Why Study English?

The faculty in the Department of English share their reasons to pursue a degree in English. 

Why Study English?

Dr. Michael Wutz

Professor of English

You’ve heard it all before:  the pen is mightier than the sword; and even though, these days, it’s more often a keyboard, touch screens, and flying fingers, rather than a hand-held pen crawling over a page, the sentiment of “making contact”—of achieving communication with another—and thereby bringing about lasting change, is still the same. It is not for nothing that Jean-Luc Picard consults a leather-bound collection of Shakespeare’s plays when faced with the Klingon threat.

Interplanetary warfare aside, “making contact” can also refer to getting in touch with yourself and of exploring your own thinking.  Speaking, writing, and reading have for millenia served humans as tools to record and transmit their knowledge, and it is certainly no exaggeration to say that human memory and history are coincident with speech and writing.  Language does, however, also allow you as an individual to probe your own inner life.  No other species, to the best of our knowledge, has evolved with a communication system even remotely as nuanced as the thousands of languages spoken and written on the globe.  Like no other medium, language lets you look and explore inside yourself (or the lives of others, in the case of reading), as you write down your thoughts and see how they gradually pile up on the page or the screen.  Letters, words, phrases, and sentences build up into a thicket of your thoughts, which condense and accumulate in the same measure that they unravel, unspin, and make your thinking transparent to you.

Welcome to the world of language!  Welcome to the world(s) of literature!

Dr. Sally Shigley

Professor of English

Why not a degree with an emphasis on literature?  Literary studies incorporates history, art, music, passion and grief. Literature is the voice of the human condition raised in verse and dialogue and storytelling.  Reading literature with care gives us access to people and places long gone or in a fantastic future.  It teaches us to examine our own perceptions about race, gender, religion, and power.  It demands that we think critically and write thoughtfully.  It is a record of the best minds of the ages grappling with joy and tragedy and finding words to express their truth.

Ryan Ridge 

Assistant Professor of English  

On a practical level, studying English provides an opportunity to become adept at speaking, thinking, and writing--skills that have concrete value every day. On a deeper level, studying English allows one to plumb the depths of the ineffable, the mysterious, and the sublime. Language lives at the core of each of us. We dream in language, we create in language, we make progress and understand human history through language. At its best, this discipline makes us more critical and compassionate versions of ourselves.

Dr. Mark LeTourneau 

Professor of English, Linguistics    

Above my office desk is a poster with an indecipherable diagram of what the poster calls “the longest sentence”:  a 958-word tour de force (or monstrosity) by Marcel Proust, from the English translation of his novel Cities of the Plain, which probably dwarfs even the longest sentence William Faulker ever wrote.  So is it really the longest sentence?  In one sense, it could be; in another sense, it couldn’t.  It could be in the sense that no one has written a sentence longer than Proust’s.  But it couldn’t be the longest sentence in the sense that a longer sentence couldn’t be written—by adding “and” at the beginning, for instance.  (And yes, that’s perfectly correct.)  There can be no longest sentence in that sense for the same reason that there is no largest number.  In either case, you can make it larger.  Because there’s no largest number, the set of numbers is infinite.  And because there’s no longest sentence, so is the set of sentences in a language. 

Or think, about this:  “the longest sentence,” I just suggested, has two meanings:  “the longest actual sentence” or “the longest possible sentence.”  But the words actual and possible aren’t in the phrase itself.  So how do we know it has those two meanings?

Questions like these scaffold my answer to the question in the title.  English (like any language) poses hard, interesting questions not just about language but about human beings.  We invite you to join us in answering them!                                                                                                           


Dr. Becky Gesteland

Professor of English & Associate Dean Telitha E. Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities                  

"A major, minor, and/or certificate in Professional & Technical Writing virtually guarantees you a job after graduation.  Our students work for non-profits, local businesses, government, and international corporations.

Some develop successful careers as freelancers.  They create websites, mobile apps, and content management systems; they write grant proposals, style guides, and white papers; they code, they design, and they edit.  In other words, the possibilities are endless.

I entered the field of technical writing through the back door:  I’d done my graduate work in American Studies (southwestern literature, US women’s history, and women’s autobiographical writing) but taught several sections of “Business Writing” and “Professional Writing” as a graduate teaching assistant.  These were some of my favorite classes to teach.  After earning my PhD, I searched in vain for an academic position, whereupon I discovered a technical writing job with full benefits close to home.  I took the job and learned new desktop publishing tools (FrameMaker and Word); taught engineers how to use these tools; worked on a team that developed templates and style guides; helped our division transition to online documentation; and presented at industry conferences about this transition.  The learning curve was steep because I’d never learned to copy edit or create tables or write a white paper.  What got me in that back door were my reading and writing skills; however, I always wish I’d taken classes in editing, document design, grant writing, etc..

So take advantage of this major, minor, and/or certificate.  Ensure your employability after graduation."                                                                                           

Dr. James Young

Professor of English                                                                                                                               Director English Teaching Program

"The challenges of teaching are difficult, but the rewards are outstanding, truly worthy of a lifetime of labor.  As a teacher of English, you will never be bored.  Every single day is filled with excitement and challenge. What do you have to give?  You give yourself, every day over and over, doing your best, being your best. Every student whose life you touch in a positive way by being kind to them, by being understanding, by being yourself with them, by taking them to a new level of understanding of life’s complexities, or by honing their communication skills to cope with the challenges of their own lives is your gift to the world. It’s your way of giving back to life the blessings of good health, good friends, family, and teachers that you have enjoyed all your life.

The ripple effect of your teaching English is enormous.  When you touch a life in a positive way, that young man or young woman may someday be a husband or a wife, a father or a mother, even a grandfather or a grandmother with scores of grandchildren.  If you can help that person become more intelligent, more thoughtful, more tolerant, and more compassionate through the stories, poems, and plays that you read and through challenging and thoughtful writing and through your personal friendship with him or her, the effects of those acts of kindness, intelligence, and skills will ripple throughout their lives and the lives of all those people that they touch. No other job is more vital and important and personally rewarding than being an English teacher."

Dr. Siân Griffiths 

Assistant Professor of English                                                                                                                       Director Creative Writing Program

"Language is power. Words start wars and end them.  Words move borders.  Words allow governments to rise and fall, politicians to create laws and courts to enforce them.

Language allows a person to form ideas and to communicate those ideas to others, breaking the silent boundary of the individual experience.  Words allow us to invent worlds, to create beauty from its shaped sound, to inspire hope and despair, joy and sorrow, peace and confusion. 

Why English?  Because it is the primary medium through which you experience the world and by which you allow others to share in your experience."

Dr. Hal Crimmel

Professor of English & Chair Dept. of English

"English is a discipline that allows for personal exploration and provides an opportunity to creatively examine the issues that shape our lives: family, environment, religion, work, gender, and race, to name but a few.

English fosters creativity, develops analytical and organizational skills, and enhances the ability to see and articulate multiple perspectives on a range of topics. The life-long skills you'll develop as an English major can enrich your every experience, from parenting to the workplace. 

The competencies developed by English courses, to use the language of the workplace, never grow outdated. In today's dynamic labor market, the skills developed as an English major are valued by employers, because they suggest flexibility, adaptability, creativity--in short, the ability to succeed in any context, and imagine and anticipate concepts not yet in wide circulation.

Creativity, analytical and organizational skills, imagination, all developed in the context of a passion for learning, a passion shared by our outstanding faculty."