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Learning From Our Alumni: Writing Professionals in Action

By Audrey Kelly

On October 28, Chelsea Best and Dawson Heath were the guests of a virtual fireside chat during which they shared valuable insights and advice for current students. Chelsea is the Wellness and Communications Coordinator for the Human Resources office at Grand Valley State University and Dawson works for the State of Michigan as an Organizational Change Management Analyst in the Strategic Integration Administration. Both graduated with a major in Writing and a minor in Digital Studies.

Put Your Writing Skills to Work 

One of the first messages that Chelsea and Dawson shared was to remind us that being a student equips you with the skills you need in the workplace, whether it is mastering Adobe Illustrator or learning how to write in a particular style. For instance, Dawson commented that he uses his understanding of style, the nuance of words, and the function of writing every day in his job. When describing the kinds of design projects she works on, Chelsea noted that “you have to know why you’re doing what you’re doing.” She connected her work back to the habits she developed in the classroom and the focus on deliberate decisions that serve the rhetorical situation. Chelsea still uses the same programs she learned as a student, such as Adobe InDesign and Illustrator. As they were commenting on the similarities between the work that they do now and what they did in the classroom, Chelsea and Dawson reminded students to take advantage of their classes for developing and applying their skills. 

Take Advantage of Extracurriculars 

During their time as students, Chelsea and Dawson were actively involved in extracurricular activities. Both were members of the OPW e-board and Dawson served as co-president for two years. He also worked as a lead consultant at the Fred Meijer Center for Writing & Michigan Authors for three years. When asked about the benefits of these experiences, Dawson commented how they helped him to develop leadership and listening skills. He added, “it is also what gave me a sense of community,” noting how these activities became opportunities to put into practice the skills he was learning in the classroom. In addition to a résumé line, extra-curricular activities help with professional development. Chelsea’s work with OPW is a perfect example of this. She created the OPW website as part of a class project that required students to design a website for a client. By connecting the course with her involvement with OPW, she found the perfect way to bridge what she was learning in her class with her interests. It also made it possible for her to gain more practice in design and writing while directly supporting her student organization. 

Build Relationships and Network in College

Another important lesson of our discussion with Chelsea and Dawson was to remember that college is the time to build a strong network of people you can rely on. They noted that “there are many people who want to support you and are personally invested in your success.” These connections do not stop after graduation. When describing how she had just recently reached out to a former professor for resources for a new project, Chelsea commented that “professors don’t go away after college; they want to keep in touch and see you succeed.” Both Chelsea and Dawson urged students to build and connect with a community of writers in and outside of class. Doing so, they said, means that you have people to lean on and with whom you can discuss your struggles and aspirations. It is also what will give you resources and connections later on.

Be Curious & Have Fun Learning

Chelsea and Dawson also invited students to take advantage of the opportunities they have now, noting, “those projects and papers aren’t chores. Lean into the things that will make you a more well-rounded writer or expand your portfolio.” Both said that they miss the educational conversations and activities like peer reviews when you get to talk about writing with other writers.  When asked if there is anything he would change, Dawson mentioned that he wished he could go back and tell himself to be more active in classes that he took outside of the writing department. “Take electives that interest you,” he said. “Or try something new.” When asked the same question, Chelsea responded that she wouldn’t put as much pressure on herself. “Whether you are in college or in the workplace,” she explained, “you are always learning and you are never perfect.” 

Listening to Chelsea and Dawson’s perspectives was a good reminder that professional development starts in college. Being a student is a time for learning, networking, and having fun. It is also when you get to develop the skills and confidence for transitioning into the workplace and becoming the professional you want to be. As Chelsea said, “people might try to put you in a box, but you can do anything.” 

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