Oh the places you’ll go, with an english degree

Ky Watnick

Campus Life


The Whittier College English department broke from the usual Backpack to Briefcase events, which, by the description on the College website, is where students go to “hear from past Poets about their journey into these fields and where their liberal arts education has taken them.” The English department instead hosted their own, major-specific career event from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15 in the Dezember House. The event was organized and hosted by Whittier College professors including Assistant Professor of English Michelle Chihara, who opened the event with a short speech on what it means to get a degree in English. “I wanted to tell this story that I have about meeting a former English major, in Nashville, who ran a boutique distillery and got her job through her senior project in the History of the English Language on olde English beer recipes,” Chihara said. Despite being one of the most popular majors nationwide, ranking 19 out of 20 according to popularity on niche.com, English is often seen as a major with three possible outcomes: writing, editing, or teaching. This event aimed to disprove that very line of thinking.

“English is one of the largest majors at Whittier College, and English majors are prepared for a wide variety of career paths. Such diversity of options is really good news for people beginning their careers in this rapidly changing economy, but it can also be confusing,” said Professor of English Andrea Rehn. Students often struggle with looking forward at different post-graduation pathways, so this event aimed to highlight options for current Poets. Professor Rehn said, “We thought that current students might like to hear from recent alumni about the first steps that they took after graduating 一 and we are so proud and grateful for our wonderful alumni who came to share their experiences!”

There were about nine total speakers present from different graduation years and career paths that attended the event, which embodied the goal of the event: to show all of the nontraditional ways that an English major can be used in life after Whittier. All speakers present were Whittier alumni, and all were English majors. There were amusement park experts, managers of tutoring establishments, and so many more. Chihara said, “I kind of wanted to do this event first in order to bring back a few [alumni] I [am] still in touch with who just have really cool jobs, like Shirley Thao (who's a Program Manager at the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and doing things like designing outreach programs for teens in the library and running a visiting author series) and Alejandra Gaeta (who's the Archivist at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics and gets to do things like curate collections of political art).” No matter what their career, each of the speakers promised that it was the skills they earned while finishing their English degree that got them there. It was enlightening to see all of the ways a single degree could take you.

“The event was a huge success — we had standing room only,” said Chihara. “We heard from a [Vice President] at Walter Isaacson who got his degree in English in the '90s, another former student of ours who is now the director of a tutoring center, and from people working in technical writing, at Disney behind the scenes, and at theme parks. It was really so much fun to hear from people.”

Every chair was taken during introductions, and people were rushing to mingle with the alumni as soon as the individual introductions were over. Good food, good conversation, and good company kept the mood light, which made it all that easier to approach the alumni and talk over their career paths and choosing to be an English major. The chatter was boisterous, so you had to stand close to hear one another as you talked over mango agua fresca and job interviews. It was a very relaxed way to make connections with people out in the real world working on their careers, and there was no shortage of advice being passed around. Overall, it was a positive atmosphere that seemed to be very fruitful for many students despite it being a non-typical Backpack to Briefcase event. “This event is the first of what we hope will be a number of opportunities for students to prepare for smooth transitions from college into the world of work,” said Professor Rehn.