Mentorship program illuminates various career paths for English majors

A new mentorship program will allow undergraduate English majors in the School of Arts & Sciences (SAS) to work in paying jobs with Penn alumni who also majored in English.

The inaugural program, which this year pairs students with alumni in two companies this summer, is sponsored by the Department of English and SAS.

“The point of the mentorship is largely to show students career paths that are not necessarily what you might expect for English majors,” says Zachary Lesser, a professor of English and undergraduate chair. “But in each of these fields, our alumni said their English major has been really useful.”

One of the alums and mentors is Stacy Jarett Levitan, executive director of the Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence (JCHAI) in Bryn Mawr, Pa., a nonprofit that serves people with autism and intellectual disabilities.

“Having the ability to write persuasively, the ability that I developed as an English major at Penn, has been indispensable at every job that I have held,” Levitan says. “The skills that any English major must develop—how to read critically, collect evidence for a viewpoint, construct arguments to support that viewpoint, and communicate these ideas effectively—are important for most fields.”

The mentorship program is meant to complement Penn’s long-established “Real Arts” internship program, Lesser says.

“We want to give our students a taste of how they can use their skills in various careers,” he says. “Our students don’t always know that what they learn in English will help them run a business, or a nonprofit, or work in political advertising.” 

The other company that is part of the inaugural program is Rising Tide Interactive (RTI), a digital advertising agency based in Washington, D.C. Penn alumus Eli Kaplan is the founding partner.

Each of the two students chosen this year will receive a stipend of $2,500 for 20 hours a week for eight weeks, funded by a grant from SAS.

Rising senior Jeffrey Careyva of Ringtown, Pa., was chosen as the JCHAI intern. A Benjamin Franklin Scholar, he is a double major in English and philosophy in Penn’s Integrated Studies Program.

Careyva is a social media manager and deputy news editor of the Daily Pennsylvanian, and a member of the English Department’s Disabilities Studies group.

“I thought it was a perfect match for me,” he says. “It’s going to be a great time to work with people and help them, and get the organization more notice for the work they’ve been doing. ... It seems like a dream job.”

While in the internship, Caryva will be writing social media posts, website copy, and a blog. He will also collect data from clients to help the organization analyze its performance, particularly what it is doing well.

The benefits for her nonprofit to have a proven writer on staff, Levitan says, are clear.

“We hope this will take our social media presence to the next level,” she says.

At RTI, rising junior Zoe Albano-Oritt of Philadelphia will help with advertising development, as well as writing and editing marketing emails and creating performance analytics reports. The company works with political campaigns and nonprofit organizations that focus on promoting social justice.

“I think our values align really well. The causes they support are important to me,” says Albano-Oritt, who is an English major with a concentration in creative writing, and a cinema studies minor. “I’m interested in advertising, public relations, communications, and in politics. It is a really great opportunity to spend the summer in Washington doing hands-on work and get more professional experience.”

Both Albano-Oritt and Caryva say the compensation provided by the mentorship made it possible for them to accept the positions.

The goal, Lesser said, is for the English Department to offer the mentorship program each year.

“We hope to expand it in future years to perhaps four or five mentorships,” he says. “We love the connection it offers between the faculty in English, our alumni, and our current majors.”

English mentorship