Major of the Month: Tyler Lehmann

This nontraditional student, back to finish his BA, works at a public relations agency
Image of English major Tyler Lehmann
English major Tyler Lehmann received a 2017-18 Beverly Atkinson Scholarship for nontraditional students.

Year: Senior
Hometown: Minneapolis

What has been your favorite part of your experience in the English department?

I had about a four-year gap before coming back to complete my degree. The thing about being a returning student is you really learn to appreciate how fortunate you are to be receiving a higher education. In my experience, the professors in the English department are fully committed to creating space in their classrooms for students to engage with the material. After all, receiving an education in English isn’t just about memorizing facts: it’s also about developing the skills to add your own ideas to this collective body of knowledge. Having professors with terminal degrees take a genuine interest in what I may happen to think has made my experience of coming back to school incredibly rewarding.

"There’s always going to be
a new digital technology,
another viral trend, but
the core skills of strong
communication and
analytical thinking will
never go obsolete."

Why did you choose to major in English?

In a math equation, there’s a definite right and a definite wrong answer. English will never give you satisfaction in that way. You can shed light on a piece of literature, but you can never “crack” a text, so to speak. That elusiveness, though, is exactly why English remains so interesting to me. In English, you may never get a definitive answer, but the wealth of different perspectives you’ll unearth along the way are, in my mind, more valuable anyway.

Are you pursuing any majors, minors, internships, or fields of interest outside your English major?

I work at a public relations agency here in Minneapolis. When I decided to go back to school, I got asked a lot why I didn’t choose to study something more career-specific. But PR and English really go hand-in-hand. The skills that English teaches you—reading critically, writing coherently—are the same skills you use every day working in PR. There’s always going to be a new digital technology, another viral trend, but the core skills of strong communication and analytical thinking will never go obsolete. Some people say English doesn’t have career applicability, but, doing them side-by-side, I have to disagree. Through studying English, you learn to pay close attention to how writers dialogue with their cultures. Being a PR practitioner, my entire work is based on dialoguing with our culture. It’s thanks to studying English that I’ve learned to view my career through a much clearer lens.

What English course would you recommend for majors? For non-majors who want to take an English class?

Don’t tell anyone, but I used to hate Shakespeare. The flowery language, the iambic pentameter—it was just too much for me to get past. Oftentimes, Shakespeare can seem inaccessible sheerly because of the prestige that’s built up around his work, and for the longest time that intimidation factor had scared me off too. Of course, Shakespeare is required for English majors, and, after taking it with Professor Andrew Scheil, I would have to recommend it for anyone who thinks Shakespeare isn’t for them. Dr. Scheil will change your mind. To dodge Shakespeare is to miss out on some incredible stories. Dr. Scheil does such a great job of bridging the gap between Shakespeare’s time and ours that the plays come to life in a way I never thought I’d experience. Highly recommended for majors and non-majors alike.

What is something about the English department that most people wouldn’t know?

A lot of people assume majoring in English means you read stuff by dead white guys in ruffled collars. One thing I really like about this department is that there is always a broad selection of classes. Last year, for example, I took electives on science fiction and LGBT literature. Opportunities to pursue your own specific interests are a valuable part of the education you get from this department.

Best book you've read recently?

If you’re familiar with the Jake Gyllenhaal movie October Sky, Homer Hickam's Rocket Boys was the story that inspired it. It’s a memoir, which isn’t typically my thing when it comes to pleasure reading, but honestly it reads just like a novel. Set in a dying West Virginia coal-mining town during the Sputnik era, the story follows Hickam, who is today a retired NASA engineer, through his high-school years as he teaches himself to build rockets. My interest in rocketry is pretty nonexistent, but I can’t remember the last time I got so absorbed in a book. It’s a phenomenal coming-of-age story about not letting your circumstances define you.

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