Category Archives: Professional Writing

Reflections of a Senior English Major in Professional Writing

Senior English major Shanae Giles reflects on her second English internship, which took her from FMU’s Florence, South Carolina campus all the way to Ecuador. Shanae completed the internship through the department’s professional writing program. Dr. Hanson directs the professional writing program and oversees all professional writing internships.

As a senior here at FMU who is preparing to graduate this upcoming December, I am faced with that one, constant, looming question:

“So, what do you plan to do after you graduate?”

This used to be an easy question for me to answer. My answer was finite and simple; it fell right in line with my goal of achieving the American Dream. My answer was acceptable and understandable.

Well, until I traveled to Ecuador, South America, for my second English internship.

I’d always wanted to study abroad, but I was already in my senior year and I needed to start gaining real work experience. I never imagined that I could travel to Ecuador to create technical writing documents for the Wildsumaco Biological Station.

And suddenly, the world was round.

That was when I realized that English majors and writers are needed everywhere. We can write about anything and can convince anyone to pay us to write for them. I love nature and biology and I was finally able to combine that with my love for writing. Despite popular belief, the career options for an English major are endless. All you have to do is prove that you’re needed.

So now when I’m faced with that inevitable question:

“So, what do you plan to do after you graduate?”

I simply reply:

“Anything I want to do.”

–Shanae Giles, senior English major (Professional Writing)

How to Deal: An English Major, in a Spanish Country, with Biology Majors?

Senior English major Shanae Giles traveled to Ecuador this summer to complete a professional writing internship at the Wildsumaco Biological Station. In this post, Shanae describes how she overcame an unexpected language barrier: scientific jargon.

When I was first told that I had the opportunity to do my second English internship in Ecuador (of all of the places in the world), I literally cried from excitement. I’ve always loved the Spanish language and culture and I just couldn’t believe that my first travel abroad experience was going to be in a Spanish-speaking country. “Excited” doesn’t even begin to describe what I was feeling!

Signage from Ecuador. Photo courtesy of Shanae Giles.

I immediately began brushing up on my Spanish. I was thankful that I’d taken a Spanish Conversation course the semester before, so I knew I was at least more fluent than my other travel companions. You know the term “social butterfly”? Well, I’d consider myself a more hyperactive version of that, like a social squirrel, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself as much if I couldn’t talk to everyone that I met, regardless of the language barrier.

Time zoomed by, as it always does, and before I knew it I was in line with my travel companions boarding our first flight on U.S. Airways. Our group consisted of myself, Stenetta (another English intern), Travis (the biology professor), and four other biology majors who were taking the Tropical Ecology class. We were all nervous, we were all excited, and we were all deep in thought of what was ahead of us.

Two hours later…”Welcome to Miami!!!”

Four hours later…”Bienvenidos a Quito!!!”

I remember the feeling that swept over me when I looked out of the window as we were approaching South America and saw the burnt orange horizon of the sunset along the edges of the country. I knew, of course, that it was not my America, but I couldn’t have imagined how “not my America” it was going to actually turn out to be.

We spent two days soaking up the culture in Quito before heading up the bumpy, scenic road through the Andes Mountains to get to the Wildsumaco Biological Station. I immediately absorbed myself in the research and biodiversity around the station and quickly realized one of the most important lessons I’d end up learning at Wildsumaco. I’d spent so much time brushing up on my Spanish language that I never realized I would be faced with another language completely foreign to me: the language of biology majors and scientists.

Instead of letting this new language overwhelm me, I tried twice as hard to remember terminology, I went to every lecture, and I asked as many questions as I could. After just a few short days, I found myself able to identify new bird species and categorize fungi almost as well as the 300-level biology majors. I went to Ecuador thinking that I would learn to be more fluent in one language, but I came back to the States more fluent in two.

Now I just wish I had taken this trip my freshman year; it sure would’ve helped me ace Biology 105!

–Shanae Giles, senior English major (Professional Writing)

Helping Homeowners and the Environment: A Professional Writing Internship with NERR

This post is written by Kerrie Bethel, a recent graduate of the Professional Writing Program. She describes her internship with an environmental research group and explains how professional writers are an important link between scientists and the public.

I held several jobs while I attended FMU’s Professional Writing program. I’ve been a customer care specialist, a tutor, a researcher, a waitress, and a babysitter. None of those experiences were able to reveal to me the things I learned as a writing intern at the North-Inlet Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR).

Kerrie Bethel, graduate of FMU’s Professional Writing Program. Photo copyright by Kerrie Bethel.

I worked on communicating research regarding swash and stormwater management to surrounding homeowner’s associations. I had never heard of a swash, which is a small, once-tidal creek that flows into the coastal waters. I completed hours of research and realized that the data I needed to communicate to area residents could save their livelihoods. The additional chemicals (natural chemicals are still chemicals) flowing into the coastal waters and nearby inlet are killing the fish and other wildlife. In Myrtle Beach, a tourist economy reliant on seafood and beach traffic, this information is important.

A scientist could not be the one to deliver this message, though. To the average homeowner, their jargon would be off-putting, but scientists love it, because it is the only way to be absolutely accurate. It takes a writer to understand the audience and to make a document that is appropriate. It also takes a writer to interview the scientists, have their documents fact-checked, and, when necessary, stand up to the scientists to benefit the audience. The last one is the most important and the most difficult.

CC-licensed photo by flickr user greenkayak73

I learned how to work at NERR. I learned that, despite the unpleasant aspects of the job, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I learned how to interact with co-workers, superiors, and audience members. I experienced the number of hands a document has to go through to be complete, and will never forget that. Every time I look at a document, I think of how many eyes had to see it first.

I was able to enjoy the reward of communication – helping others understand. This experience, like all of the others offered to me at FMU, helped shape me as a writer, and as a person.

English All Over Again

Department of English professor Dr. Will Duffy explains why he majored in English as an undergraduate — and why he’d do it “all over again” if he was starting college today.

Not too long ago a friend from college asked me what I would major in if I could turn back the clock and do college all over again. My friend had no ulterior motive with the question; it was just one of those random “what if” conversations we sometimes share with our friends.

I thought about the question for a moment.

One answer I considered was communications, but I quickly dismissed this response because in communications programs there is very little by way of philosophy. When you study literature and writing in an English program, you ask questions about not only what makes for effective communication, but you also study the reasons why people think and act—and speak and write!—in the ways that they do.

CC-licensed photo by flickr user Leo Reynolds

I don’t mean to sound critical of my colleagues in  communications departments, but I’ve always framed the difference between English and communications using that aphorism about teaching another person to fish. You can give someone a fish, and feed him for a day, or teach someone to fish….well, you know how it ends. English programs dive into the why of in addition to the how.

Another answer I considered was economics. Economics is interesting because there is a strong philosophical dimension to it (you have to know how to think), as well it requires a cursory knowledge of psychology and rhetoric (you have to understand how other people think, and what persuades them). The problem with economics, however, is that you also have to know math. Without going into details, I’ll just say that math and I broke up years ago. It was a messy break-up, too. We hardly even talk anymore.

A third possibility I considered was religious studies. I did then and continue still to enjoy the study of religion, in particular the philosophy of religion. That is, I have no real interest in theological debates but I do love talking about the ways that religious belief influence and inform how we see the world in general. To be honest, I have nothing negative to say about religious studies; in fact, if you’re an FMU student, I encourage you take as many classes with Professor Blackwell as possible. But would I want to have majored in religious studies if I could do college all over again? No, but not because I don’t think it is a valuable area of study, but rather because I fell in love with the study of rhetoric as an English major, which allows me to study religion as a rhetorician.

After running through these answers in my head, I finally answered my friend’s question by stating that I’d major in English all over again. I justified my answer by noting how everything that interests me—philosophy, reading, writing, rhetoric, religion—I can “do” as an English major. Sure, English might not be a particularly sexy degree, but it’s certainly comprehensive and it’s even practical. This latter characteristic of an English degree might not be obvious on the surface, but studying English requires disciplined work in reading, thinking, analyzing, and writing–skills employers value.

Moreover, and more importantly, majoring in English gives you the freedom to define and in turn pursue your own particular interests. If you like creative work, you can learn to write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. If you like analytical work, you can pick schools of literature in which to develop specialized knowledge and experience. If you like art and design, you can study professional writing and rhetoric and put your education to work in the fields of public relations and communications. If you’re like me, you enjoy reading and writing about ways that people produce arguments about the world around them and how they share these ideas in the public sphere. This interest is what led me to pursue graduate study in Rhetoric and Composition (a sub-discipline of English!), which in turn allowed me to become a university professor.

The point of this story, I guess, is that I’m not at all surprised why I answered my friend’s question the way I did. If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I have reaped lots of value from my experience as an English major. I’ve never second-guessed this decision.

I share these thoughts here because I’ve recently had several conversations with FMU students who’ve decided to switch their major to English (usually from something else!), or who’ve decided to minor in English. One of these students in particular, let’s call her Emily, came by my office early in the semester to tell me this news. “Great,” I said. “Good for you.” But clearly my response wasn’t adequate. This student wanted something more from our exchange because she kept lingering in the doorway. “I just feel like I have to tell people,” she said. “I don’t know why.” While we didn’t have a long discussion, this student explained this was the first decision she’s made about her college career that she feels has been totally her decision. Declaring a major in English was obviously a kind of affirmation for this student—a way for her to tell her friends and family that she has found something she loves to do and that she’s going to do it.

CC-licensed photo by flickr user nvk_

I love witnessing these moments. I’ve had ones like that myself. It’s a fun thing to recognize when another person discovers a vocation that excites them. Too often I see college students simply go through the motions; checking off courses one by one; completing their schoolwork with little passion, little care. English is an area of study that grabs hold of you and gets you excited about the how things like narrative, argument, and the rendering of experience keeps our world going. Well, it will if you let it. Jump in, I always tell my students.

If any of you have stories about your “conversion” to English as a major or minor, please share them here!