Entrepreneurship and…English Majors? Oh, YES.

One of the newest additions to our Alumni Mentoring Network is Timothy Tonella, CEO of Matchstar Venture Search. Tim writes,

I’ve been directly involved in the placement of over 420 technology VPs and C-level executives into venture backed companies across the company….I frequently coach CEOs and presidents on strategies and tactics for finding their next opportunity, positioning themselves (and their personal brand), and how to connect independently (through a private job search) with potential hiring managers – in this case, board members investing in technology companies. I’m also a venture partner in a venture capital fund (www.theexplorergroup.com),”

 

Tim shared how he got his start using English skills to succeed in realms not usually associated with English majors: 

The IEEE branch at U of I (at least back in 1986) was the largest student engineering organization in the nation.  I wanted have something significant on my resume as an interviewing senior and found a small clause in IEEE bi-laws that allowed non-engineering students to become an “affiliate member.”  Truth be told, my college roommate – who is now a big time Silicon Valley CEO – was President of IEEE at the time and helped me identify that exclusion.  As an affiliate member, I could technically run for office.  So I gave a speech – a pitch – to 400 engineering students about what I could do for them as the no. 2 guy (treasurer) of IEEE and beat out 10 engineering students to basically run the largest collegiate engineering branch in the country . . . as an English major!  Funny thing is that no one ever knew I wasn’t an engineering student.”

Entrepreneurship is a huge opportunity – not just for engineering students – but any kid with the drive, ambition, and the creative spirit to build something significant.  Here’s a fun video from about 7 years ago.  I found Google’s no. 1 engineer (had just won the coveted President’s Award at Google for all his work on gmail apps), and we started a company on the side together.  This video was part of a 4-segment highlight show (Tesla was also feature next to us) that ran directly after “60 Minutes” across 20 million cable subscribers:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cbi_Rm5SRE….You don’t have to be a top engineer or 4.0 business student to do some exciting things in the business world.

creative mind is the MOST valuable thing a student can possess, and that’s something you often see with English majors.

For English/CW majors interested in exploring entrepreneurship, there are a couple of upcoming campus opportunities to know about.

  • Entrepreneurship Forum
    Tuesday, April 25 and Wednesday, April 26, Illini Union
    Join the Offices of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Research for the annual Entrepreneurship Forum. There will be workshops on the new Siebel Center for Design; entrepreneurial resources available on campus and funding; and awarding of the $20,000 Illinois Innovation Prize. All students welcome. Register today for this fantastic event!
    Contact: Stephanie Larson

And, of course, we encourage you to join the alumni mentoring network so you can contact Tim and other English/CW alumni currently working in business to learn more about how to use your amazing communication and problem-solving skills in the business world.

When Should I Seek an Internship?

“When should I seek an internship?”

This is a question I get a lot.

The answer is “Yes.”

That is–there’s no right or wrong time to look for internships. There’s not even an optimal time to get an internship. This freedom is one of the perks of being an English or Creative Writing major.
An internship that helps you explore a career that interests you is a good thing to do at ANY stage of your college career. You don’t have wait until your junior year, nor do you need to panic if you’re a sophomore who hasn’t lined anything up yet.

Majors in business or engineering or other pre-professional fields are often seeking jobs in a handful of large corporations that like to test-drive future hires in junior year internships. Success in one of these fields is therefore closely tied to getting the “right” internship after sophomore or junior year, one that may lead to a job offer sometime during one’s senior year. Students who aren’t on that schedule have a more challenging job search than students who are.

English and CW majors, on the other hand, have a lot of options.

English/CW majors CAN seek out summer internships (often in HR, marketing, project management, sales, client services, or claims) with companies that hire full-time employees out of their internship programs. If that’s a path that interests you, it’s good to start attending career fairs as early in your college career as possible and start getting to know the companies you’d like to work for after graduation. The fall Business Career Fair often offers a lot of internships for the following summer, and the more research you can do in advance of the fair, the better your experience will be–and I’m happy to help you identify some promising openings, plot your strategy, and make your resume and “pitch” career-fair ready. With effort, focus, and determination, you CAN land an internship after your sophomore or junior year that could lead to a full-time job–just like any STEM or pre-professional major.

But…a lot of people major in English or Creative Writing because they don’t want those kinds of jobs with those kinds of companies. They may not know enough about what they want to do after graduation to be willing to put the effort in to build a relationship with a specific company that will lock them into a job they don’t know that they want.

Many students will find employment with nonprofit organizations, small companies, employers in the entertainment industry, tech, or software industries. Many of these kinds of organizations don’t adhere to a strict internship/hiring cycle, and many don’t come to career fairs. They may or may not offer internships at all. They may look favorably on full-time job applicants who have held meaningful leadership roles in volunteer organizations, who have been involved in student newspapers or journals, who have held relevant part-time jobs, or who have produced independent creative work.

So a better question to start with is not “When should I apply?” but “What do I want?” If you have your eye on a particular company or a particular industry, there are a lot of things you can do to start figuring out what’s available and how you could get started:

  • Keep track of internship openings on I-Link (you can use the “Advanced Search” option to limit yourself to internships in specific industries that interest you. (Any given search may not yield a lot of results–it helps to set up a regular time each week to see if any new openings have appeared)
  • Start researching particular companies in the field that you’d like to work with. Most company websites have a “careers” tab where they list internship opportunities (if they offer any).
  • Join our alumni mentoring network to start talking to professionals in that field. If there’s no one in our network who works in the particular area you want to explore, use LinkedIn to locate other alumni who might be willing to talk to you.
  • Look for paid internships or part-time jobs on campus that will help you build relevant skills. Campus opportunities in, say, movie production are pretty limited, but a part-time job or internship that gives you skills in video-editing, storyboarding, project management, social media, or marketing could give you skills that are transferable to that industry.
  • RSOs are a good way to get involved, make friends, and have fun–and they can also be a valuable resource for job skills. Look for organizations where you can not only be an involved member but also play a role in making things happen. Managing a budget, event-planning, fundraising, membership recruitment, publicity, social media, and outreach are all skills that you can cultivate through your involvement.

Keep in mind, too, that “internship” does not necessarily equal “meaningful post-graduation job.” It can help you understand better what you want from a career, build skills you you want, recognize skills you didn’t know you had, or send you in a different direction of career exploration.

Bottom line? If an internship sounds interesting to you, go ahead and apply.

2017 Undergraduate Creative Writing Awards

Read on for details of the award-winning entries in this year’s undergraduate creative writing details. Congratulations to Christopher Canty, Carolyn Aiello, Jenna Beebe, Meghedi Tamazian, Siggi Schroth, and Steven Waddell!

FICTION

Jensen Beach, this year’s judge, is the author of two story collections, most recently Swallowed by the Cold (Graywolf). He holds an MFA in fiction from the Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, as well as an MA and BA in English from Stockholm University. He teaches in the BFA program at Johnson State College, where he is the fiction editor at Green Mountains Review. He’s also a faculty member in the MFA Program in Writing & Publishing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. His writing has appeared recently in A Public Space, the Paris Review, and The New Yorker. He’s a former web editor at Hobart. He lives in Vermont.

Sixty-two writers submitted stories. Below are the winners and the judge’s comments.

John L. Rainey Prize, $1,000 (sponsored by Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity): Christopher Canty, “Delivery.”

This winning story is so full of energy and humor. I was immediately drawn in and held fast. The story is relevant in its cultural and pop-cultural references and themes; and though the story is about young people and seems to present certain plot elements that might seem trivial or immature, it remains incredibly resonant. Tonally, the piece excites in its colloquial approach. This voice generates a great deal of humor in thought as well as event; and yet the writer never sacrifices emotion for a joke. Indeed, as the story builds toward its tender conclusion I found myself drawn as much to the exciting and richly rendered phrases as I was to the gentleness of the protagonist. This is a character who, in spite of himself, is undeniably kind, thoughtful. And the story hinges on this quality even as it feints toward its protagonist’s haplessness, his ability to only ever do what is not right. It’s a surprising and pleasing irony of the piece and I was enormously impressed.

Josephine M. Bresee Memorial, $400: Carolyn Aiello, “Post-Thanksgiving Party.”

This is a fun, quirky story with a confident and compelling narrative voice. The writer works with some familiar tropes and milieux–the suburban household too full of parties to host and social and professional ladders to climb; and these spaces are, as they always are, occupied humorously and yet humorlessly by a male character about which are meant to laugh and cringe and, in the end, sympathize with. But this is a story that pushes its boundaries of these expected plot points neatly toward something rich and textured. Though I think at times the story hemmed too closely to territory in which it was, perhaps, too happy with its own oddities and jokes, for the most part I found the story delightful and accomplished.

Leah Trelease Prize, $300: Jenna Beebe, “All the Time in the World.”

Here is a quiet story that works well on a number of levels. The story of a young woman who goes home for the funeral of a loved one, “All the Time in the World” draws from a familiar well of lived experience. And yet it manages to transcend this set up, to burrow into its own humility, its own true account of what it is to be human. I enjoyed the story a great deal.

POETRY

Amie Whittemore, judge of this year’s contest and once upon a time a double major in English and Creative Writing here at the University of Illinois, is a poet, educator, and the author of Glass Harvest (Autumn House Press). She is also co-founder of the Charlottesville Reading Series. An instructor at Middle Tennessee State University, she holds graduate degrees from Lewis and Clark College (M.A.T.) and Southern Illinois University Carbondale (M.F.A.). Her poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Sycamore Review, Rattle, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere.

Seventy-five writers submitted poems. Below are the winners and the judge’s comments.

Folger Adam, Jr. Prize, $1,000 (sponsored by Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity): Meghedi Tamazian, “Everyday.”

What immediately drew me to these poems is their study of transformation. In “Everyday,” the winner of this year’s poetry contest, the speaker inhabits a space of restless investigation, oscillating from a desire to “move toward hot water” and, on other days, “to cut off all my hair.” As the writer moves us through these indecisions and revisions, one clear wish, for “a heart that can take all of this,” emerges, vulnerable and unexpected. The poet wonderfully uses magical realism and absurdism in this poem and others, to investigate the nature of the self in relation to the world. In “A Sort of Pardon,” the speaker finds “a spider inside my mouth,” and a “house inside of a house, both harboring parched wood / and a familiar smell.” Thanks to the writer’s control, these startling images feel perfectly apt. The poet has created a unique and strangely unifying logic. It was a pleasure to enter into this world full of heart and verve.

Charles and Susan Shattuck Prize, $500: Siggi Schroth, “Arkansas Corn Queen on the Eve of Her Retirement from Teaching Contemporary Mathematics.”

The intelligence and sense of humor in these poems is marvelous. It’s clear from the title of the first poem, “Arkansas Corn Queen on the Eve of her Retirement from Teaching Contemporary Mathematics,” that we are in the hands of a poet whose inspiration is found in observation of the human condition, particularly its fallibility: the Corn Queen, “painted the boniest parts of her hoof,” “teetering on those sharp, flaking things.” Later, in the poem “he believes his hands are not visible,” the speaker criticizes a man who seduces women. However, the poet’s ambitions carry us beyond that subject, and we look at the very idea of “technique,” in terms of seduction, yes, but also elsewhere: “a tray is just /a technique for carrying / six things at once,” and later, “a technique / is just another system, / just another boss.” The way the speaker shifts our understanding of this word is sophisticated and provocative. This poet’s straightforward voice inspires trust, so that we can enter new territories, engage with strangers on the train, even observe a friend, passed out on the floor, who isn’t “as dead as we thought.” Strange, wonderful poems.

American Academy of Poets Prize, $100: Steven Waddell, “Then/Now.”

Writing a political poem is never easy and the writer of “Then / Now,” takes on this task with heart and grit. In the first section, “Then,” the speaker shows us a black man on the run from a possible lynching; a difficult topic, on multiple levels, that the speaker navigates through a mixture of startling, precise imagery and variations in line length that control the pacing and revelation of information. The man’s “purple feet” trail blood and “burst open…like an unripe plum.” The image of the plum, soft and gentle, in the midst of the terror of the man’s escape forces the reader to pause, to really see this man as an individual not an archetype. Later, in “Now,” the writer creates a parallel scene, featuring a black man in a tense confrontation with a police officer. Again, the precision of images grounds the poem: the man’s “ankles were magnets drawn tight displaying that he would not try to run” and his “mouth perched ready to explain his reason for existing.” Later the man’s blood “graffitied the pavement.” But first–first, the man’s mouth “was open wide enough to swallow galaxies.” To carry all of this weight, of the fraught past and the fraught present in a single poem, is to attempt to swallow a galaxy. I admire deeply this poet’s ambition to confront darkness.

By the Numbers: English and Creative Writing Majors Get Jobs

.You don’t have to major in a quantitative or preprofessional field to be employable.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has now collected campus-wide data, for the second year in a row, on what students plan to do when they graduate. The numbers in this chart are from the full report on the Illini Success survey for 2015-16.