By Jamie Joslin Millard
The irony of graduating from college during the worst economic recession since the Depression is something that can make you laugh or cry . . . or both. Less than 20 percent of recent graduates have a professional job; and graduate and law school applications are through the roof, with prospective students hoping to postpone the daunting job hunt. It seems that we have spent our whole life preparing for this "launch," but what do you do when there is almost no fuel left in the rocket, and you can't really get off the ground?
You redesign the rocket.
Recent graduates and current students can use this crisis as an opportunity to define their career goals by getting as much experience as they can in any place they can find it. Think of it as the "guerrilla experience" phase. And, trust me, there is a much higher return on guerrilla experience than on most other investments. I started this phase without really knowing it when I signed up for the University of Minnesota English class ENGL3711/3712: Literary Magazine Production Lab, a year-long class dedicated to producing the undergraduate literary and arts magazine Ivory Tower. As an English major, I soon realized that it was the first class I had ever taken that taught me something very practical. (Now, as a disclaimer, let me state that I highly value a liberal arts background, and as someone who has taken eight years of Latin, I understand that there is value in the impractical. . . . I think. At least I hope.)
Through the Ivory Tower class, we learned about collaboration, hierarchy, methodologies, organization, and creation. It was stimulating and energizing. We had the guidance of an instructor who understood the value of classmates getting to know each other and encouraged the beginning of what would turn into a strong family-like bond. I learned how to listen and how to share. Most of all, this class gave me the real-world confidence to believe in myself. I was getting hands-on experience fast and from all angles, as in guerrilla warfare, and I was hungry for more.
The end of that fall semester, I applied for 13 internships, all in the publishing industry. Only the work I had done in a semester of Ivory Tower supported my resume. I received an impressive 12 calls for interviews and ended up having my choice where I wanted to go. Still riding the guerrilla experience wave, I decided to take three internships: I'm pretty sure my friends and husband thought I was a little overzealous. Most internships are unpaid, especially ones in the liberal arts field. The College of Liberal Arts offers the opportunity for students to apply for an internship grant to help supplement the hours they are working for free. I applied for the CLA Internship Grant with one of the internships I took involving development and grant writing for a local magazine, Alive!. Fortunately, CLA awarded me a grant for this internship, and I was also awarded the Paul and Lucienne Taylor Writing Internship Grant, which recognizes the work students are doing in writing-intensive internships. Receiving these scholarships for work that you already decided you would do for free makes you stop and really value the support you are getting from the community.
Out of the three internships I did my final spring year, one offered me a full-time paid position; it also happened to be the one I received the CLA grant award for, Alive magazine. My new title would be Development Director, and I would be responsible for all aspects of the development and fund-raising process for the organization.
Development isn't something you really take classes in as an undergraduate. It requires a broad background, the kind of background a liberal arts degree gives you, the kind of background Ivory Tower gave me. Working on Ivory Tower honed my skills in management, budgeting, grant-writing, sponsorship solicitation, design, editing, marketing, and organizational development. I also made friends with a group of people I anticipate reminiscing with when we are all in our seventies. I can't think of a college experience that was more valuable, not only for my professional development, but also for my personal growth. My "inner guerrilla" continues to lead me into opportunities where conventional strategies could not.
A Book in the Hand
By Alyssa Lochner
As a freshman and sophomore English major, I often struggled to figure out what I was going to do with my degree when I graduated. I always knew I'd end up an English major, so there was no going back--but sometimes the practicality of, say, an accounting degree seemed almost tempting. People told me that an English degree transfers to any industry and helps with any job, but I was skeptical, and lived in fear of ending up a teacher--a profession for which I have the highest respect, but which is definitely not for me. So when I finally seized on something that I thought I actually might want to do with my life (which took longer than I had been expecting), I was extremely pleased to learn about the opportunities the English department was providing to help with that aim.
Midway through my junior year, I concluded that I want to be a book editor, or at least to work in book publishing. A month later, I got an email from the department about a year-long internship with the University of Minnesota Press, for University credit. Bingo, I thought, and pursued the internship immediately. I was also lucky enough to secure a spot on the staff of Ivory Tower, the University's undergraduate arts and literary magazine. These two experiences, together with a summer internship I scored with Coffee House Press, helped more than anything to prepare me for a career.
At the University of Minnesota Press, I got to support all the departments, some more extensively than others; similarly, on Ivory Tower, though I had my specific tasks and committees, I got a taste of all aspects of publishing the magazine. Because I was doing both of these things at the same time, the opportunities for comparison were plentiful, which ended up being even more helpful in determining my tastes and honing the skills I cared about the most. I found out, for example, that while ultimately I want to work in editorial, I can be quite happy and productive working in marketing. My skills and knowledge are much better-rounded as a result.
These opportunities would have been significantly less useful if it weren't for the professionals I encountered and the peers I worked alongside. I can now turn to a built-in network of contacts for advice, support, and references. Everyone I worked with at the Press was more than willing to explain the entire process, not just the small piece they needed my help with, so I could really get a feel for the job I was doing and the organization I was a part of. I learned about the various paths that my coworkers had taken to get where they were--and the diversity I found there was encouraging to someone preparing to graduate in a terrible economic climate. Over at Ivory Tower I was working with a group of extraordinarily talented, bright, and creative people who taught me a lot even as we were learning together--and I am incredibly proud of the magazine we put out at the end of the year. Our group is still close and still working on projects together even though the staff has turned over and a new group will take charge of the magazine in the fall.
One of the best things about the internship and magazine was being able to see results. Books I started working on in the fall at the Press kept popping up in meetings and other tasks in the spring, farther along in the process. To be able to point to a book and say, hey, I formatted that before we sent it to the printer, or, I wrote a pitch for that, brought consistent satisfaction. Of course with the magazine I got to physically hold the results of all our hard work. That sort of thing was (and is) a huge motivator and made me more certain that I was in the right place, doing the right thing for me. When I graduated in May, I was extremely proud of my English degree and pleased with the way the department enabled me to tailor it for myself. I knew I wanted to work in publishing, and I felt prepared in a way I couldn't have imagined a few years before.
As I write this, I am about a week into my new job as an Exhibits and Marketing Assistant with the University of Minnesota Press--a job for which I was recommended by my internship supervisor. It's wonderful to be back working with this group of people. I'm still learning new things about the Press and the industry every day, but I'm also using skills I gained as an intern and as a staffer at Ivory Tower. The two experiences made my last year at the U my best, my most productive, and my most useful. They eased the transition into the professional world: I'm very happy with where they're taking me.