Archive | December, 2012

Don’t Expect English Majors to Fail

7 Dec

Ed JanakLast summer, I applied for a job at the local movie rental store, Family Video, to make some extra money. As the manager scanned my application, he paused and said, “Oh, you’re majoring in English?” I had expected this video store manager of five years to make me defend my decision, as I had already done so many times to my family. But what he said next was far worse: “That’s what I majored in, too!”

In the end, I was grateful to not get the job at Family Video, yet the manager’s English degree loomed large over my head for years to come. Was my mother right? Was I continuing to put myself in debt for a worthless degree?
While talking with SUNY Fredonia graduate Edward Janak, I’ve realized how little has changed since he received his Bachelor’s in 1992 — both in terms of campus life and of parental opposition towards choosing to major in English. The eye rolls have failed to cease, as people continue to underestimate and misinterpret this field of study.

As the fifth in our series of life stories about Fredonia State English majors, Edward Janak’s serves as an example to those wondering if their English degree will lead them to years behind the counter in fast food or retail. You can read the four previous stories here:

Change Your Major or Move Out

Dr. Janak had wanted to be a teacher from a young age. “I’m one of those naive fools,” he says, who believes teachers are born, not made, and that teaching is an art not a science.” Yet, even though in Ed’s mind a future in teaching was a given, his engineer father had different plans.

For a semester and a half, Ed attended Fredonia State as a mathematics major and was miserable. In a struggle to live up to his father’s aspirations, Ed attended class and tutoring sessions faithfully, but was still unable to pass his math courses.

“The English courses, they clicked with me,” Ed says, “It wasn’t that they were easy, but I was able to do well in them. So I wound up switching over from math to English; and to say it was a contentious decision is kind of an understatement.”

His dad took the anger over English to new heights. We often hear of English students being given a hard time about their choice in major but Ed, who was only 17-years-old as a freshman, was given more than a hard time — his father gave him the choice between majoring in something other than English or moving out. Nevertheless, Ed stuck to his decision and his father eventually relented. “It was a battle,” he explains, “it was a battle with my family; it was a battle with everybody.”

After declaring English, even an education professor told him that his major was a waste of time. In a class called “Foundations of Education” Ed was one of three male students that the professor told to drop the course on the first day because he felt, according to Ed, “That as men, we should not consider teaching because we’d never be able to support a family. He really took it out on the guys in that class, trying to drive us out.”

Despite the negative experience in the foundations class, Ed “absolutely loved” his time in Fredonia. He still remembers lessons from his undergrad courses, from public school law to Native American studies to myth and symbol, and uses them within his own teaching. After having a more positive experience with education foundations classes in his graduate studies, he has even chosen to focus on it now, with a goal of “Fighting to make sure foundations of education is still part of at least some future teachers’ training.”

Now Ed has shifted his own teaching to focus on foundations of education, as he explains that, “You’ve gotta know where you’ve been to know where you’re going … I think to be a professional, which is what teachers want to be, you’ve got to know where you’ve been historically; and more significantly, philosophically, you’ve got to know in what you believe.”

Ed’s Advice to Students? Unplug.

Ed reflects on his time in Fredonia, from time spent with friends in the sound recording studios, at WNYF and at the radio station, to spontaneous campus jam sessions and party-hopping on Day Street. From his descriptions it seems that the small town is not much is different since the early nineties. What has changed, however, is the infiltration of technology in the lives of students.

Ed’s biggest advice for students now would be to “unplug.” Though an avid emailer who uses Skype and teaches on Second Life, he says there is a time and a place for technology and he urges students to make the most of their personal interactions.

“What I see happening,” says Ed, “is that undergrads are so busy living through their devices that they’re not living. And some of the best experiences I had in Fredonia, outside of the classroom, were experiences I had with people.”

From pick-up soccer and mud football to simple face-to-face interactions, these experiences should be valued. Ed says, “I think when people graduate from university, they should have some memories in addition to what they were typing on a keyboard.”

Another factor that Ed believes can benefit undergrads is taking courses with varied subject matter. “The philosophical introduction that I got in Fredonia shaped part of my PhD [in historical, sociological and philosophical foundations of education],” Ed says. “My background in philosophy came right from Fredonia. My passion about areas of social justice, especially from a historical point of view, came out of my experiences in Fredonia.”

Ed, who continues to emphasize the value of lessons learned outside the classroom, laughs, “I’ll politely say that I never let school get in the way of my education.” Having spent his childhood in Eden and Hamburg, NY, the greatest experience for him was getting used to the variety of people from different places and backgrounds. To sum up his time in Fredonia, Ed says, “It altered my worldview forever.”

Life Happens

When looking for a career, Ed emphasizes how important it is to be willing to relocate. He taught high school in South Carolina for nearly a decade, and in the meantime earned his Master’s degree from the University of South Carolina in 1996. He loved his time in South Carolina, where met his wife (also a graduate student), and ended up earning his PhD there in 2003.

After his wife had earned her PhD the year before, Ed followed her career move out West and began teaching at the University of Wyoming, where he has recently been tenured as Associate Professor of Educational Studies.

From a Fredonia State student to a tenured professor, Ed Janak serves as an example for English majors and helps us see that great writing can truly pay off. When asked if there was anything he’d do differently, without hesitating Ed replies, “No.”

Though admitting to making mistakes throughout his education and career, he recognizes that these mistakes have shaped him as a person and an educator. Dr. Ed Janak continues to value both his studies and life experiences, never ceasing to develop his worldview and skills as a professor.

“I do think there’s a lot of official and unofficial opportunities open to English majors,” he says, “I think the biggest thing they need to keep in mind is their skill set when they graduate is in communications. English majors are taught to read well, write well, and speak and listen well. If they can communicate those skills well, it can take them very, very far.”

Post by Christina Stock
Read original @ greatwriting

Write to Learn

7 Dec

mazeOver 20 successful years, Cindy Mantai has worked to establish herself as one of the top freelance writers and editors in Buffalo, NY. Her dedication and passion to writing has given her many opportunities, showing that the door is always open for new experiences.

Learning How to Learn
Originally from Fredonia, NY, Cindy went to Fredonia High School, where she participated in a program called 3-1-3. This program allowed Cindy to jumpstart her college career by attending classes during her senior year of high school.
When Cindy began classes at SUNY Fredonia, she admits that she had no idea what she wanted to pursue. But, she adds, “Going to college, for me, was learning how to learn. I learned to weed out the things that were not so important from the things that were important. My philosophy was that anything I learned would eventually help me.” Every opportunity Cindy took gave her skills that she would come back to down the road — showing that being open to learning always pays.
Cindy toyed with the idea of becoming a journalist. She took a news writing and editing class, where she learned the important lesson of objectivity — something she thinks the news today is lacking. During this time, she also participated in an independent study, which focused on the grape industry in the region. These experiences taught Cindy how to structure an article — which has, in turn, allowed Cindy to successfully write for many venues and different companies. “If you can write well, you can do virtually anything,” Cindy says. “It’s something that I feel you have to have as a foundation for any career.” A writer, Cindy points out, has opportunities wherever he or she goes in life.
When I asked her if there was anything she would’ve liked to do at SUNY Fredonia, she replied that she wished she had taken more classes: she never wants to stop learning. Cindy graduated with a B.A. in English, specializing in professional writing, in 1984.

Her First Writing Job
After college, Cindy moved from Fredonia to Rochester, NY. After working at her first job involving catalog production, advertising, trade shows and project management, Cindy found an ad in the newspaper for a copywriting position with WARD’s Natural Science, a company that sells biology products to schools. Writing about fetal pigs and giant cockroaches really struck a chord with Cindy, as her father is a retired biology professor of SUNY Fredonia.
Although Cindy loved the job, she couldn’t continue working there after she became a mother — but Cindy also couldn’t leave her intellectual side behind. And so began her freelancing business: Cindy Mantai Writing & Editing.
To get her business up and running, Cindy started asking people she knew if they had any projects for her to work on. She wrote brief articles for a school district newsletter, and she began building her writing portfolio. Cindy wrote op/ed pieces for newspapers, and one thing led to the next. In 2000, she made the move from Rochester to Buffalo. When asked how her business was so successful, Cindy said that she was very particular about keeping her website updated. She also said that social media was a key component. She wanted to make sure that whenever anyone searched for “writers in Buffalo, NY” her name would come up.
Starting up wasn’t easy, Cindy says. It was five years before she got lucrative assignments. But it was more than worth it, she says. “I’m so grateful that I had that kind of career — I’m so happy and fulfilled. I made a good hourly wage; I could support myself and my kids, and I didn’t have to work 40 to 60 hours a week.”
A Wide Variety of Writing
Cindy made sure that she wrote a wide variety of articles — she never wanted to feel pigeon-holed into a certain style of writing. In that regard, Cindy has achieved a lot. Besides writing for her business, Cindy has published poetry. She started her own newsletter entitled “Choices,” which targets stay-at-home mothers who still wish to do things that are intellectually stimulating. Cindy started a writing group called The Buffalo Writers Meetup Group. She is also currently working on her memoir.
Writing Today
I asked Cindy what advice she would give to English students making the transition from college to career, and she responded: “I think you have to be confident and humble at the same time. You have to be willing to do things that don’t necessarily seem related. You can find a job that is fun and rewarding, but you have to be open to it.” Cindy has recently started a new full-time position writing for a company in Buffalo. She is applying to this new job many of the things that she has learned previously, showing that you never stop applying what you have learned — and successful writers keep learning.
Post by Amanda Rogers
Read original @ greatwriting

Find Your Voice: Mark Anthony Neal, Ph.D.

7 Dec

nealDr. Mark Anthony Neal is an excellent communicator. Don’t just take my word for it — ask any of the 11,615 followers (as of today) of his twitter page. Dr. Neal is living proof that social networking works to communicate to a vast audience and to ultimately make your voice heard.

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Neal over the phone, where we spoke about great writing, the power of good communication, and how important it is as a writer to find a voice.
Dr. Neal is the author of four books: What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture (1998), Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic (2002), Songs in the Keys of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation (2003) and New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity (2005). Dr. Neal is also the author of the popular blog New Black Man, which explores different issues developed through cultural studies. On top of that, he hosts the weekly webcast Left of Black produced by Duke University. He has been featured in many other venues, such as NPR articles and Democracy Now! A 1987 graduate of SUNY Fredonia, Dr. Neal returned to his Alma mater in October 2011 to participate on a panel about Mahalia Jackson, a legendary gospel great.
To Attract an Audience — Mix Content Well
Dr. Neal and I got to chatting about the significance of writing well. An audience is attracted by different kinds of media — video and audio work—but ultimately the content is what holds their attention. Good writing is writing that clearly gets your message across. To reach an audience, Dr. Neal says, the important thing is to mix up content. It is Dr. Neal’s goal to integrate forms of popular culture in his work, which is illustrated on all sorts of forms—from novels to podcasts, from post-colonialism to popular culture—and that mix may be one of the reasons he is so successful. However, Dr. Neal says, “There are some things I can only communicate through writing. It is important to find the right kind of balance.”
Like a lot of successful English majors, Dr. Neal started college headed in an entirely different direction — in his case, as an engineering student. But after taking his first creative writing class, he knew that he was meant to study English. During his time at Fredonia, Dr. Neal hosted a Sunday morning radio show, wrote columns for The Leader — SUNY Fredonia’s student-run newspaper, and was president of the Black Student Union. These experiences allowed him to hone his skills as a public speaker in order to get his voice out in the world. He said he was really pushed at SUNY Fredonia: one of his teachers told him that he already had the makings of a public voice. I asked him what SUNY Fredonia taught him, and he replied, “SUNY Fredonia taught me that good writers read—all the time– and they read a wide variety of things.”
After graduating, Dr. Neal sold computer software, which he admitted wasn’t a very good fit for him. He began teaching classes in New York City, and then decided to continue his education at SUNY Buffalo. He graduated with a Ph.D. in American studies in 1993. He then worked briefly in New Orleans and then six years at SUNY Albany before moving to North Carolina to work at Duke University. (Just think—he went from being a Blue Devil to being a Blue Devil—the mascot of both SUNY Fredonia and Duke University.) At Duke, Dr. Neal is a professor of African and African American Studies, where he won the 2010 Robert B. Cox Award for teaching. Dr. Neal really enjoys what he is doing, and he was excited to talk to me about the opportunities he has been afforded by his position at Duke.  He proclaimed, “There’s no place like Duke. I’m really fortunate to be here.”
To Write Well — Write Often
I asked Dr. Neal what kind of advice he would give to English majors making the transition into their post-college lives and careers. He offered: “Keep writing. Write every day, work on your craft, and find your voice. Put in the time to make quality work, and you’ll get to the position you really want to have.”
Dr. Mark Anthony Neal did. And he did it by finding his own voice. It is a strong voice, in touch with the way communication works and how communication works in the world.
Post by Amanda Rogers
Read original @ greatwriting

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter the English Major?

7 Dec

News flash: my college classmate from 2010 is now a professional journalist.

Here’s a pop quiz: what comes to mind when someone says their kid graduated last year with an English degree? Poverty, right? Coffee shops, bookstores, restaurants — those are the places that many would expect to find the former English major in the year right after college.
So how do you explain Ned Campbell?
A 2010 English graduate of SUNY Fredonia, Ned already has a career for which many of my humanities-major friends might consider sacrificing a limb: he is a copy editor and reporter for three newspapers in Syracuse, New York.
Now, that isn’t to say that all humanities majors are vying for positions at newspapers. What they are competing for, however, is a job in their desired field. Yet even amidst all of the competition, Ned has managed to achieve just that: he is working in his field; he is doing something he loves; and he has been doing it since before graduation. These days, that’s quite an impressive feat. Who would have thought it — English skills might actually help launch your career?  In writing?
Ned is the editor of three weekly publications in Syracuse: The Eagle, which is the city newspaper; The Eagle Bulletin, for eastern suburbs of the city; and The Eagle Observer for suburbs west of Syracuse.
“I do a lot of editing and managing of content, and coordinating the efforts of myself and the other reporters,” he explained. He also gets to write, and although his primary “beat” is the school districts in the area, he also added, “I pretty much write about anything.”
English (Actually) Pays Off 
Ned started at Eagle Newspapers during the spring semester of his senior year at Fredonia after applying for the company’s New York Press Association sponsored internship. “So, I got that,” he said, “and I worked for eight weeks as an interim editor for the Skaneateles Press. So right away I got a lot of experience in that field, covering local news.” Not only did that internship give Ned the opportunity to gain some field experience, it also meant he was in the right place at the right time when editorial position opened up at The Eagle Observer. “That was nice, to have that [internship] lead right into a job,” he said.
But of course, it wasn’t all luck; Ned had done some other things very right, too. For one thing, he worked as the managing editor of The Leader, Fredonia’s student newspaper, throughout his senior year. “Working for The Leader was probably the best thing for me,” he explained. “Being involved with the newspaper made for an easy transition to my internship at Eagle Newspapers.” Ned added that his advisor at The Leader, SUNY Fredonia journalism professor Elmer Ploetz, played a key role in his decision to become a journalist. “He was a good role model and was always very supportive and encouraging. He let me know that I was good at editing, because you don’t always know what your strengths are, and he encouraged me to pursue a career in journalism.”
“I appreciate everything I got out of [SUNY Fredonia’s] English department,” he continued. And although Ned cites English Grammar For Everyone with Dr. Natalie Gerber as “the best class I took, considering my field,” he also stated that he “learned to become a better writer through every class at Fredonia. And if you don’t have a basic understanding of writing, you can’t focus your skills into a more specific field.”
As central as writing was to Ned’s education, his writing skills are not the only thing he feels he gained as an English major. “It’s a thinking major,” he said. You’re thinking in new ways and you’re being critical, and [having that background] has definitely been a benefit for me.”
Ned’s Advice
So how did Ned get to be where he is at such a young age?
“By being committed to the work I’ve been doing,” he said. “There have been times when it’s like, week after week, you’re hitting that early Monday morning deadline, and sometimes you think, ‘I wish I could just take the week off.’ But I’ve always been committed to it, and I’ve always treated every story as important.”
And to the nearly- and recently-graduated, Ned advises: “Get out there; go find an internship. It doesn’t have to be in the exact field you want to be in, but do something where you can write, where you can learn, and try to get published. Work for free if you have to. Write for free. A lot of newspapers will put you to work as an intern and not pay you, but you never know what it might turn into.”
And it could turn into something very promising. “It’s funny how fast things move,” Ned said, of his experience at The Eagle. “I started as an intern a year and a half ago and now I have an intern sitting behind me. He’s not so much younger than me.”
And maybe with a future just as bright.
Post by Carly Morgan
Read the original @ greatwriting

Call Me English Major

7 Dec

An interview with former English major and current professional engineer, Jim Krutchen

Often, when I first tell someone that I’m an English major, his or her response is pretty something to the effect of:

“What are you going to do with that?”

Well, Dad, I’m not entirely sure, but thanks a bundle for asking.

Enter: SUNY Fredonia alumnus and professional engineer Jim Krutchen, aka “living, breathing proof that I’m not ‘frittering away’ my tuition dollars just to read Catcher In The Rye all day” (but thanks for that one, too, Family). Jim’s employment history proves not only that the English degree is an employable one, but also that the skills acquired as an English major lend themselves to a vast array of viable employment possibilities.

When I spoke to Jim on the phone, he reminisced about riding his bike through Fredonia in early fall and smelling the grapes from all the nearby vineyards. He asked about some of the local, Main Street businesses that he remembered, most of which still maintain a presence in the town. He recalled his first two years living on campus as a resident of Hendrix Hall.

Well, all that stuff is still here — September in Fredonia still smells like grapes, Krutchen’s favorite bar of yore is still thriving, and Hendrix Hall, despite the efforts of a couple decades of student residents, is still standing.

Yes, there’s a certain timelessness to Fredonia, New York. And as it turns out, there’s a very distinct timelessness to the skills students stand to gain as English majors at SUNY Fredonia.

The Life and Times of Jim Krutchen (An Abridged Version)

Jim graduated from Fredonia in 1987.  He was in the Cooperative Engineering program, but he was also an English major. After completing postgraduate work at the University of Tucson, he earned his professional engineering certificate. Now, he works as a national support engineer for Black and Veatch in Overland Park, Kansas, working on fiber optics construction in projects across the US.

Call me crazy, but Cooperative Engineering and English does not seem like the most intuitive combination. I asked Krutchen why he chose to pair the two together, to which he replied, “English was a sort of rebellion for me. My dad and my two older sisters were engineers, and I wanted to get away from engineering and try something different.”

Well, his period of young adult rebellion has served him well.

Jim’s brand of fiber optic engineering can be more broadly classified as “industrial engineering.” He explained that his field incorporates the best aspects of mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as various “human factors” — addressing questions such as how certain products affect people, and how people interact with certain products. With an educational background in both engineering and the humanities, who would be better equipped for this type of job than someone like Jim?

Yeah, I said it — who would be better equipped for this job as an engineer than Jim Krutchen, the English major?

Jim also discussed the impact of his English background on his ability to communicate effectively. “All of the writing courses I took at Fredonia enabled me to write at different levels,” he explained. Jim can turn writing laden with technological jargon into something that those less familiar with his field can understand. “I learned how to use language to draw people in,” he continued. “The [writing courses] made it so I could better articulate my ideas, and they made me a better communicator.” Jim didn’t just learn how to write — he learned how to write well, and how to write for an audience.

I know what you’re thinking, Dad — “So what?”

To be successful in any field, communication skills are key. If you can’t effectively express your thoughts and ideas, then no matter how great those thoughts and ideas may be, it’s going to be hard to get people to care about them.

When I asked Jim about how he became an engineer, he said, “Where I am now was not necessarily part of the plan, but I’ve always had general goals in life.” Education has always been a huge component of Jim’s life goals, and his undergraduate study of English certainly speaks to that. He is a living contradiction to the conventional wisdom regarding what it means to be an English major — that you don’t actually have to know anything; you just have to feel. Jim shows that, to be successful as an English major, you need to study and learn about a little bit of everything: classical literature, mechanics of writing, various schools of criticism and philosophical ideology, to name a few fields. From there, possibilities for future employment can include just about anything — even engineering. Jim’s emphasis on education is certainly reflected in his choice to study English as an undergraduate student.

Finally, to all the current English majors who are constantly faced with the question of, “What are you going to do with that?” Jim has a more than adequate response: “When I think about success, my goal has been to do great things and to meet great people. That’s where I’ve been successful. Am I a millionaire? Do I have a yacht? No. But success is being happy and experiencing what the planet has to offer.”

So there you go, Dad. That’s what I’m going to do with my English degree.

Post by Carly Morgan

Read original @ greatwriting