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By Rose Steptoe, Graduate Writer

For Garland Rieman, being an English major is about a lot more than reading old books. When interning with the Jane Austen Summer Program and completing her honors senior thesis, Garland gained many valuable experiences beyond her ECL coursework.

Deciding to be an ECL major seemed natural for Garland given her love of literature: I’ve never found myself so much as when I’m getting lost in someone else’s story.” Once joining the department, she found a community full of “friendliness, openness, and innovation” and “professors [that] teach in dynamic, interactive ways.”

One of the highlights of Garland’s time as an English major was her internship with the Jane Austen Summer Program. The program, a four-day symposium in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, brings together scholars and educators to discuss and workshop all things Austen. Garland says working with Dr. Inger Brody—the director of the program—and other participants “really taught [her] the value of communication, organization and workplace professionalism.” Plus, the inclusivity of the program itself reassured Garland of the versatility of the English major, as the program convinced Garland that the stereotypes around Austen just aren’t true. She asks: “Who says Jane Austen is just for English majors?”

In addition to the professional skills she gained during her internship, this past spring Garland got to show off the culmination of skills she gained in undergrad when she completed her honors senior thesis, “The Ultimate Adventure: Exploring the Religious Roots and Gender Politics of Victorian Era Children’s Adventure Fiction.” Garland says her director, Dr. Kimberly Stern, stressed the importance of exploring her own interests when conducting such a large research project. Garland found that pursuing something she was passionate for the thesis was the right choice: “The whole experience made me feel like I had the potential to really contribute something to the field I had just spent four years studying, which was so validating.” On top of all this, Garland also interned in the Digital Literacy and Communications (DLC) Lab as a photographer, news writer, and social media specialist (be sure to check out the Department’s Instagram page when you get the chance!), She also coordinated social events for S.O.U.L, an undergraduate literature club, in order to increase accessibility to the major she is so passionate about.

Reflecting on her time in the ECL Department and the variety of skills she gained, Garland does not want anyone, ECL student or not, to underestimate the value of an English degree:

You know that old saying? ‘Those you can’t do, teach?’ I always disliked that saying. English majors in particular get hit with that saying all the time, and the truth is that we do so much more than just teach … We actively engage in travel, research, documentation, publishing and content creation to construct needed narratives …  A command of the English language is crucial if you want to make a difference in the world and actually connect people in a time when it seems like all we feel are our differences.”

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