New Oswego course shows English majors where words can lead

A new capstone course option for SUNY Oswego English majors partners them with work placements. “Words in the World” brings to light the variety of uses, vocational opportunities and career possibilities for students of English.

“The course has helped me figure out what I want to do with my life. I’m not there yet, but I am certainly closer than I was,” said Anthony Catalano, who completed a project for the college’s Penfield Library.

Anthony Catalano, left, and James Paladino.Oswego County Opportunities, one of the project’s community partners, worked with student James Paladino. “The end result is that he completed consolidating, redesigning and editing a 24-chapter policy and procedure manual that we use for training new staff and as a reference for our daily activities,” said Lori Boles, development coordinator of youth and family services at Oswego County Opportunities.

The project had been on the back burner and working with Paladino gave Boles the opportunity to focus her attention on a project that would otherwise remain unfinished. “‘Words in the World’ gives students practical, hands-on experience putting their writing skills to use in a business setting,” Boles noted.

Job search training

As the course commenced for the first time this semester, students first composed, updated and critically revised resumes and cover letters. They then interviewed for writing positions with business partners on and off campus in a rapid-fire session.

Each student was matched with a business partner to work as a writing professional for most of the semester. Assignments are critiqued and work-related issues are discussed in class workshops.

“The course aims to help students reflect on and integrate their own personal and political interests, their intellectual concerns and their strengths as writers in order to identify professional opportunities in areas which are both appealing and rewarding,” said Maureen Curtin, who teaches the course along with fellow English faculty member Donald Masterson.

Learning design

English students also collaborated with graphic design students and faculty to learn fundamental design principles and how to use programs and platforms such as Microsoft Word, InDesign and WordPress. Graphic design students are also working with their English counterparts to produce an instruction manual detailing the basics of graphic design.

Catalano’s assignment was to create a promotional toolkit for Penfield Library’s new library catalog system. “I wound up using Photoshop to design a bookmark for the library,” he said. “I also used a great presentation program called Prezi in order to make an intuitive, step-by-step tutorial in an effort to introduce new users to the catalog system.”

Seeds in needs

The idea for the course came out of an English department retreat in April 2009. Six faculty members developed the course in a series of meetings that summer.

Many English faculty members “reported students turning up in our offices a month or even a week before graduation, asking for guidance on what to do next. Other colleagues reported that our alums were going on to jobs which did not, in any way, enable them to draw on their preparation in the major,” Curtin recalled.

“‘Words in the World’ would not have become a reality if not for Professor Masterson’s willingness to get out in the community and talk with prospective partners about taking on writing consultants,” Curtin noted.

After its successful debut this semester, the course will become a central part of the curriculum as an alternative to English 465, the traditional capstone experience, Masterson said.

“In my vision of the future of the course, the writers who are pioneering this venture will one day return to campus—fulfilled, successful and inspiring—and help new majors discover how to circulate their words in ways that change the world,” Curtin said.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Working with words—Senior English majors Anthony Catalano and James Paladino work on their projects for the new alternative English capstone course “Words in the World.” The course places students in work assignments utilizing their writing and creative skills.

(Posted: Dec 10, 2010)

Tags: words in the world, suny oswego, english and creative writing, english