Photo courtesy of Michael King. Michael graduated with a B.A. in English studies in May 2012.
Before delving into “life after the English major,” I think it’s important to establish the path that led me to it in the first place.
From Author to Magazine Journalism
Prior to my college years, my educational journey was marked by a fascination with stories. At a very young age, maybe eight or nine years old, I declared my plans to grow up and become an author. As my high school years drew to a close, however, I felt the tug to be a bit more pragmatic. As I settled on Ball State as my college of choice, I opted to declare a major in Magazine Journalism, a path that – to me – reconciled my passion for storytelling and the expectation to declare a major clearly associated with a job.
From Journalism to Teaching
As fate would have it, I quickly determined I was not cut out for a career in journalism. My writing style paired poorly with the increasing popularity of succinct, bite-sized journalistic writing, and I had terrible instincts for reporting stories. As the fall semester of my freshman year drew to a close, I scrambled in search of a new major, but my criteria were the same: (1) the opportunity to engage with storytelling, and (2) the ability to avoid having to defend the usefulness of my major. I settled on English Education, a path that would allow me to inject a passion for stories into tomorrow’s bright minds.
My stint as a teacher-in-training lasted a bit longer than my Journalism major, as I connected to the idea of influencing young people in a positive way. Because of the nature of the English Education major at Ball State, I had the opportunity to take courses strictly related to English. What I found, after a few semesters of engaging with my coursework, is that these were the classes I found to be most rewarding. Postmodernism, new criticism, Gertrude Stein’s poetry. My brushes with concepts such as these not only engaged my mind, but they provided me with new tools and lenses through which to interpret the world.
From Teaching to Student Affairs
Somewhere in that window, I became a Resident Assistant, a leadership opportunity that proved to be a defining experience of my time at Ball State. Through my role as an RA, I regularly came into contact with incredible students living brave stories. It was through this experience that I came to learn about the field of “Student Affairs,” and I quietly began paving a path toward following this calling. As my plans became a bit more concrete, with questions about graduate school and the scope of the field emerging more and more in my one-on-one meetings with my supervisors, I became less committed to the commitments of the secondary education path: student teaching, the PRAXIS, and practicum courses. At the end of my third year at Ball State, I cemented my place as an English major, my final change.
In my final year at Ball State, I found myself steeped in a Student Affairs graduate school search. As I moved into the interview portion of the process, I was surprised to find my interviewers asking about the preparation I’d received from my studies in English. I soon found myself dissecting and proclaiming the various skills I felt had been sharpened: the ability to think critically, to reflect and make meaning, to interpret literature and synthesize arguments. At the conclusion of my search, I was selected to work and learn in the College Student Affairs program at Eastern Illinois University.
Ball State to Eastern Illinois University
Throughout my two years at EIU, I found that my classroom experiences in English had well prepared me for graduate courses. Early on, I was comfortable raising my perspective in classroom discussions, I was not intimidated by reflective essays nor annotated bibliographies, and I even felt confident that I would complete a graduate research thesis – a behemoth and requirement of the program – that I would be proud of. At many junctions of my graduate school career, I grinningly paid a quiet thanks to the Ball State English program for so thoroughly preparing me for the journey.
For my graduate assistantship during grad school, I served as an Associate Resident Director, a live-in residence hall administrator with RA supervision responsibilities. In the past year, one of my RAs, Katie, had declared a major in English. (We quickly identified this commonality and high-fived one another.) Throughout the year, in our bi-weekly one-on-one meetings, I was surprised at the frequency with which Katie seemed to feel under attack for her decision to major in English. In a strange reversal, I found myself listening to a student engage with a familiar conundrum: the attempt to reconcile a passion for English with the expectation to choose a major pragmatically.
Week to week, as Katie described her interactions and experiences with others, as she dissected their arguments and her feelings, as she worked to refine and shape her voice, I witnessed firsthand the incredible skills and characteristics her studies in English were developing within her. These were, I realized, the hallmarks of an English major. Katie and I often laughed at the length of our one-on-one meetings, usually a fair stretch longer than my meetings with the other RAs on my staff, but they were always invigorating, insightful, and alive. Gradually, Katie came to dismiss the jeers of those who questioned her decision to major in English, and she moved into the exciting realm of figuring out just what to do next.
From EIU back to Ball State
At this moment in time, I find myself in the strange space between grad school and my first full-time job. In the fall, I will be returning to Ball State as a Residence Hall Director, a position that will continue to bring me in contact with students, like Katie, who are searching to find their voices and the paths they want their futures to take. To this day, I view my work with students in terms of their stories, a perspective that enables me to help them do as English majors do: dissect events, interpret their feelings and opinions, and make meaning of their lives.
As I sit and reflect on the state of my life as is, there are two things of which I am absolutely certain: (1) I am exactly where I need to be, and (2) I owe much of that to my English major.