English and creative writing majors have long been posed the terrifying question of “What are you going to do with that major?”
In response, the University of Arizona invited English and creative writing majors to attend the Professions for the Poetic event, where alumni and professors could help answer that dreaded question. The event was held at the Student Union's Kachina Lounge on Nov. 14.
Paul Hurh, director of the UA Department for English and Creative Writing, started the Professions for the Poetic event three years ago, along with the monthly newsletter for anyone in the department.
According to Hurh, the event is centered around career development and professionalization. Hurh said the two objectives for the event are landing students careers and rethinking what it means to be an English and/or creative writing major.
“As English majors … we can tend towards the dramatic. We can tend towards thinking ‘Oh, we’re not gonna get a job’ or ‘We’re going to be poor for life.’” Hurh said. “We can tell these kinds of jokes to ourselves and self-deprecate, but that actually is not a real positive thing for students and for dealing with those anxieties. We just need to change the conversation.”
This year, four alumni attended the event with various career paths, including a returning alumni, Larry Hogan, an IBM team lead. The other three alumni were new: Anastasia Gorshkova, a language arts teacher at the Academy of Math and Science; Andrew Sorenson, a lead talent recruiter for Academy of Math and Science Impact Group and TC Tolbert, a Tucson poet laureate and 2019 American Academy of Poets Laureate Fellow.
According to Hurh, the alumni rotate each year.
Gorshkova discussed how she always had a passion for writing, and after she won a poetry competition in high school it affirmed her passion and she started to write more and more. To land her current position, she originally taught Russian and took the language arts position when it opened up.
“You write in any profession, and I tell this to my kids all the time, writing is important for any profession you go into,” Gorshkova said. “It's kind of boggling that a lot of people still don’t know how to write well, and it's a really important skill that I think everyone should make sure they master.”
Gorshkova is now in the process of trying to publish a book she wrote while managing her career.
A recent UA graduate, Mariel McSherry, majored in creative writing and had both a student and alumni perspective on the event. She was originally a physiology major, but a professor from one of her English classes inspired her to switch majors.
“In the world as it is, people don’t realize how important documentation and words and language are in terms of expressing yourself, expressing that there’s an emergency, safety concerns, just expressing yourself in general,” McSherry said. “People don’t understand the power and tool that language really is.”
According to McSherry, she definitely endured the public’s opinion of her decision to major in creative writing, as most students do.
“The public, when I was barista-ing or working other minimum wage jobs, they were just mostly bullies,” McSherry said. “Bullies to what I was doing, putting me down left and right. Talking to me about how I was going to starve, how I would be poor.”
However, despite the public’s opinion, she found support from her family instead.
“My parents [were] always supporting, loving, encouraging, always always always,” she said.
McSherry attended the Professions for the Poetic event and got a direct connection to her current career through Hogan. After chatting with him about writing for science, she got her certificate of professional and technical writing and eventually got a job doing documentation writing for a software company.
“Theres are all sorts of news articles about English and the need for humanities, and some of those are helpful,” Hurh said. “I think in some ways, the way I have been thinking about it recently, looking at the kinds of things we do in classes and figuring out how those things translate into stuff that you have to do for jobs.”
In attending the event, English and creative writing students were able to hear wisdom from professionals in the field, gain a list of resources for finding jobs and employment and connect in a safe space to contemplate the question of what they are going to with that major after graduation.
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