Category Archives: Students Speak

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.

(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.

Purdue Exponent: An English Major’s Playground

HISTORY

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.

MISSION

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, ENGLISH LITERATURE

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, ENGLISH LITERATURE

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.

JULIA TAYLOR, PROFESSIONAL WRITING

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

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.

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.

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.