I have a game running with myself when I tell someone my major. I’ve practically rigged it— a 90% win rate. The rules are simple: 1) tell someone I’m studying English, 2) see how many words off I am from the usual “You’re planning to teach?”
Honestly, it’s an honor— teachers are invaluable, but it shows how little others think you can do with an English degree. When I decided in high school to be an English major, I had the same reservations… I wanted to do something with English, but the only value I thought the major had was in teaching. All of that changed my first year when I interned on a large-scale construction site with a quality control company, which is a business that ensures mechanical/electrical systems are up to code so they are safe and reliable.
Walking into an anthill of hundreds of people who knew exactly what to do and where to go, the imposter syndrome was strong. What was I doing here? I’m no engineer! Heck, I just bought my work boots yesterday! But it didn’t take long for me to realize I had a particular (and highly valuable) skillset of my own to offer.
I started by writing meeting minutes, added editing and compiling daily logs for on-site workers to the mix, and was soon upgraded to writing letters for the company and revising their manuals, too. All of the writing, critical thinking, and communication practice was quickly paying off; I was exactly where I needed to be!
Back at K-State that fall, I apparently couldn’t get enough of the engineering world: I practically stumbled into the Engineers Without Borders table at the Activity Carnival. I was quick to assure them they didn’t want me. I’m an English major, for Pete’s sake! I had no clue how to design schools or wells for communities in third-world countries.
For all my reservations, they had just as much excitement. Engineering majors are good at what they do (and work with experienced engineers for service projects), but they can’t write like English majors… and practically 90% of the EWB work is documentation! Before I knew it, I was roped into my first meeting.
Once again, the engineering world was quick to use what I could give, and I was designing outreach websites for the chapter within a month and working as executive secretary the next year. Perhaps even more surprising to an outsider’s view, the chapter elected me as president this year. See, the club has an overabundance of engineers— they literally have “engineers” in the title, after all. But they never have enough designers, English majors, accountants, etc. Volunteering to serve the world’s communities that lack basic human needs takes local outreach, community partnership, and financial teams that are just as integral as the engineers.
Today, I continue to work on the construction site, and Engineers Without Borders persistently gathers non-engineering majors into their ranks. For me, these experiences are valuable lessons about where an English degree can take you: it is the key to wherever you want to go!
Come join the engineering club, or go use your abilities for another unsuspecting job — you have the skills, and they are in high demand. For me, my place continues to take me into the engineering sphere, as I plan on practicing law for a quality control company in the future.
Entering an unexpected world like engineering may be outside most English majors’ comfort zones, but we are needed here and, as I had to learn, we are just right for these positions.
— Cassidy Hartig (BA ’24)