On Monday UW-Platteville hosted Professional Writing Career Day, featuring a panel of Platteville English and Professional Writing post-graduates. These panelists presented on their experiences in the working world and how their English degrees have helped them in their various career paths and creative pursuits.
Tom Pitcher, an English instructor at UW- Platteville, began by sharing how his English major has helped him, as a part owner of a business, to cater to his customer demographic. His degree gave him an important understanding of empathy, which he employs everyday at Rooted Studio LLC.
Pitcher believes that, in any business that deals with humans and the English language, an English major will always have the advantage. He focuses on the importance of using language to help heal and relax his clients, so that they can exercise freely and comfortably. He also shared that studying the art of writing and reading can be very beneficial when it comes to gaming: a good game master writes and prepares outlandish stories for every possible scenario.
Kelsey Bigelow, a marketing writer for Fidelity & Guaranty Life, also stressed the importance of becoming an empathetic communicator.
“Every company, every industry needs a communicator of some kind,” Bigelow said.
Working as a marketing writer, she is in the business of making complex information more understandable. However, she hasn’t let go of her creative endeavors. In addition to writing for marketing, she is also a published poet with her own editing business.
“You’re not defined by your day job…You can do everything you want,” Bigelow said.
Morgan Spitzer, a venue coordinator at Vesperman Farms, shared that she went through “at least 500,000 ideas” of what she wanted to do. So, naturally, she had “about 500,000 jobs”.
“You don’t have to follow a mold,” Spritzer said.
She also spoke on her experience as an editor for John Deere, a job which required her to break down complicated information into understandable and translatable material. She shared that she learned most of her skills on the job, and that it’s okay to learn that way.
“Sell yourself on your fundamental skills,” Spritzer said.
Brianna Jentz Kirschbaum, a senior content licensing specialist for McGraw-Hill Education, advised the audience to soak up all of the gen eds that they can.
“Every writer needs something else to write about,” Kirschbaum said.
She also encouraged students to go abroad and to read as much as possible. In her career journey, she found that most big publishing companies were looking for more computer skills. However, she found her niche in protecting other peoples’ intellectual material.
Tony Bouxa, a communications specialist and business analyst for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, shared that the top three missing skills in the workplace are soft skills. He went on to explain that empathy is a hot commodity in the workplace; and, it just so happens, that literary fiction is the number one tool, outside of social experience, employed in building empathy. Empathy helps him communicate with different childcare facilities to get them to work together and uphold a standard across the board. Bouxa encouraged students to find a secondary interest and to apply an English major to it.
“Value that skill-set and marry it up with your other passion,” Bouxa said.
Bouxa also touched on the idea that true understanding is being able to teach a concept back to other people, a skill that is required in the workplace. He explained that humans understand their lives as stories, so it is useful to understand how a narrative works
“You’re competitive, you’re important, and you have something to offer that no one else does,” Bouxa said.
Michael Lambert, an English instructor at UW-Platteville, seconded that soft skills are lacking in the world. He started with a quote that has had a lasting impact on his life:
“We think within the construct of language.”
Lambert originally thought that this quote seemed like an attempt to “argue our own importance”, but has, upon further investigation, found it to be absolutely groundbreaking.
He focused on Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive scientist whose navigation of the world was quite tangibly impacted by a new language acquisition, which she talks about her presentation, “Bird’s Eye View”.
To summarize, Boroditsky spent time learning language from an indigenous group who had no words for “left’ or “right” but, rather, referred only to cardinal directions. Instead of saying, “I’m in front of you,” they might say, “I’m north of you”. She reported that a person couldn’t even say hello without knowing their location from a “bird’s eye view”.
Chelsea Haberkorn, a grants specialist for the Office of School Safety, uses the comprehension and written communication skills that she learned from her degree every day at her job. She shared that, when communicating with her customers, it is important for her to know how to word things succinctly and clearly.
Abbey Pignatari, an intensive teaching assistant, advised that students use the resources available to them on campus. She told students that when looking for jobs after graduation, “the decisions are all up to you; you don’t have to settle.” Pignatari learned how to sell herself more and how to interview the company.
“You have time to think and the opportunity to say no,” Pignatari said.
April Feiden, an English instructor at UW-Platteville, started by saying that most writing is driven by purpose, profit or both. The advantages of writing, according to Feiden, are visibility, adaptability, confidence, character, clarity and advancement. She uses her writing to help other people through written counseling. She also touched upon ghostwriting, sharing that it often lacks the credit but offers more freedom to the writer.
At the end of the presentation, the panelists had some extra advice for the students, such as: getting a job is a 6-month process, so start preparing early; update your job application materials regularly; get a business card and claim what you want to do now; get comfortable with failure; freelance writing is a great “side-hustle”; stay adaptable and, finally, they all agreed unanimously that the pursuit of a humanities degree generally results in a more well-rounded individual.