Alumni Profile: Brad Petersen, Director of Communications for LAS

As part of a series of alumni career profiles, Krystyna Serhijchuk, an English major and department intern, interviewed Brad Petersen, Director of Communications and Marketing at the College of LAS, who obtained his BA in English at Illinois in 1998.

What does your position as Director of Communications and Marketing at LAS entail?

One of the aspects of my position I enjoy most is that it has many different components. My day can involve anything from working with the media on a story, preparing a speech for our dean, promoting an alumni event, working with my team on our magazine or newsletters, or assisting with student recruitment work.

LAS is a huge college, so I have the opportunity to work with faculty and staff from units as diverse as Chemistry and Slavic Studies. It’s really a joy to have so much variety in my day.

I can most succinctly sum up my job as being responsible for communicating about our college to prospective students, current students, faculty and staff, and alumni.

What do you enjoy about it?

I enjoy the variety my job brings and the chance to work with so many people who are doing diverse and interesting work. For all of the challenges that come with working at a college and institution of our size, I’m grateful to spend my time at a place where so many incredible things are happening. It would be easy to take for granted what an amazing, world-class university Illinois is. I’m very mindful of the excellence we have here and the impact the university has on our state and beyond. I consider it a privilege to work here.

How did getting your BA in English at Illinois prepare you for your current career field?

My job is ultimately all about critical thinking, problem solving, planning, communicating, and working with others. These skills are at the core of a Liberal Arts education. My degree in English gave me a great foundation for analyzing and understanding information and communicating, especially in writing. It also gave me some serious time-management skills, skills I use every day.

What about Illinois’ English Department did you value as an undergrad?

I think of my time as an English student as a fantastic voyage. I fondly remember the time I spent with Shakespeare, giants of American literature, and Charles Dickens. I enjoyed the opportunity to closely examine some great writers and their works. I also appreciate the interesting, thoughtful conversations I experienced in class, and—believe it or not—the countless writing assignments that helped me hone my skills.

Why would you recommend the Illinois English program to prospective students?

The English and Creative Writing majors provide an excellent foundation for many careers, especially in marketing and communications. When we hire people to work in our office, we’re looking for folks who have the skills you get through one of these degrees. Contrary to what people may say, English and Creative Writing majors are in demand. For marketing and communications, the ability to develop engaging content is more important now than ever. And, strong communications skills will always be valuable.

What would you say to people who think English degrees are “useless”?

I’d say “who told you that and what rock have they been living under?” The demand for students with a Liberal Arts foundation is high. Thanks in large part to the outstanding resources in the English Department, English graduates are moving quickly into the next phase of their training or careers. The Illini Success survey shows that 90% of the department’s graduates found a first destination, meaning a job, graduate school, or service opportunity. A degree from the English Department is an excellent idea for anyone with the aptitude and passion to pursue it.

What sorts of outside experiences did you pursue as a student that helped you learn how to apply the skills you were learning in class in the “real world”?

I had an internship during the majority of my junior and senior years, and it was a critically important experience for me. It allowed me to supplement my classroom experiences with real-world work in a marketing office. I would definitely recommend that students try to find some type of opportunity outside the classroom that gives them some combination of leadership and practical experiences. This could be in an RSO, an internship, research, or any number of other areas. These extracurricular experiences also help you develop your network. In my case, I ended up working at the company I interned for after college. That doesn’t always happen, but I made some great connections through that internship that I still value today, 20 years later.