I have a dirty little secret: My undergrad degree is not solely in English. At a small university in Tennessee, I majored in print journalism, as well, which, according to many people, is the antithesis to an English degree. In fact, when I declared a double major, one of my English professors, unnecessarily, informed me, “Those are two very different styles of writing.” Warning: this essay will be written in AP (Associated Press) style with a little bit of MLA thrown in for good measure.
I went on to receive my master’s degree in English from the University of West Georgia in 2005, so, perhaps, that redeems me. But I am getting ahead of myself.
As an undergraduate, I did not find the double major conflicting at all – once I learned to switch back and forth quickly between writing styles. I discovered that my two areas of study actually complemented each other, resulting in stronger journalistic and academic writing. For example, when I began my career as a public relations professional, I was often praised for my ability to think beyond traditional “newspaper writing,” infusing my stories with more creativity and, frankly, heart and humanity. On the flip side, when I entered graduate school, my professors consistently lauded the clarity, conciseness and accessibility of my academic work.
So how did I end up as personnel and budget coordinator for the Department of English and Philosophy at the University of West Georgia? It was a long trek, one that took me to a strawberry recipe contest (as food writer for the Albany Herald), a fiber optic cable plant (as marketing communications assistant for Fitel Lucent Technologies), a live TV broadcast of Marietta’s Fourth of July parade (as communications coordinator for Cobb County Government) and Turner Field to interview Atlanta Brave Willie Harris (as alumni magazine editor for Kennesaw State University). Somewhere in there, I enrolled at West Georgia, took a five-year break and then returned to finish my degree.
Each of those jobs required excellent written and verbal communication skills, technological savvy, creativity and analytical thinking—all skills one can learn in an English degree program. My favorite job (prior to coming to West Georgia, of course) was working for Cobb County. In the communications (or public affairs) office, I wrote for and edited the monthly newspaper, the water bill insert and the weekly e-newsletter, in addition to writing and disseminating press releases, handling media requests and producing publications for various
county departments. Approximately 50 percent of my job involved layout and design, so I had to learn Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design and Dreamweaver quickly.
Somehow, I also managed to become the “official” county photographer, one time ending up in a bucket high above a utility truck to take photos of a railroad for a court case. In addition, this job afforded me the opportunity to play Katie Couric since TV23, the county’s government access channel, is part of the same office. Finally, I can boast on my resume that I served as ghostwriter for the chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Samuel S. Olens, as well as speechwriter for some of the other commissioners.
After a five-year stint at the county, I spent almost two years at KSU before returning to the English Department at West Georgia. Now, instead of analyzing words all day, I analyze numbers – and love it. It just proves how transferrable and useful an English degree can be. Here is an interesting fact to illustrate my point: Every staff member in this department majored in English. Susan Holland, our academic coordinator, graduated with a B.A. in 2002, and Jonette Larrew, our senior secretary, earned a B.A. in 2007.
Final words: If you can think critically, communicate effectively and use a computer, you can succeed at any job.
--Christina Hogan, personnel and budget coordinator for the Department of English & Philosophy