From William Shakespeare to social media: Why it’s still cool to be an NIU English major

Photo of reading glasses on an open bookEnglish majors aren’t what they used to be. If the major conjures up images of the grammar police, men wearing tweed jackets and smoking pipes, or 20-pound volumes of Shakespeare, think again.

Today’s English students are likelier to discuss how to create a corporate social media presence;  whether the word twerk belongs in the dictionary; whether such authors as J.K. Rowling are borrowing from medieval texts; or the finer points of Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” as an adaptation of the classic play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Amy Levin, chair of the NIU Department of English, considers her department one of the most exciting places on campus.

“We’re working hard to preserve our traditional strengths, but we’re also doing something new almost every day,” she says.

Amy Levin

Amy Levin

In Levin’s classes on Victorian literature, long a mainstay of English departments, students read essays about liberal education and universities. “For the first time, my students understand why they have certain core requirements,” Levin says. “They are surprised to learn that assessment ‘by results’ was controversial then, too.”

Technology has changed grammar classes, so students have opportunities to practice skills for mastery, pool knowledge and learn how language changes daily. Professor Gulsat Aygen, who teaches these classes, reflects that grammar is important because “English is still the most commonly used language in the business world internationally. Communication is not only local.”

Learning in English classes is more active as well.

  • Students in a course on medieval literature might watch a falconry exhibition or experiment with quills for writing.
  • To help students understand the experiences described in Civil War literature, another faculty member borrows Union and Confederate uniforms from Cantigny Park.
  • In technical and practical writing courses, students learn to write for diverse career fields, such as health care, media relations, public service and business.
  • They create websites and develop case studies.

Of course, many English majors continue to become teachers.

Photo of Internet URLThey learn how to engage youngsters by comparing graphic or comic versions of texts with the originals, as well as teaching them how to make computer presentations and to assess the quality of knowledge they pick up on the Internet.

Today, English graduates can be found in most major careers. English graduates have written bestsellers, headed the Environmental Protection Agency, served as commissioner of baseball, been appointed to the Supreme Court, directed Academy Award-winning films, covered world news, held CEO positions and traveled into space.

If you can read this article, thank an English major.

For more information on the NIU Department of English, call (815) 753-0611 or email askEnglish@niu.edu.

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