Academic Pyromania: Igniting English+

At this year’s English Symposium the English Department launched English+, a new program and set of requirements starting next fall that will enable students to make the skills they acquire in the English major marketable in the professional world.

IMG_3270PROVO, Utah (Mar. 19, 2015)—“So, you’re an English major? What are you going to do with that?” Nearly every English major has been asked this question at least once during their academic career, but now thanks to the English Department’s new initiative, English+, students will no longer be lost for words.

At the annual English Symposium, English professor Gideon Burton identified how this change in curriculum will allow students to develop and identify marketable skills within the major that will allow them greater success in their transition to working in the professional world.

“The purpose of this meeting is to unveil the mystery of what English+ is,” Burton said. “We hope these presentations and ideas will raise some questions and get you thinking about your career as an English major and how this might actually improve your time here and the road ahead for you.”

English Department chair Phil Snyder, along with professors Leslie Thorne-Murphy and Jamie Horrocks, discussed with students the opportunities available to them through English+ and internship experiences. In addition to their presentations, six English majors shared the six competencies English+ hopes to help students develop through their very own English+ success stories.

“How many of you would like to ignite your undergraduate careers? How many of you would like to get academic credit for being a pyromaniac?” said Snyder in a stirring speech. “Academic pyromania is what English+ is all about.”

Snyder said that it goes without saying that we love our curriculum, the core courses, and the theory, criticism and literature that we study, but that English majors also need to start imagining a meta-curriculum, that is to say involvement in the major that translates beyond a transcript and into a résumé.

Professor Leslie Thorne-Murphy unveiled the new requirements that will automatically begin for new English majors this fall. She added that current English majors may elect to take the English+ program requirements this coming fall as well.

“We want you to develop an undergraduate career and start leveraging every opportunity that BYU affords you,” said Thorne-Murphy. “Along the way we’re going to encourage you to take advantage of the many opportunities that our campus provides for extracurricular, English+ types of activities.”

Requirements will include two half-credit courses, English 198 and English 398, as well as an academic internship. English 198 is a course designed to prepare students for the English major. During the junior year students will take the companion class, English 398, a course that will prepare students to graduate and learn how to use their English major after graduation, Thorne-Murphy said.

“Part of what we’re doing is to provide you an inspirational structure so that you can do what can’t be done by just requirements alone,” said Burton.

Burton invited six English majors to share their own English+ journeys and how the competencies they gained in the major helped them navigate the real world. Burton identified six competencies that English+ hopes to help students to develop. With English+, students should be able to: cross cultures, manage projects, choose a minor, take initiative, network, and develop a capacity for vision.

Megan Armknecht, an English major and history minor discussed how the empathy she developed as an English major allowed her to cross cultures in unique ways.

IMG_3319Armknecht said that the texts she read in her courses allowed her to learn how to put herself into another’s shoes and understand what they were experiencing. She said that she was greatly influenced by Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, which allowed her to understand grace and redemption in a new light and translate that experience into making friends during a study abroad to Cambridge and a mission to Ukraine.

“I was able to make really deep friendships with these people because I was able to practice what I learned about empathy in making these friendships and connections,” said Armknecht.

She added, “I think that all of these experiences have been because I have taken initiative and have had a desire to help people understand the importance of stories and how they help us.”

English major and international development minor Kennerly Roper shared how learning how to managing projects was a skill she gained through her experience as an English major.

Roper was recently accepted as an intern with a nonprofit organization called Ashoka, which she joked was like the Goldman Sachs of the international development world.

“I was really unsure about whether or not I would get the internship,” said Roper, fearing that her English major might not be the right fit for what they were looking for. “The application asked me to give an example of a time I did a normal job in a different way. I did what English majors do best and I told a story from an internship I did in India.”

During her internship in India, Roper was asked to lead a business workshop for women living in the slums who wanted to start their own businesses. Roper said that though she knew nothing about business, she was able to design simple activities that would help these women learn basic business principles and skills.

Roper concluded, “I learned that my English major was surprisingly useful in helping me develop this workshop in unexpected ways. I was able to articulate the way my English major gives me an outside perspective and gives me the vision to help look at these problems and approach them differently.”

Sylvia Cutler (B.A. English ’17)

For more information on English+ and the new program requirements, visit the English department website

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