A week ago I sat in a Starbucks in Lansdale – typing away, ear buds in, getting some work done. It was evening and dark outside. The last rush of coffee drinkers and daily meetings were coming to an end before the nighttime lull of cleanup and dimmed lights. I had a corner table and couldn’t help but notice a bright-eyed, anxious young woman who sat down next to me. About fifteen minutes later, a middle-aged man entered and joined her. They sat close to me and spoke audibly enough, so it wasn’t long before I realized that the woman was completing a college interview.
The man said that the interview would be very informal, so the woman relaxed a bit and sat cross-legged in her seat. She presented herself exceptionally and had a ready response – thoughtful, yet concise and precise – for each of his questions. The interview was going well and the man mentioned a prestigious East Coast school, the subject of the interview. The woman answered his final informal questions (what are your plans for the weekend, and other small talk) in a manner that was relaxed, good-natured, and unrehearsed.
At the end of the discussion, the man said something along the lines of, “You are refreshing. It’s not often that I get to meet computer science majors.” I could hear his voice brighten, and then he paused, “instead I tend to meet with students that study history….or english.” They both laughed in response to this, and the man sarcastically added, “good luck getting a job in that!” The interview soon ended, both interviewer and interviewee got up, and they left.
I sat in my seat, poised just a few minutes ago to interject. To defend writing, the liberal arts, humanities, and most of all, the English major. I studied English as a college student at the George Washington University. I loved GW and I loved studying English. Though I was admitted to the school through its Media & Public Affairs program (SMPA), I changed my major nearly three more times until the very end of my sophomore year. To say that the SMPA is a phenomenal school is an understatement. Renowned speakers, policy leaders, writers, and reporters teach and give a variety of panel discussions there. It was common for students to continue in stellar media-related careers after graduation.
Though I changed my major, I kept my love of news, writing, and communicating, so I joined The GW Hatchet (D.C.’s second oldest newspaper) as a news reporter for several years. After considering an international affairs major at GW’s Elliott School, and taking several classes in international politics, I decided to study English and minor in Spanish language. By this time I had taken courses in media and communications, language, and international affairs. I knew GW’s reputation in both IA and the media school, and I was reluctant to “settle on” studying English.
I vividly remember a call with my Mom at the end of my sophomore year. We were talking about majors and minors, and how I would finish my degree. (Time was clearly running out). At the end of our talk, she asked rather simply, “Why don’t you study English?” I was pacing my dorm room and abruptly stopped. “English?” I said. English. It sounded sort of boring and even dull. Would I still be an interesting student if I studied English? My mom advised that I had always been good at writing and that she knew I would do well in the major. I sighed, and thought for a while. I guess I could study English.
Fast forward two years – I finished my major and minor at GW with honors. A few months after graduation I interviewed and received my first real job offer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters, Office of the Science Advisor in D.C. As a liberal arts major I studied Irish Literature, Shakespeare, Jewish American Literature, South African Literature, and more. In Jewish Lit we had the honor of personally meeting world-renowned, international bestselling, and United Nations award-winning authors. The amazing professor and director for the program, Faye Moskowitz, became one of my closest mentors and lifelong friends. Author and former GW trustee, David Bruce Smith, generously made the program possible.
English. Boring…(un)refreshing? I think not.
As a liberal arts minor, I studied Plato in Spanish, explored the radiant history of Afro-Latinos in the U.S., and learned more about my personal history through my interest in the subject. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. And then I wrote some more. As an English major I lost nothing, and gained everything. I kept my interest in reporting while covering stories like the U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain’s visit to GW. One of my last stories was an interview with Justice William Mims – a GW alum and Virginia’s 100th Supreme Court Justice – who told me about his experience as a part-time law student and his career. He was on a long drive and at the end of our conversation, Justice Mims said that he hoped to see me argue one day before the VA Supreme Court.
My English major was the final gloss to my early career. It added to my skills as a writer, thinker, and eventually, a law student. As a teaching and research assistant in law school, my communication and writing skills were beneficial to the students and professors that I worked with.
While liberal arts is a broad field that may require more strategy to develop a career, students can truly gain everything when they choose a field that they are passionate about and where they excel. I did not focus on science at GW, but my writing and analytical skills allowed me to step into my first post-college role as a Science Communications lead, helping to translate and make sense of complex scientific material while working with field subject matter experts at EPA.
So do what you love, and be good at it. Excel at it. Major in English. Study the liberal arts. Do whatever you can to turn your passion into your career. No job is void of the need to write, think, and communicate well. And chances are you will make yourself more competitive than the rest. 😌