Online Conversation Connects Students with English Alumni
By Maura Kolhonen '18 | Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Maura Kolhonen '18
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
On March 28, the UMass Amherst English department hosted an online video chat between students and UMass Amherst English alumni in South College. Professor Janis Greve moderated the chat, and Department Chair Randall Knoper and an intimate group of students with varying interests were in attendance. Many of the students were taking Professor Greve’s career prep course, “English 491AC The Major and Beyond: Career Exploration for English Majors,” but the event was open to the public.
Using Zoom, a video conferencing service, a camera was set up facing the attendees so the panelists could see them, and each member of the alumni panel was projected on screen at the front of the classroom. At times, all panelists could be seen, but when one panelist would speak at length, he/she would be switched to full screen until another panelist had something to add. In this way, a virtual conversation took place where the panelists spoke about themselves, their work, and answered questions fielded from the student attendees.
The alumni panel consisted of Kate Hale ‘09, Michelle Wade ‘13, Maria Pedone ‘12, and David Bradley ‘97, who all majored in English when they attended UMass. They now hold positions across many different fields, including publishing, human services, social media/marketing, and law.
During the conversation, all of the panelist stressed the importance of networking during and after college. Perdone ‘12, the Director of Editorial and Social Strategy for Townhouse Digital in New York City, encouraged the attendees to “go out on coffee chats with people “ to form the relationships she believes are “so important.” She told the students, “Don’t be afraid to talk to people.” Bradley ‘97, an Assistant District Attorney at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in the Homicide Unit, added that the UMass alumni network is large and often “willing to help people” and “pass on the good will” to fellow alumni.
Most of the panelists did not know what they wanted to do right after graduation, and they found employment opportunities through their networks. Wade ‘13, a Youth Zone Education Coordinator at Auberle in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, expressed, “I didn’t anticipate [doing] what I do now...but it makes sense where I ended up.” She explained that after three years with Teach for America, she was ready to try something new, and she found her current position through one of her former UMass roommates. Bradley told the students that he found his way into law by striking up a conversation with a man while waiting in line at a restaurant, and he advised, “don’t be afraid of uncertainty.”
Additionally, all of the panelists acknowledged the value of studying English at the college level after being asked if they would make the same choice to study English if they could do it again. Hale ‘09, a Senior Editor at National Geographic Partners in Washington D.C., expressed that the English major “teaches you so many different skills that you can apply it to anything,” and more specifically for aspiring but hesitant writers, Hale noted the possibilities. She said if someone wants to “be a writer and do it full time, you absolutely can.” Bradley explained that “one of the most important things is being able to communicate with people,” and believes that the English major helps to develop those skills. However, Perdone conveyed to the students: “It’s up to you to take what you learn in the classroom an apply it outward.”
In addition to these skills, Wade noted that she believes an “English degree makes you a better person” because “reading literature gives us our humanity” and teaches empathy. All of which she believes will make the students better at connecting with others, and ultimately, will make them better at their jobs.
The online conversation concluded after an hour of chatting virtually with words of encouragement and thanks shared between the panelists and student attendees.