For those who falsely believe that English majors graduate qualified only to work in trendy coffee shops, the English department hosted a career event to answer the often-asked question, “What can you do with an English major?”Four West Chester alumni came back to campus to discuss how majoring in English aided them in pursuing their diverse career paths. The event, co-sponsored by the English department and the Twardowski Career Development Center, was held on Tuesday, Feb. 17 in the Philips Autograph Library.
“I had an advantage in law school,” said Kevin M. McVeigh, Esq., a partner in the law firm Williamson, McVeigh, and Alfano. McVeigh graduated in the class of 1992 and went on to pursue a law degree at Widener University. Though he always wanted to be an attorney, he was initially a business major at WCU. However, he changed majors after learning that most lawyers have undergraduate degrees in the liberal arts.
He said his English major provided him with the skills to form cogent arguments and communicate effectively through writing. In his every day practice, McVeigh said, “I use my English degree more than my law degree.”
Processing text and using critical thinking are essential parts of McVeigh’s daily work. Also, the writing skills he acquired continue to benefit him as an attorney. “There are a lot of bad writers that are lawyers,” McVeigh said. “The writing I learned as an English major helped me.”
McVeigh’s suggestion to English majors with an interest in pursuing the law as a career path included talking to lawyers because he feels that many people have a “glamorized version” of the profession. He suggested working for a lawyer for no credit or money to get a sense of what the job entails.
While McVeigh had a clear direction after WCU, Rebecca Cremonese did not. Though she was interested in possibly becoming a lawyer, she did not have a sense of what path to pursue. This is how she ended up in the publishing field.
Cremonese graduated in the class of 1989 and is now the production director for Sotheby’s, an international auction house based in New York. Cremonese began her career by taking entry level positions in publishing that initially paid little. However, as her career progressed, Cremonese explained that she had amazing opportunities to travel to various places in the world as part of her job.
Cremonese discussed how many English majors think that they are only equipped for editing. “An English major doesn’t necessarily prepare you for only editing. Don’t limit yourself to assuming all you can do is edit books,” she emphasized. “It’s not uncommon to jump around in publishing jobs,” Cremonese explained, adding, “Everyone I’ve ever met in book production had an English major.”
Cremonese advised English majors who will soon be interviewing for jobs to “Present yourself as someone who can think on your feet, adapt and be open.”
Patricia Ryan, Assistant Township Manager of Lower Merion and former Director of Libraries and Information Systems for Lower Merion, echoed this sentiment.
“I went to school when there was no such thing as a PC,” said the 1972 graduate. “You’re going to learn things on the fly.” As an undergraduate, Ryan loved literature and reading, so she decided to pursue Library Science in graduate school. “English gave me critical thinking and reading skills,” Ryan said, explaining further how the major opens you up to so many ideas and different ways of thinking. “You could get into most any graduate program [with a degree in English],” Ryan pointed out.
Ryan’s current job requires her to work with a diverse group of individuals such as government officials, fire officers and zoning commissioners. She said her English major skills have helped her with writing, specifically in instances where it is necessary to communicate an idea in a concise format. Referring to the most essential skill in the workplace, Ryan said, “It’s all about communication.”
Todd Wimer, the youngest panelist, agreed with Ryan. He performed an activity with the audience to exemplify the method teaching a foreign language by getting audience members to speak small phrases in Japanese.
Upon graduating in 2002, Wimer turned down a position teaching in the Springfield school district to teach English abroad in Prague. “Mostly you can get a job if you’re a native speaker,” Wimer explained, adding that his English major helped him with his position. Four days after completing his training course, he got a job teaching English to mostly adults.
Wimer said that other tutors working abroad were able to get positions in editing and in journalism because of their knowledge of the language. Wimer also mentioned that he does want to teach in America eventually, but he is interested in experiencing different people and cultures at this point in his career.
In general, all of the panelists agreed that any professional field has clients and a message to get across. Therefore, the skills that an English degree provides, such as being able to articulate ideas effectively in written and oral communication, are essential. They also highlighted the importance for recent graduates to stress the skills they have learned from the major.
Dr. Carolyn Sorisio, one of the coordinators of the event and an Assistant Professor in the English department said, “A lot of students are attracted to the Department of English because they love to read and they love to write. However, they don’t always see the practicality of the degree in terms of potential careers outside of teaching and editing. We want to show them that a degree in English is marketable and flexible. As our alumni testify, the English major helps students develop as critical readers and writers- the very skills that potential employers consider essential.