March 11, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Calvin students can now study one of three English majors: literature, linguistics and writing

The Calvin English department is replacing its traditional English major with three new majors: literature, linguistics and writing. And with each of these majors, an internship is required.

The changes in English study come courtesy of a two-year strategic process geared toward making English study more relevant to vocation.

“We’ve always said, ‘You can get any job with an English major, but most students can’t visualize what those jobs might be,” said English professor Jennifer Holberg, who chaired the English curriculum committee during the process. “Too often, students wait too long to test out their vocation ... We want to give them a lot of space to think about the kinds of things they might do.”

Literature, linguistics, writing

The three new majors take English students in different directions, vocationally, though as English professor Chad Engbers noted, “Graduates from any of these majors could do any number of things.”

The literature major is, essentially, the new name for Calvin’s traditional English major, Engbers said: “That’s the major for people who want to study a lot of good books.” The literature major will introduce students to reading and criticism and prepare them for possible careers in graduate school, publishing and editing.

The linguistics major is for students who want to study the English language itself. Formerly, those students had to cobble together a linguistics major from different departmental offerings, said Engbers: “We wanted to create an opportunity for them to do that within the department.” Linguistics majors may pursue careers in speech pathology or graduate school.

The writing major is an expansion of the department’s three-year writing minor. “We’ve tried to develop a major that would give them well-rounded experience in writing,” Engbers said, adding that the major included plenty of literature study as well. Writing majors may pursue careers in journalism, public relations, marketing, fiction writing—any of the number of jobs for which text has to be created, he said.

Current English majors will have the option of finishing their academic program as-is or switching to one of the specialized majors. Junior English major Steven Chevalia is pondering switching to the writing major. “The English major would be more than adequate,” he said, “but the writing major would give me the extra class or two to hone my skills.”

Internship experience required

Each of the English department’s new majors requires an internship, and fulfilling that requirement could take students in a number of directions, vocationally, Holberg said: “We think English is so broad that almost any internship will do. If a kid comes to us and wants to work at a museum, that’s going to be fine,” she added.

Students in the re-envisioned English program will all also take a gateway class—introducing them to the basics of the three majors—and a capstone class that explores the “whys” of studying English. The goal of English study remains the same, Holberg said: “We still want them to have excellence with the text.”

The department’s new spotlight on vocation is not intended to take the focus off of the liberal arts, she maintained, but to enhance the study of them: “The liberal arts are not irrelevant; they are deeply relevant to culture today … Technical information is fleeting, but who we are as people doesn’t change. The fundamental questions of what it is to be human are best answered through the liberal arts.”

An English class

Jennifer Holberg

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