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Writing and Rhetoric Major: Alumni Updates

Rania Kaouadji

After graduating with her BA in Writing and Rhetoric, Rania Kaouadji completed a Masters in New Media Management from Newhouse in 2016. She is currently a Sales Assistant at Complex Networks; she says she is "part of a top-notch sales team, providing support to a team of Account Directors and internal teams to drive revenue through advertising and sponsorship sales. My responsibilities include organizing insertion orders, proposals, and recaps, maintaining workflows with advertising proposals, including providing comScore data and Google Analytics. I work closely with the marketing and  advertising operations teams." She adds, "I am working at the top digital media platform for millennials and urban culture, out of college. Doesn’t get better than that!"

Rania's words for current majors: "The Writing Program taught me how to think. It allowed me to tap into my creativity, think beyond the scope, and produce quality work all while defending my thought process. I took a variety of courses that challenged me to develop a unique writing style. My advice to fellow majors is to take advantage of that freedom. Take the time to develop a style that suits you well. Your writing is a part of your brand. Your writing is your thinking. Learn to think." (April 2017)

Mavis Lee

Mavis Lee (’16) is a currently a first semester student at New York University, pursuing a MS in Publishing, a program that "helps students master the key skills required for success in today’s publishing workplace . . . . focuses on the creative and content development components of the industry, including editing for print and for a wide range of the content-rich digital sites and video, as well as key business functions such as marketing and publicity, sales, and business development."

Among her recent accomplishments, Mavis lists: "Met Mindy Kaling's editor last week, finished George Saunder's new novel in 2 days, and finally learned how to use the dishwasher." She adds, "Huge, huge shout outs to all of the wonderful humans in the department for convincing me that my voice is valid since the first day I walked into HBC. Special thanks to Professor Nordquist for being one of the most patient and encouraging souls on campus. I guess the days spent eating mac and cheese outside of Gifford while catching up on readings are finally paying off because being surrounded by people who share the same dreams as you is the best gift any college grad can receive!" (March 2017)

Sheri Bhirdo

Sheri Bhirdo (’13) is currently a Marketing Coordinator and Business Development Analyst for Levin Management Corporation. She works directly with the Vice President of Marketing to create unique campaigns and marketing strategies to promote and support the Levin brand and its business goals. She also conducts research, collects data and demographics, and assists in the company's acquisitions and business development.

Sheri has also recently been accepted to NYU's Masters of Social Work program and will attend in the Fall of 2017, studying to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She enjoys Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, yoga, cooking, traveling, and volunteering; she recently traveled to Bali for a yoga retreat and is completing her 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training. She is also certified to teach Children's Yoga.

"The Writing and Rhetoric major undoubtedly prepared me for the workforce upon graduation. The skills I  carried from the classroom to the 'real world' have been tremendously valuable. It has given me the knowledge I so needed to refine my skills and has helped me gain recognition in my current career." (February 2017)

Maura Buckley

Maura Buckley (’15) is a Literary Agent Assistant at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. "I work with Kelly Sonnack, a literary agent who mainly focuses on children's, middle grade, and YA books. We work together as the intermediaries between authors and publishers, taking in manuscripts and providing some initial editing before selling them to publishing houses. We stay with the authors from the first draft to contract negotiations to cover designs to the finished product, making sure that every step goes smoothly. I use the skills I learned in the Writing and Rhetoric major to help authors hone and polish their manuscripts to make it in the big bad world of publishing. Plus, I get lots of free books, and that's the dream, right?"

Maura says, "I love the Patriots, dance, and horror books. I also love to hike, bike, and get out on boats as much as I can. Since my move to California, I've started to collect sunglasses and fill mason jars with teeny tiny shells. I drove cross country from Boston to San Diego with everything I owned crammed into my tiny 1997 Nissan Maxima. As squished as it was, it was also amazing, so if you get the chance: DO IT!" (January 2017)

Caitlin Heikkila

When we last heard from Caitlin Heikkila ('09) in November 2013, she was beginning to plan her wedding. She is now happily married to Paul Fusco, with whom she often travels to the Catskills. Together they delight in their cats and foxhound, while Caitlin invents content for her dog's hashtag she has created: #wallacethepup.

At Syracuse, Caitlin was the second recipient of the Carol Lipson Outstanding Writing Major Award, and since then she has only become more successful. She won Folio's 30 Under 30 Award in 2015, and she is now the  Director of Social Media and Audience Development for DuJour media.

Caitlin’s degree in Writing and Rhetoric at SU has helped her become a force to be reckoned with within the competitive writing world. She recently came back to Syracuse for an event sponsored by the Writing & Rhetoric Student Organization  to present, “How to Brand Yourself and Why You Should Do It.” A true testament to the message she presented to students, she has created a professional and highly successful brand of her own, thanks in part to the Writing Major.

The major, she says, helped her “master the art of a getting a point across in a short and concise copy” in order to make something that she refers to as “social-media friendly.” The major also helped her learn how to effectively communicate results from campaigns to new initiatives, and to think critically about the content that is published at DuJour. Eileen Schell said it best herself when she introduced Caitlin at her presentation at Syracuse: “She was branding herself before she even knew what branding was.”

Syracuse University kick-started Caitlin’s success and happiness through academia but also through the relationships she fostered with her professors. She wants to thank Eileen Schell in particular who officiated her wedding: "From writing my WRT255 analysis essay to my wedding vows, I can’t thank her enough for empowering me to let my personality shine through in my writing and to take chances in essay form and in my career path.” 

—story by Katy Kawasoe (November 2016)

Morgan Conover

"I am truly humbled and honored to receive this award. Whenever I tell people I'm a Writing Major, they always say, "Oh, so like English?" I love using that opportunity to explain what the writing major is all about. Writing is a crucial skill for, well, everything. So knowledge of how to write well, and also how to read others' writing well, is essential. I genuinely believe that the Writing Program does incredibly important work. I am so proud to be a part of it." —Morgan Conover

In nominating Morgan Conover for the 2016 Carol Lipson Outstanding Writing Major AwardWriting Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition chair Lois Agnew writes, "Her intellectual curiosity and thoughtful engagement with important questions are evident in her coursework.  Her work in my WRT 424 course was stellar. She was thoroughly prepared for each class, engaged critically with challenging readings and topics of inquiry, and continually pushed herself as a writer and thinker. She is also an excellent colleague. Her open and generous attitude toward other students helped to foster respectful class discussions and productive peer review sessions. Agnew adds, "In addition to her academic strengths, Morgan has been an important leader in our program. As president of the Writing Program Student Organization*, Morgan has played an extremely important role in maintaining the ongoing vitality of this new group. I am confident that the WPSO has been significantly strengthened as a result of Morgan’s leadership style, and I am confident that she has helped to instill a vision that will sustain the group for many years to come." (September 2016)

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Naomi Falk

Naomi Falk ('14) recently completed her second year as an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing with a focus on nonfiction at Columbia University. Having finished coursework, she will stay one more year to complete her thesis, a collection of essays. She also received a teaching fellowship and will be teaching an undergraduate nonfiction workshop this fall.

Naomi interned at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux this summer, reports that she recently deleted her social media accounts out of rage, and says, "A book I'm loving right now is The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa translated by Sawako Nakayasu." 

"Shout outs to Rhinehart, Schell, and Brooke. Wouldn't have been a writer if I wasn't taught that it was a viable option. One thing I retroactively realized about the program was that the classes helped me to understand the hustle of writing. Because I came into my current program with that knowledge, I can ultimately ignore the industry and work on my craft, on what matters to me." (August 2016)

Kortney Kavanaugh

Kortney Kavanagh ('12) is Social Media Coordinator with Brownstoner. "I handle all of our social media accounts, working alongside our editorial team. My main goal is to ensure that our content is fresh and engaging."

She says Brownstoner was launched in 2004 with the goal of "chronicling Brooklyn's rapid evolution through the lens of real estate and renovation. Over time, it has evolved into a media company that handles everything including sponsored content, website creation, and event production for real estate companies."

Kortney says, "Not only did my writing major give me confidence in my abilities, but an array of techniques—in both digital comunication and writing—that have changed my career."  She also offers a reading suggestion: "Right now I'm loving the author Hannah Pittard. Readers, check her out!" (August 2016)

Timothy Larach

As an Associate Economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in the Financial Markets Group of Economic Research department, Timothy Larach ('15) studies clearing and settlement operations in Chicago derivatives exchanges and clearinghouses. "I am responsible for assisting senior economists with their research which can include anything from cleaning Excel spreadsheets to writing long summaries of economic reports."

Timothy, who dual majored in Writing and Rhetoric and Economics at Syracuse, says "There are connections between my work and courses I took in the Writing Program every single day. On a concrete level, some of my responsibilities include helping write Chicago Fed Letters that discuss aspects of the current state of the regional economy. On a more abstract level, learning how to produce and structure coherent arguments has helped immensely in my ability to learn and write code for data analyses. It's weird, but there's a pretty significant connection there. Overall, the Writing Program was a great experience and taught me that writing is about much more than just words on a page." (April 2016)

Shanelle Drakeford

"In short, I create headlines, descriptions, and manage metadata for content featured on Verizon's new app, go90," says Shanelle Drakeford ('15) of her work as a Digital Content Specialist. "Additionally, I pitch ideas and solutions that pertain to the content, functionality, and user interface of the app. I've contributed to new marketing plans and overall improved the user's experience and knowledge of the app."

Shanelle also reports that her work has been published on and and she is currently working on her blog,

"There are tons of connections between the courses I took and what I do now. I learned how to be a versatile writer in WRT 308. Tim Dougherty really pushed me to go beyond my comfort level and adapt any writing style. Patrick Berry's WRT 340 really forced me to be a better writer, overall. The heavy editing we did helped me pay more attention to details and mechanics, as well as the content." She adds, "Special shoutout to Lois Agnew for getting me through the four years I spent in the Writing Program." (April 2016)

Mary Gallagher

In her position as Manager of The Center for Academic Success at The Universities at Shady Grove, Mary Gallagher ('08) works in the "academic support center (basically your writing center, tutoring center, learning center, etc. all folded into one department) at a unique institution which serves a 100% transfer student population. Within CAS, I plan, customize, and provide a variety of support services geared to our transfer students, from one-on-one writing consultations to eight-week GRE preparation workshop series. I plan strategic programming and train and supervise student leaders who provide peer-to-peer support, including Writing Fellows, supplemental instruction programs, graduate writing groups, etc. I also lead my department's efforts to quantify our impact through research. It's a healthy mix of strategy and direct service, and lots of fun!"

Mary earned her MA in Bilingual Education from University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in May 2014 and recently began an interdisciplinary PhD in Language, Literacy, and Culture at UMBC.

The first ever winner of the Carol Lipson Outstanding Writing Major Award says, "I absolutely loved my experience in the Writing & Rhetoric major and can't begin to identify all the many ways the faculty and curriculum prepared me for what I do, both in my job and in my new role of PhD student. My career thus far began, quite literally, on my first day of WRT 331. Years later, I've read works in my PhD classes that I read in WRT200 [now WRT 255] , and am so often reminded of philosophies of power and privilege and civic engagement that I tackled in so many of my WRT classes."

Away from work and academics, Mary says, "I have quite possibly the most adorable and well-mannered dog in the history of the the planet, Capone, who enjoys long naps and never-ending belly rubs, as well as a lovable orange tabby cat, Melville. I volunteer as a board member on the Montgomery County Literacy Council and as a grants panelist for the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy. In my (albeit limited) free-time, I enjoy trying out the many wineries and breweries in the Washington, DC area."   (March 2016)

Padraic Kane

Padraic Kane ('15) is currently a graduate student in SU's Media and Education Program, a joint master’s program with Newhouse School Of Public Communications and the School of Education’s Cultural Foundations of Education program.

He also serves as the Academic Consultant for Mentoring Programs, a position in which he works with Office of Multicultural Affairs staff to support the fullCIRCLE Mentoring Program, a "program designed to assist its participants in effectively adjusting to the different challenges of college life . . . . "

Padraic says he "really enjoyed the Writing Program as an undergraduate. It helped me to think more critically about my writing and develop different ways to present it." (February 2016)

Brianna Edgerley-Dallal

Brianna Edgerley-Dallal ('14) is a Proposal and Marketing Writer at Novitex Enterprise Solutions, Inc. She says, "I participate in the writing of all outbound language to ensure it meets compliance and brand standards. I work mostly with sales and technical solution teams to design sales proposals for document management clients."

Of her move from IBM, she says, "Leaving my first full-time job out of college for another company that recruited me was a scary decision. But I decided now is the time to take risks and take on more responsibility in my career to accelerate it further and faster."

Brianna adds, "It is amazing how many writing jobs there are that you wouldn't even think about. The critical thinking I learned in my WRT courses has definitely helped me along the way."  (February 2016)

Rose Aschebrock

Rose Loren Aschebrock ('15) is an Assistant Editor at Loverly, a website devoted to simplifying the process of wedding planning. Rose writes buzz and celebrity stories as they break in the wedding industry, as well as sponsored content. She also manages Loverly's social syndication relationships and assists in managing their freelance writers.

Rose ran the 2015 New York City Marathon—her first marathon— raising money for the Robin Hood Foundation, a group that fights poverty in NYC. She has recently gotten into pilates and yoga and loves "cooking, reading, and exploring the city."

She also reports, "My boyfriend (who I met at Syracuse!) actually just proposed to me before Thanksgiving." (January 2016)

Emily Gilson

Emily Gilson ('14) is currently a second year law student at American University Washington College of Law, with interests in international law and intellectual property law and an intern for the US Department of Commerce Office of Intellectual Property Rights.

She says, "The Writing Program definitely taught me how to analyze and see connections between different fields and points of view QUICKLY. I also highly recommend that, regardless of whether or not you decide to go into law, you network and socialize with everyone and anyone—you never know what opportunities may arise!"

Emily lists "long distance running, rookie dodgeball, French, and haute cuisine" among her other interests. (December 2015)

Michelle Polizzi

Michelle Polizzi ('14) is a Content Coordinator for a branding and design blog at Brandfolder, a tech startup in Denver. "I oversee all editorial content and frequently conduct interviews with the marketers and designers at top companies like Mapquest, OpenTable, and Suja Juice. I also find time to freelance on the side to build my writing portfolio."

Michelle says that living in Colorado has been a dream. She spends a lot of time outdoors and reports she has seven friends in Denver that she met in Syracuse. She recently completed her first "fourteener," hiking a mountain over 14,000 feet in elevation.

"My next project is to launch a professional website to help showcase my freelance work and search for new opportunities . . . . All of my writing professors had a significant impact on who I have become as a writer and a person. I'd like to say a special thank you to Professor Schell for believing in me and giving me the confidence to pursue a career in writing."  (November 2015)

Danielle Kolodkin

Danielle Kolodkin ('14) is a Sales Support Assistant in the Special Markets department at HarperCollins Publishers. She says, "Working in publishing has always been a dream of mine. With a passion for reading and writing, it is great to work in an industry that values storytelling and the written word."

Danielle adds, "I highly recommend that any Writing and Rhetoric student interested in pursuing a career in publishing take WRT 440 (Community Writing Group) and WRT 340: Intertext. Both of those courses encouraged me to enhance my skills and learn techniques to succeed in the industry. I gained invaluable experiences from these courses and the teachings from Professor Stephen Parks and Professor Patrick Berry."

Danielle currently lives in New York City.  (November 2015)