Notes from our Comp Lit Alums!
To alums: We want to know where our alums are now. If you are an alum who is willing to share your bio, our current undergrad majors are in desperate need of your stories. I am hoping you can take a few minutes to write us with a brief bio of who you are today, what you are doing, and how comparative literature fit or fits into your life story. Real stories of what our graduates are up to helps our current students begin to navigate the road ahead and also to take heart that others have blazed the path before them. Email your stories to email@example.com
To current majors: If you are a current CompLit major interested in contacting any of the alums below, please contact Dr. Abel with the nature of your query and he will forward your info to the relevant alum. Email Dr. Abel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Program Analyst for U.S. Department of Agriculture
My love of languages, foreign cultures, and literature and my interest in a flexible major that would allow me to explore my academic interests through electives brought me to the Comparative Literature Department at Penn State. It was an excellent choice. I minored in Spanish and, after enjoying several History classes, added a double major with History. After graduating in 2002, I moved to Baltimore, MD, and shortly after that to Washington, D.C. At that time, I did not have a specific career path in mind, so I looked broadly for interesting work opportunities. I started out working as a temp while networking and doing information interviews. Ultimately, an internship in the office of a Pennsylvania Congressman led to my first permanent job and over the next eight years I worked as a Legislative Aide in the House of Representatives. Along the way, I took a few breaks between jobs to travel internationally and do volunteer work. In 2012, after deciding it was time to step away from the political arena, I left Capitol Hill and took a job with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, where I now work on regulations and policy for several domestic nutrition assistance programs.
When I began my education at Penn State, I had no idea of the career path I would follow, but I knew I wanted to learn and that I wanted to spend my time studying something worthwhile. My time in the Comparative Literature Department at Penn State served me well. It was a great experience and gave me the foundation of writing, communication, language, and thinking skills that helped me find my way to where I am today. Whatever you do, do not underestimate the importance of these skills in the working world. The ability to take in information, synthesize it, and then communicate it in a useful and meaningful way is invaluable. As a Comparative Literature student, you are learning these things and you are learning to see the world from multiple perspectives. You may not yet have a clear picture of how to translate these skills into the professional world, but you will figure it out once you start working. While a Comparative Literature degree does not prepare you for a specific job -- which can come with its challenges as you are getting started, especially if you aren't sure what you want to do (as was my case) -- the degree gives you a skill set that can be applied in a wide variety of fields and which will serve you well throughout your career wherever you end up.
International Trade Specialist – U.S. Department of Commerce
I graduated in 2005 and since then there have been many instances where I feel like what I learned through Comp Lit has been a significant asset. I currently work for the U.S. Department of Commerce – our agency assists small U.S. companies develop and increase sales internationally.
I enjoy working in a field with an international focus, and a lot of what we do is prepare U.S. companies for selling to international markets and customers – this could include discussing how their marketing techniques might need to change, the logistics of getting their product to a certain country, and what regulatory factors they need to be aware of, etc. A lot of the skills we learn in Comp Lit, such as being able to critically analyze a problem, understand the larger context of a question, and take into account cultural factors when looking at a situation, are crucial to these real-world interactions. Looking back on the discussions we had in Comp Lit classes, even though they were maybe focused on the reading we did for that day, the messages and implications were broader and more universal. Being aware that there is a larger cultural, economic and/or environmental background which we also need to understand to fully grasp the situation at-hand plays a crucial role in my day-to-day professional activities, and has proven to be an invaluable life skill for other interactions as well.
I actually changed my major to Comp Lit after seeing the enthusiasm of a Comp Lit professor in one of my first classes freshman year. I am glad I did, as before and after graduation, I very much appreciated the support and encouragement of my Comp Lit professors and advisor on a range of topics. I also greatly appreciated their support for study abroad. During my undergrad, I was accepted to two international programs outside of Penn State, and the Comp Lit department worked with me to ensure the credits transferred back. I also discussed my graduate studies with my professors and advisor, and all of them continued to encourage my interest in further international opportunities, and impressed on me the importance of gaining alternative perspectives and seeing different cultures. In a large university setting, it was nice to have that one-on-one attention, and I am glad I was able to join a major which matched my interests, but which also developed universal skills which have proven applicable in a professional environment.
Marketing Communications Assistant
I currently work at one of the world’s largest law firms, K&L Gates, LLP, in their Marketing Department as a Marketing Communications Assistant.
After college, I moved to Kansas City MO for a year, and then I worked at Penn State in the Economics Department for four years. At both of these jobs, I worked as an administrative assistant, and while I loved the people I worked with, it wasn’t conducive to my degrees. Now at my current job, I feel like I’m actually utilizing my degrees and what I learned in college.
I graduated from with three Bachelor of Arts degrees in Journalism, English, and Comparative Literature with a minor in Spanish. To be completely honest, I ended up with a degree in Comparative Literature because I loved reading and my adviser suggested it would fit in well with my coursework in my English and Spanish classes.
My comparative literature classes taught me the importance of analytical thinking and researching facts, both of which are valuable tools I use every day. It also taught me how to express myself in a clear manner, and let’s not forget the importance of proper grammar and spelling. These are all skills that are important in most any job you will have.
When I was interviewing for my current job, the Director of the Marketing Department noticed I had a Liberal Arts degree, just like we did. He asked me why I chose my major, and then we ended up talking about our favorite books and authors. Never underestimate how important it is to be able to communicate with someone and how following your passion can work out in the end.
Legal Services Attorney
Ashley Waddell Tingstad
I studied Comp Lit and my languages were English and Spanish. I also studied some French and became fluent in French after college when I lived in France for a year and worked as an English Assistant. One of my professors told me in undergrad that the most important skill I could learn in college was to write well. That statement proved true. I learned how to write as a Comp Lit undergraduate; as such, I learned how to order my thoughts. This basic skill has set me apart.
After my post-college year in France, I returned to the U.S. and joined the Teach for America Houston corps, where I taught bilingual pre-kindergarten and fourth grade. I was one of a very small number of corps members (at the time) who spoke both English and Spanish fluently. I was able to communicate more easily with my students' parents, and I was one of a few trailblazers in bilingual education for Teach for America. I was the first facilitator for peer-led content trainings in bilingual elementary education for TFA corps members in Houston.
I then went to law school at Georgetown, where several of my activities and internships hinged on my language abilities. For example, I represented unaccompanied minors in immigration detention in Arizona during my first summer, and Spanish language fluency was mandatory. Most importantly, though, I stepped into law school a strong writer. I did so well in my first year legal writing course that I was chosen to be a "law fellow" or T.A. for the course the following year. As I reviewed other law student's papers, I was truly surprised to learn that many of them struggled with effective writing. In the legal profession, strong writing skills are absolutely mandatory. The best writers get the best grades (because all exams are essay-based), the best clerkships, and the best jobs. The best writers send cover letters that stand out from the rest. They win grants, publish more and compose client letters that inspire confidence in their work. And writing, at least for me, takes a tremendous amount of effort. My skills were hard-won. I feel that my greatest growth as a writer took place first at Penn State in the Comp Lit department, and second in law school.
I graduated from law school, magna cum laude, in 2011. Since then, I clerked for a judge in the District of Columbia and held a Skadden Fellowship for two years at The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Spanish language fluency was invaluable for my work at Legal Aid, as I represented many Spanish-speaking clients. I was able to more easily gain their trust, understand the nuances of their stories, and represent them fairly and accurately. I also learned that legal services organizations value Spanish language ability (and other high-needs languages, depending on demographics) as this enables attorneys to provide the best representation to their clients while reducing interpretation and translation costs.
I am so glad that I chose CMLIT as it gave me an amazing liberal arts education... one that taught me how to communicate my ideas effectively - arguably the #1 skill you need to succeed in life, not just at work.
I am also the eCommerce Director at a $500M/yr financial publishing company, two things that would surprise the younger me (I took no tech classes or finance) and probably surprise other CMLIT students. The opportunities this great major afford you go well beyond books, papers and academia.
On a personal note, I'd like to also add that the professors in this major at my time were amazing. Djelal Kadir, Shu Kuge and an English Professor, Patrick Cheney all said important things to me that I remember and rely on to this day.
Human Services Program Specialist
My comparative literature degree provided me with a set of transferable skills that I used in retail, non-profit human services, production and logistics. My curiousity, analytical mind, and interest in research have proven strengths in the work I have done. Research jobs that you're interested in that pay a living wage or salary, and figure out how you can make yourself a good candidate for that job. Don't be afraid to take a lower paying job if there are opportunities for advancement. I started working for the Commonwealth of PA as an energy assistance worker, who processes LIHEAP applications ordinarily from November until March. After LIHEAP closes, the state lays you off. The Commonwealth gives people opportunities to advance. I interviewed in Blair, Dauphin, Cambria, Jefferson and Clearfield counties for a full-time permanent position as an income maintenance worker and clerical worker. After about 6 interviews, I landed a caseworker position in Clearfield County, where I lived. I worked very hard as an income maintenance worker, and my supervisors recognized my effort. In September, I interviewed for a management position as a Human Services Program Specialist in Harrisburg, and I got the job. Now I work on the computer system that 6,000 caseworkers across the Commonwealth use to administrate benefits for 3,000,000 recipients in PA. Being able to work well with others is very important, as we cooperate with the people who are information technology experts and policy experts to accomplish the department's goals.
Law Firm Staff
During my time at Penn State, I tried to sample an array of Comparative Literature courses that were offered. I did this knowing that I wanted to gain as global a perspective as possible. However, spreading my interests over so many cultures and time periods, made narrowing my interests after graduation more difficult.
Everyone said it to me: “Comparative Literature? What job are you going to get with that?” I first considered entering the corporate world. I had worked as a Proposal Assistant for a health care advocacy company during my summers in college. Request for Proposal (RFP) departments I knew looked for English or Literature majors because of the strong writing skills that we gain in such majors. Yet, the idea of selling a company’s products to clients on paper, although appealing, was not the right path for me. I wanted a life of constant study, a life much like the one I had lived for four years at Penn State.
I had inadvertently gotten involved in Penn State’s mock trial team as a freshman, and I decided to pursue law school. I am now in my second year at Temple Law. I am going into the summer of 2015 with a position in a large law firm, a place that I will hopefully join after my graduation, and, as my career begins, I realize that I could not be happier with my choice to attend law school and with my choice to be a Comparative Literature major at Penn State.
Law is all about comparison. You will always find yourself comparing the common law created by one judge to your client’s case in order to support his or her argument. Comparative Literature marries the broad, conceptual skills needed for comparison with the precise and detailed task of analysis. These skills have given me a decided advantage in law school. Taking on an undergraduate thesis in Comparative Literature was also another writing experience that I have found very applicable to the study of the law. To be able to stick with a project for an extended period, to develop an original argument, and to hone my researching skills in order to provide ample support for my argument was an experience that many I know did not have coming into this career. It has certainly been a topic of interest during my job interviews.
However, Comp. Lit. did not just teach me how to structure an argument, it also taught me how to better understand people. It sounds cliché, but exposing myself to different cultures through the expression of their people taught me a lot about empathy and about the motivations and values that unite us. That recognition is what I believe has helped me most. It has helped me in every job interview, on every exam, and with every professor or employer I’ve had. I think that experience during my study of Comparative Literature, however intangible a skill, has made me stand out, and it will make all of you that have chosen this course of study stand out too.
Sales Coordinator at Penguin Random House
It's great to hear from you and the Comp lit department. I graduated in 2010 and since then have been working in publishing in NYC. I'm currently a Sales Coordinator at Penguin Random House for DK Publishing. We're a smaller company within this new publishing giant and publish visual non-fiction for both Adult and Juvenile, as well as the Eyewitness Travel Guides and Rough Guides series. Seeing as all of us comp-liters have a love for languages and the particular encouragement that I felt as a Comp Lit major to study abroad, getting to be a part of these travel guides is a huge plus for me.
I've also completed continuing education courses at NYU for copy-editing and proofreading, which Penguin reimburses it's employees for, and do some freelance work on the side. Hope all is well in State College.
My undergraduate degree in Comp Lit focused on peripheral political movements in Northern Ireland and Catalonia, Spain. I enjoyed exploring the intersection of politics, identity, language, community, and how all of these factors influence daily lives in a very real way. I enjoyed reading about politics affecting people's lives directly.
After graduating Penn State with Honors in Comparative Literature and International Politics, I took a job with Best Buddies Pennsylaniva, a non-profit organization providing opportunities for social inclusion and employment for individuals with disabilities. It was a passion of mine, and I loved helping people, but quickly felt limited by what our mission addressed. There were so many greater challenges our participants were facing that friendship couldn't address. Despite swearing off law school during undergrad, as "all poli sci majors do that," I then decided to go to law school and enrolled at Temple University, with a scholarship.
Comp Lit helped me tremendously in law school. The curriculum is FULL of dense (but sometimes beautifully written) texts that need to be digested into comprehensible ideas, applied to the facts and issues at hand in your given case, and then written about clearly. Legal writing is also an incredibly unique beast, requiring a strict adherence to form, a specific vocabulary, and succinct purpose. Having a grasp on my writing style in general, grammatical tools, and deciphering other languages gave me a foot up on the rest of the class. It allowed me to grapple with the legal concepts and factual applications instead of how I would put it all on paper.
I accepted a position at a small firm after graduation doing primarily special education litigation in an administrative law setting, and recently accepted a position at a mid-sized firm doing insurance defense litigation. I focus on professional malpractice matters in all professions, including the medical, legal, and financial fields. Comp Lit has helped me here not only with having a unique, conversation-starter diploma on my wall, but also with putting together these larger puzzles. I can analyze texts and understand vernacular from other industries, piece together the stories, analyze the issues, and report on them to our clients.
My honors thesis was perhaps the best exercise in preparation for this field. It was an extended research project that taught me how I organized my thoughts, how to break down a larger issue into appropriate sub-topics, and how to stick with a daunting task. I would highly recommend taking on the challenge while in school, with the support of advisors and without the risk of failing on the job.
My parents said the same thing as most when I mentioned Comp Lit--what the heck will you do with that degree? While academia seems like the only directly related field to the area of study, it's proven immensely beneficial to me as I practice law. And as I travel around the world and can still speak Spanish.
Poet and Poetry Editor/Working in the Non-Profit Sector
I graduated with honors from the Comparative Literature program at Penn State in 2008, with a second bachelor’s degree in Spanish Language and Literature and a minor concentration in English. I went on to earn an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2010 and am currently a Ph.D. candidate in English and Creative Writing at the University of Missouri.
In the 6 years since graduating from PSU, while in and out of graduate school, I have worked as a university instructor teaching literature, composition and poetry; a college admissions counselor; an administrator; a translator; an editor; a proofreader; and a tutor.
Like many of my friends and classmates, I’ve taken a lot of job--and pursued a lot of degrees--to find creative ways to support myself and pursue my interests since leaving college in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis. I’m grateful that my education at PSU--and the encouragement and guidance of my mentors and advisors in the Comparative Literature department--laid the foundation for me to be versatile, confident and capable in an uncertain economic climate.
Today, I live in the New Orleans area, where I am a poet and poetry editor with a day job in the non-profit sector. Since 2012, I have worked as the executive administrator of an international non-profit organization serving people with the motor neuron disease ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. I feel fortunate to have found a job that provides for me, but also challenges me and allows me to help others and, I hope, reduce suffering in the world
I am also a working poet in the process of completing my dissertation, a full-length manuscript of poems. My poems are published or forthcoming in a wide array of literary journals, including Smartish Pace, The Greensboro Review, Nashville Review, Parcel, Fugue, Redivider, Thrush Poetry Journal, and Border Crossing. I have received awards for my writing, including an Academy of American Poets Prize. In 2011, I published my first (very short) collection, a chapbook titled If I Am Burning, through a small, independent publisher. I was thrilled that it received praise from the small number of critics and reviewers who read it.
Finally, I am a professional reader and editor of contemporary poetry. In 2012, I co-founded Four Way Review, the electronic review from Four Way Books, and continue to serve on their editorial board. I am currently the co-founder, co-editor and designer of the literary journal Radar Poetry, a labor of love I undertake with my co-editor and longtime creative partner, Dara-Lyn Shrager. Radar has been a huge success, and we’re excited to see our journal grow in scope and audience. Together, Dara and I read over 100 submissions a month to compile our quarterly issues. We have also found endowment for and launched The Coniston Prize, an annual award celebrating the work of female poets, who remain sorely under-represented in literary publishing.
When I first arrived at Penn State, I knew that my passion was not just for writing and reading, but for literatures from across cultures, literary theory and language study. I wanted a specialized but interdisciplinary education, one that would prepare me for a lifetime of learning and that would allow me to develop my diverse interests with depth and substance. I also wanted to be part of a department that was small and devoted to its students.
I adored my time at PSU and feel fortunate to have spent that time in the Comparative Literature department. I am grateful for the personal attention and guidance I received from my professors and advisors and for the lasting relationships I developed with my close-knit student cohort.
During my 4 years in at PSU, I grew tremendously as a result of my Comparative Literature education, both academically and personally. I didn’t just learn how to read and analyze texts; I learned how to situate myself, as a reader, in the context of a much larger cultural, social and political landscape--and how to challenge my own beliefs and my responses to the beliefs of others. I learned to examine my privilege and my place in the world, and to find ways to serve and understand others--even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. Of course, I also received a world-class undergraduate education in literature, literary theory and language study. These skills and the relationships I developed have been an incredible asset to me in my life since college, even though my road has taken many unexpected turns.
Account Manager at TransPerfect Translations International
I am continually saying how much my Liberal Arts education has shaped my life and career path, and I’m excited to be connecting with my alma mater regarding my post-graduate life in Philadelphia. I graduated in May 2013 with B.A. degrees in English and Comparative Literature and a minor in Spanish.
Picking up Comp Lit as my concurrent major was by far the best decision I made in my undergraduate career. Not only did I become close with the department faculty and staff through an engaging work-study, I was introduced to literary theory through a cross-cultural lens in my diverse courses that absolutely inspired me. My small and intimate classes allowed me to delve into complicated texts and formulate theories and opinions that have carried into my adult life.
I connected with TransPerfect Translations International, Inc. at the PSU Career Fair during my senior year. I was fascinated by the company’s focus on connecting global businesses through translation services, interpretation, technology solutions, and beyond. My interest in different cultures is certainly stimulated as I work as an Account Manager with global clients daily, and my analytical and problem solving skills are called to use regularly. My primary focus has been in the Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences industry--specifically on bringing in and managing translation and eClinical technology projects for global clinical studies. I am often commended for my ability to break down problems and projects and formulate in-depth solutions. This has led to my strong relationships with clients via email and phone, and I really do credit my Comp Lit studies for bringing finesse and precision to my writing and critical thinking skills.
In my industry I interact with professionals from the life science, retail, legal, and corporate standpoints who are managing their companies’ global presence. As cross-cultural interaction and communication is becoming the standard in the professional world, I am so thankful that Penn State’s Cm Lit department helped me prepare for and excel in the business world.
Doctoral Student at Stanford University
Caroline Egan completed her B.A. in Comparative Literature at Penn State in 2010. While in the department, she applied to the combined B.A./M.A. program in Comp. Lit., and was able to work simultaneously on these degrees. Writing on Nathaniel Hawthorne and Octavio Paz, under the direction of Professor Djelal Kadir, she completed the M.A. in 2011. During her time at Penn State she developed an interest in the literatures of the Americas, and was able to pursue study and research in Argentina and Brazil. She also worked with Professor Sophia McClennen during the first year of operation of the Center for Global Studies. After graduating with degrees in Comparative Literature and a minor in Spanish, Caroline began her doctoral studies in Comparative Literature at Stanford University in 2011. At Stanford she is a student coordinator of a workshop on poetry and poetics, and has taught courses on Spanish language and culture and Portuguese language. She studied Quechua through a FLAS grant in 2012, and is hoping to pursue studies in Nahuatl as well. She is currently working on her dissertation, a study of early modern representations of Amerindian languages.
I began working as a science writer for a Penn State magazine at the same time as I began my graduate work in Comparative Literature, focusing on medieval literature. After 20 years as a university science writer and editor, I decided to go freelance—and if you look at the titles of my seven published books, you’ll see where my heart lies.
Only one can be called “science writing”: Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist Looks at Genetically Modified Food, coauthored with Penn State professor Nina V. Fedoroff and published by Joseph Henry Books (2004).
The others all focus on medieval literature and history. Four draw the bulk of their material (and inspiration) from the Icelandic sagas, which I studied in the Comparative Literature Department at Penn State: Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them (Palgrave Macmillan 2015), Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths (Palgrave Macmillan 2012), The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman (Harcourt 2007), and A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse (Stackpole 2001). Another book, The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages (Basic 2010), profiles the pope of the Viking Age.
I have also written for children, publishing several articles (mostly about Iceland) in Highlights for Children, and this year a young adult novel based on my book The Far Traveler will be published as The Saga of Gudrid the Far-Traveler (namelos 2015).
I credit my master’s degree in Comparative Literature for my ability to easily cross barriers of language, genre, discipline, time, and space when researching and writing my books, to compare modern times to medieval, and to make academic subjects popular. I’m honored to have received the 2013 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Myth and Fantasy Studies for Song of the Vikings, which was also chosen one of the “2012 Books of the Year” by the Times Literary Supplement. The book is dedicated to the professors at Penn State who introduced me to the Icelandic sagas: S. Leonard Rubinstein, Samuel P. Bayard, and Ernst Ebbinghaus. The preface describes my first introduction to the works of Snorri Sturluson, whose biography this is, in Comp Lit 101: Myths and Mythologies. Who would have predicted that one course would resonate so strongly thirty-five years later?