Marissa Fread (BA 2000)

     One of the eye-opening lessons Marissa Fread learned while taking English courses at Waterloo was that it's important to look at something from the reader's perspective and understand how they may interpret it. She came to realize that she must do this in order to design anything successfully for an audience.

     Marissa also took a minor in Psychology, which, when paired with the understanding of readers’ perspectives that came with studying English, allowed her to hone her perception of human nature. As a co-op student, Marissa was given the opportunity to apply these lessons in an employment position as an ESL teacher for two terms, a job in which she encountered the struggles of immigrants in their journey to find a place in Canadian society. She heard stories from the families she taught about the everyday struggles that immigrants face when trying to improve their lives.

     Marissa found that English and Psychology complemented each other, and her favourite social psychology courses resembled the rhetoric classes that explored how attitude influences the ways in which “people respond to messages and other people.” Courses such as these helped Marissa to see through the eyes of readers, rather than focusing entirely on the writer’s point of view or “the text itself.” She learned to think both about the reader and the reader’s context as helping to determine how a given text is read, and to realize that texts often elicit responses that the author never intended.

     Marissa experienced a strange twist of fate in her last academic term when she could not take a course in Writing for Public Relations to complete her program requirements. Since it was unavailable that term, she took a course she thought would be “a complete waste of time” instead: The Rhetoric of Web Design. By the end of the term, she realized that she had enjoyed the class, and it ended up aiding her later on when she began working at RIM in web design.

     As a way of balancing her academic life with something more relaxed while at uWaterloo, Marissa played soccer and volleyball and coached figure skating for a few years.  She also worked for the school newspaper, Imprint, during her final years at uWaterloo.

     After graduation, Marissa was hired by Research in Motion to write content for their web sites, a job “which quickly turned into managing updates directly to the websites themselves.” Today, she continues at RIM as the individual responsible for user experience online, a position she enjoys because “it employs my knowledge and experience with human nature and allows me to examine why people react to online communications as they do.”

Heather Proulx (BA 2000)

Heather Proulx chose to attend the University of Waterloo for a few reasons. She liked the small class sizes and the wide variety of programs she could try.

She intended to major in Religious Studies. However, after a few classes in her Religious Studies and English courses, she chose English instead. Heather's favourite courses at uWaterloo were the two third-year Shakespeare classes, which she loved because she enjoys Shakespeare and because she found Dr. Ted McGee “an amazing prof.”

She met most of her best friends in the English department at uWaterloo. These friends were all at her wedding and, almost 15 years after first meeting, they are still very close. She has been married for 10 years now, and she and her husband have a six-year-old son.

After graduating from uWaterloo, Heather worked for a store owned by her family. She then took a few years off to stay at home with her son. She is about to begin an exciting new career with The Royal Bank of Canada.

Michelyn Siple (MA 2000)

     Michelyn Siple sees English as a dual-natured subject: It is the study of language use and conventions in literary works and in the world; it is also the examination of language as a tool of persuasion and change.

     All the aspects of language fascinate Michelyn, leading her to enter the Master’s program here at uWaterloo after earning her BA in English Literature at McMaster so as to explore her newfound interest in “rhetoric, semiology, structuralism, and psychoanalysis.” In an attempt to combine the traditional study of literature with a contemporary study of language, she entered the innovative Rhetoric and Professional Writing stream of the program. Michelyn’s favourite class was “The Rhetoric of Narrative,” which was taught by Dave Goodwin (now a professor in the Department of Drama and Speech Communication at uWaterloo). It was a fantastic course because it “was the perfect convergence of my two passions: how language works and works of language.” She recalls that taking the course was life-changing for her, and to this day she continues to use the theories she learned from it.

     Michelyn enrolled in the Master’s co-op program, which gave her the chance to apply what she learned from the classroom in the workplace. She had two co-op terms at a financial software consulting firm called Second Foundation, one of which allowed her to work on internal policy and technical documentation. During her second co-op term, Michelyn supported the sales and marketing team. “I found my niche,” Michelyn says, and she believes that marketing is the perfect outlet for the rhetoric student in her.

     Michelyn’s social circle also expanded as a result of her choice to attend uWaterloo, and she still keeps in touch with people she met here. In some cases, she has even had the chance to “attend their weddings, watch their children grow, and support their career changes” even as she and her friends changed locations.

     Immediately after graduating, Michelyn began working in marketing, initially for private industry, subsequently moving into positions at non-profit organizations, and later landing a job in the public sector. Today she lives in Ottawa with her husband and three-year-old son and works for Canada’s Department of National Defence. Her work, she says, “directly supports the recruiting efforts of the Canadian Forces.” Michelyn attributes her level of personal and intellectual satisfaction directly to the lessons learned at uWaterloo; she does not believe that she would approach her job with as much creativity or strategic insight if it were not for the Rhetoric and Professional Writing program.

Paul Stuewe (Ph.D. 2000)


While studying for his Ph.D., Dr. Paul Stuewe struggled to improve his pedagogical skills. For him, much of what he absorbed at uWaterloo contributed to his teaching ability, whether it was through assignments given by various professors or conversations with his fellow students. Finding that teaching is best learned through application, Paul would often have friends sit in on his classes to critique his performance. His peers gave him the kind of frank but friendly feedback that not even faculty guidance could provide.

     Paul’s career followed a long and interesting path prior to his arrival at the University of Waterloo.  He had a successful career both in publishing and as an author in his own right. Having completed his MA from the University of Toronto at the age of 37, he came to Waterloo at 51 to earn his PhD as a “late bloomer.”

     Before embarking on his doctorate, his career consisted of equal parts freelance writing and bookselling. In 1990, he became the Editor of Books in Canada, a national literary review. Paul found the eminent company he kept in this position to be intellectually stimulating and consistent with the type of career he wanted to follow. In 1992, he completed Hugh Garner’s uncompleted work entitled Don’t Deal Five Deuces; the novel was not finished when Garner died in 1979. Four years later, Paul published a detective novel entitled This Dark Embrace.

     While studying here, he came under the mentorship of Dr. Stan Fogel, such a terrific personal teacher and guide that Paul still refers to him (only half-jokingly) as his “rabbi.” His two favourite classes were taught by Professors Dave Goodwin and Lynne Magnusson; both classes involved a mini-seminar assignment, thus allowing Paul to improve his teaching skills by presenting his own research to a class. He also built upon teaching strategies by speaking to other PhD students, who were in the same predicament as he was. Finding that the professors were incredibly busy and thus often unable to assist the PhD students on teaching-related matters, the students themselves became each others’ most valuable pedagogical resource.

     After graduation, Paul obtained an Assistant Professorship at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont. In 2008, he was promoted to Associate Professor. Paul is in an interesting position at the college (as are many professors south of the border) because he doesn’t teach only English. Thanks to the liberal arts educational model in the U.S., he teaches world literature, detective fiction, creative writing, film studies, philosophy, and history as well as more traditional survey courses on English literature. “I’ve become a generalist,” he says, and is happy not to be walled within a particular specialization. A broad approach to the liberal arts, he finds, keeps him in touch with the greater scheme of things.

Jason Haslam (PhD 2001)

Why Waterloo?Jason Haslam

Like most folks, I was interested in the dual emphasis of the program, on language and literature, and some of the research possibilities that opened up.  I was also excited about the teaching component of the program, and thrilled about the possibility of working with Dennis Denisoff (which I was lucky enough to do!).

Why Tarzan?

The idea for doing an edition of Tarzan of the Apes actually came to me during my PhD at Waterloo–it just took a while to get to it! I've been working for some time on the roles that gender and race play in American science fiction, and while teaching a seminar on that topic at Dal, I realized that there wasn’t an edition of the novel that fully contextualized the work on those terms. Working with Oxford meant that I could write a detailed introduction situating the book in its historical context, and include some relevant contextual material in the appendices.I also wanted an edition that openly discussed the novel’s portrayal of gender and race–among other topics–to be widely available, not only for scholarly work, but for all readers.


I was recently president of the Canadian Association for American Studies(which Jennifer knows, since she's president now!), and when that position came to an end, I was approached by the current ACCUTE executive about the possibility of bringing the ACCUTE office to Dal for the 2014-16 term.  After talking about it with people at Dal, getting some of the necessary support lined up, and having my colleague Lyn Bennett agree to serve as VP, we decided to say yes. Englishand the humanities in general is going through a relatively difficult time right now, with research funding being cut, tenure-track hiring being frozen in places, contract academic work being relied on more and more, and certain journalists and politicians questioning the value of humanities and other curiosity driven research altogether. But, we're also in an exciting time, when humanities academics are engaging more directly with the public, showing people how vital our research and teaching are, and we’re seeing increased awareness of the importance of a critically aware population and workforce.Being able to work closely with the national organization in our field at this time is a rich opportunity, since it provides a forum for all English scholars–students and faculty alike–allowing us to make ourselves heard on the national, and international, stage.

What next?

Well, I'm looking forward to a trip back to Waterloo for the CAAS conference in October 2013! I've proposed a paper (which now I have to write…) on the television series American Horror Storyand the ways in which the repetition of popular narratives can open up new identities and forms of being in the world, a way of continually reinventing the self.  It’s clearly still in progress… but it's part of some new work on the Gothic that I'm starting.

Elizabeth Monier-Williams (BA 2001)

MonierwilliamsElizabeth Monier-Williams chose to attend the University of Waterloo to take advantage of its unique co-op program and to follow the lead of her father, who is a uWaterloo Engineering alumnus.

In her first year, she took Applied Studies to make sure she was pursuing the right subjects for her. However, her interest was in English from the get-go, for she had been interested in reading and writing from a young age and knew that she wanted to study ways of communicating. She began her English studies in the Rhetoric and Professional Writing (RPW) program and, part way through her degree, chose to switch into Literature.

Dr. Judith Miller and Professor Susan Bryant taught the introductory English courses (ENGL 101 and 102) at Renison, and Elizabeth remembers these classes as being especially enjoyable. She also remembers taking Shakespeare courses with Professor Ted McGee. Before the classes, she had seen some Shakespeare plays, but Prof. McGee helped her to understand the plays in a new way.

During her fifth co-op term in Winter 2000, Elizabeth recalls working as a technical editor for Rogue Waves Software in Oregon. This co-op placement was both memorable and valuable because she had a chance to try a bit of everything.

She enjoyed the experimental aspect of co-op because it meant that she was not committed to a job for more than four months, allowing her to see that there is a job market and a variety of jobs for English majors. Co-op also allowed her to acquire many new skills and to be proactive about finding her best job-fit.

Being a co-op student has helped Elizabeth to improve her interview skills. These skills have benefitted her greatly in finding a career after graduation. “Since graduation, I've realized what co-op gave me and how invaluable it was.”

Elizabeth found many opportunities to network at uWaterloo by volunteering at Imprint and being involved in the fencing club. She met many students on campus and in residence, and regularly keeps in touch with many of her former schoolmates. Among them was Jerry Urjasz, a Classics major whom she met through fencing. After several years of friendship, they married in 2006. RPW classmates Emily Bruner Kazakov and Deborah Cooper-Bullock were among those to attend the celebration.

Elizabeth graduated from uWaterloo confident in who she was and what her strengths were. The biggest lesson that she took away from uWaterloo is that "there is so much to learn and you need to be open to all possibilities."

She has held several communications positions in the education sector, first as a webmaster for a private school in Toronto and then as a public relations officer and project leader for the University of Toronto.

Elizabeth is spending 2009 on maternity leave from York University, where she manages communications projects in the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation. In the meantime, she is enjoying being at home with her son, Alexander.

Russell Wong (BA 2002)

Russell (Russ) Wong liked the flexibility that came with being an English student at uWaterloo. Aside from his major in Rhetoric and Professional Writing, he was able explore a variety of interests by taking courses in other departments: “The English Rhetoric and Professional Writing program felt like a very good fit, along with Applied Studies. It also allowed me to complete a Cognitive Science option.” He came to Waterloo as an electrical-engineering student and switched into the Arts faculty following his second year precisely so that he would be able to explore many different subject areas.

Dr. David Goodwin taught many of the English courses that Russ took. He found that Dr. Goodwin's experiential teaching style suited his learning preferences. “Many of my English RPW classes involved the same students, so there was a familiarity and comfort in our classrooms even if I didn't know the people well outside of school.”

As a co-op student, Russ worked for as many different companies as he could to gain familiarity with different corporate cultures and organizational structures. His experiences allowed him to learn about both the software and consulting industries. “I think the great value of co-op is the ability to find out what kinds of working environments suit your personality,” he muses. “That’s very important for job satisfaction.”

Since graduating, Russ has worked in business development and communications at The Walter Fedy Partnership, an architectural and engineering firm in Kitchener. He also has a part-time job as a contract automotive journalist, testing and writing about consumer vehicles for a newspaper syndication service. He is also active in the community. He takes part in amateur theatre, volunteers for social-profit groups, and is a member of Leadership Waterloo Region's Class of 2010.

“I learned early on how important it is to do something that you love to do,” Russ says.

Erin Foster-O’Riordan (MA 2003)

Waterloo is a very marketable alma mater

Having been motivated by the direction to “follow your bliss” that a wise high school teacher gave her, Erin Foster-O’Riordan chose to study English during her undergraduate years at the University of Alberta. After she completed her BA, Erin was unsure whether she wanted to pursue a graduate degree or attend law school. A professor advised her that law would always be there if she wanted to go in that direction, but since she was in the “English mindset,” she would do well to consider continuing in that vein. She and her boyfriend (now her husband) applied to several schools and found that Waterloo was both the best fit for their interests and the best option in terms of the scholarship funding it offered the two of them.

     Erin remembers life in Ontario as a “very special time,” when she essentially got to know a part of Canada that differed radically from her home province. Alberta’s culture tends to focus on “pioneering – building new things and blazing new trails,” a mindset that has caused many of the historic buildings in Albertan cities to become demolished to make way for new ones. While uWaterloo is quite innovative, Erin found it pleasant to live in a place that embraces its own heritage as well as progress. She enjoyed working as a teaching assistant, which gave her an enormous amount of experience; as she taught lessons and graded papers, she learned much about writing, clarity in communication, and diplomacy.  “Many of my students were also not English or even Arts majors, so it was an interesting challenge to figure out how to convince them that principles of good writing are important.” Within her academic studies, Erin was fascinated by the idea that all texts can function as storytelling media. “Technical engineering documents, schematics, and briefing documents all have a story to tell and all have a certain element of persuasion in them.” Her favourite course, taught by Dr. Andrew McMurry, focused on communication through non-traditional media.

     Erin learned things from her graduate work that she continues to use in her career. After she completed her Master’s degree, a desire to be closer to her family took her back to Alberta, where she worked as an historical interpreter for a time before accepting an internship with the Government of Alberta. Today, she lives in Edmonton and works in Alberta’s government with technical experts who develop construction and equipment safety codes. Erin is part of the team that reviews and creates existing and new safety codes for the province. “Along with managing my staff, I do a lot of work on policy-based projects for the way that the codes are implemented and enforced in the province;” her responsibilities require all the creativity, communication expertise, and people skills she developed at uWaterloo.

     Looking back on how her experience at uWaterloo has affected her career, Erin says: “an MA is a very marketable credential, and Waterloo is a very marketable alma mater. ... I became a better writer and communicator based on my Waterloo experience.” Thanks to the national reputation that the University of Waterloo has, business circles have quickly acknowledged Erin’s great potential for success, and her career has benefited tremendously from her association with uWaterloo.

Evan Munday (BA 2003)

What made you decide on Waterloo? Had you already started writing then?

Waterloo really fulfilled my need to marry creative efforts with serious practical-mindedness. The university's rhetoric and professional writing program was what sold me on the school. My main goal at the time was to become a better writer (still is), and the RPW program seemed to promise that, with the bonus real possibility of finding a job in writing (whether that be speech writing or technical writing). But once I arrived and saw students studying and LARPing on the weekend as frequently as they hit the bar or club, I felt like I'd made a wise choice.

At the time, I was writing, but mostly comic books and comic strips. I did a comic strip for the Imprint for several years about a time-travelling man and his monkey.

You're the author of the children's book series, The Dead Kid Detective Agency, published by ECW Press. What is it about detective fiction for children that appeals to you? And why do you think it appeals to them? (Full disclosure: my five-year-old is currently hooked on a 1930s detective series.)

I have no idea. I know it appealed to me as a child reader, I was constantly reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries or John Bellairs books – so that's what appealed to me as a children's writer. If I had to guess or attempt to psychoanalyze, I'd say it has something to do with a younger person's need for there to be a right answer or solution to everything. It's very satisfying to know that a correct answer, whatever it is, will be reached by the detective by the end of the book. Whenever I hold mystery-writing workshops for children, they're confounded by the idea that there is no right answer to the mysteries they write. The solution is whatever they as the writers decide. To some kids, that’s like telling them they can make their own numerical system. But there's also the limitless appeal (especially to voracious readers) of a protagonist who is able to win the day primarily through his or her smarts.

Your series is explicitly Canadian, with references to United Empire Loyalists and the Underground Railroad. And yet you've managed to evade the earnestness of some earlier children’s literature that takes up Canadian history. Can you talk a bit about that?

One of the main goals of the Dead Kid Detective Agency series was to tackle Canadian history, but in a fairly irreverent way. More Mr. Peabody and Sherman and less Heritage Minute (though those are amusing in their own way). I’m a dual citizen and did most of my history learnin’ in the United States. One thing the U.S. does better than Canada is mythologize its history. U.S. history isn’t intrinsically more interesting than Canadian history; it’s just that Americans have packaged it better to themselves than Canada has (Heritage Minutes notwithstanding). So, in a very small way, The Dead Kid Detective Agency is an awkward attempt to add some razzle-dazzle to Canadian history. And the best (and maybe most Canadian) way I knew how to do that was to amp up the oddness and humour.

Do you find your undergraduate English experience manifests itself in your books? Is there any course or Waterloo experience that you find has really proven seminal?

I had a lot of great instructors and took some amazing classes at the University of Waterloo, and everything I learned has found its way into the books. Strangely, my science-fiction film classes with Jan Uhde were just as important to the writing as my creative writing classes with Gary Draper. And one elective that keeps coming in handy (perhaps unsurprisingly) is the criminology course I took in second year.

Switching gears, you are also the publicist at Coach House. How did you end up in book publishing? Do you have advice for those who might wish to follow your lead?

I was a book publicist long before I was a published author. Following my schooling at the University of Waterloo I immediately enrolled in the book and magazine publishing program at Toronto's Centennial College, which led to an internship at Cormorant Books, which led to a job at the Literary Press Group of Canada, and then the publicity role at Coach House Books, where I've been for the past eight years. My advice to anyone interested in working in book publishing is two-fold. First, get involved in the industry before you start working in it attend readings and book launches, participate in online discussions of books, participate in whatever way you can (and works best for you). Second, try to pick up some basic design expertise InDesign or Quark and Photoshop. Those two things can put you at a real advantage when seeking work in book publishing.

Finally, what do you know now that you wish you had known right after graduating?

I still haven't learned, but I wish I'd known how to drive by the time I graduated. I still haven't picked up this particular skill and I feel like it would have been really handy over the past ten or so years.

Y-Dang Troeung (BA 2003, MA 2005)

Completing her BA and MA (’05) in English at University of Waterloo and receiving her PhD at McMaster University (’11), Y-Dang Troeung is now on her way to a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor in English (field of Asian Diasporic Literatures in English) at City University of Hong Kong. Some of her notable accomplishments over the past few years include the production of a CBC Radio-Canada documentary entitled “The Lucky One Returns,” a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship Award, and most recently a nomination by McMaster for the CAGS/UMI Distinguished Dissertation Award for her doctoral dissertation, “Intimate Reconciliations: Diasporic Genealogies of War and Genocide in Southeast Asia.” As she prepared to embark on the next step in her academic career, she reflected back on her time at uWaterloo and shared some of her experiences with us.

Y-Dang TroeungY-Dang initially chose to study English at uWaterloo because she considered herself to be a practical undergraduate student and felt that a degree in Rhetoric and Professional Writing would provide her with the necessary skills to become gainfully employed in the future. One of the biggest lessons that she took away from her BA degree was that an arts education had much more to do with inculcating a societal consciousness and capacity for critical thinking than with specific job training. What she really appreciated about the English program at uWaterloo was the breadth and broad range of courses available, how students in the program were trained in everything from classical rhetoric to Shakespeare to the discourse of advertising to postcolonial literature. One of her favourite undergraduate classes was English 470A: Contemporary Critical Theory, where she first read books such as Edward Said’s Orientalism, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, and Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish—texts that strongly influenced her thinking as an early scholar. After completing an MA degree in English at uWaterloo, taking courses such as Contemporary Canadian Memoirs, the Victorian Novel, and the Rhetoric of Business, Y-Dang pursued a doctorate degree in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University, under the supervision of Donald Goellnicht.

Today, Y-Dang specializes in the literatures and cultures of Southeast Asian diasporas (Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc.), a field that is bourgeoning, but still in its infancy. When asked about a specific literary novel that sparked her decision to do a PhD in this field, Y-Dang cites Madeleine Thien’s Certainty as the most resonant text that inspired her doctoral research. Her current and future research plans include 1) a manuscript about post-genocide justice and Cambodian diasporic life stories and 2) a project on the intra-Asian mobilities of Southeast Asian refugees, post-1975. Y-Dang feels that Hong Kong is an ideal place for her to complete these research projects since it is not only an international hub of intra-Asian mobilities today, but was also a port of first asylum for many of the refugees who fled Southeast Asia in the 1970s. She believes that her time at uWaterloo  as a student was instrumental in preparing her for her new position and encourages all recent English graduates to look not just to Canada, but also to the world for future career opportunities.

Brendan Blom (BA 2004)

You are originally from the Waterloo region: was uWaterloo an automatic choice, or did you think about going further afield? Were there specific benefits or drawbacks to being so close to home for your undergraduate degree?

The choice of uWaterloo was pretty straightforward. I had been accepted at a couple of other places, but I particularly wanted to go somewhere with a co-op program, and it helped to be able to live at home to save money. I do think it’s good, if possible, to be able to get out of the family home at that age and learn to be independent – and while I didn’t get that while I was studying, my co-op terms did offer that opportunity.

What was your experience of undergraduate English like?

Before university, I never intended to study English literature; I always thought I would do something more business- or accounting-oriented. But after really enjoying a first-year English course, I chose it as a major going into second year, and never doubted that decision. I had some wonderful professors who managed to teach the importance of reading with a critical, analytical eye, without spoiling the fun of losing yourself in a story or poem.

As one of the founders of Culture Magazine, you made some interesting contributions to Canadian literary criticism. Can you talk about your experience there?

I do not think I personally made too many contributions to literary criticism at Culture. We were a group of friends who enjoyed meeting up in pubs to talk about books, music, movies, and politics. I did get some wonderful personal experiences out of it – the most memorable was probably driving out one Saturday in May a few years ago, with a couple of other Culture people, to spend a few hours with Kim Ondaatje, Michael Ondaatje’s ex-wife. She lives on a farm near Kingston, takes beautiful photographs, and advocates for artists’ rights. She’s led a fascinating life, is a great story-teller, and is a vibrant, passionate, warm character.

You are now with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Did you always plan to write the government exams, or was that a later decision?

Luckily, I didn't have to write the exams that's one of the benefits of doing co-op terms with the government. I was "bridged in" at AANDC after I graduated. I'm a poor role model for any sort of career planning – it certainly never occurred to me, growing up, that I would become a government employee. It's a challenging, sometimes difficult place to work – but it’s always stimulating as well, and I wake up every morning looking forward to getting to the office.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew when you'd just graduated?

In university, I was very self-conscious and reserved, and didn't meet a lot of new people. Now I know that life is a lot more fun and rewarding if you open yourself up a little, both to new people and new experiences.

Finally, are there any new writers are you currently watching?

These days, I’m spending more time discovering old writers: Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet, Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry Tales, and Erskine Childers’s The Riddle of the Sands among them.

Lauren Breslin (BA 2005)

When you were applying to university, which ones did you consider? Why did you finally decide on Waterloo?

I was really eager to move away and live on my own during university, so I immediately discounted any schools in my hometown of Toronto. But I also didn't want to stray TOO far from my parents and friends, so I considered Western, Queens, McGill and others. In the end, what drew me to Waterloo was the unique Rhetoric & Professional Writing program. I knew I wanted to be a professional writer in some capacity, but the idea of studying English language and literature for four years left me cold. RPW seemed to offer the multi-disciplinary experience I was looking for—not only language and lit, but also critical and rhetorical theory, writing for a variety of disciplines, digital media, linguistics, computer science and more. It was really broad and that’s what attracted me to it.

The fact that RPW also offered an optional co-op component sealed the deal. In my mind, the opportunity to apply and interview for real job placements, to experiment within my field of interest, to put my skills to work in a real office environment—making contacts and earning a salary along the way—that whole concept was incredibly compelling. My first co-op placement was at the head office of Clarica, now part of Sun Life Financial, where I worked as a technical writer. Going to work for a major company every day, attending business meetings and taking on real-world responsibilities was an amazing learning experience and confidence builder.

Now you're at Canadian Tire, which as a home owner I find tremendously fascinating. Can you talk a bit about what you do?

Four years ago I discovered a professional field that, as an aspiring writer, I had never previously considered—the field of consumer packaging. Packaging is actually one of the largest industries in the world. Think about it: every product you buy, whether at the supermarket, the drugstore, the big-box store or the corner store, comes in a package. In the retail environment, packaging acts as a silent salesman and a crucial selling tool. And believe it or not, the process behind the development of packaging copy and graphics is incredibly detailed. Right now I work at Canadian Tire’s head office in Toronto, writing packaging copy and coordinating the production of packaging artwork for several thousand products every year, which are sold under Canadian Tire’s private brands, including Mastercraft and Noma. For any aspiring writers out there who are also interested in the fields of marketing and branding, I recommend giving packaging a look. It's a huge industry.

What do you think uWaterloo gave you overall?

Waterloo English gave me a solid background in all of the disciplines mentioned earlier; it exposed me to some truly wonderful and memorable professors whose high standards motivated me to excel. Accumulating work experience as a result of co-op was absolutely invaluable. But I have to admit, as a wide-eyed aspiring writer, one of my most treasured experiences at Waterloo was volunteering for the student newspaper, Imprint. There’s a Facebook group called “Imprint Nearly Cost Me My Degree” and it’s so true. I probably spent almost as many hours helping produce the newspaper as I did working on my school assignments. I not only wrote scores of articles in my four years at Waterloo, but I also served as news editor and twice as assistant editor-in-chief. I fondly remember all those Wednesday production nights I spent in Imprint’s office in the Student Life Centre, editing stories, assisting with layout and proofreading, and getting the paper ready to publish by press time. This was a very special kind of education. And via Imprint I got to meet other talented and passionate volunteers, some of whom have gone onto successful careers in journalism. But the best benefit was that, when I graduated, I had a massive portfolio of published works to show potential employers. I largely credit that experience with landing my very first job out of school, as Editorial Assistant for the Toronto Sun.

You've had some really interesting positions from the Toronto Sun, to writing for a marketing agency, to writing direct-mail catalogues for Columbia House, and now your role at Canadian Tire. What advice would you give a Waterloo English student looking for a job?

Here's a sobering truth. No matter which post-secondary school you attend, if you graduate with an Honours BA in English and nothing more, landing a job will be a challenge. So how do you get a leg up in the real world? My advice: always, always supplement your English education. Figure out what specific fields you’re interested in and start planning now. If you want to be an editor, get an editing certification. If you’d like to be a technical writer—which, by the way, I think is one of the highest paying jobs you can get as a writer—start taking technical and computer courses now. Learn HTML coding and online publishing systems if you want to work in the online world. Take marketing and branding courses if you’re interested in the highly competitive world of advertising copywriting. Start publishing now if you love journalism. Of course, if you plan on upgrading your BA education with a Masters, all the better. But it’s the real-world, practical skills that employers are looking for. They don’t care that you scored a 95% in your class on Victorian literature. I know from experience what a tough slog it is when you try to build a career on an English undergraduate degree. But if you’re driven and you plan wisely, the sky's the limit!

Roseanne Gauthier (MA 2005)

One experience that persisted throughout her time at uWaterloo was the feeling that 'her brain was expanding all the time.

For Roseanne Gauthier, the University of Waterloo is “more than a school.” During her time here, she came to realize that she would learn not only about literature; but about herself and others.

     When deciding which school to attend for her MA, she was originally attracted to the University of Guelph. However, she chose uWaterloo because the courses offered here intrigued her. She does not regret the decision. She will never forget the lessons she learned here, and she is thankful to have studied under professors who taught life lessons and skills as well as literary history. Two of her favourite classes were taught by current faculty members Dr. Fraser Easton and Dr. Shelley Hulan.

     Roseanne recalls that the course taught by Dr. Easton focused on the writings of Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe. Roseanne remembers that the class was not so much a series of lectures as it was one large group discussion broken up into many different classes. The informal style of the course developed partly because it was taught in a student lounge area, since there were fewer classrooms than classes on campus that semester. Dr. Easton’s course aided Roseanne in realizing one principal lesson: the importance of perspective. Hearing the opinions of her fellow students allowed Roseanne to see that people can view the world in an infinite number of ways, with each viewpoint as relevant as the next.

     The class taken with Professor Shelley Hulan, “Canadian Writing and Patriotism,” built up Roseanne’s ability and confidence in her public speaking to new heights. She recalls the seminar presentation she gave as part of this class as the first of which she was truly proud.

     One experience that persisted throughout her time at uWaterloo was the feeling that “her brain was expanding all the time.” This was an experience she enjoyed yet found difficult—just as an athlete feels pain when he or she trains to increase physical strength, Roseanne experienced a kind of mental pain at learning so much in such a short time. Roseanne also came to understand the old adage: “Practice makes perfect.” When she looks back through the hundreds of pages she wrote over the course of a year at uWaterloo, she notes the astounding improvements she made in the quality of her writing.

     After completing her studies at uWaterloo, Roseanne returned to her home in PEI and contemplated the pursuit of a PhD. Instead of doing this immediately, however, she moved to Nova Scotia and worked towards a Master of Library and Information Science degree at Dalhousie University for two years. She then worked at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax for two years. Recently, she has returned to her home province of Prince Edward Island and is working as a librarian for Veterans Affairs Canada.

     Overall, Roseanne sees her time here as incredibly rewarding on many levels, as it gave her independence of thought and confidence in herself as well as a great number of friends, with many of whom she remains in contact.

Danielle Millar (BA 2005, MA 2007)

Danielle Millar counts herself fortunate to have experienced English at the University of Waterloo. There is something special about the professors here, she believes, because the teachers at uWaterloo set themselves apart from those of other institutions by actively pushing students to be the best they can be while encouraging them to be active members in both the university and society at large.

Like many first year Arts students, Danielle was initially unsure about which major would suit her best. After doing very well in a first year writing course with Danine Farquharson, the then-St. Jerome’s professor encouraged her to major in English; in fact, Waterloo invited her to the Rhetoric and Professional Writing program in a letter towards the end of first year. By second year, Danielle switched out of Arts Co-op because she quickly came to realize exactly what she wanted to do after school—she wanted to teach.  Knowing that she planned to be a teacher, she added a minor in Speech Communication to her studies, enabling her to study the process in which people create meaning through interaction.

While studying for her undergrad degree, Danielle tutored aspiring Master’s students by editing their resumes and cover letters to co-op placements and helping them apply for jobs. Being close to these students reinforced her own desire to enroll in a Master’s program herself one day.

The devotion that English professors at the university have to their students was demonstrated to Danielle in a big way when she was applying for graduate studies across Ontario. When she asked Dr. Katherine Acheson to read over her application, Professor Acheson gave her a brutally honest assessment, telling her that schools "don’t want to hear that you are a good person—they assume you are; they want to know if you are ready for the program, and have researched into some of the courses and professors that can assist you in your own take of the program offerings." She then helped Danielle write up a new letter, ensuring her acceptance into every school she applied to. "Anyone who thinks that university professors don’t care about students just doesn’t know the professors at Waterloo," says Danielle.

Whilst studying for her MA in Rhetoric and Communication Design, Danielle added a post-degree minor in History to her resume for teacher's college—an entirely free addition to her tuition bill, but a rewarding experience that allowed her to study History by Distance Education while pursuing her MA. Her desire to study History as a second teachable came from a class she took with Dr. Shelley Hulan. She explains that Dr. Hulan "brought Canadian Literature to life through an exploration of Nova Scotia’s historical fiction.  It was an enriching and wonderful course."

Danielle's all-time favourite course was Theory and Criticism, taught by Dr. Acheson and Dr. Randy Harris. From the outside, it appeared to be a painful lesson in theory that students would simply have to get through. Yet she remembers their tremendous knowledge of the course material, as well as the deep respect that the instructors demonstrated for each other and for the class. The class environment was incredibly relaxed; Danielle and her classmates were encouraged to bring in food to share with each other and their teachers. Summing up her Theory and Criticism experience, Danielle says Drs. Acheson and Harris were "incredible facilitators."

Once she graduated from the MA program, Danielle went to teachers college in Ottawa for a year. After graduation, she taught for a year at Beaconsfield High School in the West Island of Montreal, Quebec. Today, she currently teaches at Humber College in Toronto, a job that allows her to teach the skill of critical thinking applied to media and communications; her personal acquisition of this skill is something for which she thanks all her English professors at uWaterloo.

Emily Paige (BA 2005)

    Eager to see more of the world, Emily Paige set out to study and work abroad after graduation. In the final year of her undergraduate degree, she travelled to France on an exchange. When she moved back to Canada she took a job in Ottawa and stayed there for almost two years. Subsequently, she moved west to Banff, Alberta and then to Burkina Faso, Africa.

Currently, Emily is living, studying, and working in Montreal. She is a practicing artist and is pursuing her MA in Art Education at Concordia University. Her research focuses on the impacts of globalization and digital technologies on visual culture. She also helps to run an independent film and animation company with her partner and is the educational programmer for Concordia's Faculty of Fine Art gallery. For the film company, her role is to come up with concepts and ideas. She also provides creative feedback, writes grants and manages the projects. For the gallery, she focuses on outreach, making connections and encouraging interdisciplinary conversation. Thus far in her career, Emily has had the opportunity to experience some amazing jobs – from coordinator of the New Media Institute at the Banff Centre for the Arts to interning at Yam Pukri, an association that focuses on new communication technologies for development in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Emily chose to follow in her mother's footsteps by attending the University of Waterloo. She began her studies in another program but later switched into English. As an avid reader, English was a subject she had always loved to study. It combines her passion for art, philosophy, history, theory, culture and people. Climbing under the covers with a big juicy book and a notebook to fill with the author's quotations is still her favourite thing to do.

Her most memorable classes were taught by Professor Stan Fogel. She found his courses unique because he let his students direct themselves. She feels that his theories and approaches were refreshing – they challenged the way his students thought about systems they existed within. He rarely wrote on the chalkboard during class; however, when he did the way he wrote his 'A' was especially unforgettable. It was painstakingly drawn and the pointed gesture disrupted his natural flow.

At uWaterloo, emily learned about the importance of a healthy perspective, maintaining a good sense of humour and sharing ideas.

Alicia McAuley (BA 2006)

     “I can safely say that without my experience at Waterloo, I would be in a very different place than I am today” says Alicia McAuley, who gives credit for her choice to enter uWaterloo to Pat Brennan, her high school guidance counsellor. Alicia originally intended to study science, but Pat, a St. Jerome’s alumnus, convinced her to follow her passion for literature and writing. He assured Alicia that “uWaterloo would be an excellent fit” for her personality, and looking back on her choice to enrol at uWaterloo, she says: “I couldn’t imagine spending those four years anywhere else!”

     uWaterloo offered Alicia many positive and valuable experiences, from lessons learned in class to friendly conversations with her professors in the cafeteria. The professors here “made each class so enjoyable”; some of her favourites, including Drs. Ted McGee, Eric McCormack, Danine Farquharson, and Stan Fogel, taught classes that form the best memories of her time here. These memories include a trip to Stratford to see a production of “As You Like It” organized by Dr. McGee for his Shakespeare class, Dr. Fogel’s intelligent and entertaining speeches in class, and discussions about T.S. Eliot with Dr. McCormack. For Alicia, the memories of these experiences are made stronger and more memorable because she shared them with friends, some of whom remain close to her today. In fact, one of the friends she made here will be the emcee of Alicia’s upcoming wedding.

     In addition to friendships outside the classroom, Alicia found support in Dr. Farquharson who complimented Alicia for a well written essay, affirming that she had made the right choice to pursue an English degree. “I think her compliment sparked a turning point for me in choosing to pursue journalism as a career after uWaterloo, and I am very grateful for it,” she says. When she graduated from uWaterloo, Alicia enrolled in the journalism program at Sheridan College and has since gone to work for a number of magazines as a freelance writer. She also works as a web editor and lives with her fiancé (a uWaterloo BMATH ’05 alumnus) in Toronto.

     Confidence to pursue a career in writing, the opportunity to meet some of her best friends and her husband-to-be, and the chance to explore her academic interests all came to Alicia at uWaterloo, and for these benefits Alicia remains thankful.

Julie Vieth (BA 2007)

    Julie ViethLike many forward-looking English students, Julie Vieth came to uWaterloo to gain practical experience while pursuing her passion for literature and rhetoric. Originally an Economics major, Julie decided she would succeed at her career only if she studied something she enjoyed, and quickly switched to the English program.

     Thrilled at the prospect of gaining work experience while completing a university degree, Julie chose to enter the co-op program and never regretted her choice.  The skills she obtained through her employment positions are still benefitting her career today.

     Having always leaned toward the Rhetoric and Professional Writing half of the program, Julie found most digitally-focused English classes to be her favourites. The most enjoyable class she attended during her time at uWaterloo was “Digital Design” taught by Dr. Aimée Morrison. Of all her classes, she found it the most appealing because it was “hands-on, interactive,” and taught her the “fundamentals of digital design.” Julie affirms that this course has paid great dividends in terms of the expertise it let her bring to her career in marketing communications.

     Of her co-op terms, Julie’s most memorable were the two semesters she worked at RIM as part of an Information Resources team, work terms that encouraged her to apply what she learned in class, develop “communication skills, business contacts” and find out what career paths interested her the most. In this position, she worked with communications specialists and a graphic designer to develop resources that would help customers gain knowledge about Blackberry products. Julie believes that this job position helped her discover the direction she wanted to take in the world of marketing.

     Julie’s co-op positions allowed her to get a job in the Marketing Department of a web-hosting company immediately after graduation. Currently, she works at VFM Leonardo, an online media company serving the hotel industry. On top of the skills she gained through co-op, she also learned how to prioritize and manage her time by “juggling multiple novels and theory readings,” as English students are renowned for doing. In the future, Julie hopes to use the skills she learned by doing a co-op English degree to advance further in the field of marketing and gain senior roles in business.

Brianne Gergovich (BA 2008)

Brianne Gergovich enjoyed all aspects of her student life, including the classes she took and the people she met. Professor Shelley Hulan taught her favourite course, Criticism II. “We had such interesting discussions in this class and it was always so engaging!”

At the recommendation of her mother and brother (both uWaterloo graduates) Brianne chose to attend the University of Waterloo. In addition to their recommendation, she was drawn by the university’s excellent reputation.

Brianne majored in Honours English Rhetoric and Professional Writing, which she chose to study due to her love of words, literature, and the structure of language. From her studies, she learned many things that she could apply to many different work positions. “My understanding of the English language and linguistics has brought me to where I am today. My job requires me to use linguistics and linguistic issues in translating from English on a daily basis.”

After graduating from uWaterloo, Brianne decided to move abroad and work in the United Kingdom. She now works as a Translation and Linguistic Validation Co-ordinator for a company in Oxford, England. “I manage projects and linguistically validate PRO measures.”

Sara Humphreys (Ph.D. 2008)

    The University of Waterloo is one of the only schools in Canada where a student can combine language and literary studies, which is why Dr. Sara Humphreys chose to pursue her doctoral degree here.

She also wanted to work with Dr. Victoria Lamont. Sara's favourite course was "Women and the West," a seminar on Western American literature written by women. This course opened new areas of American literature to explore and ended up informing her dissertation topic.

During her studies, she and two peers "formed a dissertation support group called the 'Dissertation Divas'". Sara was able to make it through the trials of completing her dissertation with their support. The “Divas” remained friends since her graduation.

One of the lessons that she took away from her time at uWaterloo is that is it important to not only engage in rigorous scholarship but also to "be a good colleague."

Before graduating from uWaterloo, Sara accepted a position as an assistant professor (LTA) at Trent University in 2007. Because she specializes in both linguistics and literary studies, she teaches a wide variety of courses and finds that her "research is truly interdisciplinary."

Andrew Szymanski (BA 2008)

What made you choose Waterloo?

To be completely honest, my options were slightly limited. I was part of the fabled double cohort year in Ontario, so I was graduating along with the last OACs. In my last year of high school, too, three of my six courses were calculus, geometry & discrete math, and physics–courses that required more rigorous focus than I was willing to give. I was also in a period in my life where recreational drug use trumped studying. I remember getting a few rejections from schools, for programs like Marketing or Business Administration—a random assortment, really. I applied to Waterloo with two applications: one to the Arts & Business program, and one just to the Arts program. I received an acceptance from the Arts department and I was thrilled. Then I received a rejection letter from Arts & Business, and the letter stated that they had considered me for the regular Arts program, too, and that I had been rejected for that as well. So I called the university in a panic, and they said as long as I had the initial official acceptance letter, I was in.

Another reason was that I had irrational personal prejudices against some schools, more or less based on reputations I had heard.  Waterloo seemed benign somehow.  And it was the right distance from my hometown of Ottawa. Far enough, close enough.

Did you imagine yourself as an author as an undergraduate? Or did you have another vision of your future?

I dreamt of it, sure. I had a great deal of love and reverence for literature, and everything I wrote felt super dilettantish (and still does, to an extent). But when I showed up at Waterloo, I hadn’t decided on a major, much less a life path…. I suppose I was waiting for some kind of Joycean vocational epiphany. And I still feel as though I'm waiting.

You've said elsewhere you didn't know anyone else who was writing when you were at Waterloo: we now have an;undergraduate creative writers’ group. Do you think this would this have made a difference in your trajectory?

Maybe that was disingenuous. I suppose what I meant was that, for the first three years of my undergrad, the only person I knew around my age who was writing fiction was my best friend out at UVic, and we were both into fiction and poetry in a big way by the time we finished high school. We’d send writings back and forth, and we eventually went on hiatus from our respective universities, met in our hometown of Ottawa to work for a few months while we lived at our parents’ homes, and then travelled to Europe, both of us with highly romantic notions. He’s still my first and ideal reader.

I met some other scribblers when I returned to Waterloo and took the two creative writing classes that were offered at the time. So I did become aware of others. Workshops and community and readings have helped me tremendously, but I think it’s good to remember that the work gets done when you close your door on the world and any communities within it, however supportive.

When did you first think about publication, and how did you move towards it?

When I started writing, I thought about it in a distant way. I would read Canadian Lit magazines and be highly critical of the work in them because I had a giant chip on my shoulder. Ha. I would send stories out to these magazines and see what kind of rejections I would get. Were they writing me a personal note? Was it a hand-written letter? Did they offer feedback or criticism? Was there any suggestion in the letter that they’d ever maybe publish something of mine? I was trying to gauge how far away I was from being a “real writer.” I think it’s a pretty good policy to always have some work out there, awaiting response. It makes you feel engaged. I say this not at all as an elder statesman. I have a hard time abiding by my own policy.

What advice would you offer students or alumni interested in pursuing writing and publishing? And what was the worst advice you ever received?

Be greedy with your time. Read and write. Do it for its own sake. Generally, there’s little glory and less money. So if you covet those things, there are infinitely simpler routes to achieving them. Regarding bad advice: I have a difficult time reading or hearing writing advice of any kind.  It tends to be highly prescriptive, rigid and self-important.  It can also be more daunting than it is inspiring. Follow your heart, people!

I do like asking: what are you most excited about reading in the next while?

I'm currently immersed in War and Peace… I think I'll read something shorter when I finish. Ha. I'm excited to read Pynchon's most recent novel, which is a few years old now,Inherent Vice. Paul Thomas Anderson is filming the adaptation. Evidently it's a noir, but my experience with Pynchon is I can expect his usual sexual exploits, bizarre song lyrics, and singular prose.

This profile was originally published on July 2013.

David Halk (BA 2009)

The mastery of language cannot be outsourced

“The Rhetoric and Professional Writing diploma has really become the backbone of my survival in the workforce,” says David Halk, who describes his time at uWaterloo as unconventional. Even his entrance into the English program differed from the norm, since it was essentially unplanned. Throughout his adolescence, David never aspired to be an English student; in fact, if asked during his teenage years for a wish list of university degrees, “you would have found English near the bottom.”

     However, uWaterloo is not a school known for stubborn traditionalism; on the contrary, it’s home to the unconventional. David came to find the unique Rhetoric stream of the English program surprising and fascinating. He was astonished to receive higher marks in English Rhetoric courses than in any other class in first year, when he was sampling the offerings of several disciplines in the Arts. Advised by friends and professors to enter the RPW stream of English, he quickly gained a passion for the subject, particularly the history of rhetoric from ancient to modern times. He also excelled at 300 and 400-level media courses because they allowed him to integrate advertising for his band into the assignments themselves. He says the value of these courses to present-day students is greater than most other types of English classes because they “speak to the reality of students’ lives and let them incorporate their own passions into them.”

     David’s most memorable moment in a class was when he and a group had to present an application of Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that “the Medium is the Message.” His group’s presentation involved a “multi-modal attack that used an animated Oprah Winfrey, sexualized robotics, absurd audio and video editing, and just an overall vibe of creepiness.” Evidently, the presentation succeeded at supporting McLuhan’s theory: the class was disturbed less by the content of the presentation and more by the media used to present that content. Academic life was not always fun and games for David, however. His antics sometimes got him into trouble, and more than once he was compelled to redo assignments, essentially doubling his workload.

     Upon graduation in April 2009, David benefitted almost immediately from his RPW studies, gaining a $50,000 grant for his parents’ business merely through his ability to persuade. He also secured production contracts equalling over $200,000 for PixelLab Interactive, an online development and consulting agency. Today, David teaches English in a Francophone school in a small town north of Montreal. He has always had a passion for Quebecois culture, and often wished he could speak French; by moving to Quebec, he is able to learn more about both.

     David offers this advice to current and future English students: “don't be afraid to let your passions guide your educational choices.” This was one of his trade secrets as a student; assignments in which he involved some of his personal interests were often the assignments on which he achieved the highest grades. If asked to promote the study of English, David would point out that English grads often have some of the most stable jobs in an increasingly globalized world, simply because “the mastery of language cannot be outsourced.”