English Major Profile: Molly Hall (B.A. 2016)

As an undergraduate, Molly Hall focused on professional writing, worked on The Mirror & the Lamp, and wrote a successful grant to help fund a teen center in Crystal Lake, Illinois. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Northern Illinois University, and today she is the Chief of Staff for the Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois.

M&L: What courses and experiences made the biggest impact on you when you were a student in the English department? What kinds of opportunities and experiences would you recommend that English majors get involved in?

Grant and Proposal Writing with Dr. Baird and Writing for the Social Web with Dr. Buchanan. The best thing I learned from both of those courses was to stop being a perfectionist! Sometimes, grants and proposals take many iterations to be approved, and web writing can almost always be edited. I took both of these courses near the end of my time at Western, but this was when the phrase “writing is a process” finally clicked for me. As a Type-A perfectionist for most of my life, the idea of not having something done perfectly the first time didn’t resonate with me until then. Also, working with Bill Knox on my honors thesis as well as numerous other courses. He became a sounding board for me towards the end of my time at Western as I tried to decide on what was next. He wrote one of my recommendation letters for graduate school.

To English majors: Take at least one professional writing course to prepare you for the workforce, and get involved on campus! Whether that’s with the English Department or another campus group, join something. If your schedule allows for it, run for an exec or board position as well. My experience as a student organization President is one of the things that helped me develop the time management, project management, and leadership skills that help me to this day. One thing that can help you stand out when applying for jobs after graduation are transferable skills (which the communication skills you learn as an English major absolutely are), but also the organizational and people skills that will make you an asset to their organization.

M&L: As a student, you were involved in a number of internships and other service learning experiences. What was most challenging for you in these opportunities? How important were things like your volunteer work with the Crystal Lake Teen center to your later successes?

I had planned to work in publishing when I switched my major from Psychology to English after my freshman year. The summer before my senior year, I interned in digital publishing and hated it. I realized I wanted to do something that made a difference with the skills that I had. I had strong time management and project management skills already from leading a student organization on campus (University Dance Theatre) and taking course loads of 18-21 hours each semester. I graduated in 3.5 years with a myriad of transferable skills, but no idea how to apply them. I wrote my first grant (as an assignment for Grant and Proposal Writing) for The Crystal Lake Teen Center and, surprisingly, we were funded. It was that moment that I felt like I found my niche.

After graduating in December 2016, I planned to work for a few years and then attend graduate school because I hadn’t yet decided on what I wanted my Master’s in, but I knew I wanted to do graduate school. I spent more than six months full time job hunting for entry-level nonprofit development positions before realizing that I needed either more experience or a Master’s degree in order to be a chosen candidate. As I filled out my graduate school application for NIU’s MPA program, I still applied for jobs as I waited for a response. I ended up interviewing for both a graduate assistantship and having a second interview for a Grants Manager position with Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois (GSNI) within the same two weeks. I heard back from the university first, and I couldn’t turn down a tuition waiver for my graduate work.

M&L: Did you find your reading and writing skills you learned in the English major gave you advantages that helped you succeed in your graduate work? How did your work in the English major influence your decision to do graduate work in Public Administration?

I remember sitting in the all-day (8 hours) of orientation for the NIU MPA program feeling overwhelmed and out of place, as most of the individuals at my table had studied community leadership together in undergrad, or were currently working in a public sector position. Then the next speaker began their presentation on professional writing. He spoke about how much of a public administrator’s job will involve a great deal of professional writing like formal memos as well as community-facing content. As he continued on about the basics of professional writing, style guides, audience, etc., I finally felt like I actually belonged in that room. Transitioning from academic writing to professional writing can be a struggle since academic writing involves much of the writer’s own analysis while the first rule of professional writing is to not recreate the wheel, but I felt like I had already honed those skills pretty well.

M&L: How did you become the Chief of Staff at Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois, and how do the skills you learned as an English major help you succeed here?

Networking. After I accepted the position to work with the NIU Center for Governmental Studies as a Graduate Research Assistant in Survey Research and Strategic Planning, I let GSNI know that I’d be interested in applying for other positions (if any were available) after I graduated. In turn, I was offered a contract position to assist with grant research which I gladly accepted. After a year of graduate work, working at my assistantship, and working with GSNI on contract, GSNI reached out about the Chief of Staff position. Initially, I was asked to share it with my network, but after reading through the job description, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. A few weeks later, I had an offer letter sent to me and I had officially moved from a full time graduate student to part time.

In our increasingly digital world, a lot of our communication is written rather than verbal, and I see this as a trend continuing in the workplace. I can express myself better in writing than I can verbally (not that public speaking skills aren’t important!) which helps cut down on back-and-forth as well as conflicts. I do a lot of interfacing with the community in my role, so clear communication that also follows our brand standards as well as supports our mission is critical.

M&L: What is your favorite memory from your time in the English department at Western?

Making a bet with Chris Morrow about the 2016 World Series. If the Cubs won, he’d give us an extension on the essay we had due that week and as a life-long Cubs fan, I clearly had other priorities that week. Obviously, I won that bet and the entire class got a week extension.