Meet Professor Lisa Maruca
"We know that English majors can and do get jobs and have a very important role to play in all kinds of workplaces, from corporate to non-profits, to arts organizations.”
It’s no secret that the current job market is becoming increasingly competitive. Consequently, it has become more necessary than ever for students to find a way to make themselves distinctive when pursuing careers after graduation. Internships are a great way for students to stand out against the competition. With a major in a broad scope such as English, internships are especially beneficial for narrowing down a career path, while also gaining the experience needed to land a job in the desired field.
Student interns looking to get the most out of their internship experience should consider taking Wayne State’s English Internship Practicum (ENG 5820), an online course taken in conjunction with an internship. Not only does the course allow students to earn course credits towards their major, it also provides an opportunity to reflect on their experiences and receive feedback from other interns. I sat down with the course instructor, Associate Professor Lisa Maruca, who provided valuable insight into the benefits of taking the Internship Practicum, the career fields English majors particularly excel in, and the ways in which students can increase their odds of being chosen for an internship.
The benefits of taking the internship practicum
Each assignment involved in the Internship Practicum is designed to enhance the student's internship experience by providing a space where they can reflect on their workplace challenges in a classroom setting. Professor Maruca wants the course to be a community for students. “I want them to be able to support each other because it can be a little bit scary being out in the workplace for the first time,” said Maruca.
“Students have to adjust to maybe getting less feedback from their employers than they’re used to getting from professors, or learning to write in a completely new way that they’re not used to; that’s different from the kind of writing they do for an English paper. So there can be a little bit of growing pains which are normal and expected, but when you’re the one experiencing it can be a little bit scary or overwhelming.” Receiving feedback from other interns helps to mitigate new workplace jitters that can make students feel alienated in their new role. The discussion board posts are particularly helpful in this regard. Students get to share their experiences with one another through written responses ranging from progress reports to summarizing scholarly articles on workplace writing.
Another important aspect of the Internship Practicum is the reflective essay. This assignment allows students to put what they have gained from their internship in writing which in turn encourages them to think deeply about those experiences. As a result, it also helps to prepare students for future job interviews. “The first question when you go into an interview is going to be, ‘Tell me what you’ve done before, tell me about a challenging experience, or tell me about a time when you didn’t know what you were doing and you had to seek help,’” said Maruca. “You’ve thought about all those things, so you are going to have the answers to those questions right at the tip of your tongue because you’ve done deeply thought about it. That’s why I think the reflective essay is important.”
Lastly, for the final project, students create an electronic portfolio to showcase the professional writing they did for the organization at which they interned. They can also blend the writing with projects they’ve done for creative writing and technical writing courses. “All of these things that show off your abilities as a communicator are gathered in an attractive package that shows also that you know how to navigate the internet and you understand what’s appealing,” said Maruca.
“Everything about that portfolio, I think, I hope, is going to help you get that next job. I always tell my students: you’re not doing that for me, and you're not creating it for your fellow students, you’re really creating it for your future employer.” The electronic portfolio assignment allows students to organize and showcase their previous writing projects so that they have proof of their abilities readily available for future job applications. Some great examples are fi3079.wixsite.com/sarajayportfolio and kileeob.weebly.com.
English major careers
More often than not, people tend to assume that the only career option for English majors is teaching. While education is certainly a valid occupation, Professor Maruca has found that it’s pretty rare nowadays to meet English majors who want to pursue a career in teaching. “I think more and more most of my students want to do something with writing, research, editing; and then it just really depends on their other interests.” Indeed, English majors can apply their writing skills to a wide variety of career fields. According to Maruca, those with a strong interest in social justice tend to work for non-profit groups, while others prefer tutoring, journalism, or corporate writing in fields such as marketing and public relations.
“There’s just so many and I think most English majors are prepared to do the writing and then it’s just a matter of where their interests, and maybe their minor, comes in,” said Maruca. “There can be many things that point them in a specific direction.” English majors at Wayne State have done internships at organizations ranging from large and small businesses, community non-profits, publishing and media agencies, law firms, university departments, political offices and more. Though often stigmatized as being pigeonholed for education, English majors truly have a vast range of career options. According to Maruca, it’s simply a matter of applying their English degree to an interest in a specific field.
From their time doing the internship, students can expect to find out what it’s like to work in a professional environment. In some cases, an internship can help narrow down a student’s career path by showing them what they don’t want in a career. “Sometimes, a really important thing that an intern can find out is that they don’t like a certain field,” said Maruca. “I’ve never talked to a student who didn’t have a very productive experience from their internship, but sometimes that productive experience is, ‘I thought I was interested in this field, but maybe not so much.’”
Professor Maruca once had an introverted student in the Internship Practicum who initially thought she wanted a role that didn’t require much interaction with the public. However, after doing an internship working independently, she found that too much freedom made her feel uneasy. The student realized that she actually preferred a job that would allow her to collaborate with others. “She ended up in a completely different writing field where she could work with people,” said Maruca. “So that was a really great learning experience for her, to find out what she didn’t like.”
How English majors can increase their odds of getting hired
If you’re anything like me, then you may have wondered how English majors with little-to-no professional job experience can increase their chances of being chosen for an internship. According to Maruca, the most important thing to do when applying for a role is to make a good impression with your writing from the beginning. “From that very first email, you’re representing yourself as a writer,” she said. “If you write an email that has a lot of mistakes in it, that is overly casual, that has too much slang in it, you’re showing them that you don’t really understand what workplace writing is about.”
One way English majors can increase their odds of getting called in for an interview is to impress the employer with their writing knowledge from the get-go. This, according to Maruca, is simply a matter of understanding who your audience is. “You have to think about what they expect and the types of writing they’re used to and try to adjust your writing to that audience.”
When interviewing for jobs, having experience at an internship allows you to showcase how you helped that particular organization. “I think one thing [to understand] when you’re looking for a job is it’s not just, ‘I’m great. Hire me,’ or ‘I have experience. Hire me,’” said Maruca. “It’s, ‘here are the things that I can do for you that will be helpful...Because I did this and helped these organizations, I can help your organization.’”
Professor Maruca hopes more students will consider taking the Internship Practicum at some point during their English education at Wayne State. Indeed, doing an internship is more necessary than ever for securing a job after graduation. “Employers expect it. It’s a very competitive job market,” said Maruca. “We know that English majors can--and do--get jobs and have a very important role to play in all kinds of workplaces, from corporate to non-profits, to arts organizations.”
By Amelia Mazur