Major of the Month: Jennifer Brown
Hometown: Keokuk, Iowa
Why did you choose to major in English?
Growing up, I was always reading and writing—I carried a Nancy Drew double book with me basically every day until I got to high school. English was something that drew me in; I loved diagramming sentence structure and being in spelling bees and getting hundreds of Accelerated Reader points. When I got to high school, and it became that crucial time to try and narrow down what you wanted to study in college, there was one class and one teacher who pushed me, challenged me, and made me realize how much I loved English and everything it encompasses. From my first semester at the U, I was taking English classes, and right away I knew that I could thrive in the major.
"You can really make the English
major your own and find the
things you want to learn about."
What has been your favorite part of your experience with the department?
I’ve loved so many things about the department that it’s hard to try and narrow it down to one! I would say that my absolute favorite part has been the fact that English is such an open field of study, and within it you get to meet and talk to people from many different backgrounds with so many different perspectives. Every class you take, you’ll get something different out of it, whether it’s a Shakespeare course or a creative writing course or a course about dead bodies. I’ve also loved how many different study areas there are—you can really make the English major your own and find the things you want to learn about.
Are you pursuing any majors, minors, internships, or fields of interest outside your English major? How do you feel they interact with or enhance your study of English?
I’m a double minor in Creative Writing and Sociology of Law, Criminology, and Deviance. Creative writing obviously goes hand-in-hand with the major, and it’s helped me personally because I’m writing a creative summa thesis, something that would have been harder if I didn’t have the creative writing background. My sociology minor interacts well with the major because through my English background I can more easily read and understand dense texts. The two also combine well to make me more able to communicate the ideas I have and the ideas that I’m reading about.
For the last three years, I’ve been an Admissions Ambassador, where I get to demonstrate my communication skills every other week to prospective students. (I also took that opportunity to talk up the English major!) I had an internship last summer with Graywolf Press, a nonprofit publishing company in downtown Minneapolis; I worked in their development department. That internship gave me more insight into where an English major can get you, beyond the options of teacher and writer. It also opened me up to how well nonprofits and the English major can interact, since English helps you learn to communicate well orally and through writing.
What English course would you recommend for majors? For non-majors who want to take an English class?
A course I would recommend for majors—only one?!—would probably be Children’s Literature. I took it last year with Professor Julie Schumacher, and it was fascinating and fantastic. I really enjoyed being able to go back to things I’d read as a kid and read classic children’s literature and talk and think about it in a different way than I did when I was 10. Julie is so passionate about the subject and experienced with writing her own works that it made the class that much richer. It was also a fun class because it brought together students from different disciplines with different perspectives. Plus, Julie is now my advisor for my summa thesis, so I get to work with her again and absorb more of her knowledge and wisdom.
My course recommendation for non-majors (and honestly majors too) is to find a class that seems interesting to you, whether it’s something you’ve studied before, something you’ve always been interested in, or something outside your comfort zone; whether it’s a poetry class, British literature, drama, GLBT lit, a creative writing class, any of it. English is full of professors and instructors who are so passionate about what they’re teaching that it makes the experience that much better for you.
What is something about the English department that most people wouldn’t know?
The typical reaction when you tell someone you’re studying English is a pause and then, "So what can you do with that?"—which can be a tough question. The department is making that question easier to answer—and making it easier to explore your options—by having Joyce Halverson, our career counselor, so readily available for students with weekly hours in 227. Joyce is such a great resource for career exploration, interview readiness, networking, or just a fun conversation. She makes it clear that students can do anything they want to with their degree; you don’t have to be a teacher or writer—English is such a broad-reaching category of study that it means you can do a lot of things well.
The department hosts the Freier Lecture series every year, bringing in authors to do talks, and I think everyone should go to at least one. They’re free to attend, and the authors cover such a broad array of topics that there’s sure to be one that interests you. I’ve been to at least one a year in my four years here, and even if I have no idea who the author is, seeing them talk about their work and seeing how much they care about their work is inspiring.
Best movie or book you’ve read/seen recently?
I reread the book Joyland by Stephen King recently and remembered how much I like it. It’s a mystery novel that inspired my thesis, so it was fun to go back and read it as I’ve been working on my own writing. I’m also a huge Wolverine nerd, so the most recent movie I’ve seen is Logan, and it blew my mind—so good.