How an English Professor Integrated Career Development into the Classroom

When DU English professor, Donna Beth Ellard, wanted to make her First Year Seminar (FSEM) course an engaging and meaningful experience she began to ask herself “How can poetry assist a student over four years by helping them decide what their profession may be?”  Thinking outside the box, Donna Beth wanted to find a way to bring an idea of “Poetry in the Professions” theme into her classroom.  The goal was to have students learn how to be meaningful as they pursue and explore career paths.

Donna Beth has heard numerous parents say to their child that they “can’t be a Humanities major…there are not many careers in the humanities!”  She set out to prove that theory wrong by infusing career professionals who majored in English into the classroom.  She mapped out her syllabus with four distinct professions for students to learn more about through research, interviews, poetry readings, and class presentations.  These four professions were law, medicine, public relations and social work.  Donna Beth taught the FSEM students the “close reading” skill practiced across the humanities.  This method teaches a student to learn to listen to other voices, to be patient, to build emotional awareness and how to be empathetic.  Developing these skills are necessary to be successful in many occupations regardless of industry.

Along with assigned readings, Donna Beth had a lawyer, a PR executive, a social worker, and an OB/GYN medical doctor speak in the class room.  The practitioners spoke about how their undergraduate English degree helped them to be successful in graduate school as well as in their current positions.  For example, the medical doctor explained how her undergraduate degree in English helped her tremendously in medical school by developing skills such as patience, emotional awareness, and empathy.  This doctor credits the “close reading” skills she learned as an English major as a key component of her success.

Donna Beth’s biggest challenge for this course was the amount of time it took to prepare.  Identifying and reaching out to practitioners was very time consuming and Donna Beth coordinated all of these details on her own. Today, Career & Professional Development along with other career offices on campus, have grown their capacity to support faculty in bringing alumni and employer guest speakers to the classroom. If you would like to integrate career into the classroom, we encourage you to reach out for support!

By Jane Mall
Jane Mall Career & Professional Development Jane Mall