“Why Study English and Business?” An Alumni Feature by Matthew Harkema ’19

As my four years at Hope College are coming to an inevitable end, the reason why I committed myself to an English and Business double major is becoming significantly more relevant to my vocational choices.

In the past I’ve had many agitating conversations, trying to explain my reasons for choosing two opened-ended majors, even though this leaves my fate  dependent how I decide to use the overlapping skills I have attained from each discipline. These last four years, I’ve gotten used to clarifying that this unlikely pair does in fact work hand-in-hand to family, friends, and Hope faculty. This choice is now coming to fruition. With just a few weeks until graduation, I find myself reminiscing about my journey to find my niche.

My first steps on campus were in my father’s shoes. I sought to become an Engineer, but that dream was short-lived, as I found myself drowning in a life that wasn’t meant to be. One semester later, I switched my major to Business for practical reasons — because it would open up a wide range of opportunities for me in the future; because I would learn critical thinking, financial, and analytical skills; and, let’s face it, because I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do yet. Sophomore year came around and life seemed to be moving along smoothly, but it still felt as if I was wandering through college without a passion for the material I was learning.

I had yet to find an end goal for life after Hope College, and I found it difficult to maneuver through rigorous school work without one. That is, until I found a new sense of inspiration by adding an English major into the mix. Despite my doubtful conscience telling me that a degree in English might be impractical in today’s competitive job market, I made the life-altering choice to double major because of my love for writing and the broader understanding I gained from reading.

Becoming an English major veered me toward the path I believe I was meant be on. I have always felt myself to be a open-minded person, engaged in the intellectual side of the world. An English major allowed me to pursue my creative passions while simultaneously preparing me with skills that are transferable to other disciplines, like Business.

Even though the past few years were confusing and intensely stressful at times, as I tried to make sense of how I should employ the majors I chose, I have gradually found my answer to the question that’s been haunting me since I first arrived for orientation. I constructed a plan for the future that would tie in my passions for reading and writing into my occupation in a business setting.

Though it may be obvious to some, and unclear to others outside of the Liberal Arts bubble, many of the skills learned in Business classes overlap with those of English. This remarkable realization indicated to me that I was onto something and gave me a sense of drive for the work I was doing. I put the pieces of the two areas I excelled in together to find the bigger picture. I decided to use the writing, communication, and critical thinking skills from my English and Business majors to hopefully find my calling in Public Relations.

My English degree has allowed me to view the world through a critical lens and has enabled me to capture observations through researching and writing narratives of my own. My Liberal Arts education came full circle when I realized that my Business degree showed me how organizations and societies operate through the behavior and synergy of decision makers in the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. With this understanding, alongside the ability to understand and connect with people that I owe to my English degree, I feel empowered to be a positive ambassador for the brand I choose to represent.

I have faith in my potential, formed through a well-rounded Hope College education. In a future Public Relations position, I would have the chance to gain support and understanding for clients, as well as the opportunity to influence people’s behavior and opinions through blogs, conventional media, and social media. I will employ my narrative writing strategies through various forms of communication to manage and maintain reputations, building a relationship with the target audience through credibility. My post-graduation aspiration is to shape public perceptions of the organization I work for by increasing awareness of its goals and ambitions.

Although I am unsure of what the future holds for me, I find the work of a Public Relations position at a socially responsible company appealing. I hope to use my English and Business degrees to work toward resolving some of the moral and ethical issues that arise in realms of business. In these situations, my goal would be to encapsulate the truthful narratives of sticky situations with concise writing, complex problem-solving skills, and the insights I feel equipped to gain into the inner workings of society and the minds within it.

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