Alumni Voices

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Marina SamadName: Marina Samad

Graduation Date: Fall 2016

Major: English Literature

Certificate: Philosophy

Currently: Pursuing my passion for equestrian showjumping

Reflection:  No place within the realm of academia has allowed me to dive into the depths of human character as the English Literature Department has.  By applying critical skills in the evaluation of humans in the context of history, gender, class structure, family, etc., I was able to apply different criticisms to texts that hold a completely different meaning than when read as merely words on a page. These skills were passed down to me through professors who read me in the same way they would read a character in a book; as an individual living within a certain time period with certain qualities that separate me from the other characters and their stories within a given work. In order to analyze Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I not only had to examine their characters by actions, but also their desires, their habits, why these may be, what architecture in London has to do with it, and what parts of the texts support these claims.  As someone who appreciates a strong willed discussion regarding differing views on certain claims, nothing excited me as much as the “is the ghost real, or is the Governess just crazy?” questions that tend to surface in Turn of the Screw and gothic literature discussions, or interpretations on character development based on symbolism in the author’s life as with the time period in which it was written, perhaps within Great Expectations or Jane Eyre.  There are few areas in life where these skills are not unuseful or unapplicable, as our constant interactions and judgements we make on others require careful listening, evaluation, reading and interpretation of conversation, and the ability to dig deeper (but only deep enough that there is evidence to support those claims).  Having professors, who grew to be great friends, taught me in ways that allowed me to explore the depths of characters in a way that actually helped me explore them within myself.

Sanjana DayanandaName: Sanjana Dayananda

Graduation Date: Class of 2017

Majors: Neuroscience and English Literature

Minors: Chemistry

Currently: After graduation, I plan to work as a teacher’s aide at the Children’s Institute in Pittsburgh, a school for children with disabilities, while applying to medical school for the following year.

Reflection: My research courses on Joseph Conrad’s Falk, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and my senior seminar course on witchcraft in the early modern period allowed me to explore my own interests via literary and historical texts and gave me the skills to expertly communicate my findings through extended papers, presentations, and finally, the Undergraduate Literature Conference. Having both a science and humanities background gives me a more holistic understanding of the world. I now have the ability to understand different perspectives, cultures, and worlds and critically assess difficult concepts - crucial skills for any good physician. And after taking the MCAT (standardized medical school entrance exam), verbal and logical reasoning were my highest subjects, thanks to my time in the literature department. The skills I have gained as a literature major have helped me work towards a seemingly unrelated career in science and medicine by making me a better communicator, analytical researcher, and an open-minded explorer.

Sara KopczynskiName: Sara Kopczynski

Graduation Date: Class of 2017

Majors: English Literature and Psychology

Currently: In the fall, I will begin working toward my Masters of the Arts in Teaching English in secondary education.

Reflection: Finishing my degree in literature at Pitt had been undoubtedly an invaluable experience where I learned how to read critically, enhance my writing capabilities, engage with critical theory, and apply such skills in literature and other subject areas. By offering innumerable opportunities to engage with literature and critical theory in various mediums and contexts, Pitt as equipped me with the knowledge and experience I can apply to my future career as well as my own critical thinking. I was fortunate enough to participate in the Pitt in London Honors study abroad program, where I spent a semester studying Literature in several different historical periods from Old English medieval texts to post-modern literature at the University College of London. There not only did the program challenge my critical thinking abilities, but it also introduced me to the skills required for conducting independent research, a valuable lesson which was further nourished when proceeding to my junior and senior seminar courses. Additionally from analyzing Beyoncé’s Lemonade album in my senior seminar, to at attending a course dedicated to studying Harry Potter, one of the foundational lessons I learned as a literature major at Pitt is how critical theory expands beyond simply the canonical classics and can be applied to multiple platforms which contribute to our culture including literature, film, music, art, and even pop culture. By completing my undergraduate work at Pitt, not only was I able to appreciate the vast genres and historical movements that motivated what we understand as classic literature, but I was also encouraged to explore my own individual interests and use the skills I attained from my courses to further expand my thinking, drawing connections between literary world and other disciplines.

Candice HingleyName: Candice Hingley

Graduation Date: Class of 2011

Majors: English Literature & Business Administration (Marketing)

Currently: A Technology Consultant with Accenture Federal Services working in the Defense space

Reflection: Every client I interact with has an objectives list, sometimes defined and sometimes very inchoate. My role is to lead conversations to define our scope of work, articulate the scope in a common language that all stakeholders agree on, and then carry implementation forward. My degree strengthened my persuasiveness, my ability to communicate complex thoughts/requirements in digestible language-bites, and (above all) to strive for conciseness.

Sandra SabaName: Sandra Saba

Graduation Date: 2016

Major: English Literature

Minor: Philosophy

Certificates: American Sign Language, Children’s Literature

Currently: Preparing to start law school at Temple University in August

Reflection: I have to be honest--there are times that I feel like I graduated college knowing very little. I studied English Literature and Philosophy while many of my friends studied chemistry, economics, engineering, or some other very practical, very tangible field. Sometimes I try to list in my mind the things that I learned, but often find the list unsatisfyingly short. I couldn’t tell you how to determine the half-life of a certain element, neither could I explain in detail the factors that led to the market crash in 2008. I could tell you, however, about Neil Gaiman’s contribution to the genre of fantasy or the rantings of an old man that lived thousands of years ago, but these seem insignificant compared to the real life problems of today. The problem, I have found, with this way of thinking is that it measures and compares bits of information rather than the extensive thought processes I have learned to follow and articulate. Studying English Literature at Pitt may have given me a short list of “facts” as compared to certain other areas of study, but while there, I learned how to think, how to understand, how to interact with and see the world. Through my professors and assignments, I learned how to approach and solve any number of problems, even when I have no prior knowledge about the topic. My time as an English major developed my mind in ways that I could never have imagined. Ultimately, it was through my studies and those who helped me along the way that I was able to become the very person that I am. I am confident that because I learned how to think, I can achieve anything.

Shelbi FergusonName: Shelbi Ferguson

Graduation year: 2017

English Literature major, MRST certificate

What I’m currently doing: I’m the recipient of a SURA award and will be spending the summer working on a research project that investigates the journalistic and novelistic works of Charles Dickens & their engagement with burial reform in Victorian London. I’ll also be applying to graduate programs for the upcoming year.

As an undecided major, I stumbled into the Lit department in the fall of my first year, when I took ENGLIT 0610 (Women & Literature) – and subsequently declared as an Eng Lit major the following semester. Though my initial years at the University of Pittsburgh were very difficult ones for a multitude of personal reasons, and I was not always a “good” student, the literature department ultimately helped me discover my discipline, my specialty within that discipline, and my strengths as a scholar and individual. In the course of my time here, I’ve gone from knowing virtually nothing about literary study, to producing a focused body of interdisciplinary research that will hopefully be taking me on to graduate school.

My areas of scholarly interest include early modern and 19th century British Literature, the gothic, and historical interactions between literature and science. Much of my research has focused on Victorian spiritualism & parapsychology, as well as historical medical theories of contagion.