Nothing could be more relevant to my inescapable future than my soul crushing anxiety about getting a job after graduation. It’s not a secret that college graduates today are facing one of the harshest job economies the US has seen in decades. Chegg, the well-known textbook rental company, organized a survey that compared how prepared students believed they were for the workplace versus how prepared hiring managers thought they were. They found that there was “a gap between the skills hiring managers reported seeing in recent graduates and the skills the students perceive themselves as having mastered.” This is quite a disturbing void. The survey covered skills such as compelling, concise slide presentations, organization, prioritizing work, summarizing data, public speaking, managing a meeting, creating a budget, and communicating clearly among many others.
In every category, there was at least a 10% difference between the student’s and hiring manager’s assessments of a student’s skills. My first reaction is to disregard these findings and reassure myself that I could survive and thrive in a workplace. However, that probably just means that I’ve lumped myself with every other like-minded, hopeful college student. But what are we supposed to do? Back down from challenging situations? Not apply for jobs because we might not be fully qualified? No. The most important point to take away from this study is that college students today don’t give up. We work hard because that’s the kind of environment we were faced with in school; it’s the kind of world we’re going to have to face outside of college too. However, there’s only so much us students can learn in college. Hands-on, interactive learning is invaluable. So, yes, maybe those students weren’t really prepared for those jobs, but they strived to excel and who’s to say they weren’t willing and ready to learn? Read the full study here and Gawker’s summary here.
Lexi Dakin, Professional Writing graduate from the class of 2013, has recently taken over as the Coordinator of Soccer Operations for The University of Notre Dame. She manages the social media, video and film exchange, budgeting, travel, promotions, and more for the popular Notre Dame women’s soccer team. Dakin was previously employed as one of our Communications Interns here at WRAC. Congratulations!
Ok, so you graduated from college, your diploma *finally* came in the mail, and with any luck you’ve settled into a job or freelance work or an internship, or some delightful combination of the former. You’re paying off student loans, you’re settling into your work routine, you’ve moved into an apartment (or back into your childhood bedroom), and it’s finally sinking in that you’re no longer a student.
Now, that is not necessarily true. Besides the more obvious choices like graduate school or other types of higher education, you are in fact, still a student. The only difference is that you can pick what you want to learn (and there’s usually no one waiting to give you a rolled up piece of paper at the end).
There are numerous ways to continue learning even after you leave your dorm room or college campus. You can, for instance:
Read. Read everything under the sun. Books, magazines, blogs, newspapers, web comics, Twitter feeds, etc. My favorite thing lately has been re-trying out all of the classic novels and bits of literature that were skimmed at break-neck speed during my undergrad English classes. Now I can kick back and enjoy some Steinbeck or Bradbury (or Julia Child and Ingrid Bergman biographies) at my leisure, and not have to worry about looking for symbols or finding applicable quotes for a final paper. Or, if you miss those final papers, you can blog about what you liked/disliked/discovered along the way.
Go back to “school.” One of the my favorite discoveries during post-college life have been online tutorials and actual “classes” you can take. Some examples include Codecademy, Coursera and Hack Design. Best part? Almost all of them are free, and you can learn at whatever pace is comfortable, or if you work full-time, convenient for you.
Listen. If your eyes are already tired from staring at computer screens all day or you have a lengthy commute, try a podcast, or NPR, or one of those books on tape/CD if you’re feeling a bit old school. Or, find people that you think are interesting, or who are doing interesting things in your field, and hear what they have to say, whether it’s through a speaking engagement, a phone call or initiating a conversation via your favorite flavor of social media.
But hey, maybe some of these things are a no-brainer, and that’s fine. Maybe some of you have other methods of learning that you prefer, and that’s fine too. Heck, maybe you actually are still in school but you like to add things to the coursework you’ve already completed (that’s more than fine – in fact, go you!). All that matters is that you keep on learning new things. And if you like what you find, share it with others.
Noelle Sciarini is an alumni of MSU’s Professional Writing program. Now a resident of Ann Arbor, she currently works as an email marketing copywriter for a series of charitable “click-to-give” websites. Sometimes she’s on Twitter, where you can tweet her at @NoelleSci.
Everyone (who writes) has heard the phrase, “Write what you know.” Sure, I can do that. I’ve always written what I’ve known. Even at MSU, when I took classes like Music & Culture, I understood it and knew how to write about it. Even when I had to write what I was maybe a little unfamiliar with, I had the time to figure it out, and I was never learning something completely new. Still, it’s always harder when you aren’t sure about the topic of which you’re writing.
So what do you do when you’re writing what you don’t know?
My first job out of college is a great one. I love my co-workers, I’m never bored and always busy, and I have the best schedule. But here’s the thing—I work in a megachurch. Not dissing churches or megachurches, just pointing out the fact that I didn’t grow up in a Christian household. I don’t know much about the Bible. I don’t know it at all, to be honest. And now I’m regularly in creative meetings, helping write scripts, brainstorming for new sermon series, editing the synopses for these sermons, and I don’t know a thing about the Bible and I’m only starting to learn about Christianity, which is a fairly expansive thing to learn about. (more…)
Next weekend, months of hard work by a group of Professional Writing (PW) alumni and students will finally be seen in action. The Middle of the Mitten (MOTM) festival has arrived once again, hosting its fifth annual celebration of local music from January 24th-26th in East Lansing and Lansing.
Created by PW alumnus Joel Heckaman when he was a sophomore, Middle of the Mitten’s first festival took place in January 2009. What was originally a simple rock show to celebrate the first anniversary of The Record Lounge, an East Lansing record shop, has expanded each year, now including three nights at three different venues. The organization is currently working on its 501(c)3 and Registered Student Organization statuses while still hosting a music festival every January, and a Rock for Relief local music marathon in April for charities and disaster relief. (more…)
Photo by Sarah Aldrich
Professional Writing alumna Sarah Aldrich is excited to inform us that the Whitdel Arts exhibition “Love Letters: A Typographic Affair” has accepted her typography pieces. The exhibition opened on November 11 and will be showing through December 9. Out of over 100 entries, only 20 were chosen and all three of Aldrich’s submissions were selected, which is an impressive accomplishment.
Aldrich had taken STA 365 Typography I: Form and Meaning as an MSU senior, and the pieces she submitted to Whitdel Arts were all projects from that class. She remembers that when she began the class, she didn’t really recognize the importance of typography, thinking “it was the content that mattered most,” but she says that after completing the class, “I really saw the way that different typefaces can make the content more powerful.”
Aldrich found out about the show from an email sent by WRAC Professor Stephanie Amada through the PW listserv and decided to submit her pieces. Sarah says of two of the pieces, “They’re from an exercise that helped me bridge the gap between writer and designer: using letterforms to express the meaning of the word that they combined to represent.”
Aldrich is currently working at Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids as a marketing coordinator. A Professional Writing field trip was recently organized to visit her and to see what kind of work she does. Aldrich’s continued accomplishments are not only a testament to her hard work but also to the skills and knowledge she gained as a Professional Writing major.
Alexandra graduated in May of 2010. Young and ambitious, she now lives in Queens, New York, and works on the upper east side of Manhattan for Planned Television Arts, which is a division of Ruder Finn that specializes in book publicity. Her official workplace title is social media manager.
Like a lot of professional writing jobs, Alexandra’s job entails a bit of everything. As she puts it, she’s a “Jill-of-all-trades.” She runs the company’s interactive department, which means that she’s in charge of client management, recruiting new clients, crafting and submitting proposals and letters of agreement, and networking at industry events. She also manages a team of two full-time staff and two to three interns. As the social media manager, she keeps the website and blog up-to-date and relevant.
Alexandra feels very fortunate to be a part of such a collaborative work environment, and to have “an amazing dream team working with [her] within PTA Interactive.” She also has the ability to work on a wide variety of books — from social media marketing books to Harlequin romance and thriller novels.
She credits Laura Julier’s WRA 455 Portfolio Workshop and Dean Rehberger’s WRA 453 Grant and Proposal Writing courses for her success in the workforce: “In WRA 455, we were taught how to market ourselves for the workforce, and I gained a wealth of confidence and composure that I’m not sure I would have been able to tap into naturally. … In WRA 453, I learned to abandon my tendency to embellish essays and instead to compose concise essays that had clearly stated points and goals.” Two qualities she appreciates greatly and have helped exponentially on the road to a career.
For more information about Alexandra’s job, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now living and working in New York City for reddit (reddit.com), Jena has found a niche for herself among its staff. As an entity, reddit is a community of strangers who rate internet content by voting it “up” or “down” in relation to other hot topics on the reddit.com homepage. Her job title is business development manager, which entails creating revenue-generating programs for reddit, like advertising and sales strategies for their web space.
Jena loves everything about her job. It is definitely an exciting time to be working in media, especially in New York City and at reddit, which has a passionate and engaged community. Today, she feels “lucky enough to be encouraged to spend [her] workday on reddit learning, exploring, and discussing.” With the opportunity to meet new, interesting people everyday, be it virtually or face-to-face, she’s quite excited to be a part of reddit’s team.
She attributes much of her success to her experience, some of which came via undergrad PW courses such as WRA 415 Digital Rhetoric and WRA 202 Introduction to Professional Writing: “In Digital Rhetoric, I was introduced to new tools that aid communication and collaboration and made me more curious about innovations happening online around communities.” While in the program’s intro course, she learned valuable project management skills. The PW program’s strong focus on internships enable Jena to find an internship at WIDE (Writing In Digital Environments), which she credits for giving her the real world insight she needed to advance in her work life. Jena is another happy professional writer in New York.
For more information about Jena’s post-BA experience, contact her at email@example.com
Ben graduated with a B.A. in Professional Writing in August of 2010. He is currently living and working in Grand Haven, Michigan, for Media 1, a learning technology company. Officially, his title in the workplace is web developer but he is often asked to engage in a variety of tasks that require different skill sets.
As PW professors stress, it’s versatility that defines a professional writer. What Ben enjoys most about his job is the flexibility. He is always invested in a variety of projects that mix up his day and keep things interesting. Whether he is working directly with clients and creating a customized website or providing the educational tools under the label of Media 1 that increase sales numbers for businesses, Ben is satisfied to know at this job, he’s making good use of his skills are well implemented and making a difference for a variety of companies.
It comes to no surprise that Ben is also grateful for what he took away from intro-level PW courses, especially WRA 202 Introduction to PW, WRA 320 Technical Writing, and WRA 260 Rhetoric, Persuasion and Culture: “Only when I came to my job did I find out how valuable the knowledge from those classes has been.” These are the courses that gave him the skill set to think critically and strategize about his rhetorical missions. A large majority of his work is web site development, and those classes taught him what he needed to know to design and build websites well. On a daily basis, Ben uses the skills he gained in WRA 415 Digital Rhetoric, particulary the emphasisis on teamwork. “Because of the collaborative nature of projects in that class,” he said, “we worked in groups (as you do in the workforce) to analyze problems, and creatively produce solutions to digital projects.”
For more information about Ben’s work, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Networking: it makes your life easier. WRAC has contacted some Professional Writing Program alumni to ask about their experiences now that they’re out in the professional world. They were happy to speak with current students about their work and post-MSU experiences, and to give advice.
Amy graduated in December of 2006 with degrees in Spanish and Professional Writing. She’s currently living in Chicago, working for a children’s book publishing company. It publishes electronic books and novelty books, and the majority of its work is done with licensing partners like Disney, Sesame Street, Nickelodeon, Eric Carle, HIT Entertainment (Thomas the Tank Engine) and more. Though her job title is Acquisitions Editor, it’s slightly misleading; her publishing company doesn’t accept outside submissions, so Amy is more of an account manager.
She works on several books simultaneously and is part of a review process to be sure that the books adhere to the Disney brand (or whatever brand she’s working with) before it is submitted. She is constantly communicating with Disney to be sure that she stays true to Disney standards, characters, copyrights, etc. A team of in-house editors writes the books, but they typically hire freelance artists for illustration.
Amy loves the people with whom she works, and says she couldn’t ask for a better boss: “It’s nice to work in a creative environment; I’m inspired daily by the talent and ideas that we have here.”
For more information about Amy’s job, contact her at
Jon graduated in May of 2009. He’s currently living in Novi, MI, where he works full time for Gale/Cengage Learning in Farmington Hills. His official job title is Associate Content Project Editor; hired in October, a year before that he was working as a contractor for the same company. He works on several series of books for Greenhaven Press. Each book is comprised of essays, articles, blogs, and book chapters that are collected from different sources and that express different viewpoints. Jon takes these rough manuscripts and turns them into published products.
Some facets of his job include product management, people management, copy editing, proofing, working with rights acquisitions, and more. He says, “That list really doesn’t do it justice; currently, I manage 20 titles and that number is ever growing. Additionally, ‘people management’ may be a little misleading; it takes a lot of people to create a book; we need typesetters, rights specialists, composition specialists, and more. It is my job to make sure all these people are given the material and deadlines they need. A lot of the people I work with are out-of-office vendors and independent contractors. I think it is more appropriate to say that I work alongside many dedicated people. At the heart, what I do is manage projects.”
For more information about Jon’s job, contact him at
Casey (DeSmet) Kloostra
When Casey was a junior at MSU, she worked on a web project with WIDE as a designer and developer; while participating in the project she realized that though she loved web development, she wasn’t fond of coding and was no good at designing. The experience taught her that she wanted to work in user experience and information architecture. She proceeded to get an internship at a web development studio called Fusionary Media. “It was a fantastic opportunity and I learned a lot about web development in a business setting.”
Casey kept in touch with the three owners throughout her senior year and when it came time to apply for jobs, Fusionary was interested; after she graduated in May 2009, she moved to Grand Rapids to start work.
For the first year, Casey’s position was relatively fluid and all about finding her niche. She did many different things to try to figure out what she liked and what they needed. It was a huge learning experience; she says, “I feel very lucky to have had that freedom, flexibility, and guidance.”
Her job now entails a lot of different things, but she regularly works on content inventories and reports, content editing, information architecture, and more. She also spends a fair amount of time responding to potential opportunities (new business) and putting together proposals. Depending on the project, she does maintenance work for client sites.
Through trial and error, Casey learned a lot about herself, what her strengths and weaknesses are, and what she ultimately wanted to focus upon as a career path; this is an important thing that professional writers and others can take away: try it before you knock it because you never know where you’ll end up.
For more information about Casey’s job, contact her at