Alumni Spotlight: Dene Dryden


Why I Stuck with English When Journalism Became My Calling

When I started my K-State experience in 2016, I was excited to see what career path I would eventually end up on while earning my English degree. I made the decision to study English well before I applied to attend K-State, and I had to specify “no, I won’t be getting my teaching license” to almost everyone who asked about my college plans.

I initially chose English because I wanted to write for a living. Write what? That was the question. I threw around the idea of being an advertising copywriter, but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to end up after graduation. English, to me, would be a good base education for anything writing.

And that proved to be true, in hindsight. But I was introduced to my calling early on in my K-State career, and I considered switching majors.

In January 2017, a friend texted me to ask if I would be interested in working as a copy editor at the Kansas State Collegian, the university’s student newspaper. She was also working as a copy editor there, and they needed one more person to fill out the team. I took the job, and that first taste of working in journalism sparked my interest — it was only a few weeks later when I wrote my first article, and in less than a year, I joined the editorial team as the copy chief. By the time I graduated in May 2020, I had served as editor-in-chief, managing editor and a student representative for the Collegian Media Group Board of Directors, and I contributed 100 bylines and countless hours of reporting and editing to the paper.

Because I was only a freshman when I became a student journalist — and had only taken one or two core English courses so far — I debated if I should double major with Journalism and Mass Communications (JMC), or add on a JMC minor, or switch to a JMC major but keep an English minor. Or, I thought, should I just drop English entirely?

I decided to continue my English education for a few reasons. The first reason, to be blunt, was because I was stubborn; I had committed to getting an English degree, so I was going to get one. I also didn’t want to delay my graduation by double majoring. But the biggest reason I didn’t switch: I knew that I would learn skills and concepts in my literature and creative writing courses that I would miss out on if I left the program.

That said, the JMC faculty I worked with while at K-State were fantastic, and I would encourage anyone interested in becoming a journalist to at least minor in JMC. However, I felt my needs for journalism education and mentorship were met through my hands-on experience at the Collegian and, later, Wildcat 91.9, K-State’s student radio station.

I would study the art of writing in my classes, and then I put those lessons into practice by reporting on my community. Through my time at K-State, those English and journalism through-lines intersected a lot, and I’ve found a lot of value in that intersectional education.

One aspect of the English world that I often use on the job is critical analysis and literary research. As a general assignment reporter, I have to know a little about everything and often need to dive deep into myriad topics like criminal law, pediatric medicine, groundwater pollution, affordable housing, and more. I had plenty of practice in my English courses digging into a text, pulling it apart, and putting it back together with additional context and insight. Now, instead of analyzing a Shakespeare excerpt or a Poe story, I’m doing deep reads of civil lawsuits, campaign finance reports, and my colleagues’ previous reporting on an ongoing local issue — all to find out what has happened, what’s happening, and what readers should know.

Two years and some change since I graduated, I’m now the region reporter for the Rochester Post Bulletin in Rochester, Minnesota. While I don’t know where my career will take me in 10, 20, 30, 40 years, I know that the foundation of skills and knowledge I built as an English major will follow me wherever I go.

Dené Dryden graduated from Kansas State University in May 2020 with a BA in English and Creative Writing. Currently, she is the region reporter for the Rochester (Minn.) Post Bulletin. She is also a freelance writer and copy editor and a published poet.

Dené Dryden (BA ’20)

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