Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Monday, December 2, 2013

Alumni Career Paths

A few weeks ago we sent out our annual English Department newsletter. Besides being a way of letting folks know about what has been going on around the department, the newsletter also serves as a way for us to hear from our alumni—and for alumni to hear from each other. In addition to the pleasure of reading the many alumni notes that were submitted to the newsletter, I have also been gratified to hear from some alumni directly (and would love to hear from even more!).
I was especially excited to receive an email from a former student of mine, Jim Jay, who wrote an undergraduate honors thesis with me about a decade ago on the novels of Don DeLillo and Philip Roth. After graduating, Jim went on to do a law degree here at Illinois and then worked as a prosecutor for the state for eighteen months. At that point, his career took a fairly dramatic turn and he joined the State Department. Since switching paths, he’s worked at US missions in Lagos and Jakarta, and in 2015 he’ll head to Ho Chi Minh City. As Jim wrote to me, “The State Department is not where I would have imagined I would end up when I was taking your class and working on my thesis, but I have trouble seeing how things could have worked out better.” I’m thrilled that things have turned out so well for Jim—and I’m also pleased to hear that he still returns to some of the books we read together.
I also heard from an alumna who had graduated before my time in Illinois. Michelle (Kelley) Crane was a double major in Rhetoric and Spanish and, like Jim, has gone in directions that you might not have guessed. Immediately after graduating, Michelle started a career in television and worked first as a reporter for a local Champaign station. She then made a leap to the national level—joining CNN as a field producer and subsequently working for many years producing documentaries for A&E. She’s now struck out on her own and is building her own production company, producing and writing videos for television, hospitals, corporations, and non-profit organizations.
Like Jim, Michelle has volunteered to be part of the department’s Alumni Mentoring Network—an effort coordinated in our Academic Advising Office by Anna Ivy. The network puts current majors in touch with alumni working in all sorts of fields in order to give students a sense of the range of possibilities for post-college careers. Michelle summed up the spirit of the program well: “If anyone needs advice on how they should go about pursuing their future career, I would love to help. My oldest son is a junior in high school, so I definitely see the value in helping college bound teenagers and those about to graduate from college!”
            There is no doubt that college students today are on the front lines of a rapidly changing economy; they are facing the rising costs of education and a challenging job market. There’s no avoiding the serious implications of those facts, but I have to say I am heartened by the stories of Jim, Michelle, and other alumni who have forged satisfying and successful career paths. Precisely because we live in a world of rapid change and increasingly networked communication, an English major remains a great choice. We help foster the abilities that everyone can benefit from: close reading, clear thinking, lucid writing. Those also happen to be the skills that employers are looking for—something I’ve heard directly from colleagues in business and computer science lately. There’s much more to an English major than acquiring job skills, but it’s inspiring to see the unexpected things our majors have done with what they’ve learned here at Illinois.

No comments:

Blog Archive