Pat Grabill graduated from Ball State with an MA in English in 1968 and pursued a teaching career for 30 years. After retiring from teaching in 2004, she worked as a technical writer for Precisely Write in Indianapolis and also became President of the Watercolor Society of Indiana, where she made use of her English skills and her love of art to promote painting in Indiana.
I’ve always been a good student. Not a great student—although I have had some great moments—but a good student. When I graduated from high school in 1961 (yes, I’m old), I really wanted to go to college, but my dad wasn’t sure. So he picked my school—Purdue—a great choice for me, as it turned out, and he also picked my major, elementary education. Not a good choice. I would have been a barely adequate elementary teacher, so I changed my major to Secondary Education/English. I graduated four years later with many, many semester hours in literature, writing, linguistics, and rhetoric and went on to spend 30 classroom years mostly at the high school level. I retired in 2004 having taught all secondary grade levels and loving it. While my undergrad degree was at Purdue (Boiler Up!), I studied for my MA degree at Ball State (Go, Cardinals!) I taught freshman comp in the BSU English department as a TA while doing my own course work. I wrote my Master’s paper on “The Myth of the West in Steinbeck’s Fiction.” I remember it well. I wish I still had my copy. I had some great teachers at Purdue and at Ball State, and I am grateful for the time they took with me.
Why major in English?
You’ll know more than most people doing crossword puzzles. (A flippant response, I know). You will understand allusions to literature in ordinary conversation, news, plays, movies – conversations that people who are not avid readers may not get. But most importantly — and this is VERY important — you will learn to read critically and write clearly. You will have to read great books, short stories, poetry — all genres — and you will LOVE reading them. You will write — and you will become very good at it, too. Your speech and your writing will become more persuasive, and via your communication skills, you will become a leader. Your parents want to know what you’ll do with an English major, and the easy answer is that you will become language literate in a society that lacks many of those skills. That ability can be money in the bank in this culture where we write MORE than before, both because of and in spite of technology. It’s also true that an English major is great preparation for law school or for many graduate programs. There are also many opportunities in areas of corporate and non-profit communication given technology experience. My advice to you: take all the writing classes you can. You’re already a reader, or you wouldn’t even consider becoming an English major, so become a first-rate writer, too. Learn the concept of audience. Learn to be persuasive. Learn to love the language and to use it correctly.
While I loved teaching, after I retired I went to work as a technical writer. My job was to write for and edit user Help files for a medical document written by a major pharmaceutical company. Our team’s job was to look at the plan for the program and, from that plan, write user-friendly Help files. It WAS an adventure, to say the least. I received a generous hourly wage, met some really good people, visited often with the software engineers, and learned a great deal about the very specific requirements for tech writing as opposed to regular writing. I’ve also been responsible for writing newsletters for one business and writing and editing for a not-for-profit organization, The Watercolor Society of Indiana, where I am a Board member.
Some years after getting my MA at Ball State, I again attended Ball State as a participant in the Indiana Writing Project, which was life-changing for me as a teacher. Finishing my MA did not finish my participation in learning more. I went on to take 30 hours past my MA simply because I wanted to learn new “stuff.” I applied for an Eli Lilly Teacher Creativity Grant at the end of the 90s because I wanted to study connections between writing and painting, and Lilly gave me $5,000 to spend during the summer on anything I wanted to do to enhance my knowledge of the written story and the painted story. That summer changed my life, too, because I have continued to be a painter. I have a studio in my home, and right now have three different paintings in process and some sketches I’m also working on. I am a past president of the Watercolor Society of Indiana (we have a Facebook page), and currently am Board secretary.
Finally, in answer to the question I posed in the title, “Why English”? My answer is, why NOT English? If you love the language and you love the written word, and you love writing and want to become better at it than you already are, major in English. If you’re good at it, do it. You’ll find a job, and maybe it will even be a job you like.