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The Tools for Success: English Degree

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No one wants to fail. No one wants to find themselves 20 years down the road in a career they don’t enjoy. Everyone hears about all the success stories, but feel as if those are ‘unattainable goals.’ Want a helpful piece of advice to ensure you aren’t in the same boat? It all starts with college. This article is the first in a series covering all degree fields located at PNC and will highlight some insider knowledge, professor expectations, and keys to succeed.

Dr. Jerry Holt, head of the English department, is both an influential professor and an award-winning novelist. Even the name Dr. Holt has enough depth and substance to stand on its own. Despite his busy schedule, Dr. Holt was kind enough to entertain this interview with enough information to write a short novel. Students build up a biased and incorrect assumption that professors want their students to fail. This is simply not the case.

Keys to Success

As a general rule of thumb, every student needs to take a good long look at the plan of study and note the sequence in which it takes place. 100-level courses are freshmen courses and help introduce students to college expectations. 400-level classes might offer more exciting subjects such as creative writing, poetry, and business writing, it is important to remember that they are designed for more experienced students. If you take them out of sequence, you could inhibit your own experience. Dr. Holt suggests, “Students should get familiar with the program and plan of study. It is important to realize it works when you follow it sequentially.”

After some discussion, Dr. Holt added, “The study of literature is largely the study of life. The act of reading and writing are human attributes, so in this field I would be prepared to take a great interest in the world around you and to read voluminously. Students shouldn’t limit their reading to just what the professor assigns. Students should look deeper. Read everything around you.”

A concept Dr. Holt mentioned resonated in my mind. “Assume you have something important to say,” he says. “Students should hone their writing skills so the important things they have to say will be strong enough to find a wide audience.”

The Importance of Participating

The easiest and perhaps best avenue students can take to participate is the English Club. The club is very active and quite exciting. As part of tradition, the English Club, along with the other clubs on campus, partakes in the annual Christmas tree decorating. The club also meets and entertains lots of other matters. There is a direct connection between the English Club and PNC’s Writing Center. “The students that employ the Writing Center are some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Dr. Holt explains. While English majors staff that area, the center is open to all students needing assistance. In the past the English club has sponsored wonderful things, including the Summer Slam Camp at the Michigan City library. Students of primary and secondary schools get together for a solid week and learn the ‘ins-and-outs’ of writing and close reading.

The English club also volunteers for a number other campus activities. One of the more commonly known activities is the PNC Sustainability (Green) Committee. Partnered with the committee, the English Club has done some really great environmental stuff. That’s one way.

Another way to participate requires students to involve themselves in the world around them. If the study of literature parallel to the study of life, students involving themselves on campus will widen their perspectives. With experience and knowledge, students gain potential for writing and reporting experience.

Obtaining a Creative Writing Minor

Located on the PNC web-page, students from a variety of degree fields have the option to obtain a creative writing minor. “PNC offers a very successful creative and professional writing minor. When students inquire about it, they should realize the minor leads students to a fork in the road. From this point, they can go either route. Creative writing minor has attracted a remarkable number of successful people already,” Dr. Holt explains.

If you don’t think there’s any future in writing, prepare to be amazed. A few years ago, a student named Fred attended college at PNC after a long career in the steel mill. Every year, Fred would ride his motorcycle to Alaska. This annual trip, although very routine for Fred, amazed the faculty. After conferring with his creative writing professors, Fred decided to write about his story. Because his exploits were so original and unique, his articles found themselves published in major magazines. Fred even coined the nickname ‘Creative Rider’. A number of people have turned out many good works.

Another success story follows Jennifer, a student who recently became a medical reporter for a major medical magazine. If you caught the word ‘student’, your eyes did not deceive you. Jennifer is still a student at PNC. “Students are accomplishing great things here at PNC,” Dr. Holt explained proudly.

PNC offers a writing contest annually. While details are on the website, Dr. Holt emphasized, “If students have something that should be published, we will make sure it gets published.”

Faculty Expectations

For Dr. Holt, having the right faculty helps immensely. “We currently have 13 full-time employees and 20 part-time lecturers. We have adapted to the growing number of English majors. In 2010 we had roughly 25 students. It has quadrupled in the last four years,” he says. When asked to compare expectations between English professors and those of other fields, Dr. Holt explained, “I don’t think our expectations are too much different from other professors. One thing I will note, perhaps, is the reading. When an English professor assigns reading, we mean it. Close reading is very important. When I say close reading, we are talking about the kind of reading that allows you to look into the world created by the author. That is a learned experience. People don’t start out knowing how to close read. This is something the faculty will teach them. I also understand sometimes our readings are longer and more intense. We want students to attend, be involved, interact, and be generally interested in what they read. We also want them to look at the big picture. An important question students should ask is, ‘Where does this lead and how can I make sure that the path I want to follow is something that PNC holds the capacity of clearing the way for.’ English majors are welcome in all fields, but these days are finding more success in the medical and law field. Because we graduate with close reading experience, we know how to analyze legal briefs and medical records. The English world has grown a lot since the days when it could only land graduates a teaching job. My opinion: the English degree is the best all-purpose degree you can get.”

Final Thoughts

When students are picking a major, it is important to remember this is the door to a career. The blunt truth is, you better like it. “Your decision is going to be two-thirds of your life. Interestingly enough, most of your ‘waking life’ will be spent concentrating on your job. This conscious decision needs to be made seriously because it a full-time commitment. Make sure you like it. If you’re in a major that you think will be financially advantageous but don’t like, think again. All majors provide ways to make a living. The important thing is that you are fulfilled and happy, and doing someone some good in this weary world.



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The Tools for Success: English Degree