B.A. in English, 2014
Any other degrees:
M.A. English (Composition Studies), 2018, University of Memphis
Favorite memories of being an undergraduate English major:
The Perry for Fried Chicken Wednesday and Catfish Friday; studying and doing homework late at the library; walking across the Drill Field at night; sitting in the Chapel of Memories at night for quiet and stillness; reading Bad Dawgs in The Reflector; going grocery shopping at Walmart late in the evenings to avoid crowds.
Administrative Services Specialist - Outreach
Shelby County Government
When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future? Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?
I initially wanted to be a Reading Specialist and had found a program at a local university in my hometown. I applied, was accepted, went to meet with the advisor, and I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do after all. I asked if I could forward my application materials to the English Department, and she obliged. I’ve discovered new plans and opportunities available to me through my graduate program. I was interested in being a college instructor, but I looked more for positions that did not require me to take my work home with me.
My first full-time job was as a Librarian. I was able to use my knowledge of authors and literature to help customers find books that they were interested in, more formally called reader’s advisory. I taught a database research class for users of all ages and skill levels, and I created and assisted with programming that was intended to draw community members to the library. The next step in my professional journey led me to my current position in operational support and communications. I use what I learned as a Librarian—particularly with working with and for the public—with my duties related to outreach and communications. When I do look for the next phase of my career, I will be looking at positions in technical writing and user experience.
What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?
I handle outreach responsibilities for a local government division. I manage the division website; lead marketing campaigns that are focused in our division’s central messaging; assist departments within our division with executing their outreach goals; create strategy for communications with stakeholders, which include internal partners, external customers, municipalities, and local citizens; design marketing materials; and manage our division’s social media accounts. On a day-to-day basis, I support operational communications that keep departments, staff, and customers connected.
I also work as an Adjunct Instructor for a local community college, though typically only in the fall semester. I’ve taught first-level English Composition courses and African American Literature. These courses have ranged from in-person class meetings to hybrid, synchronous, and asynchronous online course offerings. The online course offerings are the most flexible for my schedule since this work is in addition to my full-time job. I gained in-person teaching experience during grad school, and I even learned online teaching principles in a grad school course, though there is no better way to learn than by doing.
Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?
I use the Rhetorical Triangle a lot. Honestly, anything that I’ve taught in English Composition courses I end up using in my own work; it feels like an opportunity to prove to myself just how relevant the concepts are (and an easy way to create examples of real-world applications when teaching). When doing any writing for the website, newsletters, or mass emails, I try to refine my writing by continually asking the “So what?” question in order to make sure that I’m addressing why the message is significant and why it should matter to the reader.
With concern about audience, I find myself trying to answer questions that may come up for a reader to avoid additional emails while also making my writing as simple as possible to avoid confusion and to assist in being better understood. Though I learned more about genre in grad school, I also find myself analyzing the genres we use in the office (postcards, flyers, newsletters, emails, invoices, release forms, application documents, etc.) in order to make sure I understand their purpose and function in the event that I have to recreate or redesign them.
What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?
I had to learn a bit about city planning as a field as most of my colleagues have master’s degrees in that field. I also had to learn about the processes and workflows associated with planning and construction code enforcement in my local government. And I also had to learn a little bit about zoning codes, adopted building codes, and permitted/unpermitted construction work in residential and commercial buildings. Everything that I’ve learned has been useful in my personal life as well, which is not something that I would have expected. A key part of being effective in my role is to distill these complex concepts into messaging consumed by stakeholders. I learned by asking my supervisors and my colleagues, who have a wealth of knowledge about their fields, and by becoming more familiar with the tools that we provide to customers.
In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals?
I enjoy learning how my local government works firsthand and playing a small part of making citizens more aware of processes that affect them. I have great bosses that allow me creative freedom. I have great colleagues that make collaboration very easy to do. At times, I may have a lot to do, but the ebb and flow of it all doesn’t make it too overwhelming in the end. I have some remote work flexibility, which allows me to spend a bit more time at home if needed. In general, I’m pretty satisfied with my work.
What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did?
I’d say that it would be helpful to develop other skills that complement what you’ve learned in English, such as graphic design, social media management, or qualitative/quantitative research methods. The more skills that you’re able to tie-in with what you’ve learned as an English major will make you a diversly skilled candidate for any position at any organization. Working for government, whether local, state, or federal, provides a great opportunity to learn how things get done and to be part of the process.
A Quote from My Supervisor:
“Breana brings a diversity of skills and creativity to the division. She has been critical in shaping how we connect with our various audiences. She leverages her background to help us think differently about our digital presence and brings innovative ideas that keep us focused on our division’s mission.”
Updated Feb 2023