By Nikki Babri
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the UCI School of Humanities' English Internship Program, the age-old question, "What can you do with your English major?" has morphed into a resounding declaration: "What can't you do with your English major!"
Tailored for English majors eager to bridge the gap between academic study and real-world application, this program offers a unique opportunity for students to leap into the dynamic world of marketing and communications. The program is not just about resume building, however; it's also a transformative experience that equips students with skills beyond the bounds of the classroom.
"I wanted to see our English majors get a chance to expand their skills for the modern workplace, where storytelling, relationship-building and clarity of purpose are real assets," shares Distinguished Professor of English Julia Lupton, the visionary behind the program.
The Department of English partners with a diverse range of organizations, both on and off campus, providing majors with paid opportunities to apply their skills in non-academic settings. From collaborating with various departments within the School of Humanities and elsewhere on campus to engaging with nonprofits like Welcome Blanket and OC Charitable Ventures, students commit themselves to impactful projects and explore the intersections of humanities with real-world challenges.
Julia Spencer ‘22 (B.A. English, minor in literary journalism), shares her journey from intern to Multimedia Journalist and News Reporter for local news stations KFOX14/CBS4 in El Paso, Texas. Spencer, who participated in the program the first year it was offered in 2021, credits her time as a Marketing and Communications Intern at the Humanities Center for teaching her analytical, communicative and creative skills: how to market a subject at hand, how to analyze history and how to tell a vividly written story from it.
“At such a young age, it's very difficult to know what you want to do. There are a million possibilities and I had endless anxiety about what job I felt I fit in,” Spencer shares. “However, with the help of my internships, I was able to understand that I wanted to pursue journalism and start my career pathway with this subject.”
As a first-generation college student, she credits her time at UCI as instrumental in teaching her the reading comprehension skills needed to accurately analyze data and observe complex situations in her line of work. “My coursework also gave me great beginner insight into how news is developed and how to write an article. It gave me a great start in storytelling through news,” she adds.
Jordan Magee, a fourth-year student majoring in English and history, shares insights gained from her internship at the School of Humanities' Office of Undergraduate Study. "This internship has been a transformative experience for me,” she expresses, particularly as a transfer student. She underscores the versatility of her humanities background in tackling communications projects in the Experiential Learning Office. Her enthusiasm shines through as she recalls the joy of creating social media content, including playful engagements with the office's new mascot, “Hugh Manatee.”
A key takeaway for Magee was mastering the art of concision in her communication efforts. "I've learned that while there is a lot of information to provide for the reader or viewer, you will only have their attention for so long," she notes. Balancing the need for brevity with sufficient detail posed an initial challenge, but with practice, Magee found herself navigating this delicate balance with increasing ease.
Her supervisor, the Director of Experiential Learning in the Office of Undergraduate Study, emphasizes the value of UCI English interns. "Employing a UCI English student meant I could be confident from day one that I would be working with a qualified, knowledgeable individual with well-developed critical thinking skills," they share. “My student intern adeptly balanced professionalism and creativity, and found innovative ways to effectively achieve our goals – from increasing our social media presence to creating content for our website and newsletters.”
Another student, fourth-year English major and first-generation student Maya Alleyne, found her niche in nonprofit work through an internship at Welcome Blanket, which provides handmade blankets and relevant information about immigration, migration and/or relocation to new refugees coming to the United States. There, she spent the quarter honing her research skills as she learned about the refugee and asylee process in the United States. “My experience with the English Major Internship Program was one of the highlights of my time at UCI. It has shown me that I enjoy nonprofit work, and I hope to continue working for nonprofit organizations," says Alleyne. She also emphasizes how much the program further enhanced her writing skills for future career use.
As a testament to the success of the program, a sizable percentage of interns have been retained by their organizations after the internship period concluded. Katherine Llave, a third-year English major and literary journalism minor, discovered her passion for sharing stories through an internship under the Humanities Advancement Department. "Participating in the program made me realize that I like to learn and hear about the stories of others, and I want to create materials that promote their inspiring experiences," shares Llave, who was offered a position as a student worker by the department for the remainder of the 2023-24 school year.
Paving the way
Along with creating the program, Lupton and her husband, Kenneth Reinhard, were the program's first donors. “I learned from running the program that a gift of just $2,000, which covers the cost of an internship, can transform a young person’s outlook and lead to new opportunities. It’s such a tangible way to have an impact,” Lupton says.
The paid aspect of the internship helps level the playing field for English majors. By removing financial pressures for students who must often forgo unpaid internships in favor of paid positions less related to their aspirations and expertise, students can now pursue opportunities aligned with their career goals. “The paid aspect of the program motivated me to value this experience as a professional job position,” says Alleyne. “I am reminded that my work is valuable and should demand my best efforts and attention to detail.”
Interns can expect to immerse themselves in a variety of tasks, from creating and editing social media posts to conducting interviews with alumni, professors and fellow students. The program aims to cultivate well-rounded professionals through projects that include researching and writing web and newsletter articles, producing videography and more. Moving beyond traditional internships, the English Internship Program incorporates weekly workshops that cover diverse skills and provide access to seasoned visiting professionals from humanities backgrounds.
“Many students come to realize that most effective professional writing, whether an email, a social media post or a feature article, involves several stages of planning, conversation and revision before its audience sees it,” says Brook Haley, Internship Program Coordinator and a lecturer in humanities. “A new level of ethical responsibility develops, building on the writer as an individual writing for a specific professor, to becoming a writer in a community seeking to reach others in larger communities.”
He notes the program’s profound impact on students’ professional growth. "The most tangible and consistent impact is in the confidence and poise of these interns," Haley says. Interns quickly recognize that their English courses have equipped them with portable skills applicable to a variety of professional roles. Over the past two years, the program has also placed a specific focus on the art of interviewing, training interns to navigate both sides of the interview process as interviewers and interviewees.
Elizabeth Allen, chair of the Department of English, stresses the importance of internships in creating long-term professional and networking connections for students. “This program is such a crucial part of our major, and we are trying to grow it even more,” says Allen. “These are high impact, individualized educational opportunities that let students not only build resumes but also build lasting relationships in the business, marketing, nonprofit and other sectors.”
The UCI English Internship Program is more than just a stepping stone – it propels English majors into meaningful and rewarding careers and challenges stereotypes about the limitations of an English degree. “Internships allow our students to learn how to articulate strongly the value of an education in literature, to connect education to real-world results and to experience how the classroom prepares them for the job market,” Allen shares.
Interested in reading more from the School of Humanities? Sign up for our monthly newsletter.