Career Conference to Explore the Versatility of the English Degree

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Charles Bolden talks with three creative writing students
In 2016, celebrated poet Nikki Giovanni, a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, proved her belief in the start-here-go-anywhere characterization of the English degree when she invited Charles Bolden (right), then the leader of NASA, to meet with her students to convince them of the merits of poets in space — and dreaming big.

What do a sports broadcaster, a pilot, a lawyer, and an engineer have in common?

An English degree.

The alumni advisory board of the Virginia Tech Department of English represents these fields and many more. With that breadth of expertise, board members are well positioned to offer career inspiration for students pursuing English degrees.

This year’s English Career Connections, an event that allows undergraduates to explore a range of professional opportunities with alumni, will take place Oct. 11 and 12.

“Some students have difficulty envisioning the kind of career they want, while others may already have an idea of what they want to do,” said Mary Denson Moore, the event organizer and alumni relations coordinator for the department. “Either way, English Career Connections helps them take that first step, by enabling them to explore their options with our board members.”

Formed in 2003, the Distinguished Alumni Board plays an active role in enhancing the visibility of the department, raising funds, and mentoring students, especially through the annual event. Now in its 11th year, English Career Connections is a career conference rather than a career fair. Although the event has evolved over the years, its focus remains on students gaining insight from professionals.

When students register, they describe their ideal career. They are then matched with Distinguished Alumni Board members who have careers in similar fields or relevant experience. Students participate in roundtable discussions with their assigned board members, have their resumes reviewed, and practice their interview skills.

The students also attend a range of practical seminars, as well as the keynote address. This year’s keynote speaker is Laurel Beedon, senior economic policy advisor at the Women’s Institute for Secure Retirement (WISER), where she conducts research on women’s retirement-income issues. Beedon, a former English major and teacher, earned her doctorate in English education from the Virginia Tech School of Education in 1974.

At Virginia Tech, the English degree carries three options of majors: English (formerly known as literature and language), creative writing, and professional and technical writing. The department also offers four minors and several graduate programs, including a master’s degree in English, a master of fine arts degree in creative writing, and a doctorate in rhetoric and writing.

“In pursuing so many fields — from law to financial planning, from engineering to policymaking, and from performance art to national security — our board members reveal the versatility of the English degree,” said Moore. “Some graduates do choose the traditional paths of writing and teaching, but most venture far beyond those fields. We believe our students can do anything with the degree, just as our alumni have.”

Written by Taylor Dickerson, a senior majoring in professional and technical writing in the Department of English.