Every English major encounters the same situation — maybe it’s already happened to you since going home for the summer: a neighbor, relative, or (just the other day, in my case) the optometrist politely asks you how school’s going and what you’re studying.
You tell them.
“Oh, English?” they ask with a note of concern in their voice. “So what’re you gonna do with that degree?”
I love being an English major and all, but I’ve had to go through this song and dance more and more since I changed my major from English Studies to Rhetoric and Writing a year ago. Only now, the concern in their voice is coupled with a puzzled, raised eyebrow whenever I reply, saying that I’m an English major with a concentration in Rhetoric and Writing.
Creative writers and literature majors are lucky; folks can at least grasp that there’s a lot of writing and reading involved.
But what comes to mind when most people hear “rhetoric”? It sounds intimidating. Perhaps they think we spend our days labeling everything ethos, pathos, and logos like in the rhetorical analyses many of us did in ENG 103 and 104. Or maybe they imagine us in class firing back at each other like politicians on the news.
So, what is the English major in Rhetoric and Writing?
Alum Sean Southern
Sean Southern graduated from Ball State University in 2000 as double major in English and History. After college, he earned an M.A. in English at DePaul University in 2002 and a J.D. in Law at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law in 2007, where he graduated cum laude.
Following law school, Sean practiced law in both the public and private sectors. First, he joined a large Chicago law firm where he focused his practice on commercial leasing and other real estate matters. Thereafter, Sean represented indigent criminal defendants at the Office of the State Appellate Defender, obtaining favorable decisions on both direct appeal and in collateral proceedings.
Then in 2011 he joined the Office of Professional Development at Indiana University’s School of Law, where he now serves as Associate Director. Sean’s responsibilities include developing and maintaining effective relationships with legal employers and the greater legal community, assisting alumni and students with job search strategies and resume design, and administering the on-campus interview program.
How did your English major lead to your career in law–as well as your job as a career counselor? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition?
This past May, I found myself crying while sitting in a room full of English staff and students as I was announced as an outstanding graduating senior along with Brittany Means. I was shocked and so thankful for the recognition. Embarrassed and so happy, I accepted the award from Dr. Debbie Mix. I’m glad my work was enough to get me recognized, but I’d like to take this time to thank the people who have taught me and worked with me these past few years. Though I may have earned this recognition for my studies and ambition, I want to make it clear how grateful I am for all the amazing opportunities I had at Ball State and in the English Department.
In the Classroom
Aprill presents her research at the “Digital Literature Review” Gala
I’ve taken part in the Honors program and enjoyed learning about myself alongside Dr. Andrea Wolfe through the humanities sequence.
I learned what kind of writing is expected in literature classes in the first class I took with Debbie.
I laughed at Dr. Robert Habich’s jokes in his American literature courses and marveled at his stories of visiting Walden Pond and various authors’ homes.
I learned about a religion I’d never studied before with Dr. Adam Beach in his British slave narratives class.
I finally had a chance to properly geek out about my favorite author, Charlotte Brontë, in Dr. Joyce Huff’s Victorian literature course, a graduate course she graciously let me take as just a senior undergrad.
And I grew close with my fellow students working on the department’s first undergraduate research journal, the Digital Literature Review, first as an editorial team member and then as the head of the publicity team. (more…)