The Carroll College English program has a long and rich tradition of excellence and has produced many outstanding English alumni. Each has used his or her unique talents to enhance their profession and communities. Here are just a few profiles of our graduates... what are they doing now?
Dumbledore tells Harry Potter in The Chamber of Secrets that “it is our choices [. . .] that show what we truly are, more than our abilities.” I find many things of value in J.K. Rowling’s books, but the emphasis upon our choices really resonates with me, particularly given that my choice to attend Carroll College and major in English was something that I made with time. I chose Carroll primarily because of the speech and debate team, and I was originally a chemistry major. I loved chemistry, but after writing sonnets in organic chemistry lab, I realized that I truly belonged in English. I chose to change my chemistry major to a minor and focus on English, and I’ve never regretted it. I’ve spent the years since graduating completing a Master’s at the University of Chicago, and I am currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota in the English department, studying early modern and medieval literature, rhetoric, and critical theory.
My choice to call the English department home showed that I was meant to spend my time reading and writing about the medieval and early modern periods and critical theory. The faculty both supported and nurtured my interests. Dr. Stottlemyer helped me find a way to spend a summer studying at Cambridge University in the UK, and this time allowed me to begin researching what would become my undergraduate thesis. I was able to help organize the second Carroll Literary Festival, tutor writing, and guest lecture in some of my classes. All of these activities prepared me to excel in graduate school, and I was also employed as an editor at the end of my senior year because of the superior writing and review skills I acquired as an English major. I have presented at numerous conferences, recently had my MA thesis published, and won several fellowships both in my MA and Ph.D. programs, and I credit my education in English at Carroll with helping me achieve these accomplishments.
Dr. Matthew Kaiser, a Harvard professor, writes, “Study literature. Study it like your life depends upon it—because, in this wordy young century, it does,” and my advice would be similar to current or prospective English majors. Choose English, because you won’t regret this choice. Language animates our reality, and studying language and literature will give you power to shape your world. Don’t be cowed by scoffing from people who fail to see the value of studying English, and don’t quell in the face of incredulous naysayers who warn that studying English will only lead to unemployment. Long-term employment statistics for English majors actually reveal that English majors have very low rates of unemployment. Make the choice to study literature and language and you won’t regret it; I certainly don’t!
During the past thirty five years, I have served the Church as priest and bishop.
The path to priesthood requires many years of graduate study. After ordination, a priest's pastoral responsibilities often entail a demanding schedule of writing, study, and public speaking.
As a former English major at Carroll College (Class of '72), I felt particularly well prepared for the demands of seminary, graduate school, and priestly ministry.
The English Department at Carroll introduces students to the rich and expansive world of literature, and provides them with an array of skills in literary criticism, creative and expository writing, research methods and critical thinking.
A major in English gives the student a capacity to communicate well in a complex and demanding workplace. English majors who are considering careers in law, teaching, religious life, public relations, journalism, technical writing, or other graduate programs will stand on a firm intellectual foundation.
Carroll College students are the beneficiaries of a highly gifted faculty, ready and willing to assist their student in academic formation and professional development. I will be ever grateful to those English Department professors who taught me and my fellow students yesteryear - Professors Hank Burgess, Jack Semmens, Joseph Ward, Mary Frances Jeske, Robert Heywood, and Sister Miriam Clare Roesler.
As a Carroll College graduate, I encourage those students majoring in English to persevere in their studies, and to those still discerning a major to consider the English program at Carroll College. You will be well prepared to meet the future with skill, acumen, and confidence.
Blessings, Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D. Bishop of Helena
I am currently a James A. Michener fellow at the University of Texas-Austin. In my three years here, I’ve been fortunate to study with Elizabeth McCracken, Christina Garcia, Margot Livesey, Jim Magnuson, Steven Dietz, and Michael Adams, among others. My colleagues here are extraordinary, and I intend to know them (and exchange work with them) for the rest of my life. To say this program is a gift is an understatement.
In addition to my coursework and writing, I work with an organization in Austin called Badgerdog. Its mission is one of reading and writing, and I am part of its writers in the schools program. This year, I’m teaching in two east side, economically disadvantaged schools. I have never known such rewarding work.
Though primarily a fiction writer, I teach poetry and playwriting as well. There is one poem that I always teach to students of pretty much any age: Gary Gildner's "Dogtoothed Violets". Wherever did I hear of Gildner? How did I come across this book of his poems, Bunker in the Parsley Field? I know exactly when and how. He came to Carroll during my senior year. I am still struck by that moment: meeting a professional writer. He was very modest and humble. I loved his work then. I still love it now. I was already an English writing major at that point, but his visit helped me believe in the path I'd chosen. We do not need huge universities and national book tours to show us that writers exist in the world. Carroll did a wonderful job of showing me this career, of making it real and tangible. It may be a small Catholic college in the middle of Montana, but Carroll is not isolated. I grew up there. I grew into a writer there. I wrote my very first piece of [real] fiction there. I would not be where I am now, had I not been to Carroll first.
I still have relationships with my professors (a decade-plus later). I have relationships (great ones) with professors I never formally had, with professors who came after my graduation and took it upon themselves to mentor me, though they had no obligation. These teachers have never failed to write yet another letter of recommendation for me, or to offer their tireless support and encouragement. I believe that professors come to Carroll to be part of a community. Students do as well.
My advice: If you are drawn to be a writer, you must pursue it. I have tried many other jobs. I’ve taught middle school; I’ve designed curriculum; I’ve designed newspapers. But I have always returned to writing, and Carroll, high on its Helena hill, is a great place to do just that.
After finishing up my student-teaching semester and graduating from Carroll in 2010, I was hired to teach English at Helena High School in Helena, Montana. That's where I am now: teaching sophomores and juniors at Helena High and facing, daily, the difficult challenges and little triumphs that make up the life of a new educator. It's hard work, but there's something indescribably special about sharing great words and stories with young people, introducing them to, among so many other literary delights, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the poetry of Whitman and Dickinson, Truman Capote's non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, the funny-yet-serious novels of Sherman Alexie, and The Maltese Falcon-Dashiell Hammett's noir masterpiece.
The Languages and Literature Department at Carroll was both the training ground for my future profession and the support network I needed to get there. My professors taught and encouraged me to write, speak, and express myself thoughtfully and powerfully. I was able, during my time at Carroll, to participate in an internship with the Helena Festival of the Book, to work with student colleagues to organize the Carroll Literary Festival, and to visit numerous secondary English classrooms in Helena. I got a real taste of the work an educator can and must do, both in the classroom and in the wider community. I feel the experiences I had as an English Education major at Carroll filled me with a confidence to take on the "real world" as well as the sometimes scary microcosm of society that is the American high school.
There's a terrible and stinging cliché often thrown at English majors: "Majoring in English is like majoring in unemployment." The advice I wish all timid English majors had is to ignore the naysayers and follow your passion. Trying to understand language and how to use it is never a pointless endeavor. Humanity is bound by language, and language informs all other professions, content areas, and parts of life.
Several years ago I climbed a mountain peak along the Kepler track in Fiordland, New Zealand. As an avid outdoorsman, I did what any good mountaineer does when they find this rare type of breathtaking solitude- I sat down to reflect. Gazing out over endless alps gouged by deep, crystalline fjords, I contemplated the decisions that had directed me to the strange place I now sat. Where would I be if I had made different ones? Was it possible to have any regrets about a path that took me to a place like this? A thud interrupted my thoughts, and I looked over to see a brightly-colored alpine parrot that had plopped down on the rock next me and cocked its head, winking repeatedly. Against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, it sported a tropical plumage and seeming unawareness that it was extremely out of place; doing the only thing I could think to, I winked back at it. Looking taken aback, it hopped twice, let out a screeching “Keeeyaw,” and promptly flew off, seemingly startled at the sound it had produced. I started laughing loudly and carried on for a good bit, partly due to the fact that I could do this where I was and not appear insane, but mostly in reverence of this type of unique experience that had become almost commonplace in my time since graduating. Just five years before, as an aspiring biology major at a small liberal arts school in Montana, I never had imagined the possibilities and adventures that awaited me.
Studying English at Carroll awakened in me a sense of adventure and thirst to experience the world that has only grown since. Aided by the well-crafted words of the many great authors I studied throughout my curriculum, as well as the valuable insight into human experience that great literature offers, I decided to set out and create my own story. Since graduating in 2007, I have worked, volunteered, and wandered across numerous countries and continents, writing about the characters and adventures I have had along the way. My travels have taken me spear-fishing in a shark nursery in Australia, motor-biking to remote villages in Bali, and hiking through coffee plantations on Guatemalan volcanoes, to name a few. During time spent volunteering with a non-profit conservation organization on a small island in Honduras, I used my skills to help write grants and secure funding for the protection of marine areas and sustainable community development on the coastline, allowing me a unique opportunity to experience another side of the isolated culture there. In essence, the literature I studied at Carroll, paired with an encouraging and open-minded staff, spurred and enabled me to get out and create for myself the special human experiences I had read about and become enthralled with.
I would never have had the skills, courage, or confidence to embark on my adventurous lifestyle if not for the close-knit faculty of the Carroll College English department. In classes that averaged a mere handful of students, I was held accountable but also offered all of the resources and tools I needed to be successful by a staff whose greatest reward is to watch their students engage and absorb the material. Always supportive, all of my professors were quick to listen whenever I was hung up on something and never offered criticism without helping find a creative solution through positive reinforcement- a teaching methodology that helped me build immense confidence to pursue my degree through tailored avenues that best suited my learning style. The flexibility afforded in studying English helped my creativity thrive and allowed me to focus my energies into the areas that I was truly passionate about, a focus that I have carried past my education and applied in daily life. The practicality of the coursework and team-building projects such as the Carroll Literary Festival gave me a valuable skill-set that has helped me find employment in numerous arenas throughout my travels and provided a great foundation for the further education I am now pursuing in sustainable community-building, supported by several of my former professors with valuable letters of recommendation.
Language not only enhances life but enables one to experience it in a richer, more meaningful way. My studies at Carroll opened the world to me, creating opportunities academically, professionally, and above all personally. Charles Dickens believed that “every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.” As a seasoned ‘experience-seeker,’ I am forever grateful for the home I found at Carroll’s English department and indebted to the wonderful professors who provided it for me.