Alumni Spotlights

Julia Clem (Mann)

Technical Writer/Editor, EBSCO Research (Atlanta, GA)

I currently work as a technical writer and editor for EBSCO Research, an Atlanta-based company that publishes a home services guide called Best Pick Reports, where I've been since June of 2014.

After I graduated from Emory, I worked as an administrative assistant for an accounting firm in Dunwoody. I was laid off in the spring of 2009 in the midst of the economy taking a nosedive, and although my guess is that undergrads nearing the end of their degrees may not want to hear this, I was unemployed for seven months. I was terrified, but in hindsight, everything worked out just fine. I didn't end up on the streets, and I don't feel like my worth on the job market has suffered at all. My boyfriend at the time — now my husband — was able to find an opening for me at his company at the beginning of 2010, and I started working as a software trainer. I taught restaurant owners and employees how to use their point-of-sale systems, and I also learned how to build point-of-sale system menu databases for restaurant owners who didn't want to do that themselves.
In the spring of 2011, I decided to return to school for a Master's degree. I was accepted to the Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University, and I applied for and was awarded a teaching assistantship. I started that program in the fall of 2011 and graduated in the spring of 2014 — the assistantship extends the degree by one year. For those three years, I attended school full time and worked as an independent contractor building point-of-sale menu databases from home.

My degree is in Rhetoric and Composition and what KSU calls applied writing, which is really just technical writing and editing. I worked in the university writing center as a writing tutor during my first two semesters, and then during my second and third year in the program, I taught two sections of English 1101 in the fall semesters and two sections of English 1102 in the spring semesters. My first two semesters of teaching were tough, but as I found my footing and my identity as a teacher, I came to truly enjoy it. I had a lot of fun, and I got some excellent and very encouraging feedback from my students.

Ultimately, I decided not to continue teaching at KSU once I finished my degree. I would have been hired as an adjunct, and I really needed to find employment that was a little more guaranteed from year to year — and that offered benefits. As much as I enjoyed teaching, the financial aspect just didn't make sense at the time. I love my job at EBSCO — it's a very progressive company, and having a tangible result at the end of each print season is so rewarding. I write for the Best Pick Reports blog, too — I use my married name, so if you see any articles written by Julia Clem, that's me :-)

In addition to working full time, I'm also a full-time mother — I gave birth to my daughter in the spring of 2015. And if I remember correctly, the midwife who delivered her was in the Comp Lit department as an Emory undergrad, too!

During my time at Emory, my favorite comp lit courses were the 203 classes and the 300-level courses that covered literary theory. I love learning about and discussing literary theory, and surrealist literature absolutely fascinates me — especially the French surrealists. Those courses also got me interested in feminist theories, and that interest drives a lot of the reading I do in my downtime these days (well, relatively speaking—having a toddler running around doesn't allow for much quiet time to read, but I do what I can!)

The courses in the comp lit program build on each other really well. The 200-level courses gave me a solid foundation and exposed me to different texts and theories, and from there, I was able to explore my own interests in the upper-level classes. I have always said that there is simply not enough money in the world to convince me to redo high school, but I would happily take my comp lit classes again for fun :-)

I hope this novella is helpful to you — my comp lit degree has absolutely been an asset to me, and I look back on my time at Emory with a lot of fondness. I'd be happy to serve as a resource or point of contact for students in the comp lit program.

— Julia Clem (Mann), ‘07 Comp Lit and French Studies

Betsy Cohen

Director of Development, Center for Supportive Schools (New York, NY)
Immediately after graduating from Emory, I completed the French Government English Teaching Assistantship in Versailles, France. I then attended Harvard Divinity School and received a Master's of Theological Studies focusing in the Hebrew Bible and Gender Studies in 2011.

After graduate school, I decided to shift away from pursuing an academic career. I transitioned to working in K-12 education, first as a federal grants and funding researcher for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt from 2011-2013. In that time I moved from Boston, MA to Brooklyn, NY. Hoping to positively impact the educational landscape within New York City, I joined Success Academy Charter Schools as a Development Associate, and worked there from 2013-2015.

Last fall, I transitioned to my current role as the Director of Development for the Center for Supportive Schools--an organization focused on partnering with schools to combat chronic student disengagement through social and emotional learning programs.

I would be happy to serve as a resource for any current Comparative Literature undergraduate students at Emory, if that would be helpful. The Comp Lit department remains very near and dear to my heart, and remember all too well how challenging choosing a meaningful career path can be with this background.

Betsy Cohen, ’08 Comp Lit and Women’s Studies

Maria Escher (Rosensweig)

Manager, Southeast Neighborhood Library (Washington, DC)

Even though I had no idea what to do when I graduated and basically spun my wheels for a year while working at the now-defunct Borders bookstore, things have worked out in my favor.

I'm a librarian, the manager of a small but extremely busy public library on Capitol Hill, married to another Emory grad (not comp lit though), with a two year old daughter. Library work is a great option for comp lit. Majors like me who have a wide breadth of interests but lack a narrow passion that would take them to grad school or an academic specialization. Working in a public library, especially in an urban area with great economic inequality, also makes me feel like my staff and I are a force for good in a world which seems very dark sometimes.

That said, I'd recommend anyone who wanted to pursue library work to get a job as a paraprofessional before even thinking about grad school. I worked as a library associate and the DC Public Libraries paid for my master’s degree. Many libraries will. This field does not pay well enough to go into unnecessary student debt.

So basically:

2007- graduate, work at Borders
2008- follow college boyfriend to DC, get a job as paraprofessional in DC Public library
2009- marry said boyfriend, start grad school part time while working full time as library paraprofessional
2011- graduate with masters degree, become professional librarian still at DC Public Library
2014- have daughter! move into DC Public library management to pay the bills (that was a busy year)

I hope that long spiel helps current and future students figure out what they want to do!

— Maria Escher, ’07 Comp Lit and Spanish

Henry Hays

Junior Associate, Weber Shandwick (Boston, MA)
Going into my fourth year in 2017 I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I came to Emory knowing I wanted to be a Comparative Literature major, but was about to exit unsure of my professional path. I had thought (and still think) about continuing my Comp Lit studies in graduate school, but worried about confining myself to academia. I had thought about law, but didn’t want to lose the creative outlets that Comparative Literature afforded me. After speaking with mentors and a career counselor, it became apparent to me that communications and marketing could serve as a fascinating intersection between the creative and practical.
Today I’m working at Weber Shandwick, a global communications firm. I had first interned with their Atlanta office before moving back to Boston, where I’m originally from. I’ve found so far in my work that Comparative Literature gives me a unique understanding of systems and an appreciation for how seemingly disparate phenomena may actually be connected. I realized that Comparative Literature, in conjunction with my International Studies major, gave me an ability to both qualitatively and quantitatively map culture. And in this industry, being able to understand audiences and culture on a deep level is what can elevate a campaign or project to have a truly beneficial affect on people and society.
There have been times where I questioned whether this industry was right for me. Entering communications and marketing with virtually no prior knowledge can be intimidating, especially when there’s an encyclopedia of highly specific terms and acronyms of which a Comp Lit major may have no understanding. But I’ve found that once I’m able to grasp the vocabulary, I can contribute by providing conceptual frameworks and ideas. I now realize that that is the luxury of Comparative Literature—to be able to enter a situation with a limited understanding and then to quickly identify the situation’s larger systems and relationships. 
I hope this small story may help others who are deciding to pursue a Comparative Literature major, or are curious as to how to apply Comp Lit knowledge to the professional world. I’m happy to serve as a resource to anyone who may have questions.

Henry Hays, ’17 Comp Lit and International Studies, magna cum laude

Emma Hetherington

Director of the Wilbanks CEASE Clinic, University of Georgia Law School (Athens, GA)
After graduating with my bachelor’s from Emory in 2007, I first taught special education at the Emory Autism Center, where I had already been working as a student. During this time I knew I wanted to go to law school and applied during my gap year.

I went on to earn my JD cum laude from the University of Georgia School of Law in 2011. During my first summer I interned with DeKalb County Child Advocacy Center where I assisted child advocate attorneys representing abused and neglected children in foster care. During my second summer I interned with Advocates for Children of New York, a nonprofit organization that represents children in New York City public schools who are in need of special education services or are facing school disciplinary actions. In addition to my summer internships, I volunteered with Athens-Oconee County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and co-founded the Public Interest Law Council at Georgia Law.

After graduation I first worked as a Public Interest Fellow at the DeKalb County Child Advocacy Center (DCCAC). At the completion of my fellowship I joined the Georgia Law Center for the Homeless as a staff attorney, and eventually the managing attorney, where I represented individuals and families facing homelessness in a variety of civil legal proceedings, including landlord-tenant actions, family law, juvenile law, unemployment law, and small claims. I then returned to the DCCAC as a senior child advocate attorney where I specialized in represented transitioning youth, meaning foster youth who were about to age out of the system and become independent.
In 2015 I opened up my own practice where I contracted with two different counties to represent foster children in juvenile court abuse and neglect proceedings. While working for myself I returned to Emory for the Evening MBA Program for one semester. However, during that time I was offered the opportunity to join the faculty at Georgia Law, which was an opportunity I could not pass up. I am now the Director of the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Clinic at the University of Georgia School of Law where I teach law students about child sexual abuse and run a clinic where students assist with real cases. The clinic is the first of its kind in the nation and is dedicated to the assistance of survivors of child sexual abuse.

Throughout my practice of law I look back to my time in the Comparative Literature department at Emory. I remember a course I took on the Tao te ching where we read three different translations of the work. I remember taking an entire class to discuss three words, which felt tedious at best. At the time I could not imagine how such a close reading of any text would prepare me for a future in law, but it did. Law is all about close readings and analyzing texts down to single words and phrases. An analysis of a single word can win a case and my comp lit courses prepared me to make creative and innovative arguments that have made me a successful lawyer. When I tell people I was a comp lit major and not something like political science I am happy to explain why comp lit was the best training I could have received in becoming a lawyer. Now that I am a professor I try to pass on what I learned in my comp lit courses at Emory--never take a word or phrase at face value, what else could it mean and how can we apply it to the scenario at hand.

Emma Hetherington, ’07 Comp Lit and French Studies

Minje Kim

Dental Student at University of Pennsylvania

I’m a fourth year dental student at University of Pennsylvania (class of 2017), currently applying to specialize in endodontics post-graduation. Incidentally, I am also the Career Development chair of the Penn Dental chapter of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), so I'm fully supportive of alumni networking and of course I don't mind sharing my experience here at Penn or the path of pursuing dentistry!

— Minje Kim, ’13 Biology, Comp Lit Minor

Prisca Kim

City Hope Community (Clarkston, GA)

I graduated in December 2007 and went straight to pursue an MSW at Columbia University. During college, I had interned and volunteered in Clarkston to work with refugees. The experience had a great impact on me, which influenced me to get a social work degree. After graduation, I returned to Atlanta, worked at Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS) for 1 year, then went on to help start the non-profit City Hope Community in 2010. I have been working at City Hope since, serving the refugee population in Clarkston.

I am currently following my husband on a rotational program. I am out-of-state for 16 months and plan to return to Atlanta. In the meantime I am working remotely part-time, as well as staying at home to care for our 1-year-old son.

Interestingly, my background in Comp Lit has helped me be more open and active to explore multiple interpretations when working with such a diverse population. Oftentimes workers approach refugee families with a western perspective/worldview, which influences the way they interpret and receive information and stories. Growing up in a bilingual family, I understood personally the difficulty of translating certain words/phrases, tones, attitudes accurately into another language. There would be a lot of misunderstandings and wrong perceptions of situations that had to be sorted out.

In working with refugee families - when something is interpreted the wrong way (even with translators present), it can affect decisions that have major impacts on the families. When certain words/phrases, tones, attitudes are not translated accurately or are completely absent from the final translation, it can considerably alter the listener's perception of a situation. For example, I have seen child services take away children and place them into foster care because they thought the guardian was suicidal or mentally unstable only to find out later that it was not the case. Different languages and cultures express things like trauma and grief in ways that might not be familiar to American workers, but when translated inaccurately (perhaps too literally) into English, it could potentially make the person sound unstable. Knowing this helps me in advocating for families and correcting devastating situations.
Through my Comp Lit studies, I saw the value of reading and studying texts in the original language. This realization carried over into the values that inform my work. I know I can't possibly learn every language, but I can come into my work with an open mind…learning how to challenge what is accepted at face value, taking the time to learn people's backgrounds and cultures, and actively searching for the most accurate story.

As for what Columbia University saw in my application - it has been a long time so my memory is a bit foggy. But I believe my experience working with the refugee community benefited my application. After getting connected to Clarkston the summer after my sophomore year, I spent every semester and summer from then on to volunteer and intern with Refugee Family Services (they changed their name now to New American Pathways). I pursued mentorship with workers there and became very involved. This experience was probably the biggest piece that I had to contribute in my application. My directed study in my final semester was also related to refugees.

— Prisca Kim, ’07 Comp Lit

Richard Xie

Project Manager, Epic (Madison, WI)
Becoming a literature buff over four college years is as much of a 180 as anyone can get out of me. I came out of high school overwhelmingly STEM and traditionally did worse in anything that required reading or writing. English wasn’t my first language and simply seeing “main theme” in an essay prompt made the folds in my brain squirm a little.

I wasn’t happy reading about Emory’s writing requirements but then completed some 33 CPLT credits, 25 papers, and a 57-page honors thesis anyways. The work was fun, and I got to be a significantly more engaging writer and confident communicator in the process. My professors’ enthusiasm for their material was obvious, unfailing, and infectious. It created an experience that could’ve only come from close, interpretive reading, and I appreciated the world out of it every time I walked into a Callaway classroom.

Since graduating Emory, I’ve worked as a teacher for a non-profit (Teach for America) and now as a project manager for a leading health IT company (Epic). In any setting where you’d carry a resume, “communication skills” usually mean the ability to present on complex topics clearly and is a must-have in the lines of work I’ve been in. It’s certainly a skill you pick up from literature and will be vital for anything you do.
Being engaging is different altogether. It’s not portrayed as a professional skill, but it has significant merits because it’s the opposite of boring. People like being entertained, and original insight is entertaining, especially if you have a great conversation to go along with it. The best interpretations in literature always happen with new perspective, and having new, logical ideas enliven any interaction. Literature let me practice that everyday and is an asset very few other disciplines can offer.

Majoring in literature was hands-down the best decision I made at Emory. Studying something you love is probably the most precious college experience you can find, and I’m very lucky to have found a discipline that allows me to say that without reservation. Literature was worth every squirming brain-fold, and I’d encourage anyone even slightly curious to try it.

Richard Xie, ’15 Comp Lit and Applied Math (BS), summa cum laude