Monthly Archives: July 2011

Alumnus Katie Dittelberger on How Her English Degree Helped Prepared Her for Law School

After earning my bachelor’s at Ball State with an English Major in 2007, I took a year off from school to think about what I wanted to do next career-wise, and headed to Boulder, Colorado to work as a waitress and enjoy the mountains. As I contemplated my future career, I knew I had been shaped by my experiences at Ball State. For instance, my classes with Debbie Mix, Lauren Onkey, Pat Collier, and Jill Christman had exposed me to different ways of thinking about social inequality, which led me to contemplate centering my work around social justice. My time surrounded by the natural beauty of Colorado had also enhanced my belief in the value of environmental sustainability. I decided that becoming a lawyer would be a good way to get to work on some of the issues I care about. I entered Indiana University School of Law with a full scholarship in the fall of 2008 and graduated Summa Cum Laude in the spring of 2011. In law school, I engaged in some public service and social justice-oriented volunteer work, and I worked as a law clerk for a judge, as a law clerk for Earthjustice, and as an intern at The Nature Conservancy during the two summers. Currently, I am studying for the bar examination and plan to move to Denver to pursue a career in nonprofit lawyering.

Studying a variety of methods of thought in my English classes and learning to use reason and logic to write papers prepared me to engage in legal reading and writing in law school. English majors are taught to use both the creative and logical parts of our brains to make arguments, exactly the type of thought necessary for making legal arguments. There is room for creativity in the law, and English majors are perfectly poised to see these grey areas because we are taught to analyze texts from different angles. My English major gave me a new outlook on the world and the tools to take on the challenge of law school, and I am grateful for my time at Ball State.

English Majors Who Work At Ball State: Dr. Joseph Goodwin, Assistant Director of the Career Center

In the coming year, we will feature guest posts from English majors who work at Ball State in positions outside of the English department.   This is part of our larger effort to emphasize the many different ways that one can use an English degree after graduation.  In this post, the assistant director of Ball State’s career center, Dr. Joseph Goodwin, discusses how he has used the skills he developed in his English major and in his graduate work in folklore in his various careers.  Dr. Goodwin earned his B.A. in English at the University of Alabama in 1974, and then went on to earn a Ph.D. in Folklore from Indiana University in 1984.

During my freshman orientation, I told my advisor that I planned to major in psychology and minor in sociology with a goal of teaching high school. He told me I couldn’t because those subjects weren’t offered in high school (despite the fact that I had just taken both). Having enjoyed English, I decided on the spot to major in English and minor in sociology. As I later learned, I should have declared a social studies major to be certified to teach my original choices. 

By my junior year I’d completed all of the academic requirements for licensure except for student teaching and one follow-up course. I also realized that I didn’t want to teach in a secondary school. At the same time, I discovered a new area of study that I became really excited about: folklore. I eventually completed fifteen credit hours in folklore through independent study. 

My folklore instructor suggested that I apply for the graduate program at Indiana University’s Folklore Institute (now the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology). At the time, it was the leading program of its kind in the United States.  At I.U., I had an editorial assistantship with the journal Indiana Folklore

By the time I was finishing my Ph.D., I realized that with no teaching experience and few faculty positions available in the field, I would have to pursue another career path. I was not prepared for work in museums, arts agencies, and the like. To my good fortune, a part-time job as an editor opened up in I.U.’s publications office—just in time. I got the job and a few months later was moved temporarily to a full-time position.  Just as that job was ending and I was to revert to half-time, I applied for the position of assistant director of University Publications at Ball State. 

After I had been in that job for almost eight years, the director of the Career Center called me for advice about advertising an opening in her office. She wanted someone with editorial experience and was wondering how to get the best applicant pool. As we talked, she explained that she could teach the career development skills. She also mentioned she needed someone with a library background (I had worked in libraries and archives while in college and graduate school) and public speaking experience. Hmm. She was describing me!

 In the Career Center, along with my other responsibilities, I edit, proofread, and approve all materials and communications produced in the office (except for personal correspondence). With our technology specialist, I developed our original website in 1995, one of the first on campus. I also supervise the coordinator of our resource lab. 

Every day I use the knowledge I gained while earning my bachelor’s degree in English. In many ways, however, I’ve obtained my jobs by selling my transferable skills rather than my degrees. What does that mean? There are many skills that can be applied in a variety of jobs—skills that one develops in classes, at work, through hobbies, and in many other ways. 

For at least the last two decades employers have consistently named several key skills and competencies that they are seeking (beyond the content of students’ majors). Among these are communication, teamwork, adaptability, interpersonal skills, analytical skills, creativity, and leadership—knowledge and abilities expected of all liberal arts majors. By focusing on my accomplishments in these areas, as well as using my technical skills, I have been successful in my searches for employment.

Jared Sexton’s Interview With Andrew Scott, Part 2

Congratulations to Andrew Scott, assistant professor of English, on the publication of his first book, Naked Summer (Press 53, 2011.).   In order to mark the occassion, we asked another English department faculty member, Jared Sexton, to interview Andrew about his first full-length book and his life as a writer, editor and teacher.  Below is the second installment of the interview.  You can find the first installment here

4. Without a doubt, you’re one of the most passionate teachers I know. There’s been a long debate now about whether or not you can teach a student to write well. Which side of the fence do you fall on with that particular issue?

Students can learn to become better readers, certainly, and becoming a better reader is the first step toward becoming a better writer. Teachers can model useful behaviors that beginning writers might need to eventually adopt — how to find a writing routine that fits the individual, how to become serious about revision, how to handle rejection, and so on — if they’re going to become lifelong “professional” writers, whatever we might mean when we say that. Beginning writers must work to find a balance between humility and the fire within. Without one or the other, it’s hard to steadily improve. 

Those who oppose the teaching of creative writing are usually caught up in delusions of debauchery and other romanticized notions of the writing life — that a writer must travel the world, say, or kill a bear with her bare hands in order to know how to write about life. While a creative writing class can’t teach someone to be a genius, and while the work still rests solely on the writer’s shoulders, I do think the right teacher, the right group of peers, can help a young writer push off in the right direction. Creative writing classrooms played a crucial role in my development as a writer. Every now and then, I encounter some resistance to what some view as the safety of the creative writing classroom, but as Eudora Welty said, “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well, for all serious daring starts from within.” 

5. What do you think you’ve learned from writing your collection? I know whenever I walked away from mine there was a definite set of experiences that I had, both personal and artistically, that changed the way I went about my business going forward. Is there anything like that for you? Anything you’d like to do again, wouldn’t like to?

Much of what I know about writing fiction I’ve learned from writing the stories in Naked Summer. That said, I don’t know if I’ll write another short story collection that isn’t capable of being dressed up as a novel or something larger. Linked stories, a story cycle — whatever you call it, when I write short stories in the future, they’ll be part of a larger, cohesive project. The frustrating thing about this book finally being published is that I’m still not convinced that it is measurably better now than it was three years ago, or even six years ago. 

Do you know that essay by Ted Solotaroff? It’s called “Writing in the Cold: The First Ten Years,” and he suggests that persistence matters more than talent, which rings true to most writers and is a reason why that essay is always passed around between us. I wouldn’t like to endure another ten years in the cold, I will say that. But I also learned that I can only write what I want to write. I can’t please everyone. I can’t worry about outside forces pressing down on me, expectations from the chorus of readers, past and present, former teachers, friends, colleagues, whatever. I’m trying to become the kind of writer who is satisfied with merely doing the work each day, or every few days, like a painter in the studio, dabbing a bit of paint here and there, then covering it up with something else over time. 

6. Here’s something I’ve wondered about for awhile – could you take us through the evolution of Andrew Scott, Writer? I think if some young writers read this they might have a decent idea of the kind of trajectory to expect when growing and changing as an artist.

I used to be a single-celled organism. Then I became a fish, like the mother in As I Lay Dying. Eventually I crawled up on the beach. I’ve been gasping for breath ever since. 

I’m about to turn 35. I’ve been trying to write fiction for about half of my life. But one of the best parts about being a writer is that you can still be an “emerging” or “young” writer into what we normally call middle age. I’m still ahead of the game, in a lot of ways. There are many writers my age or older who’ve also been working hard for many years and still don’t have a full-length book. It really is a discipline, and you have to be obsessed in order to complete a project. The only advice that I can offer about what trajectory to expect when growing and changing as an artist is that it will likely take a long time, and artists never really know in which direction they might one day be pulled.

Jared Sexton’s Interview with Andrew Scott About His Recently Published Book! (Part 1)

Congratulations to Andrew Scott, assistant professor of English, on the publication of his first book, Naked Summer (Press 53, 2011.).   In order to mark the occassion, we asked another English department faculty member, Jared Sexton, to interview Andrew about his first full-length book and his life as a writer, editor and teacher.  Below is the first installment.

1. You’re a son of the Midwest. You were raised here, educated here, you teach and live here, and your collection, Naked Summer, reads like a love letter to this region. What do you think is so special about the Midwest and Midwesterners in general? Is there something about them that makes for good living or writing?

One of my mentors writes about a place after she’s left it, when memory mixes with imagination, and that’s what happened to me, too. I was born in Lafayette, Indiana, but when I moved to New Mexico for grad school, the physical distance teamed up with a strange longing that I couldn’t have predicted. New Mexico was as far away as I could get, after all, and I desperately wanted to live somewhere else. I’d been accepted into all of the MFA programs that actually considered my application, and all were outside the Midwest. I think I subconsciously goofed up the applications to Iowa and Ohio State — forgot to send GRE scores to one, missed a deadline for the other — because I didn’t want to stay in the Midwest. 

Susan Neville has an essay about how Hoosiers have to decide if we will stay or leave. I really wanted to leave, and it was good for me to live somewhere else for a while, especially a place as rich and weird and lively — but also deadly — as New Mexico. For many years, nearly every story I tried to write came from Tippecanoe County and its environs. I decided to embrace my place, my home state, in the service of fiction.  

All of the clichés that are heaped upon Midwesterners — that we’re simple, quiet, unassuming, honest, generally good-natured, etc. — help create tension when a writer engages them in fiction, because a lot of readers (and certainly most publishers) on the coasts don’t expect people in “the flyover” to have rich inner lives. I think that surprise factor, dumb as it is — oh, Midwesterners are complex people, too! — can often be an advantage for writers. Some of the most surprisingly brutal books of the past few years have come from the Midwest, such as Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage, Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff, or Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone

2. You and your wife are both writers and editors, partnering on the successful journal Freight Stories. What do you think you’ve learned from that different focus that has helped you as a writer or reader?

Editing is a different skill set. Many writers are also good editors, but not all. Victoria Barrett and I have been editors for thirteen years now, first for Puerto del Sol, the literary journal we edited at New Mexico State, but also with Freight Stories, the online fiction journal we founded in 2008. This year, Victoria started her own boutique press called Engine Books. Her first contracted manuscript is a story collection from Patricia Henley, whose debut novel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Not too shabby. 

For me, editing is rewarding work. It’s also work that has an end. The composition and revision stages my own fiction must go through can be exhausting. But with editing, I’m just a facilitator, a connector, the link between the writer’s vision for a story and the reader’s perception. I have to find a way to help present the best version to readers. Sometimes that means marking up every page, and many stories we’ve published have received that kind of attention from me. But sometimes it means backing off. For example, Lee Martin’s “Bedtime Stories” is only a few pages long. When we accepted that piece, I knew it was good, but I was determined to put Lee through the same editorial scrutiny as any other writer we’ve published, though he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. I spent two or three hours on those few pages, questioning every choice, but in the end, I didn’t make a single suggestion. It was like sparring with Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime. I was way out of my league, but that experience made me a better prose-maker. Often the editor changes the story. But sometimes, the story changes the editor. 

3. You’ve told me in conversation that the collection has been a work-in-progress that you’ve tooled around with for a while now. Could you take us through a brief, albeit informational, tour of the many ups and downs you’ve had with this manuscript?

I have started other projects in the years since finishing the MFA, and some of those are finally starting to gain momentum, including a few graphic novel projects that I’m excited about. But this collection was always there, and I revised it once or twice a year, top to bottom, during the last decade. A lot of writers might have abandoned it. Don’t most MFA grads ditch their thesis projects? I simply couldn’t bring myself to do that. 

I began approaching agents near the end of 2008, just as the recession really started, perhaps the worst time in decades for the book business. In short, agents often read and enjoyed the stories, but all of the ones I was interested in working with wanted a novel instead, or at least in addition to this story collection, and I wasn’t ready.  

Meanwhile, an independent press out of North Carolina, Press 53, had started publishing well-respected story collections by authors I admired, so I submitted my manuscript in the fall of 2010. Eight weeks later, I had a contract. Five months after that, you read my book. 

Along the way, I learned how to stick with a project and how to trust my judgment, but also about the role luck plays in so many aspects of publishing.