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Announcements Cary Estes November 13, 2023

Dr. Margaret Jay Jessee talks to her students and writes on the smartboardThe world has moved from scrolls to screens. From papyrus paper to personal computers. From manuscripts to JavaScript.

But through all these changes, there remains a need for quality writing, both professional and creative. The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of English is meeting that need with a new major titled, “Writing and Media.” This degree program is designed to take an ancient form of communication, and make it work professionally in a landscape dominated by digital content.

“It takes the love of creativity—the art side of the College of Arts and Sciences—and adds to it the practical side of multimodal writing and digital writing for jobs in the 21st century,” said Margaret Jay Jessee, Ph.D., an associate professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of English. “So it’s a combination of everything we’re good at here.

“It’s combining the humanities with the technical, scientific side. So when these students go out and apply for jobs, they’re going to have experience writing in a digital world, which is going to help them enter into their future career. It’s a very forward-looking program.”

Department of English Chair Alison Chapman, Ph.D., says she got the idea for the major from a similar program offered at Florida State University. Once she began talking with colleagues about the concept and doing some research, Chapman says she was surprised to realize there are only a few similar such majors being offered throughout the country.

“Once you hear about it, it seems sort of obvious,” said Chapman. “We started thinking about creating a more truly interdisciplinary kind of degree. We wanted to develop a major that has a ton of writing, but also brings in more digital competencies. It was taking so much of what we already do well in this department, and then adding into it some of these marketable digital skills in creating content and being inventive.”

A market study commissioned by the Department of English concluded that there are strong job opportunities available for graduates of this new major, ranging from traditional public relations roles to such “new media” outlets as YouTube and podcasting.

English students pose for a video“We needed a major where students are focused on the production side of writing rather than the analysis of it,” said Jessee. “Our English B.A. is where students analyze language and literature. But this new ‘Writing in Media’ major is where they learn how to produce in an ever-growing digital medium. So they get both the technical side of how to do the writing, and the creative side of how to produce the content.”

Students in the major take 15 writing electives from among an array of offerings, mostly within the Department of English. They also take 12 electives from other departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, including History, Computer Science, Art and Art History, and Theatre.

“This is a very interdisciplinary program,” said Jessee. “It gives students a wide variety of options to learn how to write everything from screenwriting to coding.”

That way, once the students graduate, they will be prepared to take their writing skills and use them in a number of different mediums. Perhaps even papyrus.

“The way this degree is set up, students come in and take a gateway class, and then at the end they do an internship. And during both those, they’re building digital portfolios,” said Chapman. “We want these students to graduate with really strong digital competencies. That way they can go to all these different employers and say, ‘Look at what I can do.’”

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