New Course Helps Humanities Majors Prepare for Professional Careers

English faculty

“I want humanities students to graduate from RIC with a sense of adventure when they see all the career possibilities before them,” says Associate Professor Brandon Hawk.

“Students want to believe us when we assure them that they can do anything with a humanities degree, but it can still be hard for them to take the leap of faith,” says Professor Alison Shonkwiler, chair of the Department of English.

“This is especially true for first-generation students or students who are expected to start earning money right away after graduation to support their families – which describes many RIC students,” she says.

To help make that leap more imaginable and achievable, the English Department created a new course this fall that prepares all humanities majors (English, history, philosophy, modern languages, film and communication majors) for professional careers.

Titled ENGL 203: Career Readiness for Humanities Majors, “this course gives students the opportunity to think about the connections between their RIC education, on the one hand, and potential future jobs and careers, on the other,” says Associate Professor of English Brandon Hawk, who teaches the course.

Basically, they’re preparing for their future career, he says. Assignments include résumé writing, job searching, networking, interviewing alumni and other individuals who are in jobs they hope to pursue, creating a LinkedIn page and much more.

An added bonus is a series of panel discussions (open to the entire RIC community) in which alumni who earned degrees in the humanities return to tell their career stories and offer advice to other humanities students.

Some practical advice included:

“Apply for everything ... and start networking.” – Alexa Mekuto ’18, English major and now human resources coordinator at CVS Corporate.

“Figure out what you like and what you're good at and pursue that …Trust that you belong in the room … Bring your story and your authenticity.” – Allison Palombo ’16, English major and now chief of staff at Cake (joincake.com), a digital platform for advance care and end-of-life planning.

“Don't believe anybody when they tell you you can’t do something. Do it anyway and make it look really good … It's ok if something doesn't work … It’s ok to start over.” – Hilary Graziola ’18, English major and now judicial law clerk for the Honorable Mark Cohen in the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania.

“Always be down to learn a bit more and explore a bit more.” – Angela DaSilva ’19, English major and now content strategist & associate director of marketing communications at Semantic Web Company.

“Take on those things that scare you, because you never know.” – Aisha Pierre ’18, history major and now curator of interpretation at The National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House.

And with these voices of experience in hand, by the end of the course, students will draft an action plan of short-term and long-term goals, beginning with the courses they intend to take at RIC to reach their goals, the experiences they want to have and the pursuits they want to engage in beyond graduation.

“I want humanities students to graduate from RIC with a sense of adventure when they see all the career possibilities before them,” Hawk says.

And those possibilities are endless, says Shonkwiler who initially proposed a career readiness program for the Department of English out of which ENGL 203 was launched. Shonkwiler asked Professor of English Maureen Reddy to head the program.

According to Reddy, the department’s career readiness program begins freshman year with general education. “We require a career readiness unit in all of our Gen Ed literature courses: ENGL 120, 121, 122 and 123,” Reddy explains.

“The unit,” she says, “is meant to get students thinking about the many ways in which the skills they learn in their English courses coincide with what employers are looking for, such as strong writing and verbal communication, critical thinking and the ability to work as part of a team on collaborative projects.”

“Even more, career readiness threads through every level of the English major – in our creative writing courses, literature courses and internship courses,” says Reddy.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to help our students lift their gaze a little higher and think more broadly and creatively about their options,” says Shonkwiler.

Also see:

“What’s the Value in Studying the Humanities”

“7 Skills Gained from the Humanities”

“What Do You Do With an English Degree”