This class was more like an upbeat, fun, slightly intimidating excavation site than an overwhelming professionalization workshop. Most students walked into class carrying a heavy load of criticism, which their society, upon declaring a humanities major, had placed upon them. English majors are regularly told, “Well, you won’t make any money,” and otherwise lectured on how their major is one of those “Useless” degrees. Little did we know how valuable an English degree actually is, although Dr. Szwydky had a good idea on how to unearth this precious knowledge. Certainly, each student came in knowing how an English major applies within the academic world of research and writing, and some of us may go the traditional teaching or editing route in our field. However, with a bit of work and by delving into the world outside of campus, we have learned it is possible to blast through the fallacies of a dead-end job and open up a maze of opportunity.
We have learned how to wander this labyrinth with the right tools – not Theseus’ ball of thread, but attention-grabbing cover letters and adjustable résumés. In our all-time favorite book, “You Majored in What?” by Katharine Brooks, we established ourselves in our own wandering map, and have marked down our passions, interests, experiences, and skills. With an open mind and a good headlamp, any English major can find and obtain a job, position, or internship that can be found in our search – it is not going to be a mythically-straight linear path to success, but full of twists and turns and backups and do-overs.
Personally, I readily admit walking into this classroom feeling wary and like I was wandering around in the dark. Dr. Szwydky quickly dug out the first layer of the classes skepticism, blasting our minds open with a book titled, “Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors,” by Blythe Camenson. Suddenly, our career options were endless! No longer were we trapped in the humanities’ conventional careers of teaching, writing, and editing, but we began to realize how valuable our English major was within the workforce. We dug deeper.
In taking StrengthsFinder tests, we recognized our skill sets, and quickly learned how to include this within interviews or a résumé. In practicing answering questions with a story-telling format, we learned how to emphasize the gems to be found within the English major. These gems are varied, they include creative thinking skill sets, problem solving, communication skills, big-picture views, and more. Since the courses required for most humanities majors are broad in scope, we are not tied down to a degree- specific job: Engineers get engineering jobs, nursing majors work in medical care, English majors can do anything. This was a definite positivity booster, and I can now hold a conversation debating the values of an English degree without cowering down and confessing that I hold that degree because I was told to, since I liked reading and writing, and not because of any value I initially saw in holding an English degree.
Camaraderie between classmates developed quickly, and I realized that I was not the only one to doubt the worth of my major. Our classroom environment was friendly and conducive to talking it out – each experience in our career search became the topic of discussion. From writing résumés to braving career fairs, and job application rejections in between, each student became part of our network for encouragement and a sounding board to receive good advice. To keep up with the excavation-theme of this piece, we each became the boards shoring up the tunnel, adding support to the structure. This is the value of networking.
Sure, this class did include work. We wrote résumés, cover letters, actually applied to jobs or internships, attended career fairs, conducted informational interviews and did practice interviews on each other. It was all worth it. My confidence has gone up, I no longer feel like I will hold out a piece of paper with my B.A. in a humanities major, simply hoping someone will take me on since I only hold some shiny fool’s gold. I have a valuable degree, unique personal strengths, and can apply my knowledge and experiences in a variety of work environments. Dr. Szwydky had to lead us into this process, chipping away at the rock of assumptions we carried in about our degrees and possibilities for employment. This electives class is the most applicable course I have ever taken, and the skills I learned here I will carry with me the rest of my working, live-long days. I struck gold.