Degree(s) from MSU:
B.A. in English, 2002
M.S. in Geology, 2005
Favorite memories of being an undergraduate English major:
I loved literature and composition classes! Some of my favorite teachers were Dr. Kelly Marsh, Dr. Clyde Williams, and Dr. Nancy Hargrove because they challenged and encouraged me in different ways. In Dr. Marsh’s British/Irish literature class, I learned to appreciate James Joyce and received the Payton Ward Williams Jr. Distinguished Writing Award for an essay I wrote analyzing Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ll never forget Dr. Williams’ feedback on one essay, telling me I needed to cut about one-third of the words to make it more concise: “Cut the BS.” (Sorry, Dr. Williams - I’m still wordy!) After we read The Great Gatsby in Dr. Hargrove’s American Literature of the 1920s, she hosted the class for a home-cooked meal and a Great Gatsby watch party.
Blue Heron Engineering Services, ltd
When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future?
My initial goal was to get my English degree and then study law. Law school sounded good in my head, but it was not what I really wanted. I loved my lit classes and writing and was happy as an English major, and I decided I’d figure out where I was going along the way. As a senior English major, I took an introductory geology class and became interested in pursuing more Earth science classes. Eventually, I decided I would get a master’s degree in geology after graduating with my BA in English. At the time, I didn’t have a plan for what to do after getting my master’s.
Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?
My career path has been a winding one! After graduating with my master’s, I worked as a geotechnical testing laboratory manager. Then I worked for a textbook publisher developing middle school Earth science textbooks. That job was probably the best marriage of my two degrees. After working for the publisher, I freelanced in the same field for a few years and then worked as an editor for professional science journals. When my two kids were in elementary school, I took off a few years to stay home with them. I didn’t know it then, but my timing was great, and I was home with them during the pandemic and able to support their hybrid school schedule. And then, through a random conversation, I found my current position.
What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?
Now, I work for an engineering consulting company that specializes in water and wastewater utilities. We consult with utility crews across the country to help them analyze their current practices, recommend best practices, develop training programs, and produce training and reference materials, among other services. My work mostly consists of technical writing, editing, and creating training modules (PowerPoint presentations, quizzes, speaker notes/scripts) and reference materials for the crews. We also help our clients develop customer outreach programs to educate their customers about different services or spread awareness of issues that affect sanitary sewer systems. I write and edit content for websites and pamphlets for those public education projects.
Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?
Being an English major gave me a foundation that has helped me in every job. So many skills are transferable, regardless of the position or field: critical reading, research, writing, editing, and communication. I think the most valuable skill I developed as an English major is writing for a variety of audiences, from K-12 students to professional engineers, utility crews, and the general public. This is especially important for the utility crews and public outreach programs. As I develop educational materials for them, I take technical information and write it in plain language to make it accessible for people with a variety of backgrounds, education levels, and abilities to understand English.
What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?
For my current job, I had to learn how sewers work and are maintained. To do that, I took remote classes, which basically involved reading a textbook and taking tests online. My English-major skills of reading critically and synthesizing information definitely helped me get through that!
Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?
Having a degree in English gives you an excellent foundation for any career, creative or technical. Being able to read and understand information presented in different ways and being able to communicate clearly with people in different ways is invaluable in our globally connected world.
In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals?
I enjoy and take pride in the work I do. One thing I’ve learned in this job is that properly designed and maintained sewer systems are vital for public health and clean water. The work that the sewer crews do is so important to the communities they serve, and I’m proud that the work I do supports and celebrates them.
I’m also fortunate to have found an employer who values life outside of work. We are a small company with only a handful of employees, and we support and encourage each other to achieve our own goals and pursue our own interests. My boss encourages any learning opportunity, whether it’s directly related to our work or not. I have the flexibility to take the time I want for vacations, personal care (like weeks of physical therapy after ankle surgery), volunteering with my kids’ schools and scout troops, and creative writing. While the work is fulfilling, my life is enriched by the people I work with and the work environment we’ve created together.
What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did?
I’m not sure undergrads would want to follow my career path, but here’s my advice: Say yes to interesting opportunities. It’s good to have a goal and a plan, but you don’t have to have your whole life or career mapped out. You never know what amazing things you might find or learn or do in this world - you just have to be open to them. Continue learning through every stage of your life or career - you’re never too young or too old to pursue your dreams.