Off the Beaten Path: Professional Writers as Explorers, Entrepreneurs, and More

Written by: Haley Erb

Primary Source: Writing Rhetoric and American Cultures

Professional Writing is an undeniably unique program. This uniqueness is manifested in many wonderful ways, but it can be hard to explain, even for a practiced rhetorician. Thanksgivings and family Christmases come around and the less up-to-date family members invariably ask “How is school?” and “What are you studying?”. Then, if you’re particularly unlucky, you get the follow up:

“And what are you going to do with that?”

Professional Writing doesn’t come with a convenient answer, unlike job-title ready degrees such as Nursing or Accounting. The same quality that makes PW amazingly flexible is what makes this question difficult to answer concisely.

But while you can’t predict your own personal future, you can learn from the past and present. Alumni with a PW degree are living proof that the answers to “So what are you going to do with that?” are varied and personal and sometimes even completely unexpected. So while there may never be a perfect one phrase answer, there’s hundreds of examples to show off and learn from.

One such example comes from Angela Shetler, 2005 graduate. When she graduated she tried a few jobs where she got the chance to get some editing and publishing experience. Unfortunately, it still seemed like something was missing. And that’s when Shetler took a risk and moved out to Japan, where she taught English for three years. “If you had told me back in 2005 that this would be the path my career would take, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s definitely been an adventure.” Now Shetler is teaching rhetoric and writing at the University of Sydney, as part of a program that she calls “the first of its kind in Australia.”

Other Professional Writing alumni have taken their skills abroad as well. Ryan Wyeth, class of 2010, relocated to China for a contract where he worked as an English teacher. He now works as a freelance translator, an undertaking that he describes as demanding, but also rewarding. “I enjoy the satisfaction of being able to look over a completed translation project and see the quality in my own work. I know that I produce translations that convey the intended message but do so in a fluid, stylish manner.”

Back on the home front, Professional Writers are integral parts of their communities. Hayley Roberts (Undergraduate class of 2007, Master’s graduate class of 2011) works as the Communications Director for the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, which is a non-profit dedicated to helping the suburbs of Metro Detroit work together and share success. Roberts shares that vision, saying, “I love the issues I get to work on and learn about everyday: transportation, redevelopment, municipal finance, urban planning…. Metro Detroit is changing before our eyes and I love playing even a small role in that.” She also believes that Professional Writing gave her a unique foundation for this work, adding, “The skills I learned both in undergrad and grad school are so different from what my friends and colleagues focused on in their studies, and I love that. [When I graduated] I had no concept of the many different types of jobs, or the various ends to which I could use my writing skills.”

Another non-profit with PW representation is the National Forest Foundation. Hannah Ettema (2011 graduate) works as a Communications and Development and Associate with the NFF in Missoula, Montana where the work varies day by day. “I think it’s fair to say for most graduates of the PW program, we don’t have a ‘typical day,’ especially at a non-profit. […] On any given day I could be researching a blog post, prepping for next week’s social media, designing a graphic for the website, or a dozen other things.” She also adds that “…perhaps the most surprising part of my job to me is just how many skills, exercises and lessons from PW directly translated to my work. All those modules in visual rhetoric? Totally worth it. Coding and troubleshooting my own website? Definitely worth it. It could sometimes be hard to imagine the “real world” beyond room 317 in Bessey and that anything we did in that room would have a direct translation to our job – but they do.”

Adrian de Novato, class of 2010, is ingrained in his community in a slightly different way – as a small business owner. In fact, his small communications company just recently celebrated their second anniversary! Novato describes the work he does with his company as writing-focused, and although there is an unpleasant amount of paperwork that comes with running a business, he also gets a chance to tell stories. “The writing work I do involves talking to people across the country who have done something to help others. Everyone has a narrative. Everyone has a great story. It is rewarding to listen to and share the incredible things people do.” Novato also works every day at an internship with Luntz Global where he gets the chance to learn in a different environment. “I have the opportunity to do challenging and interesting work with people I admire. It’s been a great learning experience. I pursued the opportunity because of their extensive client list and reputation. It’s given me strategic insight into the inner workings of many of the Fortune 100.”

You can find out more about what Professional Writing graduates are doing by checking out this article or some of our graduates online portfolios.

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Haley Erb
Haley Erb is a junior in the Professional Writing program. She also studies creative writing and the digital humanities. She is a pro-oxford comma and an excellent marshmallow roaster. Willing to ramble about typography, writing, design, food, science, books, space, or pretty much anything. She can be bribed with sour candy. Follow Haley on Twitter @haleys_comma.