‘Opportunity Comes in Weird Ways’: English Alumni Speak on Career Paths

Eastern English alumni, left to right: Ryan Bahan ’15, Angela DiLella ’14, Jennifer Kuhn ’08 and Chris Morris ’18

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/11/2019) A long-lived question that has followed the English major is, “What will you do with that degree?” In response, the English Department at Eastern Connecticut State University has hosted “English at Work” panels, combatting stereotypes and emphasizing the complexity of the field. Alumni gathered on April 8 to discuss their careers in writing, editing and publishing.

Panelists included Ryan Bahan ’15, Angela DiLella ’14, Jennifer Kuhn ’08 and Christopher Morris ’18. With an impressive turnout for the event, they spoke on establishing themselves professionally and finding the right path after graduation.

Bahan explained that post-undergraduate employment is “a mix of what you want to do and what your first job is going to be.” After graduating from Eastern, he received a fellowship at the Champlain College Emergent Media Center to manage digital projects while obtaining a master’s degree in digital media.

Completing his master’s in 2016, Bahan initially worked as a website designer and podcast producer. He also explored blogging and other side jobs before joining Stagecoach Digital as a content strategist in 2017. Now, he produces content and provides strategic direction for North America’s leading nonprofit organizations.

DiLella and Kuhn echoed sentiments about unexpected placement, landing job roles that they did not necessarily see themselves in as undergraduate students. DiLella went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Writing from the New School, which she feels granted new creative opportunities. In addition to finishing her graphic novel, DiLella is employed by N3rdabl3 (Nerdable), a gaming and pop culture website. She ghostwrites novellas and larger projects as well.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do with my English degree,” said Kuhn, who called her professional journey “a series of lucky breaks and happy accidents.” She received a Master of Professional Studies from George Washington University and has held several leadership positions working on scientific, technical and medical publications.

Kuhn is the editorial director at Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a division of Wolters Kluwer health-information services based in Philadelphia. Further, she owns and operates the world’s only print periodical for childcare workers, Nanny Magazine. “I never knew when I was at Eastern that I was going to love this.”

Morris is the editorial assistant at the award-winning, independent press Elephant Rock Books, where he interned as an Eastern student. His responsibilities involve editorial work on all manuscripts approved for publication, designing and executing marketing campaigns and assisting in organizing events. “I have my hands in most components of what we do,” he said. Morris is in the process of meeting with literary agents about his first novel, “The Kids Who Killed on Church Street,” and plans to pursue a MFA at the University of Mississippi this fall.

Throughout the event, the panelists addressed different ways in which being an English major prepared them for professional endeavors. One significant skill they picked up at Eastern is the ability to recognize audience. Another is learning to not only accept, but constructively utilize criticism. Collectively, they agreed that the mentors they had access to were a great benefit.

“Get involved on campus in whatever capacity makes sense to you,” Kuhn advised to undergraduates. “Always be hungry to learn something more.” As recommended by the group, some on-campus resources for English majors are the Campus Lantern, the Writing Center, the University Relations office and the Creative Writing Club. “Eastern is so flexible in terms of what you can do,” said Bahan.

“Opportunity comes in weird ways,” continued DiLella. “Don’t be afraid to step outside your major.” Morris, who double-majored, commended his experiences with the History Department. Taking history classes required him to increase his attention to detail and ultimately provided useful context for writing and literature. Moreover, he noted the importance of writing regularly, which was guaranteed in his chosen academic realms. “Writing is like an instrument,” he said, regarding the need to put in consistent work in order to master the craft.

Despite advocating for seizing a variety of chances, Bahan suggested, “Don’t work for free. If you don’t value yourself, people never will.” He pointed out the rise in remote employment as a means of entering the paid job force. “It’s easier than ever to work for companies all over the world.” Similarly, panelists highlighted the advantages of networking, building a solid support system and understanding time management. “Find your balance,” said DiLella.

Written by Jordan Corey