Category Archives: Stars to Steer By

What can you do with a Humanities degree? We’ll show you! Here we tell you all about our Stars to Steer By series upcoming events, recaps of past events, and feature interviews with Ball State alumni who have gone on to be incredibly successful. The goal of the series is to encourage students who wish to or are currently pursuing a Humanities degree. Be sure to consider coming to the next event and find out what you can do with your degree!

Michael Prosser: A Teacher’s Odyssey

Michael H. Prosser received his BA in English with minors in Latin and speech in 1958, and his MA in English with a minor in Latin at BSU in 1959. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in Communications with a minor in English in 1964. He has taught at Ball State, the University of Virginia, and the University of Swaziland, and other schools across the world. Prosser is also a founder of the academic field of intercultural communication, and has written or edited books on topics ranging from classical and medieval rhetoric to international public discourse.

You are among Ball State’s most esteemed alumni. What are a few memories that stand out to you from your time here?

I was an undergraduate debater at BSU and president of the campus Newman Club. In 1978, BSU gave me an Outstanding Alumnus award. Several of my books are in the BSU library, as well as my MA thesis ‘’Solitude in the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne,” (under the leadership of Alfred Harding Marks), and my Ph.D. thesis “A Rhetorical Analysis of the Speeches of Adlai Stevenson in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Sessions of the United Nations General Assembly.”

When I was a teaching assistant at Ball State in 1958-59, I taught one quarter of American Literature and two quarters of public speaking (which included lots of vets who had fought in Korea). My supervisor was Lucille Clifton, and I had classes on Milton with Jon Loury as well as courses with Paul Royalty, Alfred Harding Marks, Joseph Sattler, and Edward Strother. The most interesting three quarter course that I took in the English Department was Shakespeare: in fall, histories; winter, the comedies; spring, the tragedies. Continue reading

Mandy Stamper : Presenter, Representative, and Educator

BSU English grad Mandy Stamper is an independent manufacturers’ representative for 10 companies in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.  She works from home on commission with architects, designers, business owners, and general contractors, among others. Although she travels for work, she has a flexible schedule and a lot of autonomy. Previously she worked for a commercial furniture dealership, selling to corporate, healthcare, higher education, and k-12 customers.

After a few years, she decided she wanted the flexibility of working for herself. She gained her first contract by working the floors of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago at Neocon, an annual industry trade show, walking from booth to booth, asking if anyone needed a representative in Indiana.

She gives educational presentations about products and consults on specifications and designs, among other tasks.  She is married and has two children, a son at IU and a daughter in third grade.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

I honestly just fell into this position.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I knew I didn’t want to teach. I got into the commercial furniture industry and never looked back!  My English degree helped in so many ways. Here are just a few:
  • Sharpened my critical thinking skills.
  • Enhanced my creative thinking.
  • Built a foundation for presentation skills through class discussion and presentations.
  • Broadened my vocabulary to add interest and intelligence to conversations.

 What’s a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day but I can give a list of a few things that I do:
  • Present to architects, designers, owners, contractors, and any others that may be decision makers or involved in installation or fabrication.
  • Show samples and educate about the best solutions for the problems and needs presented.
  • Travel between locations making sure design libraries are up to date.
  • Get creative and brand myself with unique presentations or leave-behinds for architects and designers.  Reminding people you are there is key.
  • Network with representatives of non-competing products.
  • Find and chase leads for projects.
  • Work with teams at the manufacturers’ offices to come up with pricing and strategize the best way to win a project.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

The foundation a major in English gives is invaluable.  Employers today want to know that you have drive and the ability to think critically and convey ideas in an intelligent manner.  Many positions are learned on the job and if you have the ability and desire, there are limitless possibilities.  No one will give you what you want and no one else can determine your path.  You have to decide what you want and go after it.
To learn more about Stamper and her work, visit her website www.mandystamper.com.

Gretchen Stelter : Making Books Happen

Gretchen Stelter got her BA in English from Ball State in 2003. She studied in Australia before receiving an MA in professional writing from Portland State. Since then, she has worked with writers as an agent and editor for more than a decade. More than 500 books she has worked on have been published by traditional publishing houses. She’s worked on writing at every stage, from development to copyediting and proofreading. She also writes for Books for Better LivingHealthline.com, and Elephant Journal. See some of her work here.

Gretchen lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

Gretchen Stelter. Image from her website: www.gretchenstelter.com.

After I finished my English degree at Ball State, I went to graduate school for a degree in professional writing with a focus in book publishing at Portland State. From there, I actually helped start a literary agency with a classmate, which I co-ran with her for five years before I started editing and writing freelance full-time. The writing skills I gained while at BSU, as well as literary analysis, have helped me in both roles as the editorial director of the agency, and as a writer and editor.

Truly, the ability to read a manuscript and discuss what makes it strong, what makes it appeal to a specific demographic or not, and what sorts of themes it contains has served me very well in my career.

What’s a typical day like for you?

A typical day for me is one when I work from home, which I do about 99% of the time if I don’t have in-person meetings with clients or colleagues. I respond to emails in the morning, because I live on the West Coast and most publishing house clients are on the East Coast. By the time I’m up and at the computer, I’ll have a few queries or check-ins I need to respond to.

After I’m done with emails in the morning, I get started on whatever my most pressing deadline is, which I devote the bulk of my day to. That could mean proofreading, copyediting, developmental editing, or writing. I like to have a variety of projects at any given time, so if I hit a wall with my concentration, I’ll start work on one of my other projects to give myself a mental refresh. For pretty much all of my work, I’m on the computer with a number of files and internet windows open to do research, update style sheets, and double-check dictionaries and style guides. I work into the evening, but how late depends on just how pressing my deadlines are. I’ve been known to work until midnight when I’ve got something due soon. On a regular day, depending on how long my lunch break was and how quickly I got to work after my emails that morning, I work until somewhere between six and eight.

Throughout most days, I post on social media any book or writing news I have, like my articles being published or books I’ve worked on having their pub days, getting good reviews, or winning awards. I set aside one day a month to put those updates on my website. Most of the time, that’s the only publicity I worry about, as I get most of my work through referrals these days. On any given day, I may have a call or online video conference with a client, but most days, I’m in front of my laptop for the vast majority of the time.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

Don’t be afraid to explore careers that you’ve never heard of or know nothing about.

When I was approached by a classmate to see if I wanted to start a literary agency with her I enthusiastically said yes…and only then asked what a literary agent did.

Also: network, network, network. When I transitioned from agent to editorial director, and then to full-time editor and writer, I had many, many colleagues who were also agents, editors at publishing houses, production editors, publicists, etc., who were ready to recommend me to authors, both agented and published, and those looking for representation/publishing contracts. When I was starting out, it was the contacts I’d made, the way I’d treated those people, and my work that got me clients. Don’t just avoid burning bridges, but actively try to build them.

Elysia Smith on poetry, marketing, and snuggling with your dog during the workday

Elysia Lucinda Smith is a California transplant who went to high school in Indiana before attending Ball State. She works for Metonymy Media in Indianapolis, where she lives and writes. She declares that she’s  unlearning the habits of  “Midwestern apology and avoidance one day at a time.” Find her writing online at ElysiaLucinda.com.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

Honestly, I never expected to be where I am now. When I finished college, I immediately pursued a Masters of Fine Arts in poetry because that’s what I’d seen my friends do, not because I had much interest in teaching college. Despite this, my MFA was an excellent decision and I was blessed to be able to eat, sleep, and breathe poetry in Boston, one of the most literary cities in the US. Poetry has always been my thing, so if you’d said to me even a year ago that I’d be working in marketing, I’d probably have laughed at you. Although it’s difficult to make a career out of poetry, I’ve been doing community development work for the last five years including running the Writers’ Community at Ball State along with a pop up art show and collective called Glue & Scissors Society. Now, at my current job, not only am I getting to write every day, I’m still running community programs and workshops. I’m in charge of a space in our Fountain Square office called The Green Room and there I run a gallery, host a monthly writing workshop called Indy Word Lab, and am working to create a community flex space to support all types of groups. Most recently, I’ve entered into a partnership with a local group called Face Á Face, and I’m very excited to see what we can accomplish together.

Of all the valuable skills I learned in my English major—communication, writing, etc—the most important to me is the art of revision. Many of my students have been this way—I was certainly the same in college—but I suppose I just didn’t “believe” in revision. I thought of it as fate whenever I wrote something and the value of revision never occurred to me. What it’s shown me is that attention to detail is something you can hone and that extra words or confusing language are unnecessary.

What’s a typical day like for you?

The great benefit of working at Metonymy is that my days never look the same. I’m a pretty movement- and change-oriented person and I need a lot of control of my schedule because I’m typically involved in two external projects at any given time on top of work, on top of my own creative stuff and self-care. Some days I go into the office at 9:30 and work until about 2 pm and then I’ll go to the gym or hang out with my dog, and finish up the rest of my writing at my leisure. Some days I work from a local coffee shop. Some days I don’t work at all and wake up at 3 am and finish my writing then. As long as I can do good work and meet all my deadlines, my schedule gets to stay nice and loose.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

The first thing I’ll say is seriously seriously seriously don’t ever pay for a Masters degree. Find a program that pays you to get an MFA via a stipend, etc. That’s one thing I truly regret is taking out loans to help finance my MFA despite having a stipend. Boston was an incredibly expensive place to live. Other than that, the biggest thing is to get involved. Writers need community because they need connectivity. You want readers, you want peers who spark you, and you want the mobility to meet other writers, publishers, and organizers. Even if you just take time to go to a few readings here and there what you’ll begin to realize is that the writing community is strangely small. It’s homey. Come hang.

Also, publish your stuff! Submit as often as you can. I have a rule that whenever I write a new poem I just submit it immediately to help keep things circulating. If you don’t know where to start looking for homes for your work, check out Entropy Mag’s lists. They’re awesome. Also follow writers on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Some of my favorite follows have been Joanna C. Valente, Ariel Francisco, and August Smith!

Robbie Maakestad : Editor, Author, Award Winner

Robbie Maakestad is an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus and is writing a biography of place about the City of David archaeological park in Jerusalem. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Ball State and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from  George Mason University. He has been published or has forthcoming work in Essay Daily, Bad Pony, The MacGuffin, Free State Review, and Bethesda Magazine, among others. In 2017, Robbie was shortlisted for the Penguin/Travelex Next Great Travel Writer Award. Follow him at @RobbieMaakestad.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

Without a degree in English, I certainly would not be prepared to teach or edit as I do now. After getting my BA in English from Taylor University and my MA in Creative Writing at Ball State, I attended George Mason University in Fairfax, VA (where I still live) to get an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. After graduating in May ’17, I started editing for The Rumpus and teaching nonfiction as adjunct faculty at George Washington University (GWU)–both positions that would have been unattainable without the experience afforded by my degrees. Studying English in undergrad forced me to practice critical thought in regard to my own writing and to the writing of others, which has proven essential in both my teaching and editing. Workshop in creative writing courses laid a foundation for leading discussion in my own classroom and for knowing what to look for as I select essays to publish.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Mondays and Wednesdays I teach at GWU in Washington D.C., so I commute an hour into the city by metro, teach two sections of Historical Creative Nonfiction, hold office hours, and put in several hours of my own work before heading home. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays I head to the library for 8-10 hours and grade, lesson prep/read class materials, and read and edit essay submissions. I’m currently about two-thirds of the way through writing a history of the City of David–an archaeological site in Jerusalem–so I also spend a lot of my library time working on the book, and reading archaeological reports, biographies of archaeologists, and texts about ancient Jerusalem in order to mine the history for a narrative.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

It’s probably cliché, but if you know what it is that you love to do, position yourself in order to make it happen as your career. Post-undergrad I thought that I might want to teach college English, but I wasn’t sure, so I pursued my MA in order to get teaching experience while getting a writing degree. It turned out I loved teaching at the university level (and I’ve always loved writing CNF), so for me an MFA was the next step in pursuing both of those passions. During my MFA I edited Phoebe Journal where I learned that in addition to writing my own work, I love publishing other writers, so after graduating I found an editing position. Things fall into place eventually; it’s just a matter of networking and gaining experiences that will qualify you for the job that you want eventually.

Melissa Glidden : Freelance Writer, Copyeditor, and Mom

Melissa Glidden has an M.A. in Creative Writing from Ball State University. She has translated her college learning into editing, copywriting, and marketing. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her daughter, knitting, and reading.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

I have a B.A. in English, an M.L.S. (Master of Library Science), and an M.A. in Creative Writing. There are so many skills I gained by studying English that I use today as a copywriter, copy editor, and marketer, but to keep this from getting too long, I’ll just highlight one.

Succeeding as an English student—whether you’re studying literature or writing—requires you to look at an object (like a novel, short story, or poem) and see it for more than face value, for more than just the words on the page, or the chronological list of events that unfold in a story.

For example, if you ask the average person what the Harry Potter series is about, they’ll probably tell you it’s about a bunch of wizard kids doing wizard kid things and saving the day. But ask an English student, and they’ll tell you it’s about friendship, bravery,       sacrifice, and so on. An English student won’t just tell you that Harry Potter is a wizard boy who survived an attack by a really bad guy. They’ll tell you something about how Harry is a symbol of mankind’s ability to leverage kindness, bravery, and morality for the betterment of humanity in spite of our innate flaws and imperfections!

Copywriters (and editors, and marketers) need to be able to see A.) the product (a can of Coke) and B.) the audience (the person choosing between Coke and Dr. Pepper) for more than what they really are. Successful English majors are majorly good at this!

What’s a typical day like for you?

In addition to any copywriting work that comes through my agency Burgeon, I have a full-time job as a copywriter for a company based in San Francisco—a company that used to be one of my freelance clients! Both roles allow me to work remotely, so I can literally work from wherever I want.

Usually, I get up at 6 A.M., and drop my daughter off at school by 8 A.M. Until I leave again to pick her up by 3 P.M., anything can happen!

Typically, I have a to-do list of things that need to get done—maybe some copyediting for a client’s website, or an email marketing campaign. Sometimes, I have a phone meeting either with an agency client or someone from work.

Between all of that, I run errands or try to do something a little fun, like eat lunch at a restaurant or knit.

The greatest value of working remotely is that you aren’t forced to be in one location from 8 to 5 each day, so whether you get 30 minutes or 4 hours of downtime, you can use them more productively. You can take off all those annoying “administrative” life tasks, like waiting in line at the B.M.V., or you can give yourself an extra 20 minutes to craft the-most-perfect froyo treat at Berrywinkle. You know…priorities.

Some days, my daughter is with her father, which means I have more hours in the day to finish work. Other days, I may have a lot of interruptions like emails, phone calls, texts, or last-minute work requests. Other days still, I may simply be having difficulty concentrating, or I may be out of town (usually in San Francisco where my partner lives, and my company is based) which can mix things up even more.

The only thing that is truly consistent—I get to spend my days playing with language, meaning, sounds, and finding ways to connect people with products that have the potential to improve their lives.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

For starters, know that it is very hard to make it in whatever industry or career you’re considering. There is a lot of rejection, and not a lot of money.

Some people would call this bad advice, but here’s mine: do whatever you want to do.

Most people know, deep down, what it is they want to do, and who it is they want to be. What do you do when you’re procrastinating? What tasks do you procrastinate, and what tasks do you not procrastinate? What’s something you loved doing as a child, or were always really good at?

It’s things like that that motivated me to work on my website, tweak my portfolio, and spend hours marketing myself when, perhaps, it would have been easier to just keep doing what I had been doing (and I’ve had several less-than-fun jobs.)

Sometimes, I got exhausted and quit for a few days. Sometimes, I cried. Sometimes, I still cry! But I never lose sight of my motivation and the things that got me where I am today.

Be smart. Make a living. Do the right thing by working hard, supporting yourself, and being generous to the people who rely on you. But don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Your professors didn’t—their journeys were long and sometimes arduous, and now they make a living writing and studying things they love.

You can too. 🙂

 

Jared Linder: From English Degree to Career in Technology

Jared Linder is a two-time Ball State graduate, once as undergrad with the English department, and again as a graduate student earning an M.S. in Information and Communication Sciences at the Center for Information and Communication Sciences (CICS). He is a recent graduate from the MBA program at Butler University. He also serves as the Chief Information Officer for the State of Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration.

Most people would assume that a student who majored in English would never have a job as a Chief Information Officer. How did you move from English to a career in information technology?

When I graduated from Ball State in late preview-full-Jared Linder.JPG1998, the world was heavily focused on IT jobs, especially Y2K and the possible issues we would face if things did not go well. I honestly had a hard time finding a job. I did not really know what I was looking for, and had not prepared well for what my post-college life was supposed to look like. I started a job working at the lowest rung at an IT company when soon someone realized I could write and communicate. That was when I became confident in my liberal arts background as a positive force for my success. I began to change my career mindset to focus on solving problems and helping people vs merely working in IT. That made all the difference; I just applied my learned skills to the reality of working in a 21st-century growth industry. I used to tell my mom I worked around computers; now I tell her I help people get things done. I started to gravitate towards client relationships and working with project teams and management.

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Sean Andres: Marketer, Writer, and Former Educator

Sean Andres earned a B.S. in Secondary English/Language Arts Education from Ball State University in 2008 and a M.S. in Marketing from University of Cincinnati, with a focus on diversity marketing from applied feminist and race theory. His favorite author is Margaret Atwood, and he loves to be outdoors when he’s not glued to the computer—writing, researching, and working. 

How did your teachers at Ball State influence the time you spent in the high school classroom?

One of my favorite units was on point of view and rhetoric, when I covered the voices of the Vietnam War (long before Ken Burns!). I used many Vietnamese accounts, Jane Fonda’s Hanoi radio speech, an Eisenhower speech, and American soldiers’ accounts. But I also had my dad come in to talk to the class about his experience in the Navy during the war. I’ve never seen students so engaged in a classroom.

I contribute most of my teaching methods and a lot of my point of view methods to Dr. Pamela Hartman. Similarly, Dr. Joyce Huff, taught us to look at a text from many points of view. Each group would look at “Goblin Market” with a different lens, and it was mind-blowing when we all talked about our theories to the rest of the class. I’d also like to mention Dr. Rai Peterson as one of the professors who brought out my interest in rhetoric, which of course, I use now in marketing.

Why did you leave teaching? Continue reading

Bryan Lubeck: Fortune 500 Marketer, Professional Musician

Guest post by Charlie Cain

Bryan Lubeck graduated from Ball State University with a major in English in 1989.  He has gone on to hold executive marketing positions with several fortune 500 companies and to a successful career in music.

What drew you to BSU English?

Well I went to Ball State not quite knowing what I wanted to do. I had a music background.  My original plan was to be a singer/dancer, maybe a guitarist. I did come to Ball State with a guitar scholarship, a small one, but my main goal was to be in the University Singers. But then it sort of dawned on me that my classical guitar playing, singing, and music theatre were going nowhere. I thought maybe I would get a business degree and become a producer. Continue reading

Graham Brown: “Start a business. Change the world.”

The next speaker for the “Stars to Steer By Series” is Graham Brown, owner of United State of Indiana, clothing that helps Hoosiers express a love of Indiana, including the t-shirt that inspired the logo for the “Stars to Steer By Series” itself!

When and where?

Wednesday, November 8 at 6:30 PM in WB (Business Building) 141.

What’s the topic?

“Your Job is to Have Fun: The New Era of Entrepreneurship.”

Entrepreneurship? That’s a business word, not an English word. 

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