope in comparison to their children, how the memories that only a few retain begin to slowly fade, how quickly any sense of normalcy disappears. And yet, it remains remarkably hopeful, with the Traveling Symphony’s (a small troupe of Shakespearean actors and musicians) tagline reminding the reader, “survival is insufficient” (119). Even in this ravaged world, art persists. The novel urges us to seek out beauty in the world. It exhorts us to not take modernity’s benefits, such as electricity or communication across oceans, for granted. For who’s to say that some pandemic won’t wipe away all trace of the technological wonders we forget to marvel at: “[N]o more internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken” (32). The novel’s lists poetically enumerate the familiar social exchanges rendered impossible in this dystopian future.

Frequent callbacks to the time before civilization’s collapse also provide relatable insights into our fractured relationship with the modern world. One such moment appears in a flashback scene between Arthur Leander, a famous stage actor, and Clark, one of his old friends. The two meet in a restaurant, large and dimly lit. Almost immediately, Clark notices the disconnect that had grown between himself and his friend. As they catch up, Clark notices the way Arthur expresses himself, repeating phrases from recent magazine profiles, broadly emphasizing his exploits through loose, animated gestures. He is struck by “the terrible gulf of years between eighteen and fifty,” as he recognizes that “Arthur wasn’t having dinner with a friend…so much as having dinner with an audience” (112). Through subtle scenes such as this, St. John Mandel navigates the blurry space between performance and reality, revealing what can happen to friendships in a celebrity-obsessed, digital culture mediated by omnipresent camera phones. St. John Mandel also critiques modern culture when, in another scene from Clark’s life before the apocalypse, he sees himself in colleague’s description of “high functioning sleepwalkers” who “‘think work is supposed to be drudgery punctuated by very occasional moments of happiness, but when I say happiness, I mostly mean distraction’” (163). Indeed, she questions the very nature of what we call happiness, leaving the answer ambiguous at best—up for audience interpretation and contemplation long after the 333 pages have been read.

Such open-ended questions only add to the intrigue of the novel, especially as the reader notices the delicate balance and meshing of high culture and pop culture references in the text. Kirsten, a pivotal character, performs Shakespeare as a member of the Traveling Symphony, and yet “‘her favorite line of text is from Star Trek’” (120). Kirsten was a child actress when the world collapsed She now travels along Lake Michigan, performing to audiences in rapture at entertainment recalling better days. In fact, the significance of art is a pervasive thread throughout the text; in the time after the pandemic, characters struggling to come to grips with all they have lost begin to memorialize artifacts in a “museum of civilization,” regardless of whether or not these remnants help with their survival. Instead of focusing on mere existence, then, the characters ponder what it means to be human, and wonder whether art and culture are essential to human identity. The Traveling Symphony, for instance, sometimes “thought that what they were doing was noble. There were moments around campfires when someone would say something invigorating about the importance of art, and everyone would find it easier to sleep that night,” but then the difficulties of collapsed civilization return, and “it seemed a difficult and dangerous way to survive and hardly worth it” (119). This grappling between nostalgia for a past world and embrace of a new order structures the novel, as its chapters move forward and back in time; still, its plot progression depicts characters’ reinvigorated attempts to retain that past while adapting to current necessities.

For fans of post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction, Station Eleven provides a fresh take on the genre. The diverse cast of characters the story develops and then intertwines allows readers to relate and empathize with a broad spectrum of experiences, regrets, and ideals. Kirsten is one such character, and, throughout the novel, she carries with her a reminder of the beauty of the past world: a scrap of paper, a scene from a comic called Station Eleven, the novel’s own namesake. Though she only holds one page of this fragmented text, it captures her own longing, its dialogue poignantly stating “‘we long only to go home…We dream of sunlight, we dream of walking on earth…We have been lost for so long…We long only for the world we were born into’” (302). Kirsten, like the rest of the characters, confronts her own legacy, the narrative telling us, “first we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered” (187). Throughout the novel, the lines between performance and life blur, but though these characters have been forced to trudge their way through a tarnished world, they retain their ability to find and create beauty independent of the catastrophic event that seeks to define them.

Ally Geoffray is a junior majoring in English Literature and Professional Writing at Purdue.


Purdue Exponent: An English Major’s Playground


The Exponent has been a significant news source at Purdue since 1889. It was originally a monthly magazine but became a daily in 1906. The Exponent remained in the Purdue Memorial Union’s basement from the 1930s to 1989, when it moved to its current location at 460 Northwestern Avenue, becoming the first college publication to construct a building from its own funding. Today, it is an independent newspaper, primarily run by students and published by the non-profit Purdue Student Publishing Foundation. The web magazine began in 1996 and the daily print changed to two days a week, Mondays and Thursdays, in 2017.


As both a business and an educational institution, the Exponent’s mission is to serve undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, and local residents. The newspaper has seven full-time professionals who work with its many student employees, and all student staff members receive stipends for their labor. Reporters and editors cover the campus, city, and sports news, alongside editors for copy, design, photos, and graphics. There is something for everyone at the Exponent. Its alumni have gone go on to be politicians, lawyers, professors, judges, advertisers, executives, journalists, and more. This student newspaper provides real experience and has produced Pulitzer Prize winners, as well as Emmy and Oscar winners.

Among the one hundred students employed by newspaper, English majors stand out. Below are just a few of them:


Alisa Reynya, a junior studying English literature, has been at the Exponent for about two and a half years. “I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything but English,” she says.

Alisa is the editor-in-chief, overseeing the newsroom that consists of campus, city, sports, photos, graphics, and copy desks. The students at the Exponent have complete creative control over the content. Alisa decides what stories and visuals will be front page, when to use or not to use a source’s name and information, and what areas of coverage editors and reporters focus on. Alisa’s leadership requires her to answer a lot of questions and make many final decisions, something that most college students do not get to experience.

As editor-in-chief, Alisa has moved on from reporting, but she has written a few editorials when the senior staff has taken stance on a pressing issue at Purdue or in the larger journalism community. For instance, Alisa wrote an editorial on behalf of the editorial board when Purdue announced, to much controversy, that it would be allowing a Chick-fil-A on campus in September 2019: https://www.purdueexponent.org/opinion/article_50a744e3-c585-5993-8eab-9a9fbcb01fbe.html

Alisa says that working for the newspaper has “taken me further out of my comfort zone than I ever imagined possible. I’ve learned to talk to complete strangers, make fast and strategic decisions, take risks, and experiment.” Even students who do not pursue a career in journalism, can learn a lot from their experience: “It teaches you to actively listen and ask detailed questions, to consolidate information, and to write quickly, concisely and accurately under a fast deadline.” Reporting for the Exponent looks great on your resume and it also gives you the chance to work with people who are really different from yourself. This is a significant advantage to possess going into a post-college workplace.


Jackie Le, a senior in English, is the campus editor of the Exponent. Jackie has been at the newspaper for a little more than a year, bridging reporters and upper staff members. Some of her duties include keeping track of reporters’ progress on stories and relaying that to the editor-in-chief. Jackie also provides edits and does reporting. Although she has less time to report stories, she averaged about two stories a week last year.

The Exponent has provided her with opportunities to talk to brilliant people, including the Apollo 11 flight director, Gene Kranz. Jackie met him when he visited Purdue and asked him questions during a media Q&A. “I wouldn’t really have the opportunity to do so otherwise,” she says. You can find Jackie’s article on the event here: https://www.purdueexponent.org/campus/article_aa9d353a-f440-11e9-981a-ef9935c0efe2.html

Basically, the Exponent provides credible journalism for a wide-reaching audience. “Everything we do is essentially what is done at any other print organization, and this is a good stepping-stone for students to get a taste of the ‘real world,’” says Jackie. “It’s a great place to build writing and social skills, and connect with the community all while having fun.” If you’re looking for something to make your resume stand out, the Exponent provides the kind of professional experience that English majors at many other colleges just can’t get.


Sophomore Julia Taylor, a double major in Professional Writing and Spanish, has been a copy editor at the Exponent for over a year. In her time at Purdue, she’s found that the English Department provides many beneficial career opportunities, including the chance to network at outlets such as the Exponent.

Julia’s duties include coming in once a week for print night to read over reporters’ articles, ensuring that they are without grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes. Julia also fact-checks the articles to confirm that the stories and the headlines are cohesive. Additionally, copy editors are required to come in once a week during the day to read over stories that will be published on the website and write staff reports on notable events and research. While Julia isn’t a reporter stories, some copyeditors are. Students are given the opportunity to do both, if they are interested.

“The Exponent has allowed me to gain experience in copyediting and understand the inner workings of a newspaper,” says Julia. “I’ve been able to meet like-minded people with interests similar to mine on a campus where students interested in English and Liberal Arts are sometimes hard to come by.”


Libby Joson is a sophomore majoring in Profession Writing at Purdue.                                         

Hurrying Slowly to My Future

In Letter Nine of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (2018), Maryanne Wolfe describes what it means to practice “festina lente,” which she translates as “to hurry slowly,” analogizing it to the development of “cognitive patience” (193). Festina lente embodies the cohabitation of digital technology and print reading in our world; we need to be able to quickly and efficiently assess information (a skill gained through technology use), but we also need to be able to slow down to perform deep analysis of information (a skill gained through deep reading). As I walk through Maryanne Wolfe’s ideas (she is a cognitive neuroscientist with a doctorate in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University), I find myself reflecting on how I became a reader (and English major) as well as using the concept of festina lente as a framework for my post-college job search.

Many of the letters in Reader, Come Home deal with how adults engage in deep reading; however, other letters are about how technology may be impacting (both positively and negatively) children’s ability to read deeply. Wolfe’s research on children learning to read leads me to reflect on how I became a reader at the dawn of the digital age. In Letter Five, “The Raising of Children in a Digital Age,” Wolfe cites a statistic from the 2015 RAND report, which states that children ages three to five spent an average of four hours per day on digital devices (108). I was unsettled by the RAND statistic and also surprised at how far our culture has shifted since I was a child. Part of my shock is probably because my parents were careful about digital technology use when I was growing up. My younger brother and I were not allowed to have video games, were granted limited computer time (which had to be matched with reading time), and were not allowed to have phones until we could drive. I bought my first smartphone when I graduated high school. However, just as my brother and I were raised by booklovers, so too did we both grow up to be avid readers.

Some of Wolfe’s research and hypothesizing even supports my parents’ luddite ways. In Letter Five, she describes how stimulation from screens triggers the short-term focus reward centers in the brain; stimulation at a constant rate floods young brains with hormones that reward short-term focus, leaving little room for children to develop the attention needed for long-term focus and deep reading (109). Later in the same letter, Wolfe cites several research studies that show how children’s reading comprehension is better when reading print books rather than reading on screens (116–117). She hypothesizes that reading comprehension is lower for on-screen reading because the constant scrolling tricks the brain into processing what is read on a screen like a film—the brain becomes too overwhelmed with information to accurately process and remember everything (118).

With these thoughts in mind, I recently saw a commercial for Google Nest Mini (a Google Home device) proudly proclaiming that the Nest Mini could “entertain the whole family with new stories from Disney’s Frozen 2.” Similarly, Google Home Mini, in concert with Disney’s Little Golden Books, will play sound effects that go along with certain golden book stories when read aloud. The lack of reading comprehension Wolfe warns against is exemplified in smart home devices that could inhibit children’s reading comprehension if relied on too heavily. Kids might love the visual and aural gimmicks, but they may be unable to retain plot and character information crucial for triggering other important parts of deep reading, such as empathy and perspective taking (116). Perhaps my skepticism towards Google Home is rooted in my growing up years. Every evening for most of my childhood, my parents would read to my brother and I before bed. My mom would read a chapter or two of fiction, and then my dad would read a story from the Bible. I vividly remember being transported to the American frontier as my mom read the Little House on the Prairie series, and I also vividly remember being swept up in the magical whimsy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. From my father’s reading, I began to internalize and remember important biblical stories that would shape my understanding of my faith as I got older.

In Letter Seven, “The Science and Poetry in Learning (and Teaching) to Read,” Wolfe writes, “Empathy and perspective taking are part of the complex woof of feelings and thoughts, whose convergence propels greater understanding” (162–163). Wolfe goes on to describe how empathy and perspective taking lead to one of the most important components of deep reading—the ability to make connections (163). When I spent most evenings of my young life huddled on the couch, my parents’ voices washing over me, they were giving me an important gift: a swelling cadre of resources to pull from to understand and analyze the world. They were encouraging my brain to mimic the feelings of Laura, Mary, Harry, Hermione, and even Mary, Joseph, and Jesus by triggering my mirror neurons, as Wolfe describes in Letter Three (51). “In this sense,” she writes, “when we read fiction, the brain actively simulates the consciousness of another person, including those whom we would never otherwise even imagine knowing” (52).

In addition to empathy, reflection is another important part of the deep reading process, and a crucial part of practicing festina lente. Deep readers have to develop “cognitive patience” in order to reflect on and then process what they have read (193). An example is my writing of this essay. Through reflection, I am processing what I read in Reader, Come Home, which leads me to make connections between the book’s content and my own reading development as a child. In practicing festina lente, I learn how to “hurry slowly” into cognition: “You read quickly (festina), till you are conscious (lente) of the thoughts to comprehend, the beauty to appreciate, the questions to remember, and, when fortunate, the insights to unfold” (Wolfe 193). In relation to new digital technologies, Wolfe argues that we should hurry to meet the future but take the time to examine and research its potential hazards (194). In relation to coming “home,” we should hurry to get to the place where “perception becomes transformed into concepts, when time becomes consciously slowed, and our whole self becomes suffused by the mental cascade where thought and feeling converge” (194).

With my own graduation now on the horizon, I see my task as applying festina lente to the job search. I have identified several potential professions where my deep reading and other soft skills would be useful. While one of my earliest career interests is editing and publishing, I only realized this semester that the reason I enjoy editing is because I like mentoring other people. My involvement in Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), a Christian community on Purdue’s campus, and my past involvement in other Christian groups has often involved leading or mentoring others. My leadership experiences in Christian groups led me to connect activities in my personal life to my professional life during my job search. As an editor, I want to help authors become better writers and encourage them in their writing process. In making these connections between editing, mentoring, and other areas of my life, I’ve had to slow down to process what these connections might mean for me personally and professionally.

My current career focus is nonprofit work, which is also connected to my desire to help others. In the nonprofit sector, I am interested in grant writing, fundraising, development, and event planning. Through research, I learned that many of the positions related to my areas of interest are mid-level to senior positions, so starting out, I need to gain experience simply working in a nonprofit. As I explored my nonprofit interests, I made another connection between my personal life and professional life: In RUF, I co-chair a small team responsible for event planning, and I love helping put on these events. As I’ve explored nonprofit areas and talked to my mom, who directs a nonprofit, I realized that event planning is actually an important role in many organizations. Event planning, whether for one of the nonprofit’s programs or for fundraising purposes, is an important task that many high-level nonprofit administrators find time consuming and exhausting. Someone who enjoys facilitating events would be a valuable asset. To come to this conclusion, though, I had to quickly process large amounts of factual information about working at a nonprofit and then slow down and decide which pieces of information would be helpful to me and analyze how that information would change my course.

Another potential area of employment that could involve leadership, helping others, and event planning is the library sector. In high school, I worked in the children’s room at my local library, and to this day working at the library is one of my favorite jobs that I’ve had. If I worked in a library, I think that I would eventually want to become a head librarian, probably in youth services, which would require some additional schooling. Librarians do many things in addition to ordering books, checking out books, and shelving books. A lot of librarians, especially youth librarians, put together programs for people in the community. If I were a librarian, I would be on the front edge of helping mitigate the effects of digital technology on children’s deep reading, as described in Reader, Come Home.

Regardless of what job I pursue, I have learned how to identify and articulate the skills I’ve gained as an English major. The skills required to perform the deep reading Maryanne Wolfe writes about are just one example. I can explain to employers how my ability to empathize is applicable, whether that be to empathize with an aspiring author, a nonprofit client, or a library patron. My ability to make connections between stories means I can help an author move their plot along, I can see the big picture of social issues affecting nonprofit clients, and I can help people find the stories they need to hear. My ability to practice festina lente means that I can easily identify when the processes of deep reading might be valuable, and then take the time to engage in the kind of deep reading that leads to complete analysis and thorough understanding of a topic.

As I look towards the workplace, I want to hurry slowly into my job search. I know that I need to “hurry” in that I need to be actively working on the various components that help someone get a job: a good resume, a LinkedIn profile, networking, etc. As I hurry to complete these tasks, however, I need to be able to slow down as I accomplish each task. As I revise my LinkedIn profile, I need to take the time to thoroughly read and proofread everything I write and evaluate how I am marketing myself to potential employers. Similarly, I need to look at the big picture with my resume as well to see how it fits into my marketing strategy. And while I may hurry to find people to conduct informational interviews with to add to my network, as I am doing an informational interview, I need to slow down and listen to the advice and wisdom being offered by my interviewee. And I know that once I find a job, the practice of festina lente will not be over. The dance of quick information processing and in-depth analysis will be something I perform all my life, whether that be in a work setting, personal setting, or in my own deep reading as I live my life of letters.

Works Cited
Google Nest. “Disney’s Frozen 2 Stories on Nest Mini.” YouTube, 4 November 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuRWUwUSlZk

Made by Google. “Read along with Google Home Mini and Disney’s Little Golden Books.”   YouTube, 29 October 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NH7HI2BW6aE

Wolfe, Maryanne. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. HarperCollins,    2018.

Hannah Spaulding is a senior at Purdue majoring in English Literature.





Delving into Von’s Bookshop

It was the icy winter of 2016 when I visited Purdue’s campus for the first time. As a junior in high school, I knew that it was time to look actively into colleges. Wanting to stay in Indiana (it would come as a shock finding out that my family would be relocating to the Pacific Northwest, leaving me behind in the crossroads of America), I began to take more interest in Purdue. However, I knew that I was not a STEM kid—mathematics gave me a headache and complex physics made me want to switch places with the person in the word problem whose equation that I was supposed to calculate—the one driving her car off a cliff. Why would I, a student who wanted to study English, want to attend what is primarily an Engineering school?

Entrance to Von’s Books [source: https://www.facebook.com/vonsbooks/photos/a.368678106509814/628394817204807/?type=3&theater]
As I began to explore the campus for the first time, surrounded by other prospective Purdue students on the undergraduate-led tour, I wanted to know more about the aspects that made this university unique from others. After the tour, my guide recommended visiting Chauncey Hill, the home of the famous Discount Den (which has since relocated to the other side of campus) to stock up on Purdue merchandise and also an incredibly inexpensive combination of sodas. Walking towards the Den, shivering in my fluffy parka and attentively listening to Google Maps so as to avoid wandering astray, I noticed a strip of stores labeled “Von’s.” After a slight distraction stemming from my love of sugar and the line wrapping outside another local landmark, Harry’s Chocolate Shop (I was devastated to learn that it was a bar, and did not in fact sell chocolate), I refocused on the brick buildings advertising a vast variety of goods: books, records, beads, jewelry, cards, t-shirts, comics, posters, movies, and more. I had not expected to find such an eclectic shop anywhere in West Lafayette.

Although each of the storefronts held appeal, as the little bookworm I am, I convinced my parents to wait for me “for I promise, just five minutes,” as I went to explore the used bookshop. After descending the semi-perilous staircase into its basement (make sure to watch your step), I found myself face-to-face with oversized anthologies, vintage Indiana authors, obscure science fiction, and my personal favorite and first purchase, “Los poderes ocultos de la mente” (The Hidden Powers of the Mind). The array of shelves piled high with novels and the overflowing stacks of precariously piled books set aside to the back edge of the store immediately made me feel at home, confirming I would be content studying liberal arts at this STEM school. An hour after I started browsing, my parents finally dragged me out of the store. Even now, in my junior year at Purdue, Von’s remains a calming place for me in the midst of stressful assignments, group projects, and finals.

Killing time (and gnomes) in Von’s Books [source: https://www.facebook.com/vonsbooks/photos/a.286981788012780/1539654102745536/?type=3&theater]
An independent shop established in 1968 and now the area’s oldest bookstore, Von’s is a cornerstone of the Purdue student experience, with numerous professors providing course materials through it in addition to other stores such as Follett’s and the University Bookstore. The store is divided into multiple segments based on the merchandise within that particular area—though all of them remain connected. In the brutal winter one need not venture into the icy unknown to travel between the fascinating assortment of beads and the seemingly endless rows of books. The different sections include the bookstore, which holds an amalgamation of new and used books, a bead and jewelry store, a clothing store, and a section for records, comic books, and posters. Be sure to take note of the staircase in between the clothing section and the record shop, as this leads to quite possibly the highlight of this store—an enormous, city-block-sized basement absolutely stocked to the brim with used books. If you intend to venture into this wonderous trove of treasures, you may want to clear your schedule, as you may find yourself lost in a maze of novels, searching through shelves to find something truly special. However, if you do not have endless hours to explore Von’s basement, you can still sure to look out for its various sales. Usually, there are used books and beads for incredibly low prices sitting just outside of the shop in bargain bins. These sales, along with the annual West Lafayette Public Library book sales, are what sustain my bibliophilia even as a stereotypically broke college student.

A typical sidewalk sale at Von’s Books [source: https://www.facebook.com/vonsbooks/photos/a.286981788012780/2053797531331188/?type=3&theater]
Von’s serves not only as a unique part of the campus ecosystem, but also acts as connective tissue, facilitating conversation between bookish Purdue students. Recently, I mentioned the store offhandedly to a fellow English Literature major, Isaac Pickett. It sparked conversation about our mutual love for Von’s. He shared his affinity for the books in the semi-hidden basement, stating, “It’s nearly always empty when I go down there which gives it this very mystical quality, like it’s a secret book tomb or something. Sometimes you’ll find first editions of books that look like they haven’t been touched in years. I found a 1954 edition of Brave New World last week that has a silly, dramatic, science-fiction cover.” Isaac expanded further on why he likes the used book section so much, saying, “I love reading old notes written in the margins or seeing what someone saw fit to underline. Sometimes, you’ll find odd things in them. I remember once I found a coupon from 1988 in a copy of Vonnegut’s Deadeye Dick.” While I have yet to discover any coupons myself, I did recently come across a vegan cookbook that has proven to make wonderful, edible meals for both my roommate and I to enjoy. Appealing to the masses with its various odds and ends, Von’s similarly proves to be an essential part of Purdue for its English majors.

Ally Geoffray is a junior in English Literature and Professional Writing at Purdue University.

Alumna Profile: Stacey Mikelbart

Hi, I’m Stacey Mickelbart, and I’ve taken a circuitous path from graduating with my English degree in 1995 to my current position as editor of Envision, the Purdue College of Agriculture magazine—but I’ve never been unemployed!

I’ve worked in tech publishing, editing books in the “for Dummies” series, edited scientific journal papers and grants in a number of fields, worked in managing and communication in the performing arts, created and edited university magazines, and have written arts criticism for outlets including NUVO in Indianapolis and newyorker.com.

While I know a lot of people don’t automatically associate Purdue with the liberal arts, my training here was solid. When I attended NYU for my master’s in journalism, two people in my program were chosen as assistants to the director, and it always made me smile that one was a New Yorker who attended Michigan and the other was me. I think the Big 10’s reputation for graduating smart students who know how to get things done is often true—and includes our liberal arts graduates.

While in New York, I interned at The New Yorker and wrote for the book blog. Every day was an exercise in, “Can I write well enough to meet the standards here?” I highly recommend working places where you feel that challenge. Being in a room full of people smarter than you is a great way to grow and expand your skills.

The range of work you can take on with a degree in English is wide, and while that’s a selling point, it can also be a bit intimidating as you seek your first couple of jobs, when you really want to pin down the “what” instead of being told you can do anything! If you’re unsure, I recommend that instead of looking for specific categories of jobs, you think about your skills—the ones you think are your best and that you enjoy the most—and apply for jobs that require those skills. That makes selling yourself for the job easier, as you’ve already thought about why you’re a good match for what the employer needs.

Who is/was your favorite English professor at Purdue?

I was fortunate to take class with so many great faculty members, but David Miller, who died a few years ago, was one of my favorites. I finagled my way into three of his classes (at least two of them on Shakespeare), and he was supremely skilled at leading a smart and interesting class discussion, regardless of the material. Barbara Dixon has also influenced my career as a student and professional. She was my academic advisor for a short period, taught a great survey course I took, suggested I attend the graduate seminar that launched my editing career, and later became my supervisor when I edited the College of Liberal Arts magazine, THiNK, for a few years. She’s been a fantastic mentor and friend.

What is an interesting Heavilon Hall memory (or just one from campus generally)?

One semester I had FOUR classes in Heavilon 120, so I felt like I never left that room! I sat in a different corner of the class for each of the four to help me distinguish them from one another.

How has your English major helped you in your professional career?

It seems so obvious, and it’s true: reading and dissecting great works, as well as writing about them for challenging assignments, really does help you become a better writer, editor, and communicator in general. Learning how to interpret a difficult poem is great practice for learning how to read a molecular biology paper. Each requires patience, the curiosity to look up information you don’t understand, and the recognition of a new type of language and its conventions. (Some background on the scientific method, logic, and statistics help, too—so don’t neglect those!) My English degree also gave me the skills to organize and structure information about any topic when I’m writing, as well as the confidence to be stylistically creative when that’s appropriate.

Who is your favorite author and/or what are you currently reading?

I’m never sorry to pick up a book by Hilary Mantel or Ian McEwan or an essay by Zadie Smith or George Orwell. Right now I’m reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, since Wilson visited campus, thanks to the English department’s Big Read. I’m also reading some modern takes on these classic tales. I just finished Madeleine Miller’s Circe, and I’ve got Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad lined up next. After that, it feels urgent to read Chanel Miller’s Know My Name.

Romantic Ireland: Studying Abroad with the Purdue English Department

Study Abroad at Purdue

Purdue University offers a large selection of study abroad opportunities, ranking nineteenth in domestic student participation in study abroad. Of the multitude of possibilities, “Locations that attracted 100 or more students in 2016-17 were Australia, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom” (Oates). For a long time, study abroad seemed oriented primarily to foreign language majors, but, in actuality, “students in most academic backgrounds can find programs that meet their academic and career goals” (Mohajeri 382-383). These experiences are highly recommended. Studying abroad allows students to develop new skills, oftentimes influencing their future professional aspirations, as “the more international experiences one has, the more likely one is to develop a globally-oriented career” (388).

Romantic Ireland

Trinity College, Dublin

During the summer of 2019, Professor Maren Linett led an incredible study abroad entitled “Romantic Ireland,” one of the English department’s annual summer programs in Dublin. It boasted the opportunity for students to gain a more global understanding of Irish literature, offering six credits of coursework over the span of three weeks. During the program, students resided at Ireland’s most distinguished university, Trinity College Dublin. With 17 nights in Dublin, 2 nights in Galway, and 1 day spent exploring Sligo, the program allowed students to immerse themselves in another culture, visiting “key Dublin literary and historical sites such as the Dublin Writers Museum, the Parnell Monument, The James Joyce Centre, Trinity College Library, and the Abbey Theater.” These daytrips, as well as evenings in local pubs, allowed for engrossing experiences upon which the students would later reflect, turning in self-reflection essays on their time abroad.

Crystal Webb

After learning about this study abroad through her academic advisor, Crystal Webb, an English Literature major participating in Purdue’s Degree in 3 Program, realized that it would be a convenient way to travel while still progressing towards graduation. Webb also highlights how her experience in Ireland enhanced her understanding of Irish authors and literature by “bringing these stories to life.” Webb similarly credits it with helping her better understand how important a global perspectives is to any future career plan. Seeing her own culture through the eyes of another was an eye-opening experience, teaching her how often we, as American citizens, tend to assume that we know enough about the world, when we don’t. Basically, Webb claims that her experience was “globalization in action.”

Malahide Castle and Gardens, Near Dublin

Nyke Bounket, a double major in English Literature and Anthropology, also spoke highly of his experience. First, he mentions the workload; participants were expected “to read probably 30 poems, a couple dozen short stories, several plays and even a novel. All within three weeks.” Bounket humorously quips, “I’m not sure I even remember as much of U.S. history as I do Ireland’s.” He also stresses that exposure to such a different culture would be difficult, if not impossible, to simulate in a classroom setting. Bounket mentions meeting various types of people during his time in Ireland, including “a French philosophy professor, a woman from D.C. who used to serve as a Senator, a group of friends from Russia who were biking the country.” This eclectic group, along with the immersive nature of the trip, allowed him “to reflect on [his] own culture, behaviors, and values.” Finally, Bounkett identifies the natural beauty of Ireland as his favorite part of the experience; the group took a 40-minute train ride to Howth, a town “rugged with history.” He’d “never seen ocean water so clear. It was brimming with brightly colored sailboats, and in the distance were massive, jutting cliffs.” This idyllic scenery must be experienced in person!

Both Webb and Bounkett emphasize communication skills as a major aspect of study abroad. They recommend that other undergraduate students participate in either this particular opportunity, or some study abroad experience during their time at Purdue to develop their communication skills in a global context. Both also express their appreciation for Dr. Linett, who in Webb’s words is one of Purdue’s “hidden gem professors.” Her program class helped Webb to communicate her exact ideas, emphasizing precise writing as key to disseminating knowledge and connecting with other people. Bounkett agrees, identifying Dr. Linnet as “a powerhouse of knowledge and the most intelligent person [he’s] ever met.”

Other Benefits of Study Abroad

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stating that “over the past three decades, the number of students enrolled outside their country of citizenship has risen dramatically, from 0.8 million worldwide in 1975 to 4.3 million in 2011, a more than fivefold increase.” As technology continues to advance, the world becomes more interconnected and workers with the ability to understand global perspectives increase in demand. Employers desire students who can travel beyond their comfort zones—students who readily embark to new frontiers. Although possibly daunting, study abroad experiences quantifiably assist student’s job prospects and improve their overall empathy and perspective-taking abilities. Ultimately, such opportunities “offer unique experiences to students by providing life-long personal and professional benefits such as personal growth, cultural awareness, employability, new language skills, creativity, communication skills, social network development and other benefits” (Tamilla, 63).

Nyke Bounket (bottom row, from left), Prof. Linett (third from bottom right), and the rest of “Romantic Ireland” crew

Globally, interest in study abroad programs has grown exponentially, as the personal and economic benefits have become more apparent. Purdue has certainly taken note, and now offers over 200 experiences in more than 45 countries. Romantic Ireland represents one of many opportunities designed to stretch and grow undergraduate students. As Bounket says, “go for the experience and allow yourself to digest everything, slowly and appreciatively.”

Works Cited

Mohajeri Norris, Emily, and Joan Gillespie. “How Study Abroad Shapes Global Careers: Evidence From the United States.” Journal of Studies in International Education, vol. 13, no. 3, Sept. 2009, pp. 382–397, doi:10.1177/1028315308319740.

Oates, Matthew. “Purdue Ranks 19th in the Nation for Study Abroad.” Purdue University News, Purdue, 9 Nov. 2018, www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2018/Q4/purdue-ranks-19th-in-the-nation-for-study-abroad.html.

OECD (2013), Education at a Glance 2013: Highlights, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/eag_highlights-2013-en.

Tamilla, Curtis, and John R. Ledgerwood. “Students’ Motivations, Perceived Benefits and Constraints Towards Study Abroad and Other International Education Opportunities.” Journal of International Education in Business, vol. 11, no. 1, 2018, pp. 63-78. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/2040569860?accountid=13360, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/JIEB-01-2017-0002.

Ally Geoffray is a junior majoring in English Literature and Professional Writing at Purdue.




Located in Purdue’s Elliott Hall of Music, the award-winning WBAA public radio station has made a name for itself nationally. It was licensed in April 1922 as an AM station by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Still going strong after 97 years, WBAA is now the longest continuously operating radio station in Indiana. Over the years, WBAA has offered internship opportunities to hundreds of local students, ranging from high schoolers to undergraduates and graduate students. The public radio station’s website says, “education has always been at the heart of WBAA’s mission and that goes beyond the content you hear over our airwaves and into the very ethos of the station” (WBAA). The best part is that they’re especially interested in Purdue undergraduates majoring in English, Communications, or Political Science!


Interning at WBAA is a great experience for English majors, especially those interested in journalism. Its News department offers general news, arts, beat, education, science, and local government reporting, as well as digital reporting. At WBAA, you are not just an intern; you are a professional. “We’re going to treat you like a real, working radio station employee, whether it’s in the newsroom or whether it’s doing production work behind the scenes,” says Stan Jastrzebeski, WBAA’s News Director, “You’re not going to get coffee.”

All internships at WBAA are paid, offer real, deadline-driven experience, and allow for hands-on time with professional reporting, writing, editing, or voicing. WBAA offers experience to Purdue undergraduates of any year; the longer you stay, in fact, the better opportunities for internships and jobs after you graduate. Stan says, “It typically takes at least a semester to fully train somebody to get used to the job. Then, the second semester they can hit the ground running.”

Interns at WBAA typically come in one day a week. The goal is to have one intern every day to go and report on moment’s notice, according to Stan. This allows each intern to give a little bit to the internship program and contribute to the whole of the newsroom over a week. Depending on your schedule, WBAA will give you ample time to work without too much pressure.

Stan says, “We make a difference in the community, we pay better than any other broadcasting internship in town, and we turn students into award-winning reporters.”


One of WBAA’s newest hires is Marissa Tilden, a third-year student studying English Literature and Comparative Literature. At the station, her title is “Public Service Announcement Coordinator.” Along with writing PSAs for upcoming community events, Marissa also does other small organizational tasks, such as creating a calendar of events for various musical organizations in the community. Her PSAs are aired on the station often. Here is an example of her work:

“Purdue’s Disability Resource Center presents comedian Ryan Niemiller (NEE-miller),  the self-proclaimed ‘Cripple Threat of Comedy,’ whose stand-up draws from his experiences with physical disability. Open to the public but tickets are required. More  information is  available at Purdue dot E-D-U slash D-R-C.”

This is a great example of a PSA because it demonstrates how Marissa has to be “conscious of the fact it will be read aloud.” She adds, “It’s necessary to provide phonetic pronunciations of names that could pose a challenge (and therefore a lull or stutter), as well as clarify things like the URL.” Otherwise, a story or PSA could be read wrong on-air. Greg Kostraba, WBAA’s content director, told Marissa that once at another radio station, “Malcolm X” had been read on-air as “Malcolm the tenth.” “It’s crucial to keep both the audience and the reader in mind when I write,” says Marissa.

“WBAA has provided me the opportunity to practice some of the skills I learn as an English major—things like precise writing, research, and organization—in a career setting,” Marissa also says. This internship has also enabled her to learn a little more about how a radio station operates and what kinds of positions exist in this setting. Marissa has found that there are lots of opportunities for English majors in radio.


A sophomore studying mass communication, Carly Rosenberger has always been interested in a career in news media. She has been working at WBAA since September 2018 and has written a total of eight stories as an arts and culture intern. Carly produces features, which are pre-recorded stories that are typically no longer than five minutes on-air. “Creating a feature is a complicated process…. I’ve learned more from [it] than I could have ever imagined,” says Carly.

WBAA has entrusted Carly with many responsibilities, including setting up and conducting interviews, writing a draft of a script, recording the script, and sharing the final product on WBAA’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Carly says, “When I first began working at WBAA last fall, I was honestly surprised with the amount of trust and responsibility the staff places in their interns. I’ve since realized that the large amount of responsibility is affirming and even rewarding. I’d much rather have an internship that allows me to produce meaningful work than one that forces me to do menial tasks.”


Stan has also provided us with descriptions for several other WBAA internships:

If you are interested in classical music, WBAA has another great internship for you. With 101.3 FM, WBAA Classical, students aid in the station’s programming as well as taping interviews. This internship is a great opportunity for those interested in learning about media management.

If you are tech-savvy, on the other hand, WBAA offers internships covering board shifts, allowing them to practice one of the essential functions of a broadcaster. WBAA will train you in both the technical duties and how to use your voice effectively for an audience.

WBAA also has internships in promotions, marketing, and development. To keep the radio station going strong, WBAA needs young, talented people to help it reaching new audiences.

Finally, WBAA just hired its first social media intern, and so internship opportunities at the station just keep growing. “Anytime anyone wants to send me a resume, they are more than welcome to do so,” says Stan. His email is stan@wbaa.org.

Works Cited:

“Student Engagement.” WBAA, https://www.wbaa.org/student-engagement#stream/0.

“WBAA History.” RSS, https://www.wbaa.org/topic/wbaa-history#stream/0.

Libby Joson is a sophomore majoring in Professional Writing at Purdue.

Interning at Purdue University Press – with Hannah Spaulding

Purdue English majors have the perfect publishing internship opportunity available to them right here on campus. A member of the prestigious Association of University Presses, Purdue University Press publishes scholarly books, journals, and e-publications in a range of fields, including, according to its website, business, technology, health, and veterinary sciences, as well as the humanities and sciences. It is conveniently located in Stewart Center, next to Purdue Memorial Student Union and across from Heavilon Hall, the home of Purdue English. Each semester, the Press interviews and selects undergraduates for internships in editing and production. It even prefers students in English or other related fields!

Below is an interview with Hannah Spaulding, a senior in English Literature and Creative Writing, who recently completed a semester-long internship in Editorial, Production, and Design at the Press.

How has your internship helped build skills and clarify your career goals?

First and foremost, interning at the press has helped me develop my editing skills. I’ve had the opportunity to practice copyediting, sharpen my proofreading, and review completed book manuscripts. I also was taught to use Adobe InDesign for typesetting manuscripts, which is a skill I had wanted to learn. Working at the press has given me more confidence in my editing ability, a confidence that I hope to translate into starting my own freelance editing business before I graduate. As for my long-term career goals, I know editing is a strong skill I can bring to the table in any setting. One of my goals is to work as a grant writer for a nonprofit organization. The ability to edit my work will allow me to develop clearer arguments and better grant proposals.

How do you apply your Liberal Arts skills in your internship?

My skills as an English major have been invaluable to my work at the press. Being a good editor requires a high level of reading comprehension, attention to detail, and familiarity with the mechanics of quality writing. My studies in English literature have equipped me not only to pay attention to the details of a text, but also to understand the big picture. As an editor, this allows me to address sentence-level and paragraph-level concerns, while also offering feedback on the larger structure and meaning of a text. Many of the manuscripts I worked with at the press were essays for academic journals about subjects not in my field of study. Because of the high level of reading comprehension developed through studying literature, I was able to understand and edit these pieces, even those in fields such as engineering. My studies in creative writing have also helped me be a better editor because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of editorial feedback. Knowing the experience of authors—of developing and crafting a work for others to review—helps me give more thoughtful comments. I also am able to address grammatical or structural issues from the lens of a reader. By focusing on the reader’s experience of the text, I am able to better communicate my editorial suggestions to authors.

What is the typical day like as an intern, any challenging or exciting aspects?

A typical day involves going to the Purdue University Press office in Stewart and working on my assigned projects in the office. I could be proofreading, copyediting, typesetting, or doing some other task that my supervisor, Katherine, assigned me. I work independently on all my projects, and update Katherine about my progress so that she knows how soon to expect a finished project. Katherine is always willing to help, however, if I have questions. This semester, I was one of two interns under Katherine, so sometimes her other intern and I would collaboratively on larger projects.

One challenge I experienced during my internship was learning all three grammatical styles—APA, MLA, and Chicago. I already had experience with MLA and Chicago, but I had never used APA before, so proofreading or copyediting in APA style was interesting. Whether I was using APA, MLA, or Chicago style, I felt like every day I learned a new grammatical rule or stylistic rule, which was fun to discover and then apply to my own writing outside of the internship.

Another challenge, which I mentioned earlier, was editing journal articles in subjects I am not familiar with, such as engineering. Although I didn’t understand the complexities of the subject matter, I did understand the way a research paper or journal article is supposed to be structured, and that knowledge helped me edit not just for grammar, but also for organization and clarity of thought. Editing essays with difficult subject matter boosted my confidence in my editing ability and helped me apply my skills to new situations.

Hannah Spaulding is senior in English Literature and Creative Writing at Purdue.

Tackling the Common App Essay – with Libby Joson

According to Mitch Warren, the Director of Admissions at Purdue University, the Admissions team received about 54,000 applications last year. So, to stand out when applying to Purdue (or any college or university, really) your admissions essay is key. This is your chance to show off your personality and background. Dr. Harry Denny, an Associate Professor of English and the Director of the Purdue Writing Lab, says, “Don’t be afraid to tell your story, but be afraid to tell a clichéd story.”

Since Purdue’s admissions officers receive an immense number of essays to read through, you have to take advantage of this opportunity to express yourself honestly and genuinely. Tell your story as you would tell it to a friend, allowing your best and most unique qualities to shine through. Dr. Denny suggests finding the story that makes you a compelling fit for the college or university you are applying to.

For Purdue’s Common Application, there are seven essay prompts to choose from. These prompts range from discussion of your background or talent to reflecting on failures or ethical dilemmas to any topic you’d like. You must only write 250-650 words minimum to maximum. Be sure to use that small amount of space to your advantage by expressing your passions without babbling.

Tips & Tricks

Write first, edit later.

One of the best things you can do when writing an essay such as this is to just get your ideas out. You can always organize later. Both Dr. Barbara Dixon, the Associate Head of the Department of English, and Mr. Warren mention that misspellings or grammar errors are not the most important things unless there are a whole bunch of them, so focus more on the content.

Be original.

Dr. Dixon read common applications essays for several years, specifically for the Honors’ program. Flipping through about 100 essays a day, she looked for some kind of originality or a spark of creativity. When writing your essay, stay away from clichés, especially in the beginning and ending. Clichés are a turn off for admissions essay readers. If you really want to stand out, use your own voice. Your essay should sound like you, an 18-year-old, genuinely wrote it, not like your parents or a more sophisticated version of yourself. Be authentic. “The way you handle a topic, showing maturity and ability to look at an experience in your life outside of the bubble, is important,” says Dr. Dixon.

Know your audience.

Try to write about something that admissions essay readers have never heard of before. Students often write about being on a sports team, which can be “yawn-worthy” for readers like Dr. Dixon precisely because so many other people have written about that as well. What’s different or unique about your experience? She recommends thinking about your audience, those admissions officers sitting at their desks and spending hours reading hundreds of essays. You must keep them engaged!

Be detailed.

To make your essay stand out, you’ll want to bring the reader into the story, and let them visualize your experience. As a Common App essay reader, Dr. Dixon enjoys detailed glimpses into the writers’ lives, recollections of their experiences. For instance, your might write about what you learned from a positive volunteer experience, or even lessons learned from things that didn’t go so well. For his part, Warren enjoys essays from students who have overcome personal obstacles. This could even include something as simple as a struggle in a lab science course. “What did you do to overcome it? We really are just trying to get to know you. Honesty is important,” says Warren, “What was the realization you had and what did you do to change?”

Entertain (but don’t try too hard to be funny).

The Princeton Review recommends being cautious if you choose to use humor in your essay. It’s already hard enough to be funny around your friends, so you might not want to try a joke for the first time on an admissions officer. You definitely should never make assumptions about your audience, whether that be faith, politics, identity, nationality, etc. Dr. Denny says, “You just don’t know who is reading it. Don’t go out of your way to be a jerk or say something offensive.”

Keep it down to earth.

“We’re not grading it. Students often assume we’re looking for certain buzzwords, but that’s not true,” says Warren. Write how you would speak, and don’t try to show off. Similarly, Warren advises that students avoid using a thesaurus because the essay should be in your own words. Although you should have a parent or teacher review your writing, make it yours. Write about what matters to you, not what matters to them (Carlotti).

Writer’s Block?

If you get stuck, you can try two free writing exercises, according to Dr. Denny. First, set a timer for one minute and write down anything you can possibly think of, without judgment. Or, find a friend to listen and take notes for you. Second, try a visual storytelling activity like “mind mapping” to chart and then organize your personal experiences. Mind mapping refers to creating a visual depiction of your ideas, with a key idea in a box or a circle located in the center of the map and other ideas grouped into categories around it. Concept (or mind) maps work best with “a focus question to which the concept map comes as a response” (Lang). This will allow you to structure your experiences around a central idea. If you have trouble drawing this out on your own, there are lost of free concept-mapping programs online for students to access.

Final advice?

“Don’t stress. It’s only one part of your application; it’s really just an attempt to get to know you,” says Warren.


There are many resources you can utilize when writing a college application essay:

  • Libraries often have writing groups and, if you live in the city, community centers might offer some help as well.
  • For more help writing your essay, see the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL):


As a reminder, the Early Action, financial aid, and Honors College application deadlines are all November 1st while the Regular Decision application deadline is January 15th. One of the biggest mistakes students make is missing the deadline.

Works Cited:

“Crafting an Unforgettable College Essay.” The Princeton Review, https://www.princetonreview.com/college-advice/college-essay.

Carlotti, Paige. “9 Essay Writing Tips to ‘Wow’ College Admissions Officers.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 23 Oct. 2014, https://www.usatoday.com/story/college/2014/10/23/9-essay-writing-tips-to-wow-college-admissions-officers/37397979/.

Lang, James M. Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Libby Joson is a sophomore majoring in Professional Writing at Purdue.

Modernizing an Ancient Epic – with Ally Geoffray

Purdue’s English Department has created a new tradition involving faculty, students, and the local community. Each year, it selects a book to highlight as its “Big Read.” This year’s book is Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey, which unflinchingly depicts its protagonist’s ambiguous nature as both victim of fate and perpetrator of heinous deeds. Looking beyond the absolutely gorgeous white and blue, gilt-lettered cover, which features the three muses in glittering gold, this new translation of the classic epic proves itself a valuable contribution to an inundated market for this particular Greek legend of Odysseus’s homecoming after the Trojan War.

First and foremost, Emily Wilson rejects our stylistic assumptions about Homeric epic, the common belief that it must be rhetorically elevated and ostentatious, full of old-fashioned diction. She argues that, “of course, the English of the nineteenth or early twentieth century,” the kind of language we most closely associate with the poem, “is no closer to Homeric Greek than the language of today” (Wilson, 87). Similarly, while she invokes the original qualities of the epic by emphasizing its oral form through the use of repetition as a mnemonic device, she also provides an originality that many translations forgo. For instance, she introduces ingenious permutations for the stock phrases the poem employs, especially through multifarious epithets like “wily Odysseus, the lord of lies” (Wilson, 240). By using accessible language that allows for more a contemporary understanding, Wilson’s translation invites attention, providing opportunities for substantial interaction between the audience and the text, a feat that seems remarkably similar to the overarching intent of the Big Read program.

Here is a piece of advice when acquainting oneself with this edition: do not skip the introduction! Although many readers have been exposed to some knowledge of this epic’s rich history, this nearly 80-page introduction includes a variety of intriguing information about topics such as the complex character of Odysseus, further background into the mystery of Homer, and actual geographic locations correlating to the different stops that Odysseus makes on his voyage homeward. It also includes a deeper look into ancient Greek gender roles and what it means to be a woman within this world—particularly some one of Penelope’s stature in contrast to women in other levels of the social hierarchy, such as the goddess Calypso or the slave women (who function as housekeepers, and as prizes to be looted when ransacking villages or during battle).

One of my favorite scenes, found in Book 5, focuses on Odysseus’s stalled voyage home, as he sits, forlornly staring out to sea, trapped on Calypso’s island with little hope of return. He desires recognition from his family and the people of Ithaca for his numerous exploits and death-defying adventures; he needs this acknowledgement in order to maintain his powerful position within society. Rather than accept a peaceful and possibly eternal life marooned on Calypso’s island, then, our protagonist longs to return home to his wife, Penelope. Still, he must remain cautious in how he portrays this yearning, especially since he must avoid provoking the goddess Calypso with whom he currently resides. In this way, he displays his central quality, metis. Emily Wilson translates this trait, one highly valued within Greek culture, as “‘cunning,’ ‘skill,’ ‘scheming,’ or purpose’” (Wilson, 36). It aptly encapsulates Odysseus’ skillful maneuvers in his responses to Calypso, his making sure to acknowledge and emphasize her beauty as superior to his wife’s, despite his urge to leave her. He manipulates the situation adroitly, portraying himself as “a man whose mind was like the gods, who had endured many heartbreaking losses, and the pain of war and shipwreck” (Wilson, 319).

Another memorable scene involves Odysseus’s interaction with Polyphemus, the cyclops child of Poseidon. After arriving on the island, the ship’s crew admires the welcoming landscape, proclaiming that “there is flat land for plowing, and abundant crops would grow in the autumn; there is richness underground” (Wilson, 244). This rhapsodizing abruptly ends, however, as they wander into Polyphemus’s cave, the home of a cyclops who displays “no shame at eating [his] own guests” (Wilson, 255)! In perhaps Odysseus’s most cunning exploit within The Odyssey, this “master of plots and plans” cajoles Polyphemus into a state of inebriation only to drive an olive spear into his captor’s eye (Wilson, 240). The descriptions that Wilson employs here are gruesomely vivid, as she describes how “[Polyphemus’s] blood poured out around the stake, and blazing fire sizzled his lids and brows, and fried the roots” (Wilson, 252). Although Odysseus’s own hubris unravels his meticulous plot when he proclaims his true name to the blinded cyclops, the critical wound he delivers to Polyphemus’s only eye still serves as the monster’s punishment for severely perverting Grecian hospitality norms.

To be sure, an integral and recurring element throughout The Odyssey is the ancient Greek custom of xenia, “a word that means both ‘hospitality’ and ‘friendship’” (Wilson, 23). It involves generously welcoming of strangers into one’s home, providing them with a place of safety, a night’s rest, and a meal before any probing questions. Odysseus benefits from this custom frequently, with people choosing “to be kind to [him]… not for [his] stories, but in fear of Zeus, the god of strangers, and because [they] feel pity for [him]” (Wilson, 344). To modern day readers, the concept of inviting strangers, random wanderers, into one’s house might seem peculiar and even dangerous, but, in The Odyssey, this custom is expected and even necessary, or else the unwelcoming host may face divine punishment. Ultimately, then, the poem explores the Greeks’ responsibilities to and fears of welcoming the unfamiliar into their homes, their culture, and their personal experiences. Throughout her translation, Wilson invites the audience to listen and to think about xenia in their own lives. In today’s world—where borders and differences seem to define relationships among individuals—The Odyssey encourages us to interact with those of different backgrounds, accepting them as they are while seeking mutual understanding. Ultimately, then, by offering a nuanced view of the complicated hero, Odysseus, and also by discouraging fear of the perceived Other, Emily Wilson manages to reconstruct The Odyssey as “a text that allows us to explore our desire for power and permanence in a world of imagination, while also showing us the darker side of these deep human dreams, hopes, and fears” (Wilson, 74).

Ally Geoffray is a junior in English Literature and Professional Writing at Purdue University.

Research, Purdue, and You!

Each year, the English Department participates in the Purdue Undergraduate Research Conference hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR). Its mission is to “promote and expand experiential learning for undergraduate students through research experiences with skilled mentors.” In addition to organizing the conference, OUR offers scholarships, research and travel grants, workshops, online courses, and more. It also sponsors the Undergraduate Research Society, an organization fostering “necessary skills [for students] to be successful in their present and future endeavors.”

English majors participate in the conference via the College of Liberal Arts’ Wilke Undergraduate Research Internship Program. As our website puts it, the program is “intended to nurture a lifelong interest in learning and appreciation of the humanities and other liberal arts disciplines” through participation in faculty research. While assisting faculty, Wilke interns receive a $500 scholarship and enroll in a one-credit seminar on the basics of research. After completing their internship, they present at the conference poster session. Recently, students have aided faulty research on pirates, The Hobbit, digital humanities, Milton in translation, black feminism, bioethics, science fiction, museum archive studies, writing tutoring, and more!

Why does student research matter? As one of eleven “high impact” practices central to undergraduate education, its benefits are wide-ranging. Long-term faculty-student mentoring, like working on a thesis or capstone project, helps post-college success. As Leo Lambert tells us, there is a “strong relationship between key experiences in college and outcomes after graduation, such as engagement at work and personal well-being…. The quality of your collegiate experience will make a meaningful difference in the quality of your life!”

Other studies demonstrate that research encourages critical thinking; fosters independence; promotes the ability to tackle problems with no easy solutions; and provides a sense of accomplishment, positioning students for their next challenge (Selingo 152). Similarly, “students who were academically challenged in college are 2.4 times more likely to say college was worth the cost and 3.6 times more likely to say they were prepared for life outside of college” (Lambert). OUR also claims: “Studies show that students who engage in research are more likely to graduate, more likely to go on to graduate school, and have more successful careers after graduation.”

Finally, research is great career-builder. You can use it in your resume, cover letter, and interviews to market yourself to “companies, graduate programs, and national service organizations” (OUR). Add to this the fact that presenting at a poster session sharpens time management, networking, and public speaking skills, and you can see how undergraduate research is a pretty big deal!

What do Purdue English majors have to say about the Wilke program and the research conference? 

Name: Hollis Druhet, Vitasta Singh, & Grace Morris

Majors: English Literature & Creative Writing

Research Area: Cognitive Literary Studies with Prof. Pacheco

Hollis Druhet, Vitasta Singh, & Grace Morris
Hollis Druhet, Vitasta Singh, & Grace Morris

Tell us about your research project.

We looked at the social, emotional, and psychological benefits of reading literature. Reading isn’t epigenetic; while language is inherited from one generation to the next, reading is not. So, we wanted to understand how modern digital media alters the reading brain. In a digital age, we need to figure out how to train our brains to consciously retain the skills provided by deep reading while interacting with new media.

What was it like presenting a poster at the Undergraduate Research Conference?

It was awesome to be somewhere people were excited about research. We got to see what other students were doing, and to communicate the value of our research to them. It was really cool to have them come up and say, “That looks interesting. Let’s hear more.” The presentation got us thinking about how to communicate information to different demographics. A big part of the experience was…understanding how academic professionals could be better at communicating their ideas to a wider audience.

What did find you find most valuable about the Wilke Research Internship experience?

It was a great experience. We received guidance and support, but were also able to move through the project on our own. We also liked working together as a group. It doesn’t matter what career you pursue; you’re always going to have to learn how to fit your perspective alongside your partners’ or coworkers’. It was challenging…but we enjoyed it. We liked being challenged. That’s what’s great about the Wilke; you’re going to be challenged.

Ally Geoffray
Ally Geoffray

Name: Ally Geoffray

Major: English Literature

Research Area: Digital Humanities with Prof. Felluga

Tell us about your research project.

I worked on website called COVE, The Central Online Victorian Educator, creating a map with pinned geospatial locations of key nineteenth-century places and events. Our goal is to create a comprehensive hyperlinked research database that offers a more centralized platform for building shared knowledge, which we hope will help sustain the humanities in academia.

What was it like presenting a poster at the Undergraduate Research Conference?

I was nervous going in, but fellow undergraduate presenters gave me advice [on how to stay focused and exude confidence] and the judges themselves were very kind and interested in my research. They asked questions about my project and provided some feedback about my presentation, and then I was free to walk around and view other students’ work.

What did find you find most valuable about the Wilke Research Internship experience?

The best part of my research internship was working with Dr. Felluga and Amy Elliot, my graduate student supervisor. Working with them to develop my skills—both in researching and in presenting—was a very valuable experience. This project has also cultivated my interest in Victorian studies, and has taught me so much about integral locations from this time period.

Daniel Krause
Daniel Krause

Name: Daniel Krause

Winner, “Poster Presentation Award”

Major: Social Studies Education (and English Minor)

Research Area: Literary Studies with Prof. Powell

Tell us about your research project.

My research is on narratives of the Barbary Coast, including an individual named Ahmed the English. He was an Englishman born in the late 1600s who became a Renegade, a European who converted to Islam. We have no record of his existence before he became a Muslim [and very little after].

What was it like presenting a poster at the Undergraduate Research Conference?

It was my first time doing a presentation, and so I was a little nervous…. In the morning session alone, there were probably 300-500 people, packed in like sardines! So, you have a lot of people moving around, a lot of talking. But it was also fun because I got to hear about other students’ research, and to network with people in the Wilke program.

What did find you find most valuable about the Wilke Research Internship experience?

Being in the military, it was a completely different world coming back to school. I never imagined that I would be doing research. I found out that, not only am I really good at it, but I also enjoy it! I liked having Prof. Powell push me to find new and different information that other people haven’t. It was exciting…to do this research that no one else had done before.

Josh Martin
Josh Martin

Name: Josh Martin

Major: English Literature and Linguistics

Research Area: Linguistics with Prof. Benedicto

Tell us about your research project.

I documented interviews with the original members of Linguists for Nicaragua…a group of U.S.-based students who went to Nicaragua to assist in improving literacy and documenting the indigenous languages following the conclusion of the Nicaraguan revolution. My work involved transcribing these interviews as well as preparing a website detailing the story of Linguistics for Nicaragua.

What was it like presenting your poster at the Undergraduate Research Conference?

It was an interesting experience! Admittedly, I was nervous about presenting my work since I’d never done a poster session before…Nevertheless, I was great to have a chance to showcase my work to others, and to introduce people to something that they might not be knowledgeable of.

What did you find most valuable about your research internship experience?

My internship did give me a lot of experience with working in a research lab, which I found valuable as someone who plans to go to graduate school…I also managed to get experience in using certain programs, such as ELAN, in performing the research that we do. All in all, I feel that it helped provide the exposure to lab work needed to do other projects going forward, which I look forward to!

Sarah Merryman
Sarah Merryman

Name: Sarah Merryman

Major: Professional Writing

Research Area: Writing Lab with Prof. Denny

Tell us about your research project.

I evaluated the OWL’s data tables for accessibility to color blind and motor-impaired users. I conducted usability testing by asking students to go through the tables and complete series of tasks, while recording them to track movements and also to hear their vocal responses. The color blind tests revealed that we should make changes to the site based on user feedback, but the motor-impaired usability was pretty decent.

What was it like presenting a poster at the Undergraduate Research Conference?

Presenting was a super interesting experience! It was fun to share my research with students from different majors. The symposium was much louder than I anticipated, so I recommend students practice projecting before they present. It also wears out your voice, so bringing a throat lozenge.

What did find you find most valuable about the Wilke Research Internship experience?

My mentor taught me how to write abstracts and prepare research presentations for different audiences. What I loved most was discovering that research extends beyond the classroom, and realizing that I could pursue research independently. If you are curious about a topic or want to find answers to a problem, find a research mentor willing to help you and go for it!

Time-lapsed video of the OUR Poster Session: https://twitter.com/PurdueOUR/status/1118506260498984963

Works Cited

Lambert, Leo. “The Importance of Helping Students Find Mentors in College.” Gallop.com. 29 Nov 2018. https://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/245048/importance-helping-students-find-   mentors-college.aspx.

Selingo, Jeffrey. College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students. New Harvest, 2013.

Exploring Learning Communities, Engaging English

Learning communities are fundamental to big public universities like Purdue. As one of 11 “high impact” practices identified by the AACU as essential to enriching students’ college education, they encourage deep learning, correlating to high levels of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, and faculty-student interaction.

Learning communities are integrated experiences; students take two classes together in their first semester, while also participating in residential or extracurricular activities with their classmates. Learning communities are, basically, fast tracks to academic success, assisting new undergraduates’ transition from home and high school to dorm and university; they help students earn better grades, make friends faster, and graduate at higher rates. Learning communities provide smaller class sizes; increased faculty-student mentoring; and opportunities to meet and interact with other students who share similar personal and academic interests. They also make a big campus feel small.

For this reason, each fall the English Department hosts its own learning community called “Engaging English,” open to first-year English majors and Exploratory Studies students. While we encourage the residential component, it is not required. So, students who live in the Honors College, for instance, or who have off-campus living arrangements can still participate. In 2018-2019, we won the Office of Residential Life’s “Real World Experience Award,” recognizing the best learning communities offering introductions to various opportunities within their academic fields. 

Left: Dr. Barbara Dixon; Right: Professor Roby Malo

Let’s take a closer look at the different aspects of our award-winning learning community, and hear from faculty and students who were involved in it.

ENGL 195 Introducing English

“Introducing English” is a 1-credit course (one 50-minute class meeting/week), which initiates students to departmental and college resources, gives them a jump-start on career planning, lets them work on writing skills, and also encourages community through participation in our “Big Read” common read program.

As our departmental Associate Head Dr. Barbara Dixon says, the “course is unique because we interacted in a deeper way than students in classes normally do—meeting often for dinner during the semester, reading The Underground Railroad [our Big Read for 2018-19], researching the slave trade, and spending an entire day together on a Saturday going to The Levi Coffin House, part of the Underground Railroad network in Indiana.” The biggest lessons that she hopes her students learned were that teamwork on projects is hard work (but also important to their future careers); that reading can be not just informative, but fun; and that faculty are people they can trust if they need help. Students very much enjoyed the experience. Julia, a student in the class, writes: “Dr. Dixon made her classroom feel like a home, and my classmates and I became … a family through the environment she created.” During the semester, the students even suggested creating a “GroupMe” to send text messages and to keep in touch. Dr. Dixon used it to plan a class “reunion dinner” the following semester.

Dr. Dixon’s students pose near a mural in Fountain City, Indiana that depicts Levi Coffin and his wife, Catharine, who helped more than 2,000 people escape slavery.

Her advice for prospective students? “If you have the chance to join a learning community, take it!” she says, “Try to get out of your comfort zone and go to activities you don’t think you’ll like with people you don’t know!”

The Big Read

Our annual Big Read is designed to enrich Purdue and Greater Lafayette through the shared experience of reading literature. Each year we select a great book, integrate it into our learning community curriculum, create a calendar of engaging events (including lectures, book group discussions, performances, workshops, author visits) and then provide free copies of the text to undergraduates, high school students, community members, public libraries, and more. Studies show that book ownership contributes to academic achievement, educational, economic development. It’s important for us to reach outside the borders of our campus and the temporal bound-aries of the undergraduate degree. Engagement programs like the Big Read produce demonstrable, positive communal effects, and are essential to Purdue’s mission as a land grant university.

English 202 Engaging English

The second course in the learning community is “Engaging English.” Dr. Robyn Malo, Associate Prof. of English Literature, says that the course teaches students the “basic skills but also the comfort-level and confidence to continue as English majors…We think about storytelling, whose stories we tell, whose stories we elide, and whose we ignore; how our interpretive faculties shape and limit what we are able to understand; and how can we start to get around this difficulty.”

Of course, Prof. Malo also organized a variety of extracurricular events for her students, like a trip to a play at the Indiana Repertory Theater; poetry readings; meals at the dining halls; meeting authors whose books they read in class; and after-class writing workshops. She even facilitated an impromptu study group during finals week. “Finals week can be overwhelming and stressful,” she says, “and so I thought, ‘Ok, this is a chance to re-connect to the group’…So, I was like, ‘Do you guys want to get together and study so that you don’t have to do it alone, and so that you have a little bit of accountability [to each other] while doing it?” 

Students from Prof. Malo’s class study in the English Department’s Under-graduate Studies Office during finals week.

What did she like best about the learning community experience? “It was fun to see them [in the dining halls].…Hanging out as a group makes learning more possible; I could see that they trusted each other and they trusted me. They knew I liked them and respected them as people. That makes it easier to give and take critical feedback. Students respond to that in a way that helps them learn rather than feel shut down.”

Prof. Malo’s biggest takeaway for her learning community students? “That you can balance learning and hard work with being ok the way you are and not needing to be perfect.”


Our “Engaging English” learning community is an enriching experience for faculty and students alike. One student raved that the experience “is very good at fostering a fun sense of community” and that the course instructors’ “kindness motivates me to perform well.” We consider this high praise, indeed!

“The underground railroad” by colson whitehead

Each year, the English Department presents its Big Read: a common read program designed to connect Purdue’s campus to the greater Lafayette area. Our book selection for 2018-2019 was Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning novel, The Underground Railroad (2016). The Big Read came to a close with the department’s annual Literary Awards, where Whitehead was the keynote speaker. His visit also included a reading from The Underground Railroad and a book signing.

Set in antebellum America, The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, a young slave on a southern plantation. Born and raised into U.S. slavery (the novel also includes a glimpse into Cora’s grandmother, Ajarry, who was forcibly taken out of Africa and sold in America, and her mother Mabel), Cora is left an outcast after her mother runs off without her. A fellow slave named Caesar approaches Cora with an offer to flee, but she is reluctant to go with him; once conditions on the plantation worsen, however, Cora agrees.

What follows is an unconventional coming of age story, part slave narrative, part historical fiction, part magical realism, in which Whitehead transforms the metaphorical Underground Railroad of our historical memory into an actual mode of transportation. Secret tracks buried beneath the ground connect cities as “stops” along the way, while conductors like Martin, whom Cora en-counters in North Carolina, operate the train and help runaway slaves on their way to freedom.

The Big Read organizes several community events and activities, including book discussions open to the public, to foster connections between campus’ and the community’s literati. Recently, the West Lafayette Public Library was host to one such gathering of students and local residents. The review that follows is the result of an afternoon spent delving into the pages of Whitehead’s novel. While not everyone enjoyed the text, we all appreciated the beauty of Whitehead’s writing, and the story’s social significance.

Colson Whitehead talked with Dr. Dixon at our annual Literary Awards
Colson Whitehead talked with Dr. Dixon at our annual Literary Awards

The Underground Railroad is written in the third person, unlike other novels featuring enslaved female protagonists, such as Octavia Butler’s Kindred or Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. Participants worried that this narrative distance might inhibit some readers from identifying strongly with the novel’s protagonist. However, Whitehead turns this narrative pitfall into success in the presentation of his minor characters. Our group was impressed by the dynamism and roundedness of The Underground Railroad’s supporting cast—especially its villain Ridgeway. While it is easy to dismiss the slave catcher as immoral, the unbiased third person narration—plus the inclusion of a chapter from his point of view—results in a surprisingly and uncomfortably relatable character.

This is what Whitehead’s novel does best: It forces the reader to confront the gray area in what they thought was black and white—both historically and in contemporary society. Of course the slave catcher is evil, and, certainly, the brutal violence of Ridgeway and his associates bear this out. But Ridgeway is much more terrifying because we understand who he is. He, like us, has a moral code. We can disagree with that code, find it despicable, but the novel’s ambiguous treatment of Ridgeway’s fate suggests to the reader that the Ridge-ways of the world are not confined to history—they prowl among us today.

Likewise, The Underground Railroad’s America demands comparison with ours. In its opening pages, the novel shows us America through Ajarry’s eyes: “In America the quirk was that people were things… If you were a thing—a cart or a horse or a slave—your value determined your possibilities” (p. 7). This first glimpse prompted our group to wonder if the issues dealt with in the novel still affected us today, to a resounding yes. Several people drew comparisons between the slave catching scenes and the racial injustices of the 1960s and even now.

What generated the most conversation was the novel’s titular feature. In what some considered a brilliant innovation, Whitehead transformed the historical Underground Railroad—a network of abolitionists and sympathizers that ferried and sheltered runaway slaves, famously associated with Harriet Tubman—into an actual railway. This blurs the genre of the novel. Is it historical fiction? Magical realism? The result is somewhere in the middle, with the train structuring the text’s episodic nature; each chapter is like a station, and the travel motif also governs the nonlinear time frame. While Cora’s story does not progress in a sequential order, the train contextualizes the resulting disjointedness of time and space.

Our discussion ended with us considering the news that The Underground Railroad will be adapted into a television series. We were all pleased that the story could be seen on the small screen. Several people likened the possible adaptation to Roots, another slave narrative transformed into a generation-defining miniseries in the 1970s. They believed The Underground Railroad had the potential to be as culturally important in this medium.

Despite our excitement, however, we had concerns. Would the series sanitize the violence of Cora’s experience? How would it depict the Underground Railroad? Is it possible that those unfamiliar with history would take this more fantastic of version of the network as fact? On the flipside, could its magical elements be taken too far in an effort to attract viewers? The novel’s hopeful, open ending leaves space for continuing the story, and we discussed the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as an example. We don’t know if Whitehead is involved in the adaptation, but we hope the television series is faithful to what made The Underground Railroad so successful: its captivating story.

Amanda Leary is a Literature PhD Student in the English Dept. at Purdue.

Purdue Journal of Service Learning

How can I use the skills from my major to help my community? This is an important question every student should ask themselves, and is, in fact, central to Purdue’s identity as a public land grant university dedicated to training and serving the residents of Indiana. It is also a way of measuring the quality of a student’s college education. The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AACU) identifies service learning, or combining classroom instruction with community activities, as one of eleven “high impact” educational practices that provide undergraduate students with an engaging and meaningful educational experience. AACU says that “working with community partners is good preparation for citizenship, work, and life.”

Purdue English not only integrates service into its curriculum, but the university also offers students the unique opportunity to share their experiences through the Purdue Journal of Service Learning and International Engagement. The Journal enhances student learning by providing a platform for students to write about their service-based research projects. The process of becoming a published author in a peer-reviewed journal enhances a student’s writing abilities, and lets them collaborate with peers and mentors – all skills that will open doors to internships, jobs, and further education.

Prof. Jenny Bay, editor of the Purdue Journal of Community Engagement and International Service Learning
Prof. Jenny Bay, editor of the Purdue Journal of Community Engagement and International Service Learning

“The journal is an opportunity for students to reflect on and articulate the kinds of learning that they have experienced either in a specific service learning class or another community engagement opportunity, whether that’s domestic or international.” says Dr. Jenny Bay, Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Composition in the Purdue English Department, a community engagement scholar, and the Journal’s new editor. Prof. Bay’s strong belief in connecting students with community needs led her to incorporate service learning into her teaching. Through English 203, “Introduction to Research for Professional Writers,” she formed a long-term partnership with the Lafayette chapter of Food Finders.

The Purdue Journal of Service Learning accepts submissions from graduate and undergraduate students in all disciplines, but undergraduate research is the primary focus. Students are welcome to submit as individuals, or as part of a team.

Published articles fall into four categories:

  1. Student reflective essay: Reflection of the author(s) service or engagement experience, which includes a description of their project, what they learned, and the impact of their service (approximately 3,500 words).
  2. Research with reflection: A reflection of the author(s) service-focused scholarly research project supported by a literature review (approximately 3,500 words).
  3. Community partner snapshot: A description of a partner agency’s or organization’s mission, as well as suggestions for how students or members of the public can engage with them (under 1,000 words).
  4. Faculty profile: An overview of a Purdue faculty member’s use of service-learning projects in the classroom, and their personal commitment to community engagement (approximately 1,500 words).

Why should English majors submit to the Purdue Journal of Service Learning?

2017 cover of the Journal
2017 cover of the Journal

As one of only two peer-reviewed publications dedicated to Purdue undergraduate research, the Journal offers English majors the opportunity to demonstrate how their “soft skills,” such as strong communication, analysis, empathy, cultural sensitivity, and storytelling abilities, apply in real-world contexts. For instance, in the Journal’s 2017 issue, a graduate student investigated ways teachers can use storytelling to instruct English language learners. As an experiment, she instructed seventh graders in a local junior high school to write their own autobiographies and observed how the exercise benefitted their learning outcomes. In the Journal’s upcoming 2019 publication, an article will describe the ethnographic research undergraduate students in English 203 completed to help create programs for Lafayette’s new North End Community Center.

Prof. Bay says, “Having English majors use skills gained from the major to impact the local community is really important. I also think that employers really look highly on the fact that you have an example of your writing that has gone through peer review that has been published for people to read. To me, especially for English majors, this can only help your prospects.”

Peer review demonstrates that submissions have received feedback for revision from experts in the fields of community engagement and service learning. This seal of approval demonstrates that the author’s work has been rigorously vetted and deemed to be of high quality. Peer review is usually conducted by Purdue professors, but Professor Bay is working to recruit more reviewers from outside of campus. Diversifying the reviewers adds further rigor to the peer review process. It also gives authors the opportunity to network with various experts, and exposes them to a wider range of mentorship experiences, which further enhances their writing.


The Journal accepts submission on a rolling basis, but spring is the cutoff for annual publication in the fall. Graduating seniors are still welcome to apply, although their articles won’t be published until the next semester. Not every submission to the Journal will be accepted, but the application process is so simple that English majors have nothing to lose by applying. All that is required is an abstract of at least 250 words. If an abstract possesses the needed balance between community service and immersive learning, the editors will notify the author(s), and advise how to revise and craft the manuscript for incorporation into one of the four featured categories.

The Journal strongly encourages students to work with a mentor throughout the writing and publishing process. This mentor is usually the instructor of the author’s service-learning class, but the Journal is happy to assign a mentor if the author’s instructor is unavailable. Of course, the Purdue Writing Lab is always an available resource for writers, if needed.

Both Prof. Bay and Journal Coordinator, Weiran Ma, are “willing to work with anybody who wants to get feedback or develop ideas” as they work on their revisions. Prior to becoming Editor of the Purdue Journal of Service Learning this January, Prof. Bay served as a longtime member of its editorial board, and worked closely with Lindsey Payne, Purdue’s Director of Service Learning. Prof. Bay also won the 2018 university Service Learning Award from the Office of Engagement. Likewise, Weiran Ma has extensive experience working with service-learning journals. Together, Prof. Bay and Weiran Ma are a valuable resource for authors and prospective authors.

Before they graduate, most students participate in a service-learning class. Relatively few, however, will publish their experiences. Stand out from the thousands of other students; take your research to the next level and publish! The opportunity is here.

Project Managing with Kristi Brown (English BA, 2001)

It wasn’t too long ago that popular wisdom said the only thing you could do with an English degree was be a teacher. The idea that a degree in English wouldn’t lead to any other kind of job led to memes like this:

We, of course, know this is untrue. In fact, English majors are statistically more likely to end up as doctors or CEOs than as Starbucks baristas (Matz). English is one of the most versatile pre-professional majors, providing in-demand skills: every one needs the ability to read carefully, think critically, and write well. As more employers recognize the potential of an English major in the workforce, it’s opening whole new career trajectories for our graduates.

Kristi Brown, an alumna of Purdue English Department, is evidence of just that. After graduating from Purdue in 2001, Kristi went on to a successful career in construction, working her way up to projects administration for Capital Program Management. She decided to major in English because it interested her and she was good at it, but Kristi also considers it to be a vital part of her career success.

Portrait photo of Kristi Brown.
Image taken from https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/purduetoday/purdueprofiles/2018/Q2/purdue-profiles-kristi-brown.html

Project management is one of today’s fastest growing fields, with membership in the Project Management Institute growing 500% over the last fifteen years. “When big bosses go hunting for project managers,” George Anders, author of You Can Do Anything, tells us, “they cherish people with the full suite of critical-thinking skills. If you can make allies, think on your feet, and learn fast, you’re the sort of liberal arts graduate who should thrive in such settings” (94). So what is it about English majors that make them attractive employees? “In my opinion,” Kristi says, “the most undersold part of being an English major is our ability to tell and sell the story that needs to be told to accomplish the task. My work in construction affects the campus community and people’s ability to get around. Being able to convey the facts of what is happening, why it’s important and make that relatable to the public is important.” The storytelling skills that come with an English major are crucial to thriving in such a position.

As Kristi’s career shows us, the value of an English major doesn’t end with the classroom. While there is, of course, undeniable value in teaching as a profession, it’s not the only career path open to our majors. Project management is a viable option for those looking for opportunities in all sorts of industries. It isn’t limited to construction; companies such as Amazon, Google, and Sony hire project managers every day. The thinking skills acquired in the humanities will well-prepare you for planning, executing, managing, and meeting your team’s goals. Projects come in all shapes and sizes: tech, data science, finance, and even (surprise!) literature. Publishers and digital archivists need project managers to keep team members on track and on budget.

Projects are unique operations, limited in scope and resources, designed to accomplish a singular goal. For instance, a project might include the “development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building or bridge, the relief effort after a natural disaster, [or] the expansion of sales into a new geographic market” (The Project Management Institute). Project managers, then, apply their knowledge and skills to special assignments, meeting their requirements successfully and on time.

Let’s look at an example. A recent job posting for a project manager at a digital marketing firm seeks “smart thinkers with strong communication, organization and project management abilities to service and support key clients.” Such a person’s responsibilities would include planning, budgeting, and managing projects; preparing marketing schedules; coordinating with vendors and clients; handling estimates, orders, and billing; and investigating media opportunities.

While this posting requests a degree in marketing, Kristi and others are proof that project managers come with all sorts of BA degrees as credentials. As George Anders informs us, “If you’ve got enough energy, optimism, and willingness to learn, what you’ve already developed might suffice” (98). The adage “hire for attitude, train for skill” is motivating companies’ out of the box hiring practices. As the value of a liberal arts increases, companies like Kristi’s are taking notice that, as she puts it, “even in a technical position, effective communication skills are essential.”

Of course, becoming a project manager may require additional training or certification, or a minimum number of years’ experience in industry. Still, not all project management jobs require or even seek such qualifications, and, oftentimes, the most important skills you can bring as a project manager are people-related ones. Kristi’s strategies for selling herself as an English major include knowing her own strengths: “I think it is important to have confidence in myself and understand the skillset I bring to a position. Being humble enough to know that I may need to work my way up and work hard to learn the technical skills but always knowing that I have a unique skillset that makes me a valuable employee.”

The Project Management Institute also offers classes and exams to obtain licensure. Membership to the Institute, which is available to students regardless of major, provides access to webinars and training, tools and templates for projects, and tips and tricks for navigating the job market. An invaluable benefit of membership in the Institute is the community of project managers—both local and global—that you can tap into and network with.

So the next time someone questions your choice to be an English major, or jokingly asks for a coffee, remember project management. Kristi Brown has built a successful career integrating the people skills she developed as an English major at Purdue with the needs of the construction industry. Similar opportunities abound.

What should you keep in mind while looking for jobs outside of traditional English professions? Follow Kristi’s advice: “Be flexible and think outside the perceived constraints that…you may think your English education puts on you. Spend time thinking about what you like to do and, if possible, get a range of experience in various fields to see what you like to do before you ‘decide’ what you want to be when you grow up. You might surprise yourself. I did!” Though the job market may seem daunting, project management is a rapidly growing field—one quite possibly looking for an English major like you.


For more information:

Anders, George. You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education. Little, Brown, & Co., 2017.

Matz, George. “Cultural Myth of the English Major Barista.”

The Project Management Institute: https://www.pmi.org/

**We especially thank Kristi for her time and thoughtful answers to our questions!

Amanda Leary is a Literature PhD student in the English Department at Purdue University.

Chill Out. You’ll Get a Job.

Liz Walker, graduating senior in English Literature and Professional Writing.
Liz Walker, graduating senior in English Literature & Professional Writing.


Coming into my senior year, I was convinced I would be living in my parents’ basement after I graduated. After four years of hearing, “English majors become baristas,” and being asked why I chose my major, I had become discouraged and resented studying something “impractical.” It wasn’t until I took the course ENGL 399 with Professor Pacheco and went to the SMEF career fair in February that I realized I was employable, and that my English degree prepared me for my life after graduation more than I could have hoped for.

It is easy to get discouraged in the college of liberal arts at a big, STEM university. But fear not. I have made plenty of mistakes over my four years, but I have also had many victories. If you’re scared of the future or starting to question why you chose your major, I’m here to tell you what I wish someone would have told me sooner: chill out. Keep these three things in mind and you’ll be fine.

Know Why You’re Studying English

In almost every interview I had, I was asked, “Why English?” It wasn’t a dig at my major or a questioning of my qualifications; it was genuine curiosity. Employers don’t see many English majors. Heck, English majors don’t see many other English majors! Because of this, when a recruiter sees “BA in English Literature” on a resume, he or she definitely will want to know why. At first, I was scared to answer this question because I thought it set me too far apart. But then, I came to embrace it. It was fun recalling why I chose this major in the first place, why I still love it, and how it has prepared me for the future. Know your own personal English story and know how to tell it well. If you are passionate, recruiters can tell, and passion justifies any major.

In addition to knowing why you’re studying English, know how your studies apply to the jobs/internships you are applying for. Employers will ask you why you are qualified for the specific job, especially if the degree seems like a “stretch” for the position. English majors have many skills outside of writing—analysis, design, team-building, and persuasion are a few I can think of—and you want to figure out which ones you possess to capitalize on them at the interview.

In one interview, a recruiter asked me, “As an English major, are you intimidated that the other students you will be working with have more experience in this area than you?” I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to answer, “No. My English degree has prepared me in so many ways. Let me tell you about them.” Always be prepared. And never apologize for your major.

Explore Until You Find What You Want

One of the most liberating and the most daunting things about a degree in a liberal arts field is that it comes with no prescribed career path. After graduation, it seems that all that waits for you is a big question mark. If you don’t know what you want to do after graduation, this can be pretty scary. But this also means you have a lot of exploring to do, which can be fun.

Do not waste your time while at Purdue just because you don’t have a set career path. Let your time at college be a time of exploration of all opportunities—there are so many out there. Even if you are a senior, there is still time to explore. Interview professors and professionals, go to networking events, shadow different individuals who work around Lafayette if their careers potentially interest you. Take classes in different disciplines, just to see what you are good at and what you like. College is your one opportunity to try and to fail with little to no consequences.

I took advantage of exploration opportunities through internships, volunteering, and classes. I took an internship in market research with an organization I am involved in on campus just because they needed interns. I had no idea what market research did, but I was eager to learn. After that summer, it turned out market research was something I was good at and something I enjoyed, which opened doors to another internship in marketing and made me consider a career in it.

Similarly, I volunteered at Indiana Legal Services to see if law was a path I wanted to pursue and quickly found out that it was definitely not. This semester, I took the class “Boiler Communication” (COM 491) which acts as a student-led public relations firm. It is a class that is extremely practical and gives real-world experience. One semester of the class is the equivalent of half a year of professional experience. All of these things helped me figure out what different careers look like, and where I potentially fit into the professional world.

Explore your options until you find what you want. And once you find what you want, run with it. Get as much experience as you can. Practically, these experiences will help decide what you want to do, as well as provide you with stories to tell in interviews. Don’t let the unknown future scare you—embrace it with open arms!

Don’t Freak Out

This is the most important tip I can give you and the hardest one to put into practice. When the engineers of campus are buzzing around by the third week of school getting full-time job offers and internships while you’re just hammocking in the trees reading William Carlos Williams, it’s easy to think you’re doing something wrong or that you’re late in the game. You’re not. Breathe. Chill. That isn’t the timeline for us, so there is no reason to panic.

The biggest and best companies want to secure the brightest students for their engineering, science, and technology programs before any other companies can. For this reason, their job hiring process is much quicker than in the fields liberal arts majors (usually) pursue. The timeline for many job openings that fit us (project management, marketing, public relations, technical writing, etc.) is in the spring semester, as late as April. While that means your future will be uncertain for longer than other students, it does not mean you are not a qualified candidate or an undesirable potential employee. The companies usually just don’t need to hire months and months in advance—these positions are more immediate placements.

While you’re waiting for jobs to begin to open, use your time wisely. Spend your fall semester figuring out what companies you like, strengthening your LinkedIn presence, building a portfolio, and networking wisely. Don’t let our slower timeline become an excuse for you to be lazy—don’t stress, but be strategic.

At the career fair in February, I got interviews with every single company I talked to. I got invited to recruitment events by companies in the big leagues, like Sales Force and Oracle. And I ended up getting an awesome job with an awesome salary in an awesome place. All because of my major and what I was able to do with it at my time at Purdue.

Chill. You’ve got this. If I could do it, trust me, you definitely can too. I believe in you.

Tutoring in the Purdue Writing Lab: Empathy & Expertise

Interested in helping students improve their writing while simultaneously sharpening your own? Working as an undergraduate tutor in the Purdue Writing Lab might be the perfect job for you.

Portrait photograph of Harry Denny, Director of the Purdue Writing Lab.
Harry Denny, Director of the Purdue Writing Lab

Prof. Harry Denny, Director of the Writing Lab, describes it as “a space where we work with writers from across the university…on any aspect of their writing, from getting started, to revising, to editing. You name it, we do it.” Tutors work with undergraduate and graduate Purdue students from all disciplines on every form of writing. From essays and research reports to resumes and graduate school applications, no genre is off limits.

The Writing Lab offers one-on-one, in-person writing consultations or e-tutoring sessions, while its world-famous OWL provides a treasure trove of online resources. In 2017-18, the Writing Lab saw approx. 6,000 visits from Purdue students. The OWL had 515M page views from around the world.

Perks of being a tutor

All employment with the Writing Lab, whether in the form of tutoring or research, is compensated; however, according to Prof. Denny, the biggest perk is the “opportunity to work in an environment that truly values learning and collaboration.” The Writing Lab promotes an atmosphere of innovation and strongly encourages tutors to explore the impact writing has in real life settings.

Companies like employees who can write clearly, but they especially like those who can help other people to write better too. Tutoring with the Writing Lab gives you a chance to practice both. Interacting with Purdue students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds also provides experience with intercultural collaboration. In survey after survey, employers list writing and collaborating as their most desired skills, ahead of technical expertise. 

Writing Lab tutors and staff also write all of the material found on the OWL. A section of the site is even devoted specifically to research conducted by lab personnel. Undergraduate tutors are welcome to add to this growing body of writing center research.

What professional qualities does tutoring cultivate?

In-lab tutoring session.
In-lab tutoring session.

Want to become a Writing Lab tutor but afraid that your writing skills aren’t good enough? No worries. While having a grasp of basic writing techniques is essential, no one expects you to be an expert. Part of being a tutor is learning with your client. Prof. Denny says that a good tutor isn’t someone who knows everything about writing, but rather a “person who is willing to say, ‘I don’t know. Let’s figure that out together’.”

While knowledge of composition and grammar is an asset, the most important quality for a tutor is strong people skills. For this reason, the Writing Lab looks for applicants who demonstrate empathy for students from all backgrounds and writing abilities.“We can teach you how to respond to student writing, [and] we can teach you the mechanics. The hard part is meeting such a wide variety of writers, meeting them…where they are, and being respectful of them,” says Prof. Denny. “The thing that I really care about when I am looking at undergraduates, is making sure…that we work with a whole, wide range of writing.”

It can be easy to forget that sharing one’s writing is a very personal experience; when someone judges our writing, it can feel like a judgement of us. Being respectful and connecting with writers on a human level creates a safe environment where students are free to be vulnerable. Only with trust can writers learn and improve. In this way, the role of a tutor is less like an instructor and more like that of a peer counselor.

“I think alot of times students struggle with writing because they have been shut down at some point,” says Prof. Denny. “I think people [should be] allowed to have a voice, and to cultivate their voice and their prose in an environment that’s not going to make them feel bad about themselves.” To demonstrate his point, he cites Steven North, an important writing center scholar: “We are about making better writers, not necessarily better writing.” Prof. Denny echoes this sentiment in his own words, “If you make someone feel more confident as a writer, effective writing will come along.”

Another important part of becoming a tutor is understanding how to help students within the parameters of the Lab. Like most college writing centers, the Purdue Writing Lab is not an editing service. A tutor’s job isn’t to “fix” students’ papers, but rather to give them the skills to revise their own writing, and to help them apply these skills to future assignments.

Tutors also learn to balance student needs with time restrictions. “We try and respectfully negotiate with a client, ‘What is realistically possible in 25 or 50 minutes?’” says Prof. Denny.

If a writing lab client has a 50-page research paper, it will be impossible for the tutor to read and give feedback on every page. Therefore, helping the client prioritize their needs and set a goal for what can be accomplished in one session is an important skill tutors learn.

How to apply to be an undergraduate tutor?

Tutors working in the staff room of the Writing Lab.
Tutors working in the staff room of the Writing Lab.

Until this year, the application process involved submitting a writing sample, a resume, and a letter of recommendation. To make the process less daunting, the application is now simpler. Students email the writing.lab@purdue.edu with a notice of interest. From there, they meet with Prof. Denny to discuss why they want to become a tutor and the skills and experiences they feel make them a good candidate.

The last step is enrolling in ENGL 390: Tutoring Practicum, a required internship course that teaches students how to work in the Writing Lab. Students learn writing center theory and gain hands-on experience with strategies for tutoring writing. If, at the end of the class, they seem like a good fit for working at the Lab, students become paid tutors. If students turn out to not be good fits, they still get course credit.

Some final advice

Prof. Denny’s advice for tutor applicants? “Be open to working with your peers. Be open to being challenged about how you learn and how your peers learn…. [I]f you want a really exciting environment where collaboration…reflection, and pedagogical research is valued, we are a cool place.”

The bottom line? Whether you are a tutor or a client, writers of all skill levels and backgrounds are welcome at the Purdue Writing Lab. No Pulitzer required.

You can Do Anything

Studying the liberal arts in a STEM world can often prompt the same questions over and over again: What are you going to do with that degree? Do you want to teach? How are you going to make money? Is your degree practical? George Anders’ book, You Can Do Anything (2017), answers these questions. It uses empirical data and multiple interviews with successful liberal arts graduates to argue that the “job market is quietly creating thousands of openings a week for people who can bring a humanist’s grace to our rapidly evolving high-tech future” (4).

The audience for this book is liberal arts majors, but it also aims at their families. Parents influence their children’s decision making, and, too often, their response to wanting to pursue a liberal arts path is concern or even opposition. Parents generally want what is best for their children, but this usually comes in the form of encouraging them to seek economic stability, and to pursue practical majors deemed most likely to confer it. In the twenty-first-century economy, however, mobility may be even more important than stability. Anders uses his knowledge of job market trends to assuage readers that they have what it takes to succeed at a time when technology is taking over.

            Part one of Anders’ book focuses on the strengths liberal arts graduates bring to the job market. Common wisdom has it that liberal arts seekers are jack-of-all trades but also masters of none. Students learn a little about history, a little about science, a little about everything. As Anders tell us: “A generation ago…college officials could joke that a liberal arts education ‘trains you for nothing but prepares you for everything.’ Today, you want to be brilliantly prepared and properly trained too” (21). But, as he also shows, liberal arts students are “properly trained,” just not in the conventional ways one might expect from a linear job path. While students and their parents obsess about jobs with high-paying starting salaries and very specific vocational skill sets, liberal arts students have vast room to grow and, in time, often end up exceeding their counterparts: “Fixating on starting salaries blinds us to the value of mobility… your liberal arts degree is likely to propel you ahead of many classmates with practical majors who thought they had seized an unbeatable lead at age twenty-two” (55-56).

"While students and their parents obsess about jobs with high-paying starting salaries and very specific vocational skill sets, liberal arts students have vast room to grow and, in time, often end up exceeding their counterparts."

            It sounds chaotic; in career development, as in life, there are few direct paths from point A to point B. While it may sound daunting, this model can be an asset to companies, and to newly graduated liberal arts majors looking to get hired. Why? Because those students are adaptable. Students often change majors several times in college, and they will similarly move through several jobs in a lifetime. This ability to accept change head on and face it with calm composure is not what Anders would call a “soft skill” (although that is the term most often used). Instead, he prefers the term “power skills” (43). Other power skills include: a “willingness… to tackle uncharted areas,” “finding insights,” “choosing the right approach,” “reading the room,” and “inspiring others” (32). Those who master power skills ultimately know how people work in and out of a professional setting.

This section of the book is all about embracing an explorer’s mindset. Anders tells the reader, “If your interviewer has even the haziest familiarity with the movie 300, you’re ready to talk about what it’s like to stand at a narrow pass, imagining that it’s 480 B.C., the enemy is massing—and you’ve got an ax” (33). He means that liberal arts students are used to not having the upper hand, but they are used to bravely fighting hardship and making-do with the tools at hand in any given situation.

            Parts two and three of the book address the realities of getting a degree in liberal arts. This section is great for students questioning their chances of upward mobility by pursuing a non-STEM field. On page 153, there are three charts that display typical starting salaries, midcareer salaries, and lifetime salaries in various fields. From this data, we see that liberal arts majors can make upwards of 3 to 5 million dollars in a lifetime, close to and in some instances exceeding the averages of other, more vocational or technology-based careers. Money tends to affect people’s decision making when it comes to college degrees, but starting salaries don’t determine the success of liberal arts majors. When practical majors and careers top out, liberal arts degree holders can soar. They may not make the same starting salary as engineers or doctors, but this doesn’t mean that these majors aren’t worth it or aren’t important. In a culture of instant gratification, patience is key.

"Liberal arts majors can make upwards of 3 to 5 million dollars in a lifetime, close to and in some instances exceeding the averages of other, more vocational or technology-based careers."

            One anecdote that illustrates this imperative is the story of Kaori Freda, a recent Reed College graduate. Her parents, like many adults, were skeptical about what she was going to do after college. It didn’t help when she moved to Japan and then to a remote island in the Pacific to learn more about herself, her heritage, and her potential. Yet, it was because of, and not despite, this detour that she ended up landing a “great job” with Nike. Thanks to her “overseas search for personal meaning” (204), Kaori was able to figure out what she wanted to do and relate her experiences to potential employers in a way that advocated for the skills they conferred. In other words, Kaori took a risk and she thrived.

Nowadays, students are so often told that the point of college is finding a high paying job right after graduation that they tend to forget that it is okay to explore. “There’s a bit of Kaori Freda in all of us,” Anders writes, “When you collect your diploma, you don’t yet know what kind of jobs you do best, what type of work satisfies you the most, or where the best opportunities reside. You need to experiment…No matter what your parents tell you, the great advantage of a college education isn’t long-term stability; it’s flexibility” (207). The explorer’s spirit can help us achieve success; we just have to be willing to gain a new perspective, to find adventure in everything from everyday activities to life changing experiences.

"...liberal arts majors aren’t what modern culture makes them out to be. They are highly skilled, show potential for great leadership, and are equipped to withstand the innovations of automation."

Ultimately, what readers should take away from this book is that liberal arts majors aren’t what modern culture makes them out to be. They are highly skilled, show potential for great leadership, and are equipped to withstand the innovations of automation. Whatever their choice of major, liberal arts students can hold their own amongst accountants and engineers; they will show the working world what they are made of. Just remember: “Rapid, disruptive change doesn’t ruin your prospects: it can actually play to your advantage” (9).

Georgia’s “Snacks for the Road” (Memorable Quotes):

  •  “In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists” (cited on pg. 16).
  • “Hundreds of psychological studies have found that people with a high level of what’s called ‘openness to new experiences’ fare somewhat better in school and, by extension, later life than those who have lower levels of it. Our world needs people who color outside the lines” (21).
  • “Pearlstein asked how many of his twenty-four students had chosen to major in a field such as history, English, or philosophy. The answer: only one. The explanation from half a dozen others: ‘My parents wouldn’t let me’” (28).
  • “Success isn’t a straight line…you will need to keep improvising your future” (54).
  • “It’s time to help meandering regain its good name” (56).
  • “42 percent of all hires happen without any trace of a formal job posting in the previous month” (82).
  • “We’d much rather hire a passionate candidate with potential than an uninspired candidate with a sparkling resume” (cited on pg. 111).
  • “It is impossible to automate the highly nuanced feat of changing people’s minds” (134).
  • “You can teach people to code, but you can’t teach people to learn” (cited on pg. 199).
  • “Every leadership question is really about communications. And every communications question is actually a leadership question in disguise” (276).

Georgia Green is a major in English Literature and a minor in Creative Writing.

Advice: Literary Awards Submissions

The deadline for the Purdue 2019 Literary Awards is fast approaching! All entries must be submitted by noon on Monday, February 25th.

Here are a few last-minute tips for submitting:

1. Check out the categories

Categories for undergraduate submissions include creative writing, literary criticism and journalism, interdisciplinary and CLA Awards, and Kneale Awards. There is an extensive variety of genres that can be submitted, ranging from plays and poetry, to essays and literary critiques. Whether you’re revising a class paper or working on a novel for fun, nearly any type of writing will fit into one of the award categories, so start digging through those old drafts!

2. Know the Rules

Read through the eligibility guidelines at least twice, then double check that your entries comply. Don’t be the person who spends hours perfecting a submission only to have it disqualified over a technicality.

Also remember that your entries must be submitted as PDF files and that your name should not be listed anywhere on your entries.

3. Get Feedback

Get fresh perspectives by sharing with friends, family, and professors. Having at least one other pair of eyes on your writing is a great way to correct errors or catch the little details that you may have missed.

The Purdue Writing Lab is another a great resource for feedback. Tutors are trained to help writers in every stage, and it’s free! If you can’t make it to the writing lab in person, consider trying their online or E-tutoring options.

4. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

You’ll want to surprise the judges with your creative genius, not your typos. Here are two tricks that make it easier to catch errors.

First, read your writing aloud. Hearing how your words sounded aloud gives you a much clearer idea of the pace and flow of your writing. Or, better, yet, read your work aloud to a friend (combine with # 3 above).

Second, change the font of your document. Changing to a different font than you have used for drafting will encourage you to read more closely, making it easier to spot problems.

Best of luck on your submissions!

“Beyond English”

It’s time to answer “The Question”: What is the point of an English degree?

When faced with this query, English majors sometimes find it difficult to verbalize the value of their education. That’s where ENGLISH 39900: Beyond English comes into play. This capstone course is designed to answer “The Question,” and all the other pesky uncertainties English majors face on a daily basis. The course is broken up into distinct segments, each designed to help students better understand where they fit in the world as English majors. Writing exercises help them articulate their interests, the readings showcase the many different ways English skills apply in the workforce, and peer discussions build up confidence.

So, was the class helpful? Here’s what three students have to say.

Grace Morris
English Literature Major Dance Minor

Grace describes Beyond English as a space to discover how English applies to real life. She loved the diversity of the readings, with materials ranging from news articles, such as “Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous,” to novellas like The Little Prince. However, it was the commencement speeches by notable figures such as J. K. Rowling that Grace enjoyed the most, because they explored ways her degree could open doors later in life.

Every unit of the course offered Grace something useful. She gained resume writing and networking skills, discovered ties between her major and minor, and even learned tips for “adulting.” Beyond English gave her the language to explain her major to skeptics and helped her take pride in her studies; she now has a fuller appreciation of how English promotes empathy, creativity, and perspective-taking.

Scattered throughout the course were writing assignments such as journaling and creating career maps. These exercises helped students consider what they wanted out of life and brainstorm ways to get there. Like many of her classmates, Grace’s path to English started in a completely different major. She began in Management, but, eventually, switched to English. Journaling allowed Grace to reflect on her journey at Purdue and to map out potential paths for her future.

In addition to being reading-intensive, Beyond English was very discussion-based. Every student had to contribute to the daily conversation, and, with only 11 students in the class, no one held back. Everyone enjoyed the honesty of the discussions and shared their thoughts without judgment.

However, the highlight of the course was a visit by Purdue English alumni Kristi Brown, Project Manager at Capital Program Management. Kristy had worked her way into the construction business from the ground up. She shared that knowing how to learn and taking the initiative to teach herself propelled her into important roles, such as managing the State Street Project and the construction of the new arch in front of Purdue Memorial Union – all without an engineering degree. According to Grace, Kristi’s experiences revealed the vast opportunities available to English majors. “[T]he English major is not a linear career path,” Grace says, “If we wanted a linear career path we would be in Engineering . . . I think that is what attracted me the most because I have so many options.” Although she intends to pursue graduate school in communication and dance, Grace isn’t ruling out other careers now that she knows, “If I want to, I can also lead a huge city project.”

Filled with dreaming and planning in equal measure, Beyond English offers a judgement-free space for English majors to assess where they are and where they want to be. Grace’s advice to students? “Be willing to find yourself within the course, and find your passions, and find where your future could lie.”

Liz Walker 
English Literature and Professional Writing Major
Political Science and Theater Minor

Liz Walker entered Beyond English discouraged and frustrated. Constantly trying to prove the value of English to others had left her disheartened, and the negativity was taking its toll. After three years of people questioning her major, she had started to doubt herself: “Had majoring in English been the right choice?”

Although she was initially skeptical, Beyond English turned out to be the right experience at the right time. Liz credits the course’s more philosophical readings, like “What Is the Point of College?,” with getting her back on track. She also credits the class with revamping her love of English and effecting a tangible change in her mentality. Looking at the bigger picture reminded her that the purpose of college is more than just landing a job. It is also about learning and growing as a person.

Liz recommends Beyond English because it helped her realize that there is no one definition of success, and that life does not transition predictably from point A to point B. Until her junior year, Liz had her life neatly mapped out with the intention of becoming a lawyer. It wasn’t until after attending a law seminar that she realized law was not the career for her. “Life is very fluid, and it’s not linear” she says. She admits to initially having a hard time grasping this, but that Beyond English helped her come to terms with it. The course provided Liz with practical tools to market her skills to the fullest extent. Participating in required Center for Career Opportunities (CCO) events offered her experiences she would not have pursued otherwise. She also found the down-to-earth advice in Adulting: How to Become a Grownup in 535 Easy(ish) Steps useful.

Liz also enjoyed the course’s different thematic sections. One section focused on the purpose of life, or as Liz put it, “being a basic human being.” Another delved into the practical questions every English major worries about: How can you use your degree? What place does Liberal Arts have in a tech-based society? How does the study of English fit into the modern world? A third looked toward the future: What comes after college? What does adulting look like?

“It was a unique class,” Liz says, “because even though it did deal with deeper theories and concepts . . . it was very relationship-based.” She enjoyed hearing from her peers and forging close relationships with them. Talking with other English majors reassured her that she was not the only one worried about the future. Months later, Liz and her classmates still chat over GroupMe and are trying to start a book club. Although she is still unsure where life is heading, Liz is okay with that. She no longer feels the need to justify herself to others: “I feel like I’m leaving Purdue very confident in my abilities.”

Rachel Muff
English Literature Major
Spanish Minor

For Rachel Muff, the highlight of Beyond English wasn’t just the content; it was also the people she got to know, starting with the class instructor. “[Prof. Pacheco] puts a lot of himself into the class and he encourages, like, a comfortable atmosphere . . . he makes it feel casual without being unprofessional.” This made it easy to for Rachel to get to know her peers to the point where she feels like she “could pick out a present for every single person in that class.” As a non-traditional student, she was inspired by the excitement of this new generation.

The course readings were another source of inspiration for Rachel. She especially loves this quote from Martha Nussbaum’s book, Cultivating Humanity:

“A child deprived of stories is deprived, as well, of certain ways of viewing other people.  For the insides of people, like the insides of stars, are not open to view. They must be wondered about. And the conclusion that this set of limbs in front of me has emotions and feelings and thoughts of the sort I attribute to myself will not be reached without the training of the imagination that storytelling promotes.”

Filled with texts like this, the course helped Rachel articulate the value of reading, writing, and interpreting stories. The same skills needed to tell a story are also extremely valuable in the workforce. Employers want workers who connect with other people, and are disciplined, self-reflective, and able to take criticism – all skills found in English majors.

Prior to Beyond English, Rachel didn’t know what she wanted in a career. But, after spending the semester discussing the readings with her classmates, exploring career paths through research exercises, and verbalizing her experiences through a group podcast project, she emerged with a clearer understanding of her career interests. Rachel is currently applying for a marketing positions at the Wildlife Habitat Council and Utah Department of Natural Resources. She is also exploring the possibility of writing for medical journals. Rachel’s career interests are diverse, but she feels confident about her prospects and she expects that her classmates feel the same. “I think everyone walked out of that class with a higher self-esteem,” she said, “Everyone loved that class.”

Editorial Intern at Arthuriana

A portrayal of King Arthur.

One of the newest of the department’s many internship opportunities is with Arthuriana, an academic journal devoted to all aspects of the Arthurian legend from its beginnings to present day. You read that right: King Arthur, Merlin, Camelot, the sword in the stone —right here at Purdue. Our Department Head, Dr. Dorsey Armstrong, is the editor of Arthuriana and oversees the journal’s production. Housed on the fourth floor of Heavilon Hall, Arthuriana’s graduate student Editorial Assistants are involved in the academic publishing process, from article submissions to copyediting. Undergraduate Editorial Interns for Arthuriana work closely with these graduate students on typesetting and proofreading articles.


As with most editing internships, this is a grammar-heavy position. Arthuriana is looking for a strong proofreader with a good grasp of grammar; if you know a comma from a semi-colon, this could be the internship for you. Having a handle on the general principles of citation comes in handy, too. Because Arthuriana has its own in-house citation style (“Chicago-adjacent,” as Editorial Assistants Aidan Holtan and Adrianna Radosti describe it), the ideal intern has an eye for mistakes in articles’ citations.

Editorial interns also use Adobe InDesign to finalize articles, so knowledge of that program is a plus. But don’t worry—even though their InDesign skills mostly involve fist-shaking and prayer, the graduate students are happy to train.

Additional responsibilities include supervising “proofing parties” for graduate students in medieval studies, which spread the proofreading wealth. Arthuriana’s Editorial Intern would answer questions about articles, relay issues to the Editorial Assistants, and act as a go-between between the volunteers and the journal. The ideal intern would also show initiative in identifying projects that need to be done (like organizing the boxes of Arthuriana’s back issues that take over the office) and following through.


Interns also have the possibility of attending the International Congress on Medieval Studies hosted by Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan every summer. Arthuriana hosts an exhibitor’s booth at the Congress, where they sell subscriptions, back issues, and other Arthurian and medieval swag. Students have the opportunity to attend panels and meet medieval scholars, as well as other exhibitors—an excellent professional development opportunity.

So if you have an interest in medieval literature and aren’t afraid of commas, Arthuriana could be the place for you to gain experience in academic publishing. Working closely with graduate students is helpful for those who may be interested in pursuing graduate school; plus, as you will be reading all the articles Arthuriana publishes, you are sure to learn quite a bit about all the cool and exciting new developments and discoveries in the field of Arthurian studies.

Perhaps the coolest part of interning for Arthuriana? Seeing your name in print on the masthead for the issue!

Application Advice:


For those interested in applying, the most important part of your application is the cover letter. Since this position is mostly about grammar, make sure your materials are free from errors!

If you have questions about Arthuriana, you can reach out to the current Editorial Assistants Aidan Holtan (gaunta@purdue.edu) and Adrianna Radosti (aradosti@purdue.edu). They’ll be happy to help!

You can also book an appointment in the Writing Lab if you want help with your cover letter.


February is almost over, which means our Books and Coffee series is sadly coming to an end. Don’t miss the last meeting! Professor Brian Leung will be speaking on Andrew Sean Greer’s Less on Thursday, February 28 from 4:00 – 5:00 pm in STEW 302/306.

About Less

Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story.


Less is the funniest, smartest and most humane novel I’ve read since Tom Rachman’s 2010 debut, The Imperfectionists….Greer writes sentences of arresting lyricism and beauty. His metaphors come at you like fireflies….Like Arthur, Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is excellent company. It’s no less than bedazzling, bewitching and be-wonderful.” ―New York Times Book Review

“Greer is an exceptionally lovely writer, capable of mingling humor with sharp poignancy…. Brilliantly funny…. Greer’s narration, so elegantly laced with wit, cradles the story of a man who loses everything: his lover, his suitcase, his beard, his dignity.”―Ron Charles, Washington Post

“Greer’s novel is philosophical, poignant, funny and wise, filled with unexpected turns….Although Greer is gifted and subtle in comic moments, he’s just as adept at ruminating on the deeper stuff. His protagonist grapples with aging, loneliness, creativity, grief, self-pity and more.”―San Francisco Chronicle

“I recommend it with my whole heart.” ―Ann Patchett

“A piquantly funny fifth novel.” ―Entertainment Weekly

“Greer, the author of wonderful, heartfelt novels including The Confessions of Max TivoliThe Impossible Lives of Greta Wells and The Story of a Marriage, shows he has another powerful weapon in his arsenal: comedy. And who doesn’t need a laugh right about now?”―Miami Herald

“Greer elevates Less’ picaresque journey into a wise and witty novel. This is no Eat, Pray Love story of touristic uplift, but rather a grand travelogue of foibles, humiliations and self-deprecation, ending in joy, and a dollop of self-knowledge.”―National Book Review

Educated: A Memoir

End your day with some caffeine and a good book. Come out and hear Professor Janet Alsup speak on Tara Westover’s Educated: A Memoir on Thursday, February 21, from 4:00 – 5:00 pm in STEW 302/306.

About Educated:  A Memoir

An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University.

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University.


“Westover has somehow managed not only to capture her unsurpassably exceptional upbringing, but to make her current situation seem not so exceptional at all, and resonant for many others.”The New York Times Book Review

“A heartbreaking, heartwarming, best-in-years memoir about striding beyond the limitations of birth and environment into a better life.”USA Today

“A coming-of-age memoir reminiscent of The Glass Castle.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“Heart-wrenching . . . a beautiful testament to the power of education to open eyes and change lives.”—Amy Chua, The New York Times Book Review


You won’t want to miss it! Professor Sam Blackmon will speak on Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing at our second Books and Coffee event on Thursday, February 14 from 4:00 – 5:00 pm in STEW 302/306.

About Homegoing

The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.
Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.


“Homegoing is an inspiration.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Spectacular.” —Zadie Smith
“Powerful. . . . Compelling. . . . Illuminating.” —The Boston Globe
“A blazing success.” —Los Angeles Times
“I could not put this book down.” —Roxane Gay
“Devastating. . . . Luminous.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A beautiful story.” —Trevor Noah, The Daily Show
“Spellbinding.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Dazzling. . . . Devastating. . . . Truly captivating.” —The Washington Post
“Brims with compassion. . . . Yaa Gyasi has given rare and heroic voice to the missing and suppressed.” —NPR 
“Tremendous . . . Spectacular. . . . Essential reading.” —San Francisco Chronicle 
“Magical. . . . Hypnotic. . . . Yaa Gyasi [is] a stirringly gifted writer.” —The New York Times Book Review

Have dog will travel

Join us for the first books and coffee session of 2019! Professor Maren Linett will speak on Stephen Kuusisto’s Have Dog Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey on Thursday, February 7, 2019.
4:00- 5:00 pm in STEW 302/306.

About Have Dog, Will Travel

In a lyrical love letter to guide dogs everywhere, a blind poet shares his delightful story of how a guide dog changed his life and helped him discover a newfound appreciation for travel and independence.

Stephen Kuusisto was born legally blind—but he was also raised in the 1950s and taught to deny his blindness in order to “pass” as sighted. Stephen attended public school, rode a bike, and read books pressed right up against his nose. As an adult, he coped with his limited vision by becoming a professor in a small college town, memorizing routes for all of the places he needed to be. Then, at the age of 38, he was laid off. With no other job opportunities in his vicinity, he would have to travel to find work.

This is how he found himself at Guiding Eyes paired with a Labrador named Corky. In this vivid and lyrical memoir, Stephen Kuusisto recounts how an incredible partnership with a guide dog changed his life and the heart-stopping, wondrous adventure that began for him in midlife. Profound and deeply moving, this is a spiritual journey, the story of discovering that life with a guide dog is both a method and a state of mind.

Editorial Reviews

“Kuusisto…give[s] readers and animal lovers terrific insight into not only his experience with blindness, but also the unshakable bond between a guide dog and its owner.”—Publishers Weekly

“Never before has the subtle relationship of a blind person to a guide dog been clarified in such an entertaining way. That Stephen Kuusisto enables us to see the world through his blind eyes as well as through the ‘seeing eyes’ of his dog is this book’s amazing, paradoxical achievement.”—Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003)

“A perceptive and beautifully crafted memoir of personal growth, and a fascinating example of what can happen when a person and a dog learn to partner with one another.”—Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human

“Have Dog, Will Travel is both an intimate memoir of one man’s particular experience of blindness and a beautiful tribute to the devotional, unconditional love of a dog. Funny, moving, and joyful.”—Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others

 “I fell in love with Corky, of course, with her goofiness and boundless affection and heart-stopping wisdom. Truth be told, I fell in love with Steve too for how he dove into his new, broken open, adventurous life with her, and the way he processed his experiences through the lens of his reading life, and his compassion for others and for his own late-blooming self.”—Ona Gritz, author of On The Whole: A Story Of Mothering And Disability 

The Quiet Power of a Liberal Arts Education

Language is powerful. It is crucial to possess the right language; otherwise, it can be difficult to express the value of our experiences. For this reason, we need a convincing vocabulary to talk about liberal arts education and convey to the outside world how degrees like English Literature and Creative Writing are beneficial in the long run.

For the longest time, I knew on a personal level that I have been learning immensely, but I couldn’t always justify this because I struggled to find the right words. Now after having spent over three semesters in pursuit of a liberal arts degree, I find myself armed with a number of facts as to support my stance. I find myself capable of analyzing exactly what skills I possess, my strengths and my weaknesses, and how my liberal arts education will allow me to transition smoothly from the world of academia to a job, including the kinds of jobs that are commonly considered to be outside the conventional realms of liberal arts.

First, we need to break the myth that receiving a liberal arts education means limiting our options. The skills we gain are highly transferable and, if applied well, allow us to flourish in almost any field. “Soft skills” such as communication, teamwork, adaptability, critical thinking, empathy, and storytelling, are foundations for every organization. This might be easy to forget, but overlooking these skills can harm a business’ success. It is easy to find people equipped to do the one specific task, but we also need people who can learn new things, who can make sure that people work together smoothly, and who can create a team out of individuals. Other benefits of the liberal arts include “the ‘habit of attention…the art of expression…the art of assuming, at a moment’s notice, a new intellectual position…the art of entering quickly into the personal thoughts’—and even the willingness to accept that you might be wrong” (cited in Anders 19).

As a Literature student, I read and analyze multiple texts every week in order to comprehend their stories, tone, settings, and characters’ different motivations, as well as the underlining meanings of what is left unsaid. Then I have to express all of this in the form of well-written papers. This sort of practice helps me hone my ability to read deeply, attentively, and critically.

Art doesn’t serve us answers on a platter; it urges us to explore with curiosity, which includes asking questions and looking at situations from as many different angles as possible.

Art is humbling because there is so much of it. It reminds us that we can never know everything, but also that what we can do is be lifelong learners. “In times of drastic change,” George Anders tells us, “it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists” (16). It is naïve to believe that we’ll be doing the same one job for the rest of our lives, especially considering the times we live in right now and how fast everything is changing due to constant technological advancements. For us to move forward in the world, it will be crucial to remember that we have to stay enthusiastic about learning. We are going to be introduced to something new every step of the way.

Studying literature also allows me to find value in the words of many artists I admire. One of my favorite writers is Neil Gaiman, who advises, “Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be —an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words— was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right.”

As someone who loves writing poetry, this is advice that I always try to keep in mind while making choices, especially since there is no one, concrete route I can take to become the kind of artist I want to be. I know I want to spend a large amount of my time here in the world writing poetry while being able to support myself at the same time. That’s my mountain. The plan is to sustain myself while I work on my art, and the aim is to grow both as a poet and a human being.

I now better understand my motivation for attending university. As Kwame Appiah puts it, “What you can do and who you can be —the qualities of your skills and of your soul— are two separate questions but they aren’t quite separable. And that college was a pretty good place to work out some answers for both.” I do not see college as just a means to getting a job. That is an important aspect of earning a degree, but to me, it is more than just that. There is a difference between what one can do and what one ends up doing.

I am here because I want to learn more not only about the things I am interested in but also about my own self. I believe it is important to understand who one is and what one is capable of being in order to overcome the difference between potential and result.

College is a way for me to not only gain new experiences but also to explore how I can develop my interests in a more purposeful and productive manner.

As someone who adores stories the way I do and relies on them to comprehend the world better, I understand what Chimamanda Adichie calls the “danger of a single story.” As she puts it, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair the broken dignity.” These words have helped me realize how important the art of storytelling is and how who tells a story can change the way we perceive or respond to it. As a woman of color, I know how stories can harm minorities by caging them into stereotypes and how difficult it can be to break those stereotypes, which is why it is important for us to now more than ever take control of our own narratives. For a lot of us who have been denied agency, storytelling in any form is a way to reclaim and repossess that agency. I have come to understand that my way of taking charge of my narrative —something that was denied to a lot of people of color for hundreds of years— is through poetry.

In Madness, Rack, and Honey, Mary Ruefle says, “A poem should be more interesting than anything that might be said about it…. there should still be some residual being left in the poem that goes on ticking, something like, why not say it, color, something that has an effect on your central nervous system. It is not what a poem says with its mouth, it’s what a poem does with its eyes” (57). What a poem “does with its eyes” is urge readers to look beyond the page and consider the meaning they’ve grasped from the words in relation to the world all around them. Everything about a poem asks the reader to slow down and read deeply in order to fathom the meaning behind it. The structure of a poem with all its breaks, enjambments, and cesuras also requires close analysis to make sense of what is being said while also comprehending the unsaid.

With every poem we read, we get better at translating their meanings and applying them to the lives we create. This strengthens perception. I have used the example of poetry here but the act of close reading, in general, helps us grow. It plays a pivotal role in helping people lead self-aware lives. It encourages people to question and learn. Many people are comfortable living with their beliefs, thoughts, and actions unquestioned or unchallenged, but growth demands uncertainty, exploration, and analysis. It means that the lens through which we view the world broadens and we become more tolerant, empathetic, and sensitive. We get closer to our own humanity.

My goal is to combine my love for learning with my love for art. I would also like to hold onto my inner child who is open to new experiences, finding it within herself to constantly be surprised by what the world has to offer while not being ignorant of the other, darker side of things. Art allows me to do that. For this reason, I am entertaining the idea of going to graduate school and getting an MFA in poetry. From where I am standing right now, my two best life possibilities would be to write poetry while either getting a doctorate and becoming a professor or getting a job in publishing, where the goal would be to encourage the works of people of color who lack representation and support from the publishing industry a lot of times.

Having said this, I am also well aware of chaos theory and how change can affect a person’s life. I am open to other opportunities that may come my way, and my best course of action is always going to be anything that brings me a step closer to my mountain. Above all, I think the most important lesson is that the goal is not to have it all figured out (because you never will). You should just be able to handle the journey while never losing faith in yourself.

Vitasta Singh is double major in English Literature and Creative Writing at Purdue.

Anders, George. You Can Do Anything. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2017.

Ruefle, Mary. Madness, Rack, and Honey. New York: Wave Books, 2012.

Appiah, Kwame. “What Is the Point of College?” New York Times. September 8, 2015.

Gaiman, Neil. “Make Good Art.” Keynote Address 2012. May 17, 2012.

Adichi, Chimamanda. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TED talk transcript. July 2009. 

Books & Coffee 2019

Everybody knows a great book from the past, whether it’s Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.  But what are the great books of the present?  That’s the question the English Department’s Books and Coffee series has explored since 1951.  Every Thursday in February, a faculty member discusses a recent book that’s made some waves, something you may have heard of but haven’t gotten around to reading.  This is your opportunity to hear expert commentary on a new book that is a vital part of contemporary print culture.  Talks are in STEW 302/306 at 4:30 pm, but stop by as early as 4 pm for free coffee and pastries, as well as a chance to socialize with other book lovers. The talks last no more than 25 minutes.  Afterward, there’s a raffle with a chance to win some fun prizes.  And if you like, there’s an opportunity to meet the presenter and share your ideas about the book.

Speakers for 2019 will be:  Professor Maren Linett (Week 1);  Professor Sam Blackmon (Week 2); Professor Janet Alsup (Week 3); and Professor Brian Leung (Week 4).

MFA reading

The Creative Writing Program’s first MFA reading of the Spring 2019 semester is scheduled for Thursday, January 24th at 8:00 pm at the Knickerbocker Saloon in downtown Lafayette. This is a 21+ event. Come here some great readings from our awesome students!!!

The Big Read: The Underground Railroad

Looking for a good book? The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead has something for everyone. Rich in history, suspense, and emotion, the compelling characters will draw you into the surreal world of fiction even while the true-to-life horrors make you feel like you are caught in a nightmare. Read with friends and discuss your thoughts as you journey with Cora to freedom from the slavery of the deep South.

2019 Literary Awards

The fun and festivities of the holidays are over and there isn’t anything to look forward to between now and summer vacation. Or is there?  Indeed there is, because the 2019 Literary Awards celebration is right around the corner!

In a few short weeks, Boilermakers will have the pleasure of hearing from Colson Whitehead, award-winning author of The Underground Railroad (which just so happens to be the “Big Read” pick for this year). Mr. Whitehead will be the guest speaking for the Literary Awards Banquet on April 11th at 5:30pm in the North Ballroom of PMU. The banquet will be followed by a reading and book signing by Mr. Whitehead at 8:00pm in Fowler Hall.

Does April still feel like a long ways away? Use the time between now and then to prepare your literary award contest submissions. Genres range from poems and short stories to screenplays and nonfiction essay, with different contests for grad, undergrad, and highschool students. Oh, and did we mention there are cash prizes for the winners?

The submission deadline is noon on Monday, February 25, 2019. See the submission requirements for more details. And for those who haven’t read the book, there’s still time to grab a copy and get reading!

gabrielle Calvoressi

Our first visiting writer, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, will be reading from her work on Thursday, January 31st. There will be a Q&A at 4:30 in WTHR Room 320, and her reading will be held at 7:30 in the Robert E. Heine Pharmacy Building, room 172.

Gabrielle is the author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia EarhartApocalyptic Swing (a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize), and Rocket Fantastic, winner of the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry. The recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including a Stegner Fellowship and Jones Lectureship from Stanford University; a Rona Jaffe Woman Writer’s Award; a Lannan Foundation residency in Marfa, TX; the Bernard F. Conners Prize from The Paris Review; and a residency from the Civitella di Ranieri Foundation, among others. Calvocoressi is an Editor at Large at Los Angeles Review of Books, and Poetry Editor at Southern Cultures. Works in progress include a non-fiction book entitled, The Year I Didn’t Kill Myself and a novel, The Alderman of the Graveyard. Calvocoressi teaches at UNC Chapel Hill and lives in Carrboro, NC, where joy, compassion, and social justice are at the center of their personal and poetic practice.