When were you enrolled in the program?

August 1995 - August 1996

How did you learn of the program?

Respondent #14: UVA Admissions literature

Why did you enter the program, and did it meet your expectations?

I chose this program because I had decided that I did not want to pursue the PhD/Academia route and was more interested in publishing and magazine journalism. This program, as presented, seemed like a sound way to gain the necessary background for a career in either field.

My expectations of the program were that:
1)it would challenge my writing and communications skills and take my abilities to a more mature level; 2)I would gain valuable experience/learning in the areas of publishing and professional writing;
3)it would prepare me well for a non-academic career. In this sense, it did meet my expectations. The way in which this learning was achieved, however, was not what I expected.

What did you find most valuable about the program?

The program's most valuable contribution was the exposure to and experience working with the Internet, computers, and emerging technologies.

Was the program different in any significant ways from your earlier education?

Academically, I expected to tackle the kinds of in-depth projects in American Studies that we completed for the program. It was different from my past Education (English and American Studies BA) because I had little to no connection to the English department and had to rethink a lot of my work so that it was more appropriate to present on the web--as I look back on it, I'm not sure this shift in paradigm was completely successful.

Did the program help you develop any of these aspects of your life?

-Thinking and communicating? Yes
-Work habits? Yes
-Research abilities? Yes
-Technical abilities? Yes

To what extent did your classmates affect your experience in the program?

Although much of our work was done independently, our group of students ('95-'96) significantly enhanced my experience with the program:
--We held regular meetings on the progress of the Xroads site and how to put it together most effectively.
--We often shared our research with each other in order to refine and revise project ideas and approaches.
--We relied on each other often for technical help and advice.
--We frequently engaged in intellectual debate and dialogue on issues pertaining to our courses (English, American Studies, and otherwise) in the American Studies Lab in Bryan Hall. Our conversations often influenced work in progress by inspiring new ideas or forcing us to re-examine existing ones.

To what extent did the public venue (the Internet) for much your work affect your experience in the program?

Looking back, it was the core of the program. It was the aspect that none of us was prepared for when we began the program, but it became the benefit that has landed most of us the jobs we currently have.

The most difficult part of the program was merging my academic expectations and background with the new medium/technology I was learning. While I had interests, habits, and inclinations that was appropriate to the academic side of graduate school, few of them were appropriate for the Internet. I had to overcome a lot of hurdles to do what I did--as did most of us--and I'm not sure that I was entirely successful at the time.

Was the course work appropriate to the goals of the program? Yes, the American Studies seminars were appropriate. The outside course work was not necessarily appropriate as prescribed.

Did you perceive yourself as part of any university department or community larger than the American Studies Program itself?

The program was very insular and the only reason I feel that I was part of a larger community is that I sought out courses in other departments that I felt were appropriate to my interests and goals.

How well was interdisciplinary study integrated in the program? The opportunity to pursue other courses is there, and with some talking to other professors (art history, architecture, and multimedia classes at Curry were my departments), I found that other groups were very interested in what we were doing. A better structure should be established to encourage a cohesive path of study that is integrated with American Studies coursework/interests, thesis objectives, and post-graduate plans.

Were the following resources (and any other ones) adequate for your work?

-Libraries? Yes
-Computers and technical support? Yes, extremely so.
-Work space? Yes.
-Classes? Yes, but again--I had to seek courses that were appropriate to my objectives
-Faculty? No. Mr. Howard has tremendous vision and he was a great help to me, but I think he needs some support to help evolve the program.
-Financial support? No. Although I qualified for Federal loans adequate to cover tuition and expenses, some additional assistance and/or work study options for the program would have helped.
-Other? Career assistance resources and internship opportunities would be especially beneficial to graduates of this program.

During the program did you have any relevant part-time employment?

I was able to get work digitizing issues of Callaloo and helping with online layouts, and I produced an HTML tutorial for Xroads that provided a good writing sample to show prospective employers.

Please describe briefly your major forms of schooling and/or employment since your time in the program (giving dates, name of organization, and chief activities there):

*12/96 - 8/98: Microsoft Corporation; Seattle, WA Online Product Manager, MSN Membership Marketing
--managed online advertising and marketing communications aimed at generating new subscribers for Microsoft's online service
--coordinated online promotions and announcements for all properties on MSN.com
--produced technical database project to track and report on effectiveness of all advertising/marketing activities from source of promotion through to trial of MSN service
--managed advertising agency, direct mail agency, and product fulfillment vendor
--served as copywriter on all MSN marketing projects

*8/98 to present: LifeTimes.com, Inc; Washington, DC Marketing Manager for start-up consumer technology company
--manage all aspects of product marketing, advertising, and public relations for new community and e-commerce web site
--develop strategic business partners to contribute to product development, traffic building, and content development
--responsible for site positioning framework, target audience analysis, and marketing communication to the end-user
--guide development of user interface and creative execution of it
--responsible for collecting all tracking, reporting, and end-user surveys to continue to evolve the web site and its feature set.

Did you find advising and placement support in the program to be adequate? Not at all

Has your involvement in the program made a discernible difference in the subsequent steps of your career?

Yes. Without that web experience behind me, I would not have landed the interviews I had. My Master's work was the hook on my resume that got me the interview at Microsoft.

How might the program be strengthened?

The program needs to be more accurately communicated to prospective students. The biggest problem is that it's not _just_ an English program but people keep trying to make it one. It's an excellent vehicle for students with strong liberal arts backgrounds to employ their communications, analytic, and writing skills to ends other than the PhD. It's not an MBA, but it is a professional degree.

The academic influence keeps students in territory they're comfortable in and can learn a great deal from, but the web site development approach--both on Xroads and for their own projects-- provides valuable experience in a business setting.

I offer the following suggestions, off the top of my head:
1. Make it clear that students are working with the web and are in this program because they DO NOT want to pursue a PhD.
2. Structure the program so that students can go on to business, publishing, journalism, or education but that they are here to produce scholarly work that makes a significant contribution to educational information on the Internet. Encourage students to have an academic interest they can defend when they come here and then have them build a program that makes sense for them, balancing core American Studies program with other courses that will contribute to their overall understanding of their material. Communicate all of this up front, before they even submit an application.
3. Structure the American Studies class to operate Xroads as a business. Have each group contribute to its content, its usability, its look and feel, and its features. Encourage them to do an analysis of sites they feel are effective and why they're effective. Have them create a plan that describes how they will implement the changes they identify. Make it a course expectation, and have them work as a team to get it done.
4. Have students share input on the content direction for Xroads. Rather than expanding particular content areas at the discretion of the advisor, allow the students to determine some content plans (ie, the 1930s, the Capitol, etc) so that some of the work completed in Gateway projects is work that students will be genuinely dedicated to.

5. Get Darden or someone from Commerce to talk to students in this program. Even a Business 101 seminar or crash-course could help them understand more how the corporate world can best use their skills and give them some goals to shoot for both on Xroads and in their own career considerations.
6. Provide some budget in place (minimal), with an advisor who can help them manage it, to give them the chance to promote their work. Perhaps a local web shop could help with art or with some HTML to give students the opportunity to market themselves and Xroads--all the while getting some good business experience to put on resumes.

Any other reflections?

The American Studies program is a valuable, beneficial, cutting-edge program that can provide tremendous opportunities to the students who are prepared for what it can do. The program must strike a difficult balance in appealing to liberal arts students who may not be ready to think about giving up on the PhD but are willing to adapt to a new direction with something innovative and more practical. It's not for everyone, but anyone who can accept it and work with it has the potential to realize some great rewards-- personally, economically, and professionally.

The program needs full-time commitment, however, since it's critical that it evolves with the growth of the Internet. Its supervisor(s) need to stay abreast of what's happening and ensure that the program is doing the best it can to prepare students for the widest variety of careers available.

I hope that you'll consider my support for this program and please call me if you have more questions or would like to discuss any of the points here in further detail. You can reach me at xxx.xxx.xxxx, daytime; xxx.xxx.xxxx, evenings.