Public Relations: A Career for English Majors

BA alum Rylee Ahnen (he/him) works to amplify the voices of K-12 educators
Head and shoulders of person sipping coffee; short brown hair, light skin, wearing black t-shirt with white text: Cast Joan Cusak

Public relations is a great fit for English majors, says Rylee Ahnen (BA 2014), Public Relations Specialist for the Oregon Education Association. "I spend a great deal of time thinking about how my work can influence the public narrative around education in order to improve the lives of Oregon’s students," Ahnen notes. "And at its core, that’s what the English program at the U of M is focused on. Literature is more than words on a page: it’s context and it’s culture and it’s power. Exploring the history and use of the written word, as well as the various forms it can take, helped me think more critically about the language I use and the stories I work to amplify." Ahnen graciously agreed to be interviewed over email.

What have you enjoyed most about your work?

Empowering others to use their voice and their story to create change. A great example is the work I was able to do with the St. Paul Federation of Educators in the lead up to, and during, their historic 2020 strike. Helping educators articulate their demands for increased mental health support for St. Paul students, and facilitating media interviews so educators were able to speak directly to the public about how students and educators deserved more than what the district was providing, was such a powerful experience.

Advice for current majors interested in careers like yours?

There are so many different careers even within the category of public relations and media, but if folks are interested in working in politics or the labor movement I can’t recommend the Community Engagement Scholars Program enough. The program created a structured experience where I was able to take my coursework outside of the classroom and use my degree to make an immediate impact in my community. It helped me see the possibilities that existed for an English major who wanted to use writing and storytelling to effect real social change, and it helped me find my way to my current career path.

What do you most appreciate about your time at the University of Minnesota?

The faculty really felt invested in my education, and I always felt like my intellectual curiosity was not only tolerated but actively encouraged. There are so many great minds on that campus, and I never encountered a member of the faculty who wasn’t willing to grab a coffee and have a real conversation with me about my interests.

What book are you recommending these days?

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr is a great summer read—it’s both fantastical and deeply human, and includes a deep love and reverence for libraries and the written word at a time when both are increasingly under attack. I’m also making my way through G-Man, a fascinating biography about J. Edgar Hoover and how his nearly unchecked power within the FBI allowed him to target some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens for decades.

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