Purdue Journal of Service Learning

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

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

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

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

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

Published articles fall into four categories:

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

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

2017 cover of the Journal
2017 cover of the Journal

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

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

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

Submission

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

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

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

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

Project Managing with Kristi Brown (English BA, 2001)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———————————-

For more information:

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

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

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

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

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

Chill Out. You’ll Get a Job.

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

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.

Tutoring in the Purdue Writing Lab: Empathy & Expertise

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

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

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

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

Perks of being a tutor

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

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

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

What professional qualities does tutoring cultivate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to apply to be an undergraduate tutor?

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

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

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

Some final advice

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

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

You can Do Anything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice: Literary Awards Submissions

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

Here are a few last-minute tips for submitting:

1. Check out the categories

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

2. Know the Rules

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

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

3. Get Feedback

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

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

4. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

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

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

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

Best of luck on your submissions!

“Beyond English”

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

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

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

Grace Morris
English Literature Major Dance Minor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Muff
English Literature Major
Spanish Minor


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

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

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

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

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

Editorial Intern at Arthuriana

A portrayal of King Arthur.

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

Duties:

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

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

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

Perks:

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

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

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

Application Advice:

Decorative

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

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

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

Less

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


About Less

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

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

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

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

Reviews

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

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

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

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

“A piquantly funny fifth novel.” ―Entertainment Weekly

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

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

Educated: A Memoir

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


About Educated:  A Memoir

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

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

Reviews

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

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

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

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

Homegoing

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


About Homegoing

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

Reviews

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

Have dog will travel

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

About Have Dog, Will Travel

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

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

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

Editorial Reviews

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

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

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

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

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


The Quiet Power of a Liberal Arts Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Books & Coffee 2019

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

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

MFA reading

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

The Big Read: The Underground Railroad

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

2019 Literary Awards

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

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

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

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

gabrielle Calvoressi

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

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