Writing emphasis adds a new degree to FHSU's English Department offerings

For lovers of literature, a degree in English can be a mixed blessing. There is, after all, so much wonderful stuff to read.

And nobody can hassle you about being curled up with a book because you're doing what you're supposed to do.
So now comes the catch. You've got your bright, shiny bachelor of arts in English, but you don't want to teach in high schools and you don't want to pursue the advanced degrees necessary to make a living as a college professor engaged in literary research and analysis. What then?

Well, how about writing? And not just The Great American Novel or the volume of essays that will revolutionize politics or art, but also writing about the kinds of stuff that people do to make a living: agriculture, art, business, biology, chemistry, food, games, health, sports, technical writing, zoology -- the limits are only the limits of human endeavor.

Enter a B.A. in English with a writing concentration from Fort Hays State University.

"The English Department in the past has focused on reading and analyzing literature," said Dr. Cheryl Duffy, chair of the FHSU Department of English.

"And now," she said, "we've added an option for students who want to produce literature."

One of the prime benefits that Duffy describes boils down to versatility. The new writing concentration -- the first students entered the program in fall '05 -- adds a valuable option not only for English majors but also as a minor for someone in virtually any other program who has an interest in the language and its practical, everyday use.

"Students in this program can tailor their studies to their future careers," said Duffy. "This also ties in nicely with the writing-across-the-curriculum direction we're moving in here."

Writing-across-the-curriculum is a universitywide push for all students to become able communicators -- writers -- in their chosen fields. It is an intentional effort to require more writing by students, no matter their major. The Writing Center, 5 years old, is another English Department initiative in this area, designed to provide help in writing to students from all areas of study.

"It," said Duffy, referring to the writing concentration, "is further evidence of the commitment to writing at Fort Hays State."

"We actually started in spring '04," said Duffy. "The committee started." The committee was her, Dr. Daniel Kulmala, Sharon Wilson and Dr. Brett Weaver, all members of the English Department faculty. After deciding to try for a writing concentration as a formal part of an FHSU English degree, the next step was a year developing and gaining approval for the necessary courses.

"We decided what we wanted that spring and then spent the next year getting them through," she said.

The result was Professional Editing, a required course being offered for the first time this spring, and three electives: Professional and Community-Based Writing, Writing for Publication and Topics in Writing. The three electives join a list of courses that were already being offered as electives.

A writing concentration student must take the 21 core hours required of all English majors, the Professional Editing class and 15 hours from the list of electives -- at least 12 from the English Department electives and three from non-English Department electives such as Desktop Publishing and Publication Design, News Practicum and other journalism, communication studies, broadcasting or business communication classes.

In addition to the three new electives, the list of English Department electives has eight courses: Introduction to Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing, Playwriting/Screenwriting, Technical and Report Writing, Introduction to Linguistic Science, History of the English Language, Modern Grammar and Usage and Traditional English Grammar.
The list of non-English Department electives includes offerings from the departments of Communication Studies, History, Information Networking and Telecommunications, Sociology and Social Work and the College of Business and Leadership.

Another benefit to students in the writing concentration, said Duffy, is that the electives now count toward their degree. They didn't in the teaching or literature concentration.

"We're still very strong in literature, in literary analysis and in teacher ed," said Duffy. "This makes us more diverse and more flexible."

With the writing concentration, the student seeking the B.A. in English will have 39 hours of core and concentration courses.

"I would encourage students in the writing concentration to minor in something like communication studies, business, science, agriculture or whatever interests them," said Duffy, further illustrating the versatility of the program. Then she expanded its versatility across campus: "Students in other majors will also find the writing concentration useful as a minor."

Kelly Chrisman, Winfield senior, will be the first graduate with the B.A. in English with a writing concentration. She took most of the classes before they counted toward her degree and is now taking the new -- required -- Professional Editing class. She will graduate in May.
"I was originally an art major," she said in a questionnaire distributed to the class. She was answering the question, "Why did you choose the Writing Concentration?"

"I originally changed majors because I found the FHSU English Department incredibly encouraging. Furthermore, the writing concentration focuses on my interest and provides more diversity in my future career options."

"The writing concentration offers a more diverse job placement than literature and teaching," said Brenten Antholz, Hays senior, answering the same question. He hopes his degree enables him to write for publications, travel and meet people.

Michelle Swayne, Hays senior, chose the writing concentration "because I want to be a writer/novelist and I felt that this concentration would be more valuable to me than the literature or teaching concentration. To the question "What do you hope to DO with your degree?" Swayne notes that, in addition to publishing novels, she is also "considering a career in publishing or editing."

Luke Hachmeister, Natoma junior, said he wanted an English degree but didn't want to teach or necessarily have a literature background. He chose the writing concentration, he said, because he wants to "become a stronger writer and hopefully find a job as a technical editor and/or content manager for Internet publishing."

A history major, Kathay Johnson, Grand Junction, CO, senior, listed a different reason for choosing the Professional Editing class: "It was my last non-math option, and I like to write." Johnson hopes to "travel and write about things I enjoy."

Jessie Maseberg, Macksville junior, wants a career in writing for publication, and gives a hint at the areas of interest for her in her answer to what she would like to see offered in the Topics in Writing class: grant and scientific writing.

Shelby Jacobs, Russell senior, is a double major, social work and English with the writing concentration. She chose the writing concentration, she said, "because I thought that honing my writing skills would be beneficial and because I enjoy writing in my free time."

Krystal Baugher, Greeley senior, said, "Out of everything that we can get from an English degree, writing is the most interesting to me." Baugher hopes to work for a magazine, publishing house or newspaper. "I'd also like to see my plays published and performed," she continued.

Lisa Schlegel, Hays junior majoring in organizational leadership, said, "I like to write; I'm good at it. I want to be better at it."

The question of what students would like to see in the Topics class drew "travel writing" as a frequent answer, along with scientific, technical writing and Internet writing.

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