I have—like I’m sure many Ball State English department students have—dabbled in more financially reliable and business-oriented classes. I tried to count the bones in the human body and follow supply and demand analysis, but the thought of expanding economic and science courses into a major quickly became mind-numbing for me. “I just want to go back to my books,” I remember sulking. I was forced to realize that a struggling liberal arts major was what I was destined to be. Perhaps I would be homeless and live in a cardboard box, but I knew I’d be the best critically thinking hobo there ever was. However, I’ve just graduated, and I’m pleasantly surprised about the number of opportunities opening to me—life in squalor might have to wait.
My path in English Literature as a student, while different than the one I could have expected outside the Department of English, was still made with a lot of hard work. My professors expected a high level of critical thinking and writing, good analysis, teamwork, and communication skills from me. I enjoyed learning these skills that were attributes I could take and apply to a number of career paths, not just things that were specifically “test-taught.”
George Rogers Clark project
In addition to class work, I’ve also been proactive in finding projects that take my skills from school and apply them to real-life career situations. Thankfully Ball State’s stance on immersive learning has made this process a relatively easy one. I was able to first work with Professors Morris and Ingram in the History Department on their project with Building Better Communities: ‘Old Stories Made New—The Life of George Rogers Clark.’ The goal of that project was to create a new historiography that updated out of date views and that provided further context and viewpoints on George Rogers Clark’s infamous Vincennes Campaign. The project was designed for educational purposes and elementary schools state wide. This project gave me the opportunity to work with technologies that I was unfamiliar with as I assisted in the creation of a film. As well, I researched and wrote scripts representing multiple groups of people (Native Americans, women, etc) whose viewpoints are historically underrepresented in history projects of this nature.
Kurt Vonnegut project
I found with that particular immersive learning project that I really enjoyed blending together my English skills with historical narrative. I also was surprisingly proud to work on a subject that featured a prominent Indiana state figure. So later when I found out about Professors Rai Peterson and Russ Wahler’s internship through Ball State for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, I knew it was something I had to do.( I’m sorry Michael Jackson, but Kurt Vonnegut has to be the coolest famous Hoosier I know.)
This project was probably the most intense thing I’ve ever worked on during my career as a student.
It was a two-semester commitment and even asked that we give up most of our summer, but it was beyond worth it. Our work for the KVML comprised of a multifaceted project that increased the institute’s offerings in an attempt to make the story and works of Kurt Vonnegut more accessible and popular to the wider public.
The other interns and I worked on:
- a manuscript archive
- a traveling museum exhibit
- an oral film archive and history
- a project to increase online traffic and streamline the KVML website
- new products for the gift shop
- a five-year marketing plan
The scope of our job for the KVML was huge, and we pulled in favors and assistance from a variety of Vonnegut friends and family and local Indiana businesses. In particular we secured assistance from the Provost Immersive Learning Grant, the Indiana Historical Center, WFYI-TV, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art as well as advice and help from The Indianapolis Children’s Museum, Floyd and Stanich LLC., Eye on Art, Hamilton Exhibits, and the Lilly Library.
Along with overall support in the marketing and running of the whole project, I focused most of my time as an intern as part of the archive team. Three of us (Lacey Lord, Todd Bastin and myself) worked for six months reading Vonnegut’s work and biographies as well as researching historical events in Vonnegut’s life and exploring literary themes in his pieces—be it his art work, his writings, or his activism.
In the end, we designed and created (with the assistance of Anna Perlich) an interactive digital archive exhibit that hosts personal manuscripts, photographs, historical documents, and literary and historical summary and analysis. A permanent copy resides in the KVML itself and transportable ones (with a different interface) accompany the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s traveling museum.
For this project I found myself ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ so to speak. I certainly have never worked so closely or intensively on an archive project for a business before. In fact, I had never worked on an archive project before period. But suddenly my team and I were asked to complete a finished, professional project for a business dedicated to endorsing and preserving a famous literary giant’s memory and work. And the public would have to see it.
Graduate Studies at Pitt
I became very accustomed to learning on the job and taking control of the situation when things needed to get done—and I even learned on the way that I have a passion for archival work. Walking into a library and seeing historical documents is a little thrilling for me, so when my last year of school at Ball State began, I knew that I wanted to continue on and pursue a career in the field. I immediately signed up for the GRE and sent my applications in to graduate programs with well-ranked information studies programs.
With the support of my immersive learning projects and grades, I happily received back acceptances from all three programs I applied to: The School of Information at the University of Texas, the iSchool at the University of Pittsburgh, and the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University.
Even further than that, after accepting a place at the University of Pittsburgh, my immersive experience has helped me obtain a $20,000 scholarship from the iSchool and placement in the Pitt Partner’s Program. As part of the program, I will be working at the Nationality Rooms, a historical national landmark which is a series of study rooms and classrooms located in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning that depict and house various items donated by ethnic groups and countries that helped build the city. I will be working there as an archive assistant and will also receive a stipend for my work along with my scholarship. I am looking forward to the big move east this summer and to continuing my educational and immersive experience in the information field.
While I hate to use the phrase “broaden your mind,” that is exactly what my classes and immersive study in the BSU English program did for me. Constantly learning new ways of thinking and application is essential for a successful transition from BSU, and I fully expect to be able to do this in May thanks to both my professors’ and my own hard work in preparation.
There is life after the English program after all.
From Grad School to a Career in Archival Work
Note: since this post was published, Emily has taken a position as the Digital Archivist at the Mercy Heritage Center for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.