Ellen Bertels is a third year law school student at KU School of Law and received her undergraduate degree in English and Italian. She was recently selected as a Skadden Foundation Diversity Fellow. As a Fellow, she will receive funding for a 2-year project to work in Wichita providing pro bono representation to trans and non-binary Kansans undergoing identity document corrections.
“English was a great major for me to write intelligently and persuasively. I strengthened a skill that applies across nearly every field. While working at the Government Accountability Office, they really valued my writing ability. As a nonpartisan agency they needed an analyst that could write detailed, succinct, impartial reports. With my writing experience as an English major, I did not struggle to adapt to the agency’s writing style.”
"Studying English at KU helped me learn to think critically. We need that, desperately. I mean, just look around. If the US really wants to fulfill its promise and become a mass multi-racial democratic republic, that’s going to require some courageous conversations. Some thinking.
And that’s what I started—mind that, started—while at KU. I started to think about ideas, about context, about problems. I learned to analyze, to reflect, to situate my voice in the public square. But that education didn’t stop in the basement of Wescoe. That’s where it started. I use my English degree every day. Writing is thinking. Reading is thinking. What I love about English, about the humanities, is that they never stop. An English degree starts."
"I currently work at Simon & Schuster as an editorial assistant for teen books. I do a lot of reading and editing and, of course, a ton of administrative work. But having a job where I am literally paid to read? For me, that's living the dream! I love every minute of it."
"My love of writing and reading drew me to the study of English at the University of Kansas, and the department’s stimulating courses and outstanding professors kept me entranced for four years as I read broadly, honed my interests and dug deeper. Carefully studying Melville and Hawthorne with the amazing Elizabeth Schultz pushed me to intellectual transformations I never anticipated. With her guidance, I completed my undergraduate honors thesis on “The Fallen Woman in 19th-Century American Fiction,” engaging rigorously in research and scholarly writing. Her instruction and the challenges she posed helped prepare me for graduate study and a lifelong passion for close reading and critical thinking."
"Majoring in English at KU instilled in me a love of literature and laid the foundation for my future career in medicine. Courses from Classical Romance to Children's Lit taught me how to explore the nuances of a narrative and discuss different viewpoints. I learned how to write effectively and clearly present my own ideas. My education from the English Department not only taught me to think critically and to write better, but showed me the importance of the human story and all its forms. My English degree has been invaluable and my time obtaining it some of the most rewarding of my life. As a physician, I have been able to use my skills as an English major each day as I learn the individual stories of every patient."
"This past summer, I received in award to go with Nepali writer (and my professor) Samrat Upadhyay to India and Nepal and conduct writing workshops with young students. A beyond-amazing experience. I've also done a lot of teaching, which, for me, is what all of this leads to. I've taught writing in the community from 3rd graders to high school, I've taught at summer camps, and I teach creative writing to undergraduate students at IU. I'm an associate director of the IU Writing Conference, learning the Arts Administration side of the business. Most importantly, I'm in a community that supports me and my writing with funding, time, and advice. Hopefully the book deal will take care of itself.
"I am the head of the capital division of the Orleans Public Defenders, the division of the public defender's office that handles pretrial death penalty cases in New Orleans. Everything I've ever learned about narrative and character is now funneled into shaping my clients' stories and producing narratives about poverty, violence, trauma, mental illness, prosecutorial misconduct, due process, mercy, and healing, all in an effort to save their lives."
"I wanted to live in possibility—in the absence of absolutes and solutions. In English, you explore the human experience and the nuances of all things. I chose English so I could explore the complexity of people, learn more about myself and my identities, and be equipped to think creatively and critically in any context. It has served me well."
"I am a Master’s student in Arab Studies at Georgetown University, where I also work with the Forum on Muslim and Arab Affairs and Georgetown Refugee Action. The skills I learned as an English major in reading and analysis have served me well beyond the realm of English literature. I use the theory I learned in Ann Rowland’s Introduction to Literary Analysis in almost every paper I write as a graduate student and in my everyday life in the way I think about the world, in addition to paradigms presented in many other English courses. Beyond practical skills like writing and critical thinking, however, a better appreciation for literature fills my life with joy and beauty. Although a lot of my research interests are on complex and saddening topics, the power of literature (in any language) to facilitate empathy and effect change through narrative fills me with hope."
"The professors I met and studied under along the way continue to be a source of inspiration and to shape the way I understand teaching and literacy."
"Practicing law often boils down to telling a story in a way that resonates with your audience – whether that may be a judge, a jury, or your opposing counsel. The ability to bring facts to life and to write engagingly is founded in an understanding of how other storytellers communicate their messages. KU’s Department of English provided that foundation for me and furthered my love of both reading and writing."
"At KU, my experience with Study Abroad programs like the London Review and the British Summer Institute opened my eyes to the possibilities of living and working abroad. After completing my PhD in English Language at the University of Edinburgh, I moved to London. I work for Mavens of London, a digital consultancy, and manage a team who creates content for international, household-name brands. I'm surrounded by people who love words and language, and our work is seen by millions of people around the world each month."
"Right now, I'm in Chicago writing scripts for an online marketing company while pursuing a career in sketch and improv comedy. My English major gave me both the practical skills I need for my day job and the perseverance I need to do what I love."
"If you are reading this webpage, you must have the itch to be a serious reader and writer. There was nothing more important to my intellectual development than wide reading, regular and disciplined writing, and, of course, exploring through this reading and writing ways to unlock the creativity and imagination that lurks inside all of us. Studying English at KU made all that happen for me. Though I moved in my career to the study of history, that itch remains. One of my favorite things to do at Oxford University, where I teach history, is to drop in on a literature seminar. So… if you are still reading this… go on… choose English."
"After getting my degree in English and creative writing from KU, I went to law school and am now a transactional attorney at a large law firm in Houston. An important part of my job involves drafting complex commercial contracts that govern million- and billion-dollar deals. In a world where the meaning of a key provision can turn on one carefully chosen word or phrase, having a strong background in creative writing and grammar classes has been invaluable for my career."
"I work with LitLife, a New York City-based organization dedicated to innovative approaches to literacy education, where I craft customized K-12 reading and writing curriculum; create supportive literacy resources for the student, teacher, and classroom; design professional development presentations and materials; and serve as our resident videographer/photographer in our partner schools. I think the value of my English degree, or of my experience as an English major, soars beyond existing "utility" or accumulation of skills (though the latter -- research methodology, creative and critical thinking, articulateness, and personal writing growth, to name a few -- is forever appreciated and deep-rooted). As I see it, an English major considers stories to be tremendously powerful and invaluable. This drives my work and my reality."
"My experience as an undergraduate in the KU English Department served to shape not only my four years at the University of Kansas, but my entire career thus far. As a writing consultant in the KU Writing Center, I discovered my passion for helping others communicate. I’ve translated this passion into a career that involves editing and writing every day. KU’s creative writing classes taught me to free my mind, the literature courses provided a rigor that served me well during graduate school, and working in the Writing Center is still the best job I’ve ever had. I am thankful every day for the education I received from the KU English Department."
"In the KU English Department, I learned to analyze language and appreciate (and utilize) its meaning and power. I learned to think critically and to develop persuasive arguments. I constructed and deconstructed narratives, discovering patterns and meaning in their crafting. These are absolutely critical skills in the practice of law. I use them every day. Studying literature opened windows to other peoples, places and perspectives. The stories opened my mind to new ways of seeing. To have developed such practical skills while simultaneously growing as a citizen and as a human is an opportunity I will cherish forever."
"I’m currently working on my M.Ed in International Educational Policy and Management at Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN. Prior to starting this past semester, I was on an ETA Fulbright in Turkey for two years, spent a summer working with a service-learning company in Guatemala, and spent one year teaching high school English in Madrid, Spain. Without the communication skills developed in class by in-depth discussion and written argument I would not have had the ability to adapt, understand how to learn, and be successful in such diverse environments. The concepts of authentic story-telling and voice introduced to me in my KU English classrooms are the foundational platform for how I view educational and economic policy today."
"I work as a writer and editor, so my English major is fundamental to what I do now. But more specifically, my English major gave me the right attitudes toward art: that it could (and should) be analyzed at length, that anyone (including myself) can make it, and that texts can be collected to sort of buttress your life. In this age of a million ways of living, it's a great comfort to have a canon of texts. An English major helps your find yours."
"In the past I have been a geologist, a science journalist with Discover, and a grant writer for medical research. I double majored in English and geology. Something I found interesting was that people hired me because I had a science degree, which they took seriously. However, the skills my employers have consistently found most valuable are my written communication skills."
"Being an English major was the most important experience of my life. While I chose to apply the skills I gained to a career in medicine, the reading, writing, and thinking abilities I gained from my years studying literature, writing papers, arguing texts, spending time with the great minds who came before, have prepared me not only for my career, but for the many challenges life offers. Effective communication remains central to each of these challenges, whether at home or at work, and while it remains difficult to quantify, I continue to appreciate that the quality of my life, through interactions with co-workers, with patients, with my family and friends - not to mention my ability to read and study great literature, old and new - has remained of a higher caliber than if I had chosen any other educational route. An English degree prepares one for any career or future direction, equipped with skills both uncommon and desirable, and I remain thankful for my opportunity to grow and garner everything the experience offers through my years of focused study."