Career Talk

Career Talk

Higher Ed Teaching

My last blog post went up four years ago. Wow.

Remember when I was blogging all the time? Boy, I really had a lot to say.

Then I got caught up in administrative work and lost the digital sharing spark. I suppose I didn’t have enough fire left at the end of the day to share with you. And most days, I couldn’t talk about what I was working on.

The last four years of my professional life:

After serving as a Director of Undergraduate Studies in English for three years, I then served as an interim department chair for 18 months. During that period, I put together a proposal for my dean. “Here are the things that worked in my department re: recruitment, retention, and placement. Let me build this out for the humanities departments.” Amazingly, the dean said okay. This is what I’ve been working on.

Which brings us to Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, which will be my first day back in an actual classroom since March 9, 2020. I’m incredibly nervous about teaching face-to-face, but that’s not what I want to talk right now.

The Class “Career Talk”

The class I’m teaching in Spring 2022 is ENG 405 Special Topics in Creative Writing. My topic is “Writers at Work: The Business of Being a Writer.”

As the Director of Compass, I’m also in charge of career programming (and yes, I have a course release for this purpose), and so I inserted a weekly career series into my class. Basically, I’m turning the lecture/discussion portion of the class into a public virtual event.

This is the schedule for the first 8 weeks. Then, during the second eight weeks, the topics will turn more generally towards how to find a job.

I’m not telling you about this so that you can come, too. Sorry, but it’s for Ball State students, faculty, and staff only.

I’m showing you what I’m doing so that you can do it, too. 

Almost every English department faculty member I know incorporates at least one unit of “career talk” into certain classes. How to submit your work for publication. How to (or whether) to apply to graduate school. How to make time for writing. Maybe you bring someone from the Career Center in to talk about resumes or interviews.

Yay! Good for you.

The problem with this approach:

  • Only students who happen to be in your class are exposed to these really important and much-desired “beyond craft” or “off-the-course-topic” conversations.
  • These conversations could go a looooooooooooong way toward alleviating the anxiety of  humanities majors who are feeling the normal amount of “what am I going to do with my life?” stress times Covid times 1000.
  • These “professionalization-unit-within-the-class” conversations are completely invisible to prospective students checking out your website or the unhappy accounting major who loves to read who follows your department on social media.
  • Your colleagues down the hall don’t know about your professionalization unit within your class. They might be doing the exact same work as you. Or they might have students who desperately want the very information you just shared, but they don’t know you’ve got resources at the ready.

Making Your “Career Talk” More Visible and Accessible

Survey faculty in your area to find out how many incorporate professionalization units into their classes and what they’d feel comfortable presenting on.

Incorporate into your existing visiting writers series, just one or three or four more casual events. No one is flying in and you’re not paying anyone, so these events are candy compared to putting on readings or lectures. If that doesn’t work…

Create a series. Keep it simple, but aim for something more structured than an off-the-cuff chat. If one colleague has a powerpoint presentation, great. Another just has a handout? That’s fine.

Create takeaways. Make it your goal that for each event/presentation, attendees will get a “takeaway” handout with powerpoint slides and/or links to further resources. Put it all in a Google Drive or Box or OneDrive or Dropbox folder and share the link to that information during the presentation.

Incorporate the series into a class. If you can. That’s what I’m doing, and it means there will always be an audience–the students in the class!

If you can’t make it curricular, make it co-curricular. But you don’t have to do it alone.

Talk to potential co-sponsors to help with organization and promotion: a department administrator, a student organization, the career center, alumni affairs (esp. if the professionalization unit involves Zooming with an alum).

  • At Ball State, I’ve discovered that there are good resources in the “living/learning community” arm of residence life. There’s a new dorm for Humanities students with a really nice multipurpose room. There’s an Academic Peer Mentor–sort of like an RA, but just for academics–who is always looking for programming ideas. We’ve worked with them to co-sponsor a humanities activity fair in September and NaNoWriMo events in November.

Promote the hell out of it. Not just because you want a lot of students to come, but also because:

  • it’s good for morale (people like to know that there’s an active community they can plug into when they are ready).
  • it’s good for recruitment (obviously).
  • it’s good for alumni relations (an alum sees what you’re doing and gets in touch to say, Hey, I’d be happy to talk about X.)

But here’s the rub…

Promoting the hell out it means that you have to do more than send emails. People outside the department can’t read your emails. They also can’t see that cool poster you made and printed and hung in the hallways.

Does your school have a website calendar? Get these events on there.

Does your department have a blog or social media? Get on that.

Does your department have an alumni newsletter? Make sure that you mention that these events are going to happen or that they did happen in your newsletter.

Send an email to the student newspaper and see if they’ll promote or cover the event.

This is where your eyes glaze over. Because who has time to do all that? It’s just soooooooo much easier to talk about the topic in your class on a particular day and be done with it.

I don’t know if there’s anybody in your department who is in charge of making shit happen. Besides the chair. I don’t know if that person is resourced adequately. Probably not.

In the real world, community building and coordination and planning and promoting and getting shit on the internet is JOB ONE. Even at colleges and universities. But at the academic unit level–it’s the stuff no one wants to do. The invisible work. The stuff we delegate. Women’s work. Give it to the secretary, the intern, the GA. If you still have anyone to delegate to, if financial exigencies haven’t taken those resources away.

People outside the academy just don’t understand how difficult it is to make something new happen.

Look. Talk to your colleagues. Show them this schedule and ask, “Hey, can’t we put something like this together?” I’ll bet you can.

Then get the word out as best you can. Whatever you do, I promise it will make a difference.

Saying “You can do anything!” isn’t enough

Saying “You can do anything!” isn’t enough

Higher Ed

On Friday, I took a bunch of my students to a presentation about a master’s program offered at Ball State: an M.S. in Information and Communication Sciences.

Why would I take English majors to something like this?

Well, let me explain.

The room

For eight years, I’ve walked past the conference room for this program. The wall facing the hallway is made of glass, and you can see conference table, computers, whiteboards, and assorted tech-looking stuff. For me, it’s like walking past a Radio Shack, a store where I never shop, a place that has nothing to do with me or with students pursuing degrees in English.

But then I met the new director of this program, Dennis Trinkle. He and I went to college together. We didn’t know each other in college, but hey, here we are 25 years later working at the same place, so why not get some lunch? We talked about how had we gotten from there to here, both of us products of a liberal arts education. I went to grad school in English and got an MFA, and he went to grad school in history and got a PhD. Continue reading

A working-class girl goes to college

A working-class girl goes to college

Higher Ed

This essay in Vox, “The subtle ways colleges discriminate against poor students,” rang so many bells for me.

A little backstory

I’m from a long line of working-class people. My grandpa’s a fireman. My grandmas are homemakers—one didn’t graduate from high school until she was in her 60’s, the other never learned to drive.

My mom and dad are high school sweethearts who married when they were 20 and had me when they were 21. My dad works for the railroad, and my mom’s been a bank clerk, a homemaker, a babysitter, a secretary. (Later, she’ll get a degree in nursing, but that hasn’t happened yet.)

Understand: I’m a working-class girl from a small town who’s never met a professional. My dad’s friends are all cops and railroaders. My mom’s friends are all secretaries and homemakers.

How do you imagine the life you want when you’ve never even met anyone who lives anything approximating that life?

I still have my nametag from DePauw’s Preview Day 30 years ago.

I’ll graduate from high school first in my class, but I’ll only apply to three colleges: Indiana University, Butler University, and DePauw University (which is where I’ll go).

Why only these schools?

Because I can’t imagine going to college farther than 2 or 3 hours from home. How will my parents get me there? Will any of our cars be able to make the drive? Will I fly home for Christmas? How can we possibly afford that?

Why these three colleges in particular?

IU because I’ve been there. And Butler and DePauw because that’s where my boyfriend (who goes to Wabash) and his mom (a teacher at my school) suggest that I apply.

Junior Miss, 1986

I’m being groomed for something, but I’m not sure what.

Boyfriend’s Mom likes to take me shopping and show me things. This kind of purse. That kind of dress. She talks me into entering the Junior Miss pageant because she says it will help me get into a sorority in college.

A sorority? Really? Me?

I let myself be talked into this (and other things).

When I tell the guidance counselor where I’m applying, she nods her head approvingly. But she doesn’t encourage me to apply to more schools or to different ones.

I’ll never know if I could have gotten into, say, Princeton.

My alma mater is a great, great college, but it once had a reputation as a school that offered the M.R.S. degree, and years later, I’ll wonder if that’s why my teachers and guidance counselor thought I should go there: Cathy Day has a chance to marry an important kind of Midwestern fellow, and that’s pretty good for the granddaughter of a fireman and the daughter of a railroader.

If you want to understand the kind of girl I am in 1987, know this: I don’t have a way to articulate or even understand my heart’s desire—that I want to be someone important, not marry someone important.

Cultural Differences

When I arrive on campus, my parents are 40 years old, wearing t-shirts and tennis shoes. I look around at all the other kids and wonder why they brought their grandparents to move-in day—and why are the parents so dressed up?

I go the restroom to wash my face before bed and pump some soap out of the dispensers. And the girls hold out these light green tubes and ask me why don’t I use Clinique, and I ask, “What’s Clinique?”

I’m in a car with friends. “What’s this on the radio?” NPR, they say. “What’s that?” I ask.

My favorite class is English, and sometimes I talk to the girls who sit in front of me. Then one night they walk into the Noble Romans where I wait tables. They look up at me and say, “You work? Here?” And they never talk to me in class again.

I can go on and on, all the comments I get (“Were you born in a barn?”), all the small indignities and slights I suffer. Someday they’ll call these “micro-aggressions,” but it’s 1987, 1988, 1989, and they aren’t using that word in Indiana yet.

I don’t know how to describe what it feels like to live in a place where every day I’m reminded that people like my family have always worked for—not with—the families of my classmates.

Experiential Learning

But I’m stubborn. I don’t transfer. I don’t even think about transferring. I don’t even understand that transferring is an option, that I might actually be happier at a different kind of school. I just keep trying because I’m a very determined girl and I assume this is the kind of crap you have to put up with in order to get somewhere in life.

Everyone’s heading to the Career Center. They’re going to live with their parents and do an unpaid internship for a family friend.

Me? I’m waiting tables, I guess. I can’t afford to work for free.

Then somebody tells me about this internship stipend that I can apply for. I can go out and get a cool unpaid internship and this magical fund will pay me what I’d make waiting tables! How is this possible? So I spend one summer working for a newspaper and another editing a scholarly monograph—experiences I can’t afford otherwise.

See, at the time, I think I want to be a Rolling Stone reporter.

Why do I want this?

Because I love Rolling Stone, and so surely that must mean I’m supposed to work there.


But I’m so determined, see, that I almost achieve this!

Me and the staff of Interview, circa 1990. Good times. They offered me a job! But I turned it down and went to grad school instead.

My senior year, I intern at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine (not Rolling Stone, but close) thanks to a domestic internship program, and wow, I realize that I don’t want to work in magazine journalism at all, so I apply to graduate school in creative writing, and become a different kind of writer.

Later, I will thank God for these opportunities—the internship stipend and the domestic internship program in New York City—because I have no financial safety net. I don’t have the time nor the money to “find out what I really want to do.” I get to try on different careers while I’m still in college to see what fits.

This saves me years. This saves me money that I don’t have anyway and keeps me from taking on needless debt.

I also thank God that I receive this scholarship, which pays all of my tuition. My parents take on debt to pay for my room and board, and I graduate from college with no debt. None. Not a dime.

If I hadn’t gone to DePauw, as hard as it was sometimes, I might not have gotten those opportunities. I might not have been able to afford graduate school or the 12 years it took me write my first book.

If I hadn’t gone to DePauw, I wouldn’t have met the man I’d marry 17 years later, a Wabash gentleman (just a different one), the son of a doctor. Only I’m the breadwinner, and he’s the breadmaker.

(This post is getting long, and I haven’t gotten to what I want to say about what all of this–my upbringing, my college experience–has to do with my recent interest in professionalization giving students “stars to steer by,” so I’ll write about that another time…thanks for reading.)


A Memo about English Majors and Hustle

A Memo about English Majors and Hustle

Higher Ed

I’m going to be honest with you: You can have a great career with your English major—but you’re going to have to hustle.

Let me explain what I mean by “hustle.”

Over the weekend, I downloaded the new app for the Cardinal Job Fair. You can search by major, sure, but also by transferable skills—and this is awesome! I think we are the only university using this app that allows a student to search employers by transferable skills!

Of the 170+ employers who are coming to Worthen Arena tomorrow, how many want applicants with great writing and thinking skills?

169! Isn’t that awesome?

But how many of those same employers say they want English majors specifically?


Ouch. What does this mean?

I asked some Career Center friends of mine, and here’s what they said:

I tend to think that employers are ignorant of what English majors bring to the table and are too passive (too busy?) to be asking that critical question. Hopefully we can be an agent that drives the employer to ask that question. But it does put a unique burden on our humanities students to tell their stories to the employer rather than to assume that the employer understands what the student has to offer.

Another said:

We need to work with employers to help them connect the transferable skills they are searching for to majors they may have not thought of before.

This is what I mean when I say that you are going to have to hustle.

You can’t assume that the world understands what you know and what you know how to do. 

English vs. Pre-professional majors

Pre-professional majors like business, marketing, advertising, public relations, journalism, and TCOM have built professionalization into their curriculum.

  • They often have a specific class in the major.
  • They determine job outcomes and map the structure of their curriculum over those outcomes. Picking the major (or concentration within that major) means you’re on a straight shot to a specific career. Easy peasy.
  • Plus, the faculty are often people who worked in those fields.

In English, your professors aren’t going to fix your resume and tell you exactly how to get a job. They’re just not equipped to explain how your skills can translate to the 126 types of jobs you can get with the degree. (I made that number up, but it feels right.)

I consider myself moderately knowledgeable about careers for English majors, but I haven’t used a resume since 1995, and I’ve been doing one thing–teaching creative writing in higher education–my entire adult life.

That doesn’t mean we don’t care about your future. Far from it. We are a 21st century English department, and we’re always thinking of ways to help you.

We’ve got lots of professional opportunities to offer you, but you have to make time for them, people.

Who’s got time for that?

I know that you are super busy.

  • You take 5 or 6 classes a semester.
  • You work part-time, maybe full-time.
  • You take care of the people in your lives.
  • You commute.
  • You volunteer.
  • You have loans.
  • You try to leave a little time to, you know, sleep, eat, play.

But your chances of finding a meaningful “next step” in your life will improve dramatically if you can prioritize even a few of the following opportunities.

Attend the new Stars to Steer By series—next one is Tuesday, September 27 at 6:30 PM. Here’s the schedule for Fall 2016.

Visit the Cardinal Job Fair at Worthen tomorrow, Wednesday, September 14even if it’s just to look around.

Make an appointment with our Career Coach Eilis Wasserman on Cardinal Career Link or send her an email. 

Find a summer internship on Cardinal Career Link or on your own and set it up as an ENG 369 so that you can get credits and count it toward your degree

Read the Stars to Steer By posts on our blog where alums tell you how their degree prepared them for their careers, like Ace Howard, who works at a start-up in Pittsburgh.

Take part in the Practice Interview Program in your ENG 444 Senior Seminar and consider signing up for the Intern-Read Program.

Take one of our six immersive learning classes. Think of them like internships you don’t have to drive to!

No, I’m not trying to give you an anxiety attack

I know that you don’t like to think about this. When I was in college, I didn’t want to either, but I did figure out how fit in two internships—one in magazine journalism and one at a newspaper—that showed me that, wow, I didn’t want to be a journalist. Thank God I figured that out.

Looking back, I realize that I spent an enormous amount of time on the High-School-to-College Transition (researching colleges, working on applications, going on campus visits) and a lot less time on the College-to-Career Transition.

And I know why, too. Because I’m a first-generation college student, and I just figured if I graduated, I would get a job doing something. I wanted to be a professional person, but until I went to college, I’d never known one. I was on a journey, but I had no map. Everyone was willing to give me directions, but I was too embarrassed to ask.

In the last year or so, I’ve made an important realization: the only reason that I became a professor is that my college instructors were the first professionals I’d ever known. I’m not saying I regret the way things worked out! It is what it is. And I’m really lucky to do what I do. I just wish that I’d taken the time to find a few more stars to steer by while I was in college.

Let’s make a deal, okay?

This blog post began at 4:00 PM this afternoon as an email. Ha ha. I wanted to urge you to go to the Job Fair, sure, but also to give you a pep talk, get a little fire burning in your belly, get you to hustle it up a bit.

I’m posting this here on my blog because I’m speaking to you right now more as Cathy Day, the person, the writer, not as Prof. Day, the Assistant Chair of the department.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to a meeting of the Career Center Advisory Board, and I’m going to tell employers about how great you all are and how we’re preparing you to lead awesome lives.

I promise I’ll work to get more employers to seek out and hire English majors if you’ll promise to work on how to tell them your story about what you have to offer.


Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

The importance of being findable

The importance of being findable

Higher Ed

This blog post is for everyone in any English department that’s experiencing falling enrollments.

For most of my career, I didn’t think too much about where my students came from. I turned in my course request and maybe I wrote up a course description for a newsletter, but mostly, I just trusted that students would show up in my class.

And that’s the problem, really. We can’t just trust that they’re going to show up anymore.

Now, we have to ensure that what we offer is easily “findable.”



I happened to find this Ball State Advising Handbook online. It’s brand new. My fellow DUSs at ADE took a good hard look at this handbook, which will soon be in the hot little hands (or digitally in front of the eyeballs) of incoming students.

Scroll to p. 12. See the long list of majors.

Screenshot 2016-06-05 09.21.33

Imagine a student who is looking at this long list and who feels pressured to declare a major. “English” is in the second column, but our four specific concentrations within English are also listed, including Creative Writing, which is very popular, along with Literature, Rhetoric and Writing, etc.

The visibility and findability of these concentrations in this list allows us to compete with other storytelling and communication related majors whose names suggest the career that follows, such as Journalism and TCOM and Marketing, etc.

However, scroll to p. 14, “Selected majors by interest area.”

Screenshot 2016-06-05 09.28.15Screenshot 2016-06-05 09.29.03

The folks in advising have very kindly tried to take that unwieldy list of 190 majors and group them into six sections: Business, Creative Arts and Design, Government, Law, and Public Safety, Health Care and Human Services, Sports and Recreation, and Technology.

Please note that English is not included in any of these categories.

Probably this is just an honest mistake, and I need to write to Laura Helms, the very very nice and hardworking Executive Director of Academic Services and Associate Dean of University College and ask if they can add English to at least one of those lists in the 2017 catalog. But that doesn’t help me with the class of 2020.

The editors of this handbook know that students are thinking about the bridge between major and job/career, and they’re definitely trying to help. But for whatever reason, English did not come to mind when they were “categorizing” majors. Partly, that’s because English doesn’t want to be categorized. We believe that our students can do ANY of those things. But the editors will probably not let me put “English” into each category, and I’ll have to pick one, and I will feel both victorious (Yay! The first-years can see us!) and I will feel like I’ve capitulated to a kind of niche marketing that I don’t really believe in. Idealism. Pragmatism. This is the life of an English department administrator.

Scroll to p. 16. Note that all of our minors are on this page. Yay!

Recruiting students in the core/gen-ed classes

Scroll to p. 18, the Core Curriculum. Study how my department has positioned itself here, because this is really, really important.

We spent a lot of time at ADE talking about the importance of general education classes. Some students come to college knowing they want to major in English, but many more find us because they “have to take” a gen-ed course and discover that they love it.

Now, for a long time, college students were required to take a literature class to graduate, but this is no longer the case.

Here are the classes every single student at Ball State must take:

Screenshot 2016-06-05 10.08.28Know this: every department believes that all college students should be required to take one of their classes.

If your department offers a foundational class, as mine does, you have the opportunity to touch every single student, which is a privilege. Offering a required class means you don’t have to recruit students. They will show up. In droves.

These days, instead of requiring literature classes, most colleges include them in a menu, and my God, that menu matters so much. When your courses are menu-ized, you’re forced to think in terms of recruitment and “selling” and curb appeal.

Consider this example from DePaul University, where the gen-ed menu includes Arts and Literature. Scroll down this list. First, any course at the end of that list, such as Women’s Studies, is at a disadvantage. Second, Digital Cinema courses are in this menu, and it’s hard for traditional liberal arts majors to compete with those courses for the attention of millennial college students.

Tier 1 requirement:

The number of options in menu matter, as do the titles of those courses.

At Tier 1, our two classes compete with about 20 total.

Students are using the title alone to make a decision about which class on the menu to take.

Which of these titles will resonate?

Screenshot 2016-06-05 10.21.03

Would you be surprised that our Intro to Digital Literacies class always fills quickly? Of course not.

Our “Reading Literature” course does well, but fills a little more slowly. It would probably fill more quickly if the actual topic of each section was more apparent.

We offer about three sections a term, maybe one on Narratives of Resistance, one on Dystopian Literature, one on Road Novels. The topics are different depending on who is teaching. But what students will see in the system they use to sign up for classes is “Reading Literature.” This is what they’ll see on Banner.

Screenshot 2016-06-05 16.34.17

For various technological reasons, we can’t put the actual topics into this system.

We can put the those sexy, specific titles and course descriptions on our website and blog, we can make posters, etc., but it’s so hard especially at a big school like Ball State to make our topics findable by the student who is searching for a class to take.

It’s like running a really good restaurant in a city that’s hosting a big convention and not being able to let the people at the convention know that you’re just a few blocks away. Instead, all the convention go-ers eats dinner at the first restaurant they see.

Would someone invent the Yelp for cool college courses? Thanks.

Tier 2 requirement:

It’s at the next menu, Tier 2, that our department had to really think strategically about what to offer, because we’re in a much bigger menu (about 70 courses to choose from) and therefore the competition is much more fierce. We’re no longer competing with just the humanities courses anymore. We’re competing in a category called “Fine Arts, Design, and Humanities.”

If you scroll to p. 20 of the handbook, you’ll see that this is where we titled our courses much more specifically.


Screenshot 2016-06-05 10.35.12

Our thinking was that we might attract students via our “Intro to [identity]” courses, and then say to those students, Hey, you can take the 400-level version of this course and then encourage them to add the major or the minor.

The importance of course descriptions

People in the English department create fascinating courses that require an explanation.

For example, what does “Narratives of Resistance” mean? Read the awesome description:

We will use the course to examine how novels, poetry, and plays have been used to challenge ideas of justice in society to create change in the system. We will read Luiz Valdez’s Zoot Suit, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Barbara Shoup’s American Tune, Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, in addition to a few shorter essays, stories, and episodes of Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot. Evaluation will be based on quizzes, two midterm tests, two short papers, and a final exam.

Aha! You get to read some very good and important books AND watch one of my favorite shows, Mr. Robot. SOLD!

But what’s going to happen (through no fault of the instructor or me or anyone else) is that most students will show up the first day and only learn then that they get to read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and watch Mr. Robot.

Note that pp. 26-31 of the advising handbook are nothing but course descriptions of the foundational classes.

Note that that the handbook doesn’t include course descriptions of any of the other classes in the core. Because that would make this document incredibly unwieldy and students probably wouldn’t read them anyway. The title of the course alone must attract and inform. And sometimes, that’s just not possible.

You’re thinking: Why not call ENG 206 Social Justice Lit?

Because we can’t promise that we’ll always offer it with that topic. Even the instructor might not want to do it time and time again.

Why not create ENG 206 Social Justice Lit, 207 Dystopian Lit, 208 Road Lit, 209 Southern Lit, etc.

Because there are not enough numbers to contain all the cool things we could teach.

I have more to say about this topic of findability, but for now, I’ll stop. Suffice it to say that it’s really important for English departments to take out their own eyeballs and look at everything with a student’s eyeballs.

We can offer the most interesting classes in the world, but if students can’t find them, no one will take them.

Recruiting English majors and minors

Recruiting English majors and minors

Higher Ed

Here at the Association of Departments of English, we’re talking a lot about why fewer students are majoring in English and what we can do about it.

Here’s a very good playbook on how to improve your recruitment strategies by Emily Todd and Lina Insana. Download away!  It’s really great.

Here’s what I’d add to all that great advice.

Use every communication method at your disposal to reach more students.

I realized that I’m lucky to have certain tools at my disposal.

  • One is something called Banner Works, a pretty simple program that allows me to contact Ball State students by major or minor and send them an email. I use this a lot to communicate with my own majors, and I use it to send a message, say, to all the Theater majors to let them know that they might be interested in our new class on Shakespeare’s plays.
  • (One thing that shocked me when I took my job as Assistant Chair was the dearth of communication options available to me. It’s surprisingly hard for a department to communicate effectively to their alums and to their students, let alone to non-majors.)

Recruitment Email

Here is a link to an email that I sent via the Ball State Comm Center in Fall 2015 to all undergraduate students and faculty. I sent it out right before registration was to begin, and I spent about two hours crafting this message of a mere 200 words.

Yes, it’s a listicle.

A few months later, I discovered that the number of minors in our department was up by about 25%.

Here’s a link to my recruitment email. Please steal.

Pitching the English major/minor

When I googled “recruiting English majors,” here were the top three results:
Screenshot 2016-06-04 10.29.30
The key to selling the English major is that we have to change the narrative. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it can be done.
Let’s work on our pitch. 
Why are #bsuenglish enrollments up, despite national trends?

Why are #bsuenglish enrollments up, despite national trends?

Higher Ed

There’s an alarming trend in higher education: the national decline in the number of students majoring in the humanities (an almost 9% drop in the last two years) and in English; the University of Maryland, for instance, has experienced a 40% decline in English majors in the last three years.

Holy crap, that’s a lot. And I’ve got to hand it to the leadership of that department for openly discussing the problem rather than trying to hide it. Sharing the steps they’ve taken to combat the problem with a national audience and with those in their discipline benefits us all.

But I want to brag for minute here, because I work in an English department that hasn’t been affected by these national trends. In fact, we’ve seen mostly growth (with a few dips).


How did this happen?

We made it easier to major and minor in English

  • About 7 years ago, right around the time the economy tanked and higher ed started tightening its fiscal belt, we changed our major from 48 to 36 credits (except for the English Ed major, which is still 48), and we changed our minors from 21 to 15-18 credits.
  • We (well, not me, I wasn’t here yet) responded to the university’s call to improve “time to graduation” proactively instead of reactively.

We have strong teachers in lower-level classes where recruitment happens

  • Sometimes these teachers are TT faculty. More often, these teachers are what Ball State refers to as “contract faculty.” They are NTT positions, but the job comes with a 4/4 load, benefits, rank (Assistant Professor), and contract faculty are enfranchised, voting members of the department. Despite a recent raise, they are still not paid as much as they should be, but it is NOT adjunct work. We work very very hard not to hire adjuncts unless it’s an emergency.
  • One of my biggest jobs in the department is making our master schedule–which is a hard thing for 33 TT, 37 NTT, and 40+ graduate students–and we do what we can to improve the quality of life for our contract faculty, such as scheduling them around their individual needs (travel from out of town, childcare, writing/research time, etc.) I can’t give them their first choice all the time, but my assistant and I try, and I think that this effort pays dividends that are both tangible and intangible.
  • Many of them teach first-year writing, but we also work hard to give them a chance to vary that by scheduling them to teach in our Honors Program and giving those with MFAs a chance to teach creative writing and those with PhDs in Lit a chance to teach lower-level literature courses.
  • I believe that there is nothing more important for your self-esteem and your professional identity than the ability to have at least some say in WHEN you teach and WHAT you teach. And if that makes people better teachers, and you have the resources to try and make it happen, why not do it? (I have a full-time assistant named Katie, without whom none of these things would happen.)

 We introduced a concentration in creative writing.

  • Rather than fight the explosion of interest in creative writing among college students, our department embraced it.
  • Today, creative writing majors outnumber all the other concentrations, even English Education (a close second), but CW majors take a healthy dose of literature courses, which keeps our classes full to bursting.
  • Notably, our CW major includes four genres: fiction and poetry, sure, but also creative nonfiction and best of all, screenwriting–important because Ball State is David Letterman’s alma mater and is very interested in all things visual, media, etc.

We introduced and marketed our highly appealing minors both inside and outside the department.

  • Enrollment in all of our minors is way up! 138% overall in the past five years.
  • Creative writing is a very popular minor for many majors. So is our Professional Writing and Emerging Media minor. So is our Film/Screenwriting minor.
  • I think our new minor in TESOL will be very popular as well.

We are visible and have a lot of community IRL and online

  • We don’t have a huge programming budget, like say Butler University. But we do have lively co-curricular programming that’s well attended by students all over campus.
  • In the spring, that’s our In Print Festival of First Books (created by Jill Christman).
  • We have the amazing Marilyn K. Cory speaker series, which brings people like Mahogany Browne and Tyehimba Jess to campus.
  • We have a department blog and social media. We leveraged our work-study student secretaries to work on public relations when they aren’t answering phones or making copies.
  • When I took over in 2014, I tried to grow our digital community so that students and faculty might feel more part of an IRL community. I talked about those initiatives here.
  • And then in 2016, we created an immersive learning class, Jacket Copy Creative, our own in-house PR firm.

We address our students’ concerns about “What am I going to do with this degree?”

The Future of the Liberal Arts

I really believe this: Ball State is a great place to study English and the humanities in general, because you get a great liberal arts foundation AND experiential-learning classes in your major that show you how to apply your skills in a real-world context.

Confessions of a Gadfly

Confessions of a Gadfly

CW Programs Higher Ed Literary Citizenship Teaching

You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?

In 2014, Hanover College selected The Circus in Winter as its Common Reading, and I came to campus to talk to students. I loved the campus, the view, the students. On that first visit, sociology professor and writer Dr. Robyn Ryle told me that, like a lot of small, liberal arts colleges, Hanover had experienced an enrollment dip.

I found this news surprising and very worrisome. Hanover isn’t my alma mater, but I did go to a very similar kind of college—and The Circus in Winter had been the direct result of the quality liberal arts education I received at DePauw University.

So, when Hanover invited me back in 2015, I widened the scope of my “professionalization” concerns–which over time had morphed from a concern about creative writing students, to a concern about English majors, and now to a concern about liberal arts majors.

I gave the first-year students at Hanover a pep talk about why they were at the right school and screw all the haters who were saying, “What are you going to do with that?”

I called the talk “Stars to Steer By.” I haven’t published it yet, because I wrote it as a power point, but I will–just as soon as I can finish a draft of this novel of mine.

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17 years in the tenure track

17 years in the tenure track

Higher Ed

Employment History

1995: I earn my MFA.

1995-1997: For the next two years, I work as a full-time instructor, teaching a 4/4 for less than $20,000 a year.  But I have health insurance for the first time in my life. I’m 26 years old.

Note: Titles for contingent faculty:

  • Instructor
  • Lecturer
  • Visiting Lecturer
  • Visiting Writer
  • Visiting Assistant Professor
  • also: Assistant Professor

1997-2000: I get my first tenure-track job at Mankato State University, now Minnesota State University-Mankato. I work with wonderful people. However, my then-partner gets a job out East.

2000-2005: I get my second tenure-track job at The College of New Jersey, formerly known as Trenton State College. I don’t bring any years toward tenure with me, nor do I think to ask for them. I work with wonderful people. With sadness, my partner and I part ways. In 2004, my first book is published and I receive a positive vote for tenure, but it isn’t official until the Board of Trustees votes on it. In an effort to get closer to family, I go on the job market. Continue reading

Do the Math: Part 3

Do the Math: Part 3

Higher Ed

Time Management

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.

–William Penn

My students shared their Activity Logs with me last week. I told them that I wasn’t going to look at them. No grading. No judgement. “Be truthful,” I said, “or don’t do it at all.”

One student pointed to a block of time in between her morning and afternoon class. “Usually, I run errands during that time. Go to the library. Take care of stuff. It never occurred to me that I could schedule an hour or two of writing during that block. That’s what I’m going to do from now on.”

Another was amazed to see how much gaming he does. I was glad this came up, actually. I think our students devote many, many hours per week to RPGs and video games, esp. when you read confessions like thisI said look, there’s nothing wrong with gaming or any other pleasure activity. That’s necessary for good health and peace of mind. The problem is when that activity starts eating at the time you have for the stuff you absolutely have to get done.

[Here’s a great piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education about teaching students time management skills.]

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