Featured BS Student: Jacqueline LaLiberte
Hometown: Duluth, MN
Why did you choose technical writing & communication?
I applied to the U with no set major or career plan, other than the sense I should do something I'm good at. The technical writing & communication major encourages me to apply my reading, writing, and editing skills in whatever field suits me best. I could end up as an instructional writer for a medical manufacturing company, a social media manager for an internet startup, or a plain language editor helping the Minneapolis Attorney's Office rewrite the city charter. I choose technical writing & communication because it opens the door to so many interesting career paths, and because it allows me to do the things I love: read and write.
What’s your sub-plan? Why did you choose that concentration?
I’m in the information technology & design sub-plan! Like most of my classmates, I use the internet every day—at work, at school, and at home. Because I use technology like the internet so much, I think it’s important that I understand how it works. I can only imagine technology becoming a bigger part of 21st century life, so knowing how to use it effectively is another way I can be a good technical communicator. (As a bonus, it’s also really interesting! Look up the Opte Project if you’d like to see what the internet "looks like.") I’m taking classes on how to build websites as well as classes on how to communicate using digital and print mediums.
Technology like television, smartphones, and the internet has made visual communication a central part of communicating, marketing, and teaching ideas. As a result, design skills like working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator can be useful members of the technical communication toolkit. It’s also been pretty fun to come up with design ideas and walk through the process of making a product that matches my imagination.
And you are also in the honors program?
I'm in the University Honors Program (UHP) and planning to graduate with Latin honors. Through UHP, I've taken a number of Honors Seminars on special topics like exploring life in the universe and crowdsourcing. I'm still toying with the idea of a minor, but we'll see where I end up after studying abroad in Ireland next spring!
What are the most important things you've learned from this program?
Because of the many potential applications of a technical writing & communication degree, I think a lot of people have trouble saying what technical communication is and what a technical communicator does. The introductory major class, WRIT 3001, helped me grasp technical communication both as an indefinable, fluid term and as something as simple as Rick Lippincott's "We explain things." Beyond a definition of the field as a whole, this program has made a point of teaching and refining real-world skills like editing, writing, and working with a team that I can use in my future career.
What has been your favorite writing studies course?
This past spring, I took WRIT 4431W (Science, Technology, & the Law). It has definitely been my favorite class so far—we focused on how the language of legal doctrine shapes the results of Supreme Court cases, particularly in issues of privacy, copyright, and informed consent. These topics are all over the news, and as I dug into the background of court decisions from a writer's point of view, I got to develop a deeper understanding of the privacy and copyright debates happening now. Honestly, this class made me a bit jealous of my friends in the legal discourse & public policy sub-plan!
Have you been involved in any undergraduate research?
When I was accepted to the University of Minnesota, I was granted a Undergraduate Research Scholarship or URS. Like the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), a URS allows students to participate in a research project with a faculty mentor. I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch and a larger team of writing studies students and faculty on the Open Notes pilot program. The Open Notes pilot, conducted at the University of Minnesota Medical Center (UMMC), examined how patients reacted to receiving progress notes from their UMMC care team. As part of my research, I helped present our findings at the Department of Medicine's Research Day 2015. I'm also writing a literature review about how our project relates to health literacy, and I may be contributing on a journal article for the Open Notes project this summer. Research has been an awesome opportunity to get hands-on experience in my field, and I think every technical writing & communication student should take advantage of the university's research opportunities.
Have you done an internship? How did you apply what you learned in your classes to your internship experience?
I'm currently working as a content writer and editor for the Office of Institutional Advancement in the College of Liberal Arts. The college is in the middle of a major web overhaul/migration project, so I've had the opportunity to put my technical communication skills to the test! I work closely with departments in the college and the rest of the web team to develop a strategy for the new department website. Then I look at what content the department already has and determine if it needs to be updated or rewritten for web style and readability. It's a huge project, and it's definitely given me a better understanding of the work that goes into developing and maintaining a system of interconnected websites like cla.umn.edu.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not busy being a technical communicator?
Honestly, the Twin Cities was a major draw when I applied to the U. It definitely speaks to my major when I say I applied for a Hennepin County Library card before even moving into the dorms. Because it's right on the Green Line LRT, I spend a lot of time exploring downtown Minneapolis and its massive library. I'm also a volunteer DJ at the campus radio station, Radio K. I recommend getting involved at the K to anybody interested in meeting cool people and jumping into the spectacular local music scene.
(Profiled June 2015)