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.

Submission

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.

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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.