English Alumni Success Stories

Taylor Lutz, BA in English, 2014

Taylor Lutz

I’ve taught English at Wauneta-Palisade Schools and Dundy-County Stratton Schools. Now I teach in Wray, Colo. I help with junior high sports—volleyball, basketball and track. I also help with one act, yearbook, a journalism newsletter and class sponsorship. I published my first chapbook of poems The Seasons Reside in the Trees in 2018 with Finishing Line Press.

I’ve been trying to plan a time to take some of my students to NWU’s Visiting Writers Series. I remember the first time I attended and went out to dinner with one of the writers. I felt like Cinderella at her first ball—it lit a dream to become published and help foster this love for creative writing in other hearts.

Wesleyan taught me that we never stop being students—and our opportunities for growth don’t end at graduation. I loved my experience at Wesleyan and think of my professors who believed in me and my writing.

Kate Chrisman, BA in English in 2006

Michael (Mike) Catron

I teach a plethora of English classes at Cedar Bluffs Public Schools. I’m also the drama coach and the speech coach as well as the sponsor for the school’s newspaper, The WildCat Times. As the freshman class sponsor, I started a peer mentoring program connecting freshmen and seniors.

We don’t always recognize or appreciate how our experiences shape us. Mr. Michael Dumanis helped to teach me that even though my life experiences seemed mundane to me, there was more to be found there than I realized. I had felt that my life couldn’t possibly be interesting, as I grew up in a small town, on a small farm, my family and experiences felt all too “normal.” He showed me that to someone from New York or other large cities, my small-town experiences weren’t mundane at all, but in fact a dream that some would struggle to believe. I have since found myself explaining that concept to many of my own “small-town” students.

Heather Zaruba, BA in English in 2003

Heather Zaruba

I work at my alma mater, Ord Jr.-Sr. High School in Ord, Neb., where I teach English 9, English 12, journalism and reading enrichment. I also joined the NWU faculty as an adjunct professor through the NWU Honors Academy.

From my time in the NWU English Department, I remember the occasional class at MoJava with Drs. McClain, Stanfield and Wolfe. They encouraged me to get my students in a new atmosphere once in a while. I took my first trip on an airplane with Drs. Roger and Anne Cognard to learn about Shakespeare in England. That sparked my love for learning through travel and inspired me to offer that opportunity for my students. Though I’ve adopted various teaching techniques from all of my NWU English professors, I have yet to try Dr. McClain’s Duct-taped Teacher Day.

Danielle Nielsen, BA in English, 2004

Danielle Nielsen

I came to NWU with the intent to major in chemistry, but I never felt at home in the lab. Dr. Kelen and Dr. Herndon helped me switch my focus to English.

Once I chose English, I knew I did the right thing. I really used the liberal arts experience to my advantage. Now I’m an English professor at Murry State University in Kentucky. My student assistant work with Dr. Kelen and Dr. Stanfield showed me that being in a classroom and teaching was really what I wanted to do. I was happiest in the classroom.

Take advantage of the opportunities you have to explore topics outside of your major. Look outside of your discipline to help make sense of things together. Be involved. Give back to your campus community.

Rebecca (Becky) Criswell, BA in English and women’s studies, 2001

Rebecca (Becky) Criswell

I am an assistant vice president and anti-money laundering officer for Americo Financial Life and Annuity Insurance Company in Kansas City, Mo, where I oversee the AML program, suitability program, complaint review, advertising review and general regulatory matters. I received an MBA from Baker University in 2007. I have a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist designation (CAMS) and hold the following insurance designations: FLMI, FFSI, AIRC, AAPA. I’m married with a daughter and I volunteer as a Girl Scout troop leader.

I use reading, writing and critical thinking skills every day in my career. My studies at Nebraska Wesleyan built a foundation that has propelled my career forward and given me the skills I need to continuously learn and grow as a professional.

Jocelyn Fuller, English BA and Women's Studies, 2001

Jocelyn Fuller

I started my career at a weekly business newspaper in California as an associate editor, and eventually became the managing editor of a city magazine.

I moved to Chicago and worked at a large ad agency on the McDonald’s account, and eventually became digital director and production director for a national magazine and media company, Modern Luxury.

Today, I’m senior director of strategic communications for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I have a staff of 30 who do the marketing, communications, PR, digital and publishing work on behalf of one of the largest denominations in America.

My English degree from NWU is the best investment I ever made in myself. You quickly learn in the business world that not everyone knows how to write or communicate clearly. Many don’t have the ability to write or speak about complex things in ways that anyone can understand. We did that every day as English majors.

Cameron Dodworth, BA in English, 1999

Cameron Dodworth

I ended up taking an academic career path, so my experiences as an English major were fundamental. I earned a pair of master’s degrees in English and Victorian studies at UNL and the University of Leicester, where I became a lifelong Leicester City Football Club fan. Then I returned to UNL for a Ph.D. in English with a concentration in 19th-century studies. After graduation, I taught English at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, Spring Hill College and the University of South Alabama. Then came a tenure-track position at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., where I teach English and direct the Center for Research and Creativity.

I make the case with students that a majorin English is useful well beyond academia. I believe the ability to read, analyze and write well gives you a major advantage in any career. For example, I recently finished an associate’s degree in the culinary arts. Not only has my research branched into food studies, but I also have a possible career path as a chef and food writer. Even as an academic, my post-NWU career is constantly proving that English isn't just for academics.

Gannon Gillespie, BA in English, 1999

Gannon Gillespie

I’m a special advisor for Tostan, where I’ve worked in various capacities since 2004. I work remotely from my home in Genoa, Italy, where my family is. Before COVID-19, I was traveling regularly to Senegal where Tostan is based.

My creative writing major helps me every day. I draft or contribute to all manner of writing: letters, emails, concept notes, proposals and reports. I occasionally speech-write, which is when the poetic ear I developed with Bill Kloefkorn shows up most. I also do research and try to understand the existing and emerging trends in our field of global education and development. That’s where the interpretive skills I learned at Wesleyan come in handy.

My sense is that good creative writing is increasingly rare in spite of AI and all manner of shortcuts. Thus, for those drawn to it, it may be a very wise career choice indeed.

Kristy Sorensen, BA in English and women’s studies, 1999

Kristy Sorensen

After graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan, I moved to Austin to get my Master of Library and Information Science at the University of Texas. I worked as an archives assistant at the Alexander Architectural Archives and the Briscoe Center for American History for a few years, and then began my work at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2006, where I’m associate director of the library and head of archives and records management.

My major in English helped me most with strong communication and writing skills. The ability to read narratives with a critical eye has helped with reference work in both the library and the archives parts of my career. Beyond these practical skills, the friendships I developed at NWU, with both fellow students and with my professors, have continued to be important parts of my life.

Michael (Mike) Catron, BA in English in 1998

Michael (Mike) Catron

Upon graduation, I lived in Kyoto, Japan for two years, teaching English in six elementary and two middle schools. I returned to the U.S. in 2001 and mentored gifted students for LPS. I took a job teaching English in Millard Public Schools in Omaha, where I continue to teach creative writing, AP language composition and AP literature and composition. I also consult and contract as a theatre/stage combat choreographer.

"I learned the most as a student assistant; planning and coteaching with Sandy McBride, Travis Jensen and Scott Stanfield. I was also part of the original staff of the Cooper Center with Rick Cypert and Sandy. That experience provided myriad windows into the craft and profession of teaching. Oh, and I’m grateful Gerise Herndon didn’t throw me out of her Masterpieces class when I spouted a misogynistic rant about Edna in The Awakening—a position I now regret and wholly reject thanks to her."

Jason Schmaderer, BA in English, 1995

Jason Schmaderer

I spent the first few years after NWU in the Pacific Northwest, where I honed customer service skills in a few jobs. Following an urge to spend some time abroad, I taught English as a second language in Budapest, Hungary, with my spouse and fellow NWU English alumna, Amy (Polk).

We moved back to Lincoln, where I found work in a local advertising agency as a public relations writer. Twenty-three years later, following a small detour at an agency in Wisconsin, I’m still at Swanson Russell as a vice president.

I regularly mentor younger colleagues who come along different educational paths—often with degrees in journalism or mass communication with readymade skills as designers, copywriters, project managers, etc. I always tell them whatever professional success I’ve achieved is due to relentless curiosity.

I get to work with a ton of talented, creative people on behalf of interesting clients. I wish I could say this was all part of a master plan, but the honest truth is I feel pretty fortunate. I know graduates with English degrees have the ability to be successful in areas that aren’t obvious. It might just take some extra effort to get the doors open.

Shawn Mummert, BA in English, 1995

I changed my major maybe five times. I didn’t know what I was doing. I bounced around psychology, political science and computer science. I finally declared English late in my sophomore year—because English classes were my favorite.

One thing that was really great about the English department was my relationships with the faculty. The humanity and sense of care about us really came through. Dr. Shaffer, Dr. Cognard, Dr. Mary Smith, Dr. Cypert, Dr. Stanfield, and Dr. Walker all come to mind as professors who truly cared about us.

I went to Ohio and earned a master’s degree in English. I always had an interest in computers, so I bounced around doing various technical jobs: writing for computer magazines, technical writing, digital design and working for a technical wire start up.

A liberal arts education made me willing to change and be adaptive. That’s the most useful thing I’ve taken away from Wesleyan. I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I thought I was going to get a PhD and be part of a faculty. Ten years ago, I didn’t know what I’d be doing now. I’m the poster child for multiple career changes.

Reid Hester, BA in English and history, 1994

I came to NWU intent on becoming a high school teacher. I did some soul searching and realized that publishing was what I wanted to do. After NWU, I enrolled in the Denver Publishing Institute. Through textbook publishing, I realized I could combine my English and history majors with my love for education. Today, I work for SAGE publications. I oversee the psychology list, work with authors and manage editors.

Understanding who you are as a student is so important. I did a lot of lying awake at night wondering what I was going to do next. I was looking for signs. Be curious, don’t lock yourself in, and be opened minded. As an English major, there is no broader platform. English majors, by definition, have an open approach.

Jennifer Cognard-Black, BA in English, 1991

Jennifer Cognard-Black

Both my parents were English professors and my father taught English at Wesleyan. I grew up in the church of Shakespeare and ran around Old Main while “helping” my father grade papers.

I strongly considered other colleges. When the dust settled I went to Wesleyan for Wesleyan. But I did not want to major in English, that’s what my parents did. I was a music major originally. But I loved my English courses and focused on them.

I got my M.A. in fiction writing from Iowa State University, and my Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 19th-century literature and feminist theory. Now I’m an English professor at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, a public liberal arts school. It feels a lot like Wesleyan.

I’d say do NOT be hung up on how you are going to get job training, or how you are going to get a job and make money. Especially at a place like Wesleyan. All of that will come later. Be a sponge now. Take classes you’ve never heard of, study abroad, and do experiential learning. Your job right now is to think for a living. Suck all the marrow out of life. Don’t think ‘but what am I going to do with my major?’ You are getting the training you need now.