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Alumni Share Experiences and Advice

Eleanor Fisher
Career Center Intern

This recap of the English Alumni Panel held on Wednesday, October 20 offers career insights from Andrew Calis, C'09, and Kayla Gourlay, C'17.

Mount alumni Andrew Calis, '09, and Kayla Gourlay, C'17, both of whom majored in English, shared some of their experiences in college and beyond at an October 20 panel hosted by the Career Center and Department of English to give current students an inside look at graduate programs and careers related to English studies.

The first question the panelists addressed was describing their academic and professional background, including how they got to where they are now. Gourlay, a teaching and learning specialist at the George Mason University Libraries, described how she had experienced much uncertainty and anxiety as an undergraduate student over choosing her major and her career path. She changed her major three or four times before deciding on double majoring in English and philosophy. She also emphasized how experiential learning, like internships, helped her to learn what career she was interested in.

Calis, a high school teacher, characterized his undergraduate and graduate school career as being driven by a passion for teaching that was inspired by his professors at the Mount. His experiences in grad school and position as an adjunct professor at the Mount helped him to realize that he was more interested in teaching and writing poetry than in being an academic. This realization led him to take a job at Archbishop Spalding High School and eventually to him publishing a book of poetry and also helping edit another book.

When asked how the Mount had helped prepare them for grad school and for their careers, both Calis and Gourlay spoke highly of the "soft skills" that the Mount taught them, including to communicate well through speech and writing, to read closely and thoughtfully, and to have empathy and understanding for other worldviews. "There was an understanding of the liberal arts education being about more than just what you learn – sort of what it means to be a human being... I've taken that with me more so than anything else from the Mount," Calis commented.

Upon considering challenges he has faced, Calis focused on his inability to write. However, persistence, hard work, and a lot of help from one of his professors enabled him to overcome this challenge. Gourlay's challenge was internal, as she struggled with a great deal of anxiety over feeling pressured to choose the one perfect career. Through seeking support, developing an increased awareness and challenging her beliefs, Gourlay realized that her college journey was not about picking the one perfect major or career, but about exploring possibilities.

Both Gourlay and Calis pointed out that an English degree provides a wide range of qualifications that make career opportunities endless. The last question the panelists were asked to answer was about what advice they would give to their younger selves. Gourlay's response was that she wished she had not put so much pressure on herself, and she recommended taking advantage of experiential learning to explore different career options. Calis would tell his younger self to be more present to the importance and value of what he was learning in his college years.

Both panelists advised attendees to explore different types of teaching and career opportunities. Calis recommended looking into high school teaching, and Gourlay talked about how her "academia-adjacent" job gave her a wide variety of opportunities to engage with research, books and teaching in a unique way. "I'm so excited for you," Gourlay said to the students attending the event. "I think back to that time very fondly of…graduating and all the new possibilities...everything is just wide open for you."

Eleanor Fisher
Career Center Intern