Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

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.

Resources

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):

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/undergraduate_applications/undergraduate_application_timeline/advice_for_writing_application_essays.html

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.

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.

ADVICE FROM A GRADUATING SENIOR IN ENGLISH

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.

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.

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.