One of my first classes as a freshman was Introduction to English Studies taught at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. As the class began, the professor offered a grave warning: when we tell people our major is English, most responses will be: “What are you going to do with that degree? Teach?” To non-English majors, it doesn’t seem like there are many career opportunities other than secondary teaching, but the opportunities are almost limitless because excellent communication skills are in high demand. However, there is a caveat to most of these opportunities—English majors need real-world experience.
In the fall of 2020, just after I transferred to Utah State University Eastern, everyone on campus received an email from Susan Polster, the faculty advisor to The Eagle student newspaper. “Do you love to write? Come write for The Eagle!” the email read. Why yes, I thought, but that means people will read my work! Even though the opportunity scared me, I met with Polster and started on my first story assignment. Over the next two school years, the experience, connections, opportunities, and relationships my work on The Eagle has fostered continue to grow.
While we on the newspaper staff are given the opportunity to accept writing assignments from the faculty advisor, writers on The Eagle can write whatever we want. In addition to news and sports, writers here write short stories and fiction, media reviews, feature interviews, social justice issues, outdoor recreation and travel, and big news events. My passion is creative nonfiction writing, so the opportunity to write viewpoints makes me happy and gives me experience in my favorite genre.
My writing skills have grown exponentially with deadlines and feedback from the people I interview. One-on-one tutoring and encouragement from faculty advisors has transformed me as a writer. I now have real-world experience in writing and copyediting.
Excellent writing and communication skills are needed in every field and the newspaper develops these skills in students. “Writing is crucial for most professions, and journalism gives us those valuable skills,” says Polster, who last year was promoted to department head of journalism and communication at Utah State University. “What we do makes a difference. We get to be a voice for the voiceless.”
My English degree and experience on the newspaper sets me up to begin work in technical writing, editing, public relations, and journalism. What’s even more amazing is that my work on the newspaper has already landed me three job offers—two of which didn’t involve an interview process.
If writing isn’t your thing, the newspaper also offers real-world experience in photography, layout, graphic design, social media, podcasting, website design and maintenance, and experience with Adobe programs—a skillset demanded in most job listings I see online.
I am so thankful for the real-world experience the campus newspaper has given me, but I am even more thankful for the opportunity to have a voice. I have a platform to write how I feel, to bring attention to what I care about, and to use my voice to advocate for others. In the spring of 2021, discussions were held to decide if the university should continue using Zoom. A professor approached me and asked if she could use a viewpoint I had written as evidence that Zoom brings greater accessibility to statewide students. I was honored that I had even a small voice in that conversation. My recent viewpoints reflecting on my college experience connected with people in a wonderful way that I didn’t expect and reinforced my passion for creative nonfiction writing.
Interviewing people was a formidable challenge in the beginning due to my social anxiety. The need to conduct interviews pushed me far out of my comfort zone. As the people I interviewed spoke, I sat with my notebook, frantically writing and sweating. I frequently lost my train of thought or drew a blank on the next questions I had prepared.
Most of the time, people already knew what they want to say about the topic reported on. But sometimes, interviewees were as shy and anxious as I am, and when I forgot where I was going in those quiet interviews, it was mortifying.
When the people I interview are happy with what I’ve written, I feel a special kind of satisfaction. Interviewing and getting the information just right has changed me: I made connections, gained confidence in my abilities, and after years of this process, I am more comfortable in social situations (though I may never stop squirming and sweating).
My work on the campus newspaper has made me contacts in almost every department, and within the Carbon County community. It is exciting when people email me press releases and ideas for stories. Acting as a facilitator for communication within the campus and local communities is a satisfying role and something I wish to pursue as a career. I wouldn’t have known this about myself if I never had joined the newspaper.
The nature of higher education is that people always come and go. We change classes every semester, meet new people, and say goodbye to others. Many faces on the newspaper staff have stayed the same since I joined, and I have made great friends here.
There are writers, photographers, podcasters, and layout staff on the campus newspaper. Each individual has different interests and skillsets, and as a group we make a newspaper whole. Twice a month, the layout staff takes the seemingly unrelated parts and creates a cohesive whole with each edition. This process amazes me each and every time.
I had the opportunity to work with two amazing faculty advisors during my time on the campus newspaper. Each shared decades of experience with us. Their expertise, feedback, and constructive criticism challenged and molded me as a writer. I am insecure with my writing, and they guided me to face these insecurities. Their support and encouragement fostered a safe environment for me to grow.
Working on the campus newspaper has been an incredible opportunity to grow as a writer and gain real-world experience. Not only has it opened career opportunities for me, but it has created unique opportunities to connect with others that I would not have had otherwise. The best part of writing for the campus newspaper has been the relationships I have developed.