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Which skills are likely to land a good job?

USC Dornsife’s Writing Program helps students hone their ability to communicate in any setting

You think honing your writing skills prepares you solely for a writing career? Think again. For a wide range of industries, the most in-demand skill is writing.

Having good oral communication skills also helps, according to a 2013 survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace. The survey asked employers what top skills they sought in a job candidate just out of college.

Students at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences are positioned to satisfy that demand, said program director John Holland. The program’s chief goal is to teach students to write well while in school and into their careers.

“What we want to produce are students who have a strong foundation in writing and who are flexible enough to adapt their skills to fit any communication responsibility in any setting,” Holland said.

Amy Herrmann ’12, now an advocacy associate for Human Rights Watch in New York City, went through the program, which helped prepare her for communications duties at the international human rights group.

Herrmann assists in drafting press releases and writing letters to heads of state and government. She also maintains pages on the organization’s website, including written content and communicates with staff members throughout the world.

Being able to communicate effectively, whether through reports, emails, telephone or Skype is essential in my position.

Amy Herrmann

“Being able to communicate effectively, whether through reports, emails, telephone or Skype is essential in my position,” Herrmann said.

Critical thinking

In the program, undergraduates must take Writing 150, which offers courses such as “Issues in Sustainability,” “Technology and Social Change” and “Health and Healing.” The idea is to allow students to take a critical look at subjects that interest them while sharpening their writing abilities. Along with improving one’s grammar and writing style, students learn to analyze and argue their case.

Subsequently, students must complete Writing 340 in which they delve deeper into critical thinking, reading and writing. That course allows students to choose among five thematic areas — arts and humanities, health sciences, natural sciences, pre-law and social sciences and three special topics — advanced writing for communication and the public intellectual, international relations and global economics, and writing for visual and performing arts.

“In Writing 340, we really expect that students are developing into true authorities in their field,” Holland said. “We encourage students to read important journals in their major areas. We want them to think about how they can join in the conversation and contribute to the knowledge in their area of study.”

Pre-law and order

Alumna Katherine Kelsh

Inspired by The Writing Program, Katherine Kelsh pursued a career as a law professor. (Photo/courtesy of Katherine Kelsh)

Katherine Kelsh ’14 earned her bachelor’s in social sciences with an emphasis on economics. The Writing Program also had a profound effect on her career path.

As a junior, Kelsh took “Advanced Writing for Pre-Law Students” with James Brecher, professor (teaching) of writing.

“The class was focused on persuasive writing for legal issues, but the skills we learned have been applicable to all other writing I’ve done,” Kelsh said. “It made me a much more concise and direct writer. It also made me think of writing more as a puzzle in terms of how to choose the right pieces and get things to fit together.

“The class really sparked my interest and confirmed for me that I’m interested in law.”

Kelsh has been in Austria this fall, teaching English to high school students as part of the U.S. Teaching Assistantship program administered by Fulbright. After a year, she plans to apply for law school. The Writing Program, she said, prepared her for the challenges ahead.

“Having focused so intensely on crafting my writing skills will work to my advantage.”

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