MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Graduate student Sarah Hicks is not the typical English graduate program student. She returned to school after working four years as an English as a second language, or ESL, teacher but not to further her classroom career. She wants to pursue a niche career as a show writer or narrative and experience designer.
“I want to create stories that people can be a part of,” Hicks said, “to be the person who creates the backstories for things like escape games, theme park rides, experiential museum exhibits or really any kind of location-based experience. There aren’t a lot of traditional classes that can teach me how to do that…. It’s really better to get a hands-on experience.”
Serendipitously, the English graduate program recently launched an internship experience course that allows students to gain practical experience in their field while earning course credit, and Hicks was the first student in the program to take advantage of it with a placement at the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, this summer.
“Laura White, my advisor, first told me about the internship course,” Hicks said. “She has been so supportive of my unique career goals and really taken the time to help me brainstorm which classes and opportunities would be best in helping me accomplish them.… She’s been absolutely wonderful in helping me navigate the requirements and registration process for the internship.”
Originally from Vandalia, Ohio, Hicks first learned of possibly completing her internship at the Discovery Center at a “Chat ‘N Chew” English Department lunch event when chatting with Julie Myatt, English professor and MT Engage director.
“She (Myatt) reached out to Lara Daniel, College of Business professor, who then reached out to the Discovery Center’s CEO Tara MacDougall. Tara expressed interest and had me contact Dale McCreedy, the center’s vice president of audience and community engagement. Dale conducted my interview, after which the museum agreed to bring me on.”
The center is a hands-on children’s museum that provides authentic, interactive play experiences in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, according to the website — exactly the experience Hicks was looking for.
“This internship gave me the opportunity to observe how guests were interacting with or engaging with different components of the museum's exhibits,” Hicks said. “Based on those observations, I had the chance to develop new ideas for the exhibit spaces and pitch those ideas in presentations to the museum staff — a huge part of narrative and experience design — so this was an incredibly valuable opportunity to practice that whole process.
“Plus, if some of my pitches come to full fruition, the idea of guests getting to interact with the things that I designed for them is just super cool to think about and very rewarding.”
White, Hicks’ advisor and an English professor, said that the internship course gives students interested in careers outside of academia the chance to establish professional connections, to start assembling a portfolio of professional experience and to explore various career paths they may not have considered before.
“I have been talking with other students who are interested in exploring internships in areas such as writing for non-profit organizations, publishing, editing and educational administration,” said White, adding that it has been a great pleasure advising Hicks.
“She came to the program with a clear sense of the career trajectory she wants to follow, and she has used her creativity and ambition to take full advantage of the possibilities the program offers using the internship course and directed reading courses to tailor a program that supports her own specific goals.”
Hicks echoed the sentiment about White and the entire English graduate program staff.
“Dr. White has been such a huge support to me,” Hicks said. “Rhonda McDaniel, program director, has (also) been a huge support to me, both emotionally and academically, as I've been trying to reacclimate to academia and pursue a fairly unique career.”
To learn more about the opportunities offered by the English graduate program, visit the website here https://www.mtsu.edu/programs/english-grad/.
To learn about all the advanced degree opportunities at MTSU, visit the College of Graduate Studies website here https://www.mtsu.edu/graduate/.
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