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

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