What You Can Do With This Degree
Let UIS English and Modern Languages alumni pave the way for your success.
Read about alumni achievement in the stories below.
UIS English Alumni Success Stories
UIS English alum Courtney Cox is helping students find their voices in the composition classroom.
Cox is a doctoral student at Illinois State University’s PhD in English Studies with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition. While taking graduate classes Cox also teaches two sections of English 101: Composition as Critical Inquiry, the program’s first-year composition class.
For Cox, these classes offer a unique opportunity. In the classroom, Cox passionately subverts students’ expectations of English studies: instead of the same, tired five-paragraph essay, Cox assigns videos, podcasts, blogs, and more.
“Teaching is an enormous gift to me,” Cox said, “because I’m given the opportunity to erase the fictions that my students bring to college about writing.”
Cox belonged to the first cohort of the UIS English department’s newly revamped M.A. in digital publishing. At UIS, Cox helped start Uproot, a national digital literary journal, and served as the managing editor for the Alchemist Review. Cox also received the English Department’s Outstanding Masters’ Thesis nomination.
“[At UIS] I was never shamed, silenced, or discouraged, which allowed me to build my passions and academic self-efficacy,” Cox said.
Cox’s advice to English majors: “Find the people who support you and empower other people who are on the same journey as you, rather than getting caught in the danger of comparison. Learn about your writing process, how you compose best, and then work as hard as you can.”
A.D. Carson: Ph.D. Candidate, Rapper, Producer, UIS MA Graduate
After earning his MA in English at UIS, A.D. Carson was accepted as a doctoral candidate at Clemson University where he has recently defended his dissertation–a project that is garnering attention and admiration within and outside academia. It also won the Best Dissertation Award at Clemson.
Carson’s doctoral dissertation is going viral due in part to its untraditional format, but more for its pairing of Carson’s academic ingenuity with his impressive creative abilities. With his 34-song rap album titled “Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions,” Carson pushes the limits of what rhetoric can be and do. The originally written and personally produced songs are simultaneously achievements of musical talent, exceptional recording and producing abilities, and adept examples of sociopolitical and cultural research that push and question the limits and limitations of performing and presenting research in academia.
“The album . . . uses hip-hop to explore such ideas as identity, justice, economics, citizenship and language,” writes Ken Scar of Clemson University’s The Newsstand in a recent article on Carson’s increasingly popular dissertation.
“The songs have garnered tens of thousands of views on YouTube, more than 50,000 streams and downloads on SoundCloud and hundreds of thousands of hits on Facebook.” The attention is impressive; especially considering most of the buzz occurred before Carson even defended the project to his committee.
Each track mixes and remixes media such as types of beats, song styles, and movie quotes that evoke places and pasts that enrich the meaning presented in Carson’s lyrics, making listening to the album an auditory experience with multiple layers that make interpretation a rich and fulfilling process.
The song “Familiar,” for example, is at once a play on the idea of being trapped (the song is set to a trap beat– a beat known for originating in the Atlanta area) and an imitation of a Langston Hughes poem, both forms intentionally invoking specific histories and meanings.
“I think pushing the boundaries is important to help facilitation and provide alternate perspectives for critical conversations about what those forms our work is presented in might say about the work itself, the discussions sparked, the disciplines engaged, as well as the spaces in which it is created. It’s helpful for me to be able to process certain things in ways the traditional essay won’t allow.”
In the Newsstand article, Carson states, “The central thesis of my dissertation is: Are certain voices treated differently? I’m trying to examine how an authentically identifiable black voice might be used of accepted as authentic, or ignored, or could answer academic questions and considered rightly academic. So I have to present a voice rather than writing about a voice.” The music is at once a medium for the presentation of the message as well as a contribution and continuation of historical and sociopolitical research specific to the dissertation.
Carson demonstrates his multitalented nature in every aspect of “Owning My Masters,” and it is through his written, musical, and rhetorical skills that he offers a necessary voice that is heard both in and outside academia at a time increasingly important for such voices to be heard.
The rhetorics of Carson’s project also engage with the history of Clemson University itself. Originally built on a plantation, Carson found that the issues of race he was confronting in his project were deeply embedded within the history of the institution in which he was researching, even in the very buildings themselves, as some of them were named after former slave owners.
“Because hip-hop, at the compositional level, finds part of its effectiveness by engaging the local, it made sense to me to write about the plantation on which the school is built,” said Carson.
Carson also founded the “See the Stripes” campaign, an idea sparked by a poem he wrote (entitled “See the Stripes”), which serves as a roaring chorus behind the campaign itself.
While turning over the widely known yet simultaneously overlooked truth of Clemson’s history, Carson found a metaphor in the Clemson mascot itself: a tiger. The Clemson mascot’s rally call is to “See the Orange.”
“At that point I realized the metaphor of the stripes was a good one,” Carson explained, “because I’d already considered the strips of land the sharecroppers would have worked in/on and the stripes made by a whip on the backs of enslaved people. The convict labor information conjured the image of striped uniforms. That coupled with the on-campus rallying cry of ‘Solid Orange’ made ‘See The Stripes’ (the poem and its title) a call to action that spoke both to the university’s history as well as its present.”
More information on the “See the Stripes” campaign and the poem itself can be found on the campaign’s website, which was established and is maintained by Carson and others from the Clemson community.
Just as Carson’s poem and the “See the Stripes” campaign raise important awareness of un-confronted histories and contemporary whitewashing, his rap album/dissertation confronts and asks its listeners to confront institutionalized racism.
“’Owning My Masters’ consequently stands as evidence of the policed body, the voice that comes from the body, resisting arrest and surveillance, making itself known as that upon which law is dependent,” Carson states in an excerpt from his dissertation, which is in part presented in web format to display both excerpts of text and the audio of the rap album. The song “Second Amendment [Shoot Back]” particularly embodies this idea via Carson’s powerful lyrics.
Carson has accepted a job as Assistant Professor of Hip Hop and the Global South at Clemson University.
Graduates of our MA in English go on to serve a variety of positions, from doctoral work to copy writing and public relations. As is the case with Carson, our MA in English also prepares students to enter doctoral programs with the tools they need to succeed.
Graduate Students Producing New and Innovative Research
The very first class our MA students are required to take is ENG 501—Digital Humanities. As a core class, it is required for both students in the Digital Pedagogy track and the Digital Publishing track. More than a requirement, the class serves as an introduction to the overall program. While it is founded on traditional graduate-level research, it also asks students to engage with texts in new ways. More specifically, it asks students to engage in literary/rhetorical analysis and criticism with the help of technology and interdisciplinary research methods.
Digital Humanities is an emerging field in academia, and its approach to analyzing and teaching texts with emerging technology is particularly relevant to the core elements of our master’s program, which is one of the reasons it is the first class our students take. Our graduate students are producing new and innovative research for their final projects in this course.
Rob Fafoglia, for example, wanted to take a closer look at a text with which he was already familiar. In order to gain a new perspective on the text, Fafolgia used Ersi Story Maps, an accessible GIS (Geographic Information System) software, to geographically visualize the narrative of The Long Walk, a novel written by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
“While this story has long been a favorite of mine, I wanted to try and find a pattern to horrors contained within, a method to the madness,” said Fafoglia. “To that end, I enlisted the aid of several Digital Humanities tools to show a pattern to the cycle of death which occurs during this troubling tale.”
“What I wanted to examine and interpret is why the Walkers fall when and where they do, and if their deaths have any relationship to their location along the route, particularly in regards to large crowds.”
Another skill fostered in the Digital Humanities course is the ability to synthesize research and present it in an accessible format. The course focuses on approaches to displaying information on websites and strategies for organizing information and making it readily searchable. Like many of the students in ENG 501, Fafoglia chose to present his research in web format.
Daymon Kiliman, another graduate student who recently completed his ENG 501 research project, focused his application of Digital Humanities methods to his love of composition studies.
Kiliman’s project uses Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). According to Kiliman, LIWC is “a software application that analyzes texts for syntactical and lexical cues of emotional content and cognitive reasoning to establish whether these models correlate with the descriptive taxonomy of student writing developed by Sheena Gardner and Hilary Nessi.” A more in-depth explanation of the software and Kiliman’s application of it can be viewed on the website he created to present his research.
The results of Kiliman’s Digital Humanities approach to his research questions provide valuable data that aids stakeholders in choosing which textbooks will work best for their writing programs and the needs of their students. The data also illustrates the value of computational analysis for composition studies.
“Digital Humanities encourages new, provocative questions that may be pursued through novel methods,” said Kiliman. “It is very exciting to leverage the interpretative skills, intellectual rigor, and creativity fostered in English Studies to pursue novel and useful lines of inquiry.”
Roni Hartman, another member of the UIS English master’s student cohort, used similar software to investigate a much different research question. Using LIWC, Hartman measured conversational and storytelling registers in the dialogue of Watership Down in order to quantifiably determine the dominant storyteller in the novel.
“I explored the speaking registers of the rabbit storyteller Dandelion in Richard Adams’s 1972 classic, especially changes in oral storytelling compared with conversation or dialogue,” said Hartman. “Through a digital analysis of the text of Dandelion’s non-storytelling and storytelling dialogue, I expose differences between his modes of talking, including differences in aspects of authority (clout), authenticity, tone, formal thinking, lexical density, readability, and passive voice.”
As you can see from the excerpt of her website below, Hartman’s work was not complete after she collected the data produced from LIWC. She fed the results into Analyze My Writing, a software that analyzes texts by calculating word/character counts, word/sentence lengths, and many other analyses. The tool also offers articles to help analyze the statistics produced from your text samples.
Analyze My Writing was also useful for another graduate student’s inquiry into Emily Dickinson’s evolution of punctuation usage. Using a 1860’s hand-written sample of Dickinson’s poetry made accessible through the Emily Dickinson Archive, Lauren McPherson fed samples of 113 texts into Analyze My Writing to count Dickinson’s dashes within the sample texts to “help make viewable the trends in punctuation, observed through use of the dash in Emily Dickinson’s correspondence with Susan Gilbert between 1860-1869,” as stated by McPherson.
Digital Humanities provides scholars the opportunities to push their practices further than they have in the past. By using interdisciplinary approaches and sharing tools like GIS and LIWC across fields, researchers can produce new kinds of data, such as Kiliman did for writing programs, or as McPherson was able to do with her Dickinson research. Although many students used different technologies and methodologies to produce and interpret their data, for many of them, it was the first time approaching a text in such a way.
As they progress through the program, these students gain the confidence to tackle multiple types of research projects in varieties of ways. Through this foundation, we equip our first-year graduate students to successfully complete the program and confidently enter positions after graduation.
Writing Their Way to Success
Writing website copy for software and eCommerce companies, producing blog content and email copy, and running a self-established freelance business might not be what comes to mind when you imagine English students post-graduation. In today’s market, however, the skills learned in English classes are in growing demand.
Kaleigh Moore, a UIS graduate with a minor in English and a major in Communication, is one of many students capitalizing on her writing abilities.
“Practicing critical thinking and writing during my time at UIS prepared me by forcing me to communicate and write well—which is what I do now,” said Moore.
After graduation, Moore began freelance writing in her spare time while also holding a full-time job in public relations. Yet the more she wrote blog content, email campaigns, and website copy for various clients and companies, the more it became clear that her ability to write in various styles and across different mediums was a skill that could be turned into a career.
“Over time, I was able to transition into a full-time freelance career as the volume of requests I was getting started to increase to a more sustainable level,” said Moore.
One of the skills adopted from literature and writing courses is the ability to identify specific audiences and adapt writing accordingly, which is something that Moore must do frequently in the writing she produces for others. Lena Prickett from SnapApp commissioned Moore to produce content for her blog and was surprised at how well the writing was tailored to the cadence of the rest of her content.
“She quickly adopted the SnapApp voice and tone,” Prickett said, “so her pieces fit right in on the blog. Kaleigh is one of the best freelance content writers I’ve worked with. She has an incredibly quick turnaround time—which is such a load off in a field that can be full of delays and missed deadlines.”
In the age where we receive most of our information while idly scrolling through glowing screens, it is more important than ever that writing is interesting, effective, and representational of the company or brand behind the writing. This is one reason that graduates such as Moore are becoming highly valued in today’s market—the critical skills they learned in English and Communication courses allow them to write content for nearly anyone or any company. And, especially when content is produced as quickly as it is in our digital age, there is certainly no shortage of new content to be written.
Online content is also more valuable to companies and businesses than ever. Moore, for example, has written content that “boosted monthly leads by 70% in just 24 hours,” written email copy that generated over 800 new leads, and even written a blog post that resulted in upwards of $10,000 in revenue. With so much direct results from written content, it’s no wonder freelance writers such as Moore and candidates with the types of skills fostered in English classes are becoming more and more relevant as companies that work mostly online are beginning to harness the strengths of the written word.
Growing her business through referrals, Moore has been able to create her own sustainable career. With the help of her husband, another UIS graduate, Moore launched her own website through which she books clients, distributes her own newsletter, and even offers coaching services for others in the business of freelance writing. “I’m three years in now and am earning more every single year,” said Moore.
“I’m proud to have written for Inc. Magazine and Entrepreneur as well as for large companies like AT&T and Campaign Monitor,” said Moore, “but I also really love working with smaller non-profits and organizations I care about.”
The coffee-shop stigma that surrounds English majors and minors may be finally breaking down as written content becomes increasingly important for companies in their digital efforts. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) writers, copy editors, blog content creators, and website writers continue to broaden the once-narrow field of “technical writing,” and the English student couldn’t be in a more advantageous position to become employed in this quickly-growing career.
“It’s one of the most basic and essential skills you can hone,” said Moore. “It makes you extremely marketable as a new hire—so I’d encourage anyone who’s uncertain about a career path to consider going this route.”
UIS, especially with its newly designed MA in English with tracks in Digital Publishing and Digital Pedagogy, is highly aware of the changing prospects for English students. One skill that the UIS English department emphasizes is the evaluation of an audience and the adaptation of writing to tailor to that audience, a skillset similar to much of the work that Moore does in researching her clients’ needs and writing content accordingly. Their new MA in English has classes that are specifically developed for this, such as Rhetoric and Composition in Digital Media.
English majors and minors are branching into more and more positions in fields such as Communication, Public Relations, and website creation through their abilities to think critically and write exceptionally. Moore is just one example of the success of these skills.
Some recent employers of UIS English and Modern Languages graduates include, but are not limited to:
- Smithsonian Institution
- Professional Software Consultants
- Washington University
- Northern Illinois University Press
- Horace Mann Insurance Company
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- University of Illinois Springfield
- Heartland Community College
- Pana, Illinois Unit 8 School District
- Robert Morris College
- Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education
- Illinois State Historical Society
- Pontiac Public Library
- Springfield College of Illinois
- Richland Community College
Our department produces graduates with excellent written and verbal communication skills, analytical thinking, critical awareness, expertise in performing and presenting complex research, and superior reading comprehension analysis. Our curriculum aims to create professional candidates that are eligible for a variety of careers rather than just one career path, ensuring adaptability and increased options in and throughout job markets.