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Three young English alums talk NIU experience

May 1, 2013

"Your Career" road signFor many students, knowing the path from degree to career can be difficult.

Today’s job market is challenging. Students in business or computer science might have a strong sense of what doors their degree can open for them.

But for students in the humanities, those doors can be harder to see.

A trio of recent graduates of the NIU Department of English – alumni who were highly motivated as students and who are now all enjoying careers as successful young professionals – recently discussed their experiences at NIU and how their time here helped them find the path to success.

They also had some advice for students looking to follow in their footsteps.

Jessica Schlueter. Photo by Russell Cooper.

Jessica Schlueter.
Photo by Russell Cooper.

Jessica Schlueter

When Jessica Schlueter started pursuing a graduate degree, she wanted a state university that would work well with her living situation.

After speaking to representatives of the NIU English Department, she liked their friendly, welcoming attitude and was soon working toward  her master’s degree with an emphasis on rhetoric and professional writing.

“I had been looking for a program where I could learn how to use my writing skills in a professional setting,” she says. “I chose rhetoric and professional writing because I was attracted to how useful the classes were – I could see myself using class skills in the jobs I’d previously had and, by extension, in my future career.”

Today, Schlueter is the Web support specialist at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Mich. “My primary responsibility here is helping the faculty and staff manage their online projects.”

These projects include department websites and online course offerings, and Schlueter offers workshops and training materials to support them.

For students following in her footsteps, Schlueter says, “You get as much out of college as you put into it. Instead of seeing papers as grades, see them as opportunities to impress your professor so that she will give you a good recommendation for that job, or as potential writing samples for that interview you have coming up. Getting that piece of paper isn’t what school is about; it’s about what you do with yourself while you’re there.”

Nicole Smith

Nicole Smith

Nicole Smith

Nicole Smith’s first class at NIU was taken as a student-at-large.

“Despite teaching English for five years,” Smith says, “my training had not prepared me to meet students’ needs as writers.”

After enrolling in “The Teaching of Writing” with professor Susan F. Callahan, Smith walked away with a new outlook on teaching and “an insatiable hunger to learn more.”

She soon enrolled as a full-time master’s student in English.

“My teachers challenged me to focus on one area of my discipline, and to conduct new research. Suddenly, I wasn’t just a passive learner; I was expected to contribute to growth in my field,” she explains. “My graduate studies helped me develop a love for research, study and reflection.”

Her thesis was an empirical study of teachers and English departments in the northern Illinois region which she performed under the guidance of professor Thomas McCann. “Studying with him dramatically changed the trajectory of my career,” she says. “I’m proud of my thesis work, because it’s unveiled something that can make a meaningful difference in my field.”

Since graduating, Smith has returned to education as a teacher of communication arts at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., which is nationally renowned for linking innovation with curriculum design. Smith says that her time at NIU helped her navigate the difficult teaching market. “I am simply not the same teacher, writer or researcher I was three years ago,” she says.

While many people hesitate to pursue higher education in an uncertain job market, she says anyone considering it should “definitely do it.”

“When I re-entered the job-market, I had some understandable concerns – would I ever be able to get a job again? My fears turned out to be completely unfounded. Before I’d officially finished my program, I had four job offers, and all of them were better opportunities than the one I left in 2010.”

Nina Mancuso

Nina Mancuso

Nina Mancuso

Nina Mancuso originally planned on attending Eastern Illinois University for her bachelor’s degree; however, NIU’s larger campus and student body changed her mind.

She graduated in 2011 with a dual degree in English and anthropology.

“I wanted an English degree because I love reading and writing. Late in my sophomore year, I fell in love with my intro to anthropology course and decided to earn a second degree. Who wouldn’t want to be paid to travel the world and dig up artifacts?”

While at NIU, Mancuso became involved with a number of student organizations, including the NIU chapter of the Society for Technical Communication, the Student Advisory Council on Learning and as the undergraduate representative for the First Year Composition Committee.

“Participating in these organizations gave me experience communicating and working with a team. I also had opportunities to write articles, which I used as writing samples during my post-graduate interview.”

Mancuso is now a technical writer at a software company. “I write manuals, instructions, guides and help systems that help people install and use our software. I work with engineers to ensure that the information is correct, and collaborate with customer support personnel to fully understand the customer issues at hand.”

As she continues to advance her career, she hopes to find herself at a large technology firm such as Microsoft.

“My advice for prospective students is to take advantage of the lessons that college has to teach you. Organizations and groups are great, and internships can help you break into the career world. However, don’t forget to have fun. College is not just about academics; it’s about experiencing independence and creating a foundation for the rest of your life.”

by Cameron Orr