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Alumni

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 .

To current majors: If you are a current CompLit major interested in contacting any of the alums below, please contact Shuang Shen with the nature of your query and she will forward your info to the relevant alum. 
Email .

Program Analyst for U.S. Department of Agriculture

Erica Antonson
Up one level
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

Taylor Little
Up one level
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.

Legal Services Attorney

Ashley Waddell Tingstad
Up one level
Legal Services Attorney

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

Doctoral Student at Stanford University

Caroline Egan
Up one level
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.

Special Situations Investment Professional - The Blackstone Group

Roland
Up one level
Special Situations Investment Professional - The Blackstone Group
Studying Comparative Literature brought much needed balance to my schedule filled with business courses, as well as opportunities to practice and improve reading and writing. Most importantly as they relate to my career, my comparative literature courses taught me critical thinking, communication and logical reasoning skills that are highly valuable in the financial industry, but often overlooked in business or technical education.