Professional writing and rhetoric major builds versatile, creative writers

Students studying on the first floor of Carroll Science building, which houses the English department and its classes. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

By Julianne Fullerton | Reporter

Housed in Baylor’s English department, professional writing and rhetoric (PWR) is a small but mighty major of 59 students that prepares them to learn the versatility of writing and how to apply it in their professional lives.

Dr. Sara Dye, lecturer in English, defined rhetoric as the “art, discipline and craft of communicating effectively.” Within the major, she said students learn how to utilize rhetoric in practical ways.

“If you think about what you encounter on a day-to-day basis, everything is rhetorical,” Dye said. “One of the things that I think we do in the professional writing and rhetoric major is emphasize that we are surrounded by rhetoric and that being aware of all of the ways in which people are communicating with us and we are communicating with other people … can help us be more effective and ethical communicators.”

Dye said upon graduation, students with PWR degrees go on to do “anything and everything.”

“Everyone needs writers; everyone needs people who can communicate clearly and effectively and efficiently,” Dye said. “There are seemingly endless career options for people who have writing degrees. I think that a PWR degree sets you up to really do just about anything, because you will write no matter what you do for a career.”

Dye said she wishes all students knew exactly how much writing they’re going to do in their futures. Regardless of their field, Dye said employers always look for strong written and verbal communication skills.

“PWR as a major can prepare you to excel in almost any, if not all, possible career paths, because what you do as a writer is you think about, ‘How do I accomplish whatever purpose I have in front of me?'” Dye said. “One thing that we are doing is developing the critical thinking and writing skills that enable you to walk into a variety of contexts, a variety of disciplines, a variety of careers and be able to communicate effectively in them.”

Although he didn’t know what he wanted to do coming out of high school, Dallas sophomore Luke Babler said he has learned just how “pervasive” writing is. He said he even calls writing a “cultural thermometer,” because it gives insight into a person.

“Math, it’s humans defining concepts that are outside of ourselves, but writing is inherently from within,” Babler said. “The single best way to tell anything about anyone is how they write, which I think is fascinating.”

Through PWR, Babler said he has found a new interest in wanting to work collaboratively.

“What these classes have taught me the most is how much I like to work with people,” Babler said. “There’s a kind of misconception that writing is done by the starving artist, a loner type, and that’s just simply not true.”

Babler said he has confidence that he will be able to succeed despite living in a constantly shifting technological era.

“Truly, if you know how to be a good communicator, then there’s very little that you cannot figure out,” Babler said. “In these PWR classes, I may not know exactly what I want to do yet, but I do know that whatever I’m going to do, I’m going to be able to adapt to it.”

Kennesaw, Ga., senior Elle Jansick said she originally came to Baylor to pursue interior design, with PWR as her secondary major. However, soon after, she decided to fully pursue PWR.

“I never thought that I was going to pursue writing professionally; I thought it was just always like a hobby,” Jansick said. “Once I found out about the program, it really opened my eyes to how versatile the program is, and I was really excited to get to jump in.”

Jansick said her motivation to write stems from how she “unapologetically” believes in storytelling.

“I think that the more time that I spend in creative circles and creative careers and with our peers and cohort, I think that I know that I was put on this Earth to help tell stories,” Jansick said. “And I don’t think that’s always going to be on pen and paper. I think sometimes it’s going to be through art mediums.”

Jansick said she considers her PWR major to be the “best choice” she has made. Now that she is doing an internship with Magnolia, she said she is able to combine her passions and skills to create visual storytelling.

“As far as writing goes, it works in because we’re visually storytelling, and so that always starts with an idea,” Jansick said. “It starts with writing. It starts with drafting out a concept. Getting to see that aspect translate into something that I’m doing — which is much more tactical — but know that it all goes back to storytelling has been really cool.”

As for her future career plans, Jansick said she would love to continue with Magnolia and find a position on their visual display merchandising team. In addition, she said she would love to freelance write.

“For me, everything starts with words,” Jansick said. “Before I sketch, I write it out. I think that creating a visual element for people can go in tandem with a well-written piece, and I think getting to be on both sides of that coin is really, really cool.”

Jansick said she encourages all students to add a PWR class to their course schedule at Baylor.

“I think that if you have the ability and you want to work in any kind of creative field or any field where you’re going to tell stories, and you can add this, it’s the best asset you can do,” Jansick said.