Anna McCollough (’08) answers “What do you do with an English major?”

anna-mccollough

Anna McCollough (above, with Elorm Atisu ’11) graduated from Whitworth in 2008 with degrees in English (writing emphasis) and Spanish. She earned her Master of Science in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Baylor University in 2011. As an Assistant Director of Admissions, Anna loves sharing Whitworth’s mind and heart mission with prospective students and families, traveling, and rediscovering Spokane. She recently sent this post to the Whitworth English Blog:

I am an Admissions Counselor at Whitworth, providing frequent interaction with prospective students and their families as they go through their college search. When they learn that I am an alumnus, the most frequent follow-up question is, “What was your major?” I enthusiastically say that I studied English. Occasionally, a more probing parent will continue in a skeptical tone, “So how have you used your English major?”

We live in a culture that is growing more critical of the value of both the humanities and the liberal arts education. It is a misperception that English majors only read novels and poetry, and therefore live in an alternate reality of pages and stanzas. While the probing parental question might come across as intimidating, I welcome the opportunity to dialogue about the inherent value of the humanities and my student experience at Whitworth.

The choice of the word “use” in the question implies that the value of a college degree lies in its practicality. To answer in that respect, I consistently use my English degree in practical ways. The critical thinking and reading skills I learned transferred to my graduate work. I learned to connect ideas across the texts and develop my own insights, not to mention expressing those thoughts through copious essays. In my current job, I read hundreds of application essays to gauge a sense of college readiness, as well as coordinate and evaluate the essay component of our scholarship competitions. So yes, I do use my English major. But education is not purely utilitarian.

I think another important question to ask is how studying English shaped me. Not all of the benefits of education can be quantified into a set of numbers and statistics. Through my experiences in the English department, I discovered the power of language and how the words we use shape our understanding of our selves and others. The conversations in and outside of the classroom caused me to reflect and analyze my beliefs and worldview. I learned to think critically about the messages I receive, both explicit and implied. My studies instilled the belief that learning does not stop when you step outside of the classroom, and they nurtured an ethos of life-long learning. To answer the question again, I not only use my education as an English major, but I live it.

EL Faculty Picks for Summer Reading

Looking for some good reads this summer? Feeling adrift without a syllabus? The Whitworth English department is here to help. Read on for some choice recommendations.

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Dr. Casey Andrews: My pick for some delightful, provocative, and delicious summer reading is Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb which is equal parts autobiography, theological exploration, and cookbook. Originally published in 1967, it bears all the hallmarks of a foodie (before the term was en vogue) decrying the wasteland of American cuisine that had turned to “tin fiddles” like electric knives and Velveeta cheese. (There are some jabs at so-called “cocktail parties” where people stand about eating peanuts and sipping vodka—a dismal portrait of the Mad Men era in its heyday.) What Capon argues in his rich style—by turns witty, beautiful, and risky—is that God made people who thrive when they make food together by hand, share lengthy meals, and savor the heady delicacy of wine in all possible varietals. Permit me one quote among the dozens I return to in this book. Capon is describing his love of fine drink and offers the following:

“Admittedly, there are spirits so pronounced that they are unrepentant. Chief among them is marc, or grappa—brandy distilled from the leavings of the vintage. As it happens, though, I have no desire to cover it with anything. I find it delectable—full of nostalgia and the remembrance of the first afternoon on which I drank it. It is redolent of earth and stems and the resurrected soul of the grape, all combined with an overpowering suggestion of freshly painted radiators in a shoe store—which, you will concede, must be the very essence of unforgettability.”

Capon’s book, like the grappa he describes, is delectable and unforgettable. Relish it.

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Dr. Laura Bloxham recommends Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, which deals with gender, race, and religion is set in 17th century Massachusetts. 

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When you finish this good book, read Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie, written in 17th century Massachusetts and also dealing with gender, race, and religion.  Both books are astoundingly eye-opening in their treatment of Native Americans.  The women are bold, but not unrealistic for their times.  The religious struggles are not reduced to stereotypes, but open up understanding.

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Dr. Pamela Corpron Parker: I’m midway through The Orchardist by a young Pacific Northwest author, Amanda Coplin. Coplin grew up in Wenatchee, so her settings will be familiar to many readers. Her distinct and sympathetic characters stand in sharp relief to the vast landscape of early 20th-century Central Washington. I loved the main character, Talmudge, whose quiet life as an apple farmer is changed irrevocably when he takes in two pregnant runaway girls. I also found her Native American and female characters distinctly Western and recognizable without being cliché. The plot surprises and engages the reader, but it’s the characters who have held my attention and make me admire this novel.  Coplin’s prose is spare, revelatory, and reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, and her debut novels holds as much promise.

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Dr. Nicole Sheets: Like a younger, female David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley makes me laugh so hard, even my muffintop hurts. In this essay collection, Crosley examines important topics such as the late 80s/early 90s Oregon Trail computer game, which she describes as “ripe for the misuse. Like a precursor to The Sims, you were allowed to name your wagoneers and manipulate their destinies. It didn’t take me long to employ my powers for evil.” Crosley endures the slings and arrows as an intern for a publishing company, a bridesmaid, a lapsed vegan, a Jewish girl at a Christian summer camp (“On Sunday nights we had vespers, where we lit candles and sang folk songs with titles like ‘The Lord Loves A Strong Swimmer’ and ‘All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir.’”) Crosley’s gift for the anecdote will make you care; her string of one-liners will crack you up.

Fear Not! Dr. Laura Bloxham’s Summer 2013 Reading List Is Here!

Reading-vintage

Perhaps you’re thinking: What am I going to do with all that summer? Once again, Dr. Laura Bloxham comes to our rescue. Here’s her reading list:

“ . . . hundreds and hundreds of books lined on shelves, stacked in tottering piles on, or strewn across, the floor, slewed all over the surfaces, including the narrow unmade bed; there seemed to be more of them everywhere he looked, giving him the impression that they were, somehow, proliferating by themselves.”

–Ted Stratton, in Laura Wilson’s A Willing Victim

THE ALL-STAR TEAM

RA Dickey, Wherever I Wind Up (Cy Young award winner’s autobiography of abuse and becoming a Christian + 14 years in the minor leagues)

Geraldine Brooks, Caleb’s Crossing (set in 17thc. Massachusetts; gender, race, religion)

Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies (Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories)

Rebecca  Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (ethics, race, medicine)

John Grisham, Calico Joe (baseball novel; redemption theme)

Anne Tyler, The Beginner’s Goodbye (death and life)

Louise Penny, The Beautiful Mystery (latest Gamache mystery)

Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken (I cannot stop rereading this biography of Louis Zamperini)

Laura Wilson, The Innocent Spy (mystery; England; WWII); An Empty Death: A Thriller (post WWII); A Capital Crime (Stratton #3); A Willing Victim (#4)

Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (England; love against clash of culture and tradition)

“I like good strong words that mean something.”

–Louisa May Alcott

OTHER FICTION

Jane Austen, Sanditon (unfinished Austen novel and subject of sequel to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, online interactive adaptation)

Geraldine Brooks, March (novel about absent father in Little Women; Civil War)

Chad Harbaugh, The Art of Fielding (baseball; college; coming of age; explicit)

Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking (children’s classic)

Mark Twain, The Prince and the Pauper (another classic)

William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (and another)

Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice (also Through the Looking Glass)

Jim Lynch, Truth Like the Sun (set at 1962 Seattle World’s Fair)

“Open a book this minute and start reading.  Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty.  Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print.  Cover yourself with words.  Wash yourself away.  Dissolve.”

–Carol Shields

MYSTERIES

Susan Elia MacNeal, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary (Maggie Hope, detective, 1940); Princess Elizabeth’s Spy

Jo Nesbø, The Redbreast (Harry Hole, detective; Norway; neo-Nazis, Nazi story)

Alan Bradley, Speaking from Among the Bones (5th in Flavia de Luce series; 12 year old amateur chemist-detective; 1950)

Mark Schweizer, The Christmas Cantata (hilarious liturgical mystery series); The Treble Wore Trouble

PD James, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (Cordelia Gray, detective)

Jacqueline Winspear, Elegy for Eddie (Maisie Dobbs, detective)

Sue Grafton, V is for Vengeance (Kinsey Milhone, detective)

Jeffrey Deaver, The Burning Wire (Lincoln Rhyme, detective)

Margaret Maron, The Buzzard Table (Deborah Knott/Sigrid Harald)

JA Jance, Judgment Call (Joanna Brady, detective)

Janet Evanovich, Notorious Nineteen (Stephanie Plum)

Attica Locke, The Cutting Season (Southern mystery; race)

James Patterson and Mark Sullivan, Private Games (2012 Olympic Games in London)

Father Brad Reynolds, S.J., A Ritual Death (Father Mark Townsend, detective; set at La Conner Tulip Festival)

Rennie Airth, River of Darkness (John Madden; England post WWI)

Charles Todd, A Test of Wills (Rutledge #1; WWI)

 

NON-FICTION

Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (beautiful advice and writing; painful situations; explicit)

John Mullan, What Matters in Jane Austen?

Patrice Hannon, 101 Things You Didn’t Know about Jane Austen

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

 

DRAMA

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

 

Groovy photo is from here.