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Graduate English, Student Careers, The Value of English

Early Graduate Lessons for a Digital Writer

Graduate Student Jordan Osterman is the Newsroom Editor at the University of St. Thomas. Jordan graduated from St. Thomas in 2011 with a B.A. in Communication Journalism and a minor in English.

Studio Portrait of Graduate English student Jordan Osterman and writer for the Newsroom and magazines at the University of St. Thomas.

As a Tommie English-minor-turned-St. Thomas-employee, returning to class for my master’s was a fascinating opportunity. When I was hired in late 2014 my thoughts on heading back to school fell into the category of, “Why not?” Two courses in it has quickly shifted to, “How did I not realize how much I would get out of this?”

I knew as an undergraduate how much value I took in getting together with people to hear their thoughts, interpretations and ideas about something we had both read, and in the master’s program so far that value has only increased. First in Martin Warren’s class getting a crash course on criticism, and last semester in Alexis Easley’s course exploring Victorian literary journalism, I’ve had my eyes opened up to many new ways of looking things. Especially in today’s world where it is easier than ever to find voices to confirm your own beliefs and shut out those that don’t, hearing and interacting with different ideas that have stretched the boundaries of my own thinking has meant a lot to me. (Case in point: I was the only man in Alexis’ class, which was a fantastic opportunity to learn from being around so many different female viewpoints.)

Alongside that constantly culminating value, I’ve been extremely excited to see how actively my continuing education has informed my work as the editor of and writer for an online publication, St. Thomas’ Newsroom. In our Victorian class we explored the 19th century explosion of periodicals and other print media in England and the United States, and it was impossible not to draw parallels to our own era’s communication explosion with the advent and growth of the Internet. It was fascinating to get a sense for the excitement, anxiety and evolving understanding of what it meant to have so many different voices thrown together into and onto society’s conscious, and how that informed and reflected the ideas, values and laws that guided their people. As someone who writes nonfiction for a living, it has been fantastic to gain a greater sense of the role media plays in shaping the identity of people and their community, in the past and today.

Also, beyond simply the comfort of seeing a past society grapple and deal with (and survive) such a similar explosion in media to our own, my courses have reinforced the importance of having an informed sense of my own media consumption. I, and all of us, are constant consumers of media, and the kinds of educational exercises in critical thinking our courses offer help move us from passive to active participants in that consumption. That is not a small distinction, and, again, in a time where there is so much media to choose from, I appreciate immensely being forced to think more deeply about the choices I make and the effects they have on me.

My wife, Gina, a fellow English St. Thomas alum, is also working on her master’s degree in nursing, and after stringing together several summers and semesters was ready for a break this spring. I decided to join her, and it’s been awesome to spend time together and with our freshly-turned-1-year-old daughter. That said, I’m already looking forward to fall semester and getting back to class to build on these awesome experiences.

Graduate English, Student Careers, Student Research, The Value of English

Vatnajökull

Katelyn Brunner is finishing her first semester as a graduate student. This fall she traveled to Iceland to pursue an interest that might cause you  pause when you think about English students: Geology. Because of the interest shown by her fellow classmates, Katelyn welcomed the opportunity to write about this “sweetheart infatuation” for our blog. When not in school or hiking atop glaciers, Katelyn is a copy editor for an ad agency that does work for veterinary/production animal companies.


unknownGeology is a complex, fundamental science that most people take for granted, which is a shame. The deep ocean’s thermal vents, the kaleidoscope in a granite countertop, stratification-stripes on the inside of mountains sliced to make room for highways– all of that beauty is proof that our Earth is not a given, it’s a gift.

My stupid, sweetheart infatuation with the planet is the reason I went to Iceland. It is one of the most extreme places in the world for the Earth sciences– glaciers rest on top of volcanoes and islands rise up out of the sea. Lava fields are covered with moss and the sand is charcoal-black. Everything is big and elemental and a girl in clunky hiking boots feels very small in comparison. It’s not that so many things happened during my trip there– it’s just that Iceland happened to me. But I don’t want to talk about all that.

I want to talk about a glacier.

picture1

I planned my trip around a three-day excursion that included hiking, staying in void-dark villages overnight, and clamping spikes onto our boots so we didn’t fall into an ice cave– literally. Some of the hiking and not-falling was done on top of a glacier called Vatnajökull. The day of the hike, our group of five was driven a few hours to a small, steel cabin to meet our “glacier guides,” all of whom look exactly like you’d expect. After signing my life away and being grilled about my epilepsy, I was allowed near the cramp-ons, pickaxes, and fun little harnesses whose lime-green nylon clashed horribly with my borrowed, hunter’s-orange pants.

The intimate experience that was my harness-fitting rivaled the TSA screening that I once received for committing the cardinal sin of airplane travel: forgetting my ID. Just like that uncomfortable Thanksgiving day, I was subjected to what amounted to little more than a pleasureless groping. Luckily, my fit, blonde “glacier guide” was the nicest woman in the world, if a bit intimidating. Just one of her defined muscles would probably be assigned a better high school superlative than I had.

picture3I was soon released to one of those huge, shiny buses that have impossibly large windows. The bus driver, a kind of lumberjack Santa who smelled like roast beef, pulled away from the cabin with his charges, and switched on the radio to what can only be described as the most offensive elevator music on Earth. The entire, hour-long trek across a landscape clearly not meant for buses, was filled with the sound of “improvised” jazz and clinking hiking equipment. We passed the outwash plain they filmed parts of the last Star Wars movie on and marveled at how like an earlobe the glacier looked, seeping out into its little lagoon. We saw the highest peak in Iceland and it didn’t look very tall until we were right up against it, jumping every so often at each creak and crash courtesy of the ice fall at its base.

We were briefed on how to behave ourselves on Vatnajökull. What I got from the talk was this: when stepping down, don’t point your toes straight forward, stomp so hard you’re sore tomorrow, and don’t feed the ravens; they will chase you. With those wise words, we began to climb.

It’s not enough just to describe the glacier, though it’s tempting. I could mention deep, blue crevasses that seemed very sinister, scalloped edges of melting ice, and the two ravens with gasoline-sheen feathers. But the most interesting thing about the experience was less the beauty of the place– after all, this was day six of a beautiful picture2trip– but the swelling-heart feeling I got when I stepped foot on the ice. I was finally there, finally with the thing I’d studied, presented on, and wrote about during my years in undergrad. Glaciers move and speak and, over time, slice through the landscape like wire through soft cheese. They, like minerals and the ocean’s currents, prove our Earth is alive. And my love for it proves I am, too.

Graduate English, Student Careers

Writing on Deadline: Life of a National News Editor

Theresa Malloy is in her second year in the graduate program. Theresa received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Journalism at St. Thomas in 2013. This degree launched her into the national news editing scene. She has previously worked for organizations like ThreeSixty JournalismMpls.St.Paul Magazine, and BringMeTheNews.com. Below she talks about her current work at LAKANA.

Theresa reporting at the fire station as a community newspaper editor. One of the skills Theresa has picked up is taking notes without looking at her notepad. (Photo by Anne Malloy)

Theresa reporting at the fire station as a community newspaper editor. One of the skills Theresa has picked up is taking notes without looking at her notepad. (Photo by Anne Malloy)

140 characters or less. That’s all it takes to break news these days. Instantly the world knows Harper Lee is dead. Emergency responders are dispatched to Paisley Park. The White House is on lockdown. You have to wait a few minutes to find out if it was an active shooter, objects thrown on the lawn or an errant party balloon. (News junkies can confirm these scenarios are not invented).

When I’m not in graduate school at St. Thomas, I work as a national news editor for LAKANA in St. Paul. We produce news content for more than 100 television station websites across the country. We monitor Twitter and see thousands of tweets a day, then produce stories, package digital content and work with CNN’s wire service to get readers the news.

Every day on the job is different, but what’s trending on Twitter dictates the conversation and stories. Some days I am writing breaking news alerts, while other days it’s writing viral content. Yes, the most read story in my career might have been people Trumping their cats. (Kitty combovers). Regardless, we work to get the news out quickly, accurately and concisely.

The journalism world is changing. Since I graduated with my B.A. in Communication and Journalism three years ago from St. Thomas, my career has taken me on many different paths: community newspaper reporting, photography, videography, magazine writing and editing, radio script writing, web production and even investigative reporting.

What I have learned is that people can get news anywhere, so I have to ask myself what can I do as a reporter to consistently deliver reliable, smart reporting that they can’t get elsewhere. With readers you have to build trust, and good writing is key. One typo, inaccurate fact or bias could send the reader elsewhere.

The best stories write themselves. My favorite are the people who are doing the extraordinary everyday as if it were ordinary.

While I can produce some of those pieces on deadline, my coursework in Dr. Todd Lawrence’s Ethnographic Writing class allowed me to use my reporting skills and spend time telling the stories of people in North Minneapolis. I hope to continue this work throughout my graduate studies, since it is hard to find a newsroom that can afford to give reporters the time they need to really focus on their efforts on a single community and its nuances.

A tweet can be lifechanging in an instant. But the question we have to ask as news gatherers, is what do people need to know? Then we determine what is the best way to deliver it – Media gallery? Video? Livestream?

Whatever the article, we try to offer readers a story prepared with thought, consideration and care. As the industry evolves, I am hopeful the news coverage will improve. It definitely shapes the national conversation as is evident with the looming presidential election. So I will keep monitoring Twitter, awaiting what breaks next and ready to write on deadline.