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!

Stars to Steer By: Recap and Upcoming Events

Stars to Steer By is an event series hosted by the English Department to help Humanities majors find their way. The next event is November 29th in BL 104.

On October 26, we hosted our most recent Stars to Steer By event, “Personal Branding: Monica.jpgUncovering Your Authentic Self,” in BL 104. Monica Scalf, founder of The Playground Group, was the main speaker at the event.

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Monica Scalf, Owner of The Playground Group

monicascalf.jpgStars to Steer By is our monthly event series focused on helping #bsuenglish students make the best of their degrees after graduation. This month, #bsuenglish alum and owner of The Playground Group Monica Scalf will be presenting “Personal Branding: Uncovering Your Authentic Self” on Wednesday, 10/26 at 6:30 P.M. in Bracken Library 104. Below, Monica shares the career journey that led her to developing The Playground Group.

I studied Secondary Education and English while at Ball State. I also have a Master of Arts in English from Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH. When I first enrolled as a Freshman at BSU, I thought I wanted to major in telecommunications. After my freshman year, I realized I wanted to teach and study English, so I switched my major. I had always loved reading and writing, and this major was a natural fit for me.

I currently run my own corporate consulting and training business, The Playground Group, LLC. It’s called The Playground Group because we teach engaging and interactive workshops in corporate settings that are fun, but not corny. Employees get to “play” and learn at the same time. We specialize in teaching Team Building, Productivity, Personal Branding, and Personal Effectiveness.

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Alt-Ac: You Don't Have to be a Professor to Work at a University

By Cathy Day, Assistant Chair of English

On Tuesday, September 27th at 6:30 PM in 104 Bracken, we’re hosting our second Stars to Steer By session. The title of this one is “You Don’t Have to be a Professor to Work at a University.” RSVP if you’re coming! 

Why this title? 

I’ve been teaching in higher education for over 20 years, and all too often, I hear students say things like this:

“I want to do what you do. Teach college. I love English. I love reading and writing. I love my professors. They are my role models, and I want to do what they do. I want to stay in school forever.”

This is exactly what I wanted in 1991 when I decided to go to graduate school in English/Creative Writing instead of entering a tough, post-recession job market. When I graduated in 1995, I went on the academic job market. First I got a two-year “contract” position and then a tenure-track teaching position. I’ve been in academia ever since.

But the academic job market in the humanities has changed. You can read all about it.

This does NOT mean you should give up your dream. I am not a dream squasher!

But I do want you to consider following that dream, but from a slightly different direction.

The Alt-Ac Route

I pursued an academic teaching career because, to me, a college campus is a small utopia and because my college professors changed my life. To thank them for that, I wanted to follow in their footsteps. But since becoming the Assistant Chair, I’ve realized that teaching is NOT the only way to live in that utopia and NOT the only way to change the lives of college students.

Maybe you should consider the Alt-Ac Route.

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Stars to Steer By Presents Ethan Johnson: A Long Journey

Ball State University alum Ethan Johnson discusses his travels after graduation and his future aspirations as he looks to the journey ahead. He graduated from Ball State in 2013 with a BA in English Literature and Classical Cultures. 

In the spring semester of my freshman year at Ball State, I saw Avenue Q at Emens Auditorium. I laughed along with the other audience members at the opening song, wondering “What Do You Do with a BA in English?” thumbnail_ethan-headshotI was laughing at the puppets, but I was also laughing at myself: I knew in three short years I would be in that position myself.

I came into Ball State knowing I wanted to be an English major. I loved books, so why wouldn’t I major in literature? When I told people what I was studying, especially after I added my major in Classical Cultures, they would inevitably ask me, “So what do you plan on doing with that?”

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Come to the Stars to Steer By Lecture Series!

starstosteerbytalkThe Stars to Steer By Lecture Series was created in order to help students pursuing a Humanities Degree find their way after graduation. 

Calling all Humanities Majors! Do you feel worried that you won’t be able to find a career in your field? Are you tired of people telling you that your degree is useless? Have no fear, the “Stars to Steer By” lecture series is here! The Ball State University English Department wants you to know that there are many things you can do with a Humanities Major.

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Ace Howard: An English Major Working in the Software Field

Former English major Ace Howard describes his career in the software business. 

How would you describe your job?

I’m a technical writer for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company.

I would describe my job as the bridge between technical information and users. I sit down with subject matter experts (SMEs) and translate their high level of knowledge into terms that our audience can easily understand. Part of this process involves deciding which medium works best for the message (shout-out to Marshall McLuhan). My work could take the form of software documentation, white papers, case studies, social media, or blog posts. Because I have a background in web development, I’m also responsible for updating the company website.

Some of this stuff sounds complicated (it can be), but all the writing and problem solving makes the job a fun and rewarding experience.

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What can you do with an English major? We'll show you!

Instead of Career Week, the English department will host monthly career workshops all year long.

You know you need this, right?


The first one is coming up fast and we want to tell you all about it. Let us know if you’re coming!

Put these dates on your calendar right now, people.

Fall 2016

Tuesday, August 30 at 6:30 PM in RB 290

“Stars to Steer By: Finding Your Way with a Humanities Degree”

To kick off our “Stars to Steer By” series, we’ll talk about both personal and professional development and help you discover your passions.

Tuesday, September 27 at 6:30 PM in 104 Bracken Library

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Jaelyn Winkle

Jaelyn (Saulmon) Winkle is a Fall 2013 graduate of Ball State University. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in English Education and an Honors College certification. Currently, she is a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher in Piqua, Ohio and resides in Vandalia, Ohio with her husband, a law student at the University of Dayton. Additionally, she is enrolled as a graduate student at Ball State University in the online Curriculum and Educational Technology program.

How did your degree in English lead to your current job?

My degree in English Education helped me to get my current job because it not only trained me to specifically teach Language Arts classes, but also preJaelynpared me to take risks, which ultimately allowed me to take on my current position as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher. My journey to my current position started in my student teaching experience at Monroe Central Jr./Sr. High School in Parker City. I was student teaching in two different classrooms: an 8th grade classroom and an 11th/12th grade classroom. During this time, one of the math teachers was getting ready to have a baby, and my principal approached me about taking a long-term substitute teaching position in this Algebra II classroom. I had no experience teaching math and really had no idea exactly how everything would work out, but I agreed to take on this position. Even though this was far outside of my training as an English major, I feel like the skills I picked up from the degree (communication, creativity, analysis) allowed me to take the risk and rise up to the occasion of teaching Algebra II.

As this long term substitute teaching position was nearing its end, I received another phone call from a principal back in my hometown school district in Winchester. He called to ask if I would take on a 4th grade long term substitute teaching position for 8 weeks. Once again, this was very much outside of my comfort zone, as the youngest group of students I had ever taught was 7th grade, but I decided to take the risk, thanks once again to the skills and abilities I picked up from my English degree.

Ultimately, having these experiences on my resume helped me greatly in the career searching process. When I interviewed for my current teaching position, I was able to show my versatility from these experiences and had a plethora of teaching strategies and student samples I could talk about and draw from, which ultimately helped me to land my current position as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher. I truly think that my experiences as an English major allowed for all of these things to happen. It is interesting, but I think that, because I was required to take classes in all areas of the English department:  literature, creative writing, rhetoric, and teaching English Language Arts, that I learned to be adaptable, which allowed me to take on these great experiences. 

Please describe a typical day for you right now.

A typical day for me usually starts around 7 a.m. I get to school and start organizing everything for the day. My kids start coming into the classroom around 7:30 a.m. I teach three sections of general level 7th grade Language Arts and a 30 minute Advisory period. During these sections of class, I am giving direct instruction to my students, facilitating small group work, conferencing with students, and helping students demonstrate mastery of the lesson’s objectives. I also have a 45 minute planning period in the middle of the day. During this time, I make contact with parents, plan for upcoming weeks, make copies and organize materials for upcoming lessons, and meet with my interdisciplinary team of teachers. After school, I usually organize for the next day, tidy up my room, and often have a committee meeting for Advisory, Collaborative Leadership, or for a particular student concern. Then, I drive home and work more on school things (typically creating differentiated student groups for the next day, grading, etc.) and work on things for my Ball State graduate classes. I am usually in bed by 10!  This routine definitely makes for long days, but it is a rewarding job!

You’ve talked about a time as a college student when you weren’t exactly sure whether you wanted to continue in the English Ed major. Can you talk a little more about that and how you worked through it? What advice do you have for teaching majors who are having second thoughts?

When I was just starting out in the program, the fall and spring semesters of my freshman year, I was a little hesitant about continuing my pursuit of an English Education degree. I was working in the Marketing and Management office at Ball State and really started considering a path toward a business degree. I am not sure what sparked this potential change…I think it was a combination of wanting to try something new just because everything was new during the start of my college experience, and knowing about the stresses of a career in teaching from my parents. Ultimately, though, as I began to get into the classroom more and more throughout the program, I knew that my passion was with working with kids, because, ultimately, teaching boils down to making an impact on the lives of kids each and every day. There is nothing like being in a classroom full of 13 year olds who are fully engaged in what you are teaching. You can feel the electricity in the room when students are really “getting it”, and that exact feeling is what motivates you to continue pushing forward each day. If you are a teaching major who is having second thoughts, try your hardest to get into a classroom so you can see what a day of teaching is really, truly like. We can read about how teaching works and teaching methodology as much as we’d like, but we cannot truly gain an understanding of the profession without firsthand experience.

You’re pursuing a graduate degree now. What do you hope to do with that degree in the long term?

Right now, I am pursuing a degree in Curriculum and Educational Technology through Ball State. My plans are to eventually get involved in leadership at the district level as a Curriculum Director, as I am really interested in curriculum development, data analysis, school improvement, and assessment for growth toward mastery. In the very distant future, I could see myself also getting involved potentially with educational policymaking on a larger scale.  

Any last general advice?

  • Get into the classroom as soon as possible! Volunteer, observe, substitute teach…do whatever you need to do to get your feet wet and experience the real life of a teacher. This will help you decide if teaching is truly for you!
  • Read professional texts on your own, not just because they are assigned reading for methods courses! This summer I read Dream Class by Michael Linsin and it really changed my ideas about classroom management and organization. Other good reads I’ve checked out recently are Unshakeable by Angela Watson and Assessment 3.0:  Throw Out Your Gradebook and Inspire Learning by Mark Barnes.
  • Form relationships with your peers: Right now, you are in classes with people who will become your teaching colleagues in districts all around Indiana and beyond. Form relationships now, because these people will be an invaluable resource to you down the road. I am still in touch with the people I went to classes with in the English Education program. We share lesson plans, discuss best practices, and serve as support systems for each other because we really understand each others’ struggles as beginning Language Arts teachers. Check out our Facebook group BSU Teaching English Language Arts…you will find tons of gems there!
  • TAKE YOUR LAMP UNIT SERIOUSLY. There is not a piece of advice I could give you that is more important during student teaching than to take your LAMP unit seriously. All parts of the LAMP unit (pre-assessment, data collection and analysis, standards based rubric construction, focused student groupings) are all aspects of what great teachers do regularly. It is not an arbitrary assignment or just a hoop to jump through to graduate and get your license. It is real world, real life, good teaching.

Alums, we want to hear what you’ve been up to. Visit our Class Notes page to fill us in, and we’ll feature your story in our alumni newsletter!

Lauren Lutz

Lauren Lutz is a content strategist for Cleriti, an inbound marketing agency in Cincinnati. She graduated in 2014 from Ball State with a degree in English Studies. She’s passionate about her career, national parks, traveling, and food.

How would you describe your job?

I’m a content strategist for an inbound marketing agency, so I’m responsible for generating ideas for digital content (think blog posts, eBooks, whitepapers) and then actually producing and publishing it on clients’ websites. The whole goal of Lauren Lutzproducing that content is to gear it towards their target buyer persona (the customers they’d like to reach). So, the content has to be highly relevant to that target person so they’ll actually read and engage with it, and then engage with other elements on my clients’ websites. If we can hook that persona with great, relevant content and get them to provide their email address, etc, to download the content, then our clients can work on selling their products/services to them. It’s “inbound” because we want our clients’ content to show up in Google searches as their target buyer personas look for answers to their questions or try to solve their problems. It’d be “outbound” marketing if we were producing direct mailers or cold calling. Instead, we engage our clients’ buyer personas naturally — they find us.

How did your English major lead to your job/what skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

I actually met the person who hired me at Cleriti at the Ball State Writing Center. We worked together there for a year, and right after I graduated she reached out to me about a job opening at her marketing agency, Cleriti. I was hesitant to apply because I thought, “I’m not in marketing, I’m an English major!” But, I trusted her recommendation and took a long, hard look at my skill set. I realized that I had the research, writing, organization, and storytelling skills necessary to perform the role of content strategist. Not to mention all the courses I took in rhetoric! Being able to change the tone/feel of my writing for different clients was a must, and I had picked up that skill (or knew something about it) from studying rhetoric. And, I felt like I was a versatile writer because I knew how to be academic and creative, or a mash-up of both when necessary. And, I can’t stress enough the importance of my critical thinking skills when I started working here! English majors thrive on thinking outside of the box, and that is VERY appreciated in the workplace.

What’s a typical day like for you?

My day consists of: communicating with clients on the quality of the content I produce for them; making appropriate edits before publishing said content; working with/managing other writers who help me out; coming up with ideas to share content on social media; working with my team to make sure our campaigns are on time and that we’re delivering work to our clients consistently; learning marketing best practices from my boss, who’s an inbound marketing guru and inspiration!

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that helped guide you into your job field?

I’d say that my professional writing classes really helped me out. The intro course is all about rhetoric and the digital landscape, and the rest teach you skills to use your writing in various ways within that digital environment. Those classes made me realize that my writing interests were transferrable outside of academia, so I pursued other projects, as well. I started working for the Digital Literature Review during its first and second year. I also worked as a public relations intern for the BSU English Department. I even did an immersive learning project where we all went out into the community, did research and conducted interviews, and produced radio stories for IPR. Plus, I got an internship at Angie’s List so I had professional experience on my resume when it came time to job hunt (and I wouldn’t have gotten that internship without all of my other experience). Basically, I really went out of my way to use my English major skills in a variety of contexts so I could show future employers that I was versatile even though I was an English major.

What’s your advice to current English majors?

My advice to current English majors is pretty simple: work hard in your English classes to develop strong critical thinking and writing skills; practice using those skills in other contexts besides class; and build up your resume with internships and big projects outside of classes to show that your English skills are transferrable. Most of all, don’t wait to start building your resume during your senior year! I started during the 2nd semester of my sophomore year, which made getting my pretty-serious Angie’s List internship the summer before my senior year easier to do. But, if you have waited, don’t be discouraged! There’s always a project at Ball State you can get involved in to start building up your experience. Sometimes the things that scare you most are the best experiences you can have.

Alyssa Allyn

Alyssa Allyn is originally from Culver, Indiana, but is now a resident of Michigan. During her time at Ball State she majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Graphic Arts. She graduated in May 2014. Since graduating, she’s moved to Interlochen, Michigan and is now in her second year as a Hall Counselor. Her first year she looked after 37 teenage girls and 1 boy, and this year she looks after 17 teenage boys. 

  1. You’re working in Michigan at the Interlochen Arts Academy boarding high school as a Hall Counselor. Are you thinking about a career in Student Affairs or Residence Life? How has your degree helped you in the work that you do?

When I first started working at Interlochen, it was purely a transition job. I had never really thought of myself as someone who would work in Student Affairs, but the more time I spend with these students and the longer I stay at Interlochen, I can’t imagine not working in Student Affairs, especially here. I’ve always been a people person, and these past two years I’ve been able to let myself learn and grow into a more confident leadership role. I find myself passionate about what I get to do every day. I get to find different ways to make the experience at Interlochen better for our students, and catch a tiny snapshot of their lives as they pass through high school. I get to be that embarrassing “parent” at performances. It’s one of the hardest yet easiest jobs I’ve ever had. I’ve unexpectedly fallen in love with it. It doesn’t even feel like a job!

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Alyssa winter roving with her co-worker Liz.

My degree has helped in the following ways:

  • Writing grade reports about each of my 17 students 4 times a year (68 total). They all have to be individualized and different each time.
  • Editing and helping kids think through college applications/essays, scholarship essays, and class essays, poems, short stories
  • Writing/reading daily emails – more than I would care to count
  • Interacting with parents, other faculty, and staff via email daily
  • Teaching students how to write professional emails and have professional interactions by demonstration
  • Being in high level stress situations and needing to get my point across clear and concise
  • Connecting with them about reading their art in front of people and having people hear what they have to say

2. What does your typical day look like?

There’s no such thing as a typical day for me right now, but that would be nice. Most days, I don’t start work until 4:00pm because most nights I’m working until 12:00am and I’m not in bed until 1:30am. At 4:00pm, I most likely start a desk shift, which means answering parent phone calls, replying to emails, signing students off campus, and much more. Around 6:00pm I get off to grab dinner in the cafeteria where I’ll be able to see some of my kids, probably for the first time that day. Up next, if it’s Monday, I’ll do room inspections which is exactly what it sounds like–making sure that all 17 of my boys have cleaned their rooms that week. Most of the time I’m very proud. Then from 9:00pm-12:00am I will sit in the lobby and close my building for the night. It’s my favorite part of the day because this is when I get to see and talk to all of my kids. I get to hear how their days were, if they passed their tests, how their pre-screenings went, and everything in between. The lobby will close at 11:00pm and one of the students will come to clean it, they’ll all go to bed, and I will walk around checking lights out at 12:00am. If I’m lucky, no one needed to be taken to urgent care that day, then it’s off to bed to do something similar the next day.

3. Was there a particular class in the English major or a particular faculty member who influenced you?

I recently found the folder on my computer with all of my papers I’d written in college and got a good couple of laughs out of what I read through. After workshops, I had a couple of professors ask me, “Are you okay, is everything alright at home?” and I never really understood why. After re-reading my stuff I see: I wrote some dark things in college.

Among all of that, I found a paper for Rai Peterson’s ENG347. It was supposed to be a literary analysis, but somewhere along the lines I missed the mark. I read The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut and I had worked my butt off writing the paper because I was so in love with it (that book is now one of my favorites). When I got the grade back I was devastated. But long story short, even though I missed the mark, something in me was still unabashedly proud of that paper and the ideas and words I put into it. That’s something that I’ve carried with me since. I try to remind myself to be confident in my heart and gut everyday. Nearly failing that paper taught me that lesson, and Rai opened my eyes to the world of books in a whole other way. I’m forever thankful for that.

4. Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives? What advice do you have if they’d like to do something like what you’re doing now?

Someone told me last year, “Stop thinking about what you are going to do next and focus on how you can make where you are right now the best it can be for you, and everyone else around you.” This has been my silent reminder when I start to doubt myself and start to say, “But what about my degree?” I think it’s really important to know where you want to go, but you should be open to the way you’re going to get there. I’ve learned more about myself and who I want to be professionally and as a human being in general from working with teenagers these past two years. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s kind of amazing what you can learn and where you can learn it from when you’re not even expecting it! Just be open to all of it, every experience and interaction. It’s all significant, you just might not know it yet.