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 to Start Applying for Summer Internships?

clock-474128_1280It may be a peculiar question to ask when we’re nearly eight weeks into the semester but it feels like summer has barely ended. Nevertheless,it’s the time of year when students in business and engineering start nailing down their plans for the following summer. If you’re an English or CW major with friends weighing summer internship offers from Monsanto and Boeing you may be worrying that you’re already too late.

Rest assured: you’re not.

“Internship” can mean a lot of different things. In fields where the undergraduate degree confers specialized training for particular industries, large companies compete to test-drive the best students in summer internships, creating the talent pool from which they will eventually select full-time employees. They want to lock down commitments quickly, which is why the Engineering and Business Career Fairs take place so early in the fall semester.

Chances are, however, you’re majoring in English/CW because you have dreams beyond the kinds of jobs that pay well because no one would do them if they didn’t. Those kinds of jobs tend to have a slower hiring cycle.

That said, it doesn’t hurt to start looking now.

  • Companies that are recruiting intensively now for accounting, finance, computer science, and engineering interns sometimes also have opportunities in communications, marketing, sales, and research, which get posted at the same time. Even if you missed the Fall Business Career Fair, you can still apply online for marketing, communications, media, and sales internships at at companies who recruit there like Caterpillar and Textron.
  • Media and entertainment companies are only just beginning to post summer internships: Blizzard Entertainment is already recruitng summer interns, for example, but the Disney Corporation (which includes ABC, Marvel, ESPN, and Pixar) and Simon and Schuster are still mostly recruiting for spring interns. It doesn’t hurt to check the “Careers” page on any company that particularly interests you to see if they have internship openings yet.
  • For those interested primarily in print media, Bookjobs.com is an excellent resource for summer internships..
  • Local organizations looking for summer interns will be attending the LAS in CU Internship Fair on Oct. 19 from 1:00 – 3:00pm in the second floor ballroom at the Illini Union.

But–it’s entirely possible to do nothing this fall and still have a summer internship lined up by the time you leave campus in May. Many companies don’t start advertising summer internships until March or April, and the UIntern program through the University of Illinois Career Center (which matches students with local nonprofit organizations) starts recruiting students in early spring.

The key is to know what kind of experience and skills you’d like to acquire in a summer internship and to start looking for opportunities. We’re here to help you identify your options and craft a resume that will give you the best shot at them. Call 333-4346 to set up an appointment with Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships.

Success Under the Poverty Line: A Guest Post



Donna O’Shaughnessy (Creative Writing ’16) finished a degree forty years in the making this past year, but that’s only part of her story. We asked her to tell us the rest. With her undergraduate degree now behind her, along with extensive experience in nursing, farming, and running a small business, why is she now living in a converted grain bin and deliberately managing on less than minimum wage? Here’s her answer: 

Intentionally Living Under the Poverty Line: A Different Measure of Success

Yesterday, my husband converted a century-old shed into a cozy chicken coop using discarded windows, reclaimed wood and fallen tree branches, while I canned tomatoes for winter stew and hung out six loads of laundry to dry in between fits of rain. We neither spent nor earned one dime, but we considered the day a success.

IMG_20160825_120715013Our definition of success has morphed over the last four years from one calculated in terms of finance to one gauged by the less tangible and far less popular measure, of satisfaction. Where once we considered ourselves “successful” due to our six figure earnings (combined nursing and farming income), we also succumbed to the pitfalls of that prosperity: less time for each other, our children and grandchildren, serious health issues, and little opportunity to pursue hobbies or activities that gave us pleasure. We had, like so many others in our American society of More Is Best, worked ourselves into near collapse.

The way we saw it, we had two choices: get bigger by hiring staff for our organic IMG_20160912_145518287_HDRfarm business or get out. We elected the second option. I retired from nursing, we sold our big farm and bought a smaller farm without housing. Living in a 160 square-foot camper for six months while we converted a grain bin into a tiny home solidified our goal to live small on a tiny income,

How tiny? Under the poverty line tiny. Currently in Illinois this number is $16,020 for a family of two.

So, why would two college educated, able-bodied quinquagenarians elect to decrease their previous years income by 80%?

Because, we had grown tired of our definition of success. When personal success is measured by outsiders looking in, rather than through intrinsic inspection, feelings of satisfaction are diluted. We used to run ragged earning money to buy things which required more money to maintain. We were gone all day selling good food to others, while eating boxed cereal ourselves at 10 pm.  Now, a successful day is one spent donating time to charitable organizations, teaching grandchildren to milk a cow, preserving produce, or cooking meals for those who have no time to cook for themselves.

I believe Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he wrote: To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; That is to have succeeded.

Donna O' Shaughnessy

You can read more about Donna’s Emersonian adventures on her blog, The Poor Farm. You’d think she’s busy enough as it is, but remember that degree in Creative Writing? She’s putting it to use and blogging about her writing endeavors as well.