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Whoever said life is like a box of chocolates wasn't very bright.
Sure, life is full of sweet little moments worth savoring. And it's true: you never can be completely sure what you're getting yourself into before you sink your teeth into things. But doesn't this silly "Gumpism" imply that far too much is left to chance?
In fact, smart folks like John Jay English Majors know that their destiny is ultimately in their hands. That's why we're dedicating this issue to taking charge and taking control. This month, we check in with three recent (and almost) grads who have had amazing success in applying to professional schools this year. Find out directly from them how their hard work turned their post-grad dreams into a reality.
We're also shining a spotlight on some folks who are just starting their journey in the major and making sure they get off on the right foot. A student in Les Hansen's winter session style and grammar boot-camp talks about how that class can empower struggling writers to take command of their words and ideas.
So read on, and enjoy!
The Road Ahead
In this installment of our regular feature on life after John Jay, English Matters spoke with three recent (or about to be) English major graduates about what it takes to get into law school and Ph.D. programs. Read on for some amazing success stories - and some hard-won practical advice that you can use if you aspire to law or graduate school.
The Best Writing Class You Haven't Taken
Even English Majors can use some help with their writing. Abigail Padilla takes us inside Prof. Les Hansen's Winter session grammar boot camp, ENG 396.
English Major Advisor Caroline Reitz wants you to come to the Humanities Open House today, and she's not above bribing you with candy.
- Time to register for Law Day! Sponsored by the Pre-Law Institute, Law Day @ John Jay is a free interactive, engaging and intensive day of informational workshops and mentoring opportunities to assist John Jay pre-law students. This year's event is scheduled for Saturday, March 24, 2012. If you'd like to attend, register online here.
- Save the Date! John Jay College's Third Biennial Literature and Law Conference will take place on Friday March 30th here at John Jay - stay tuned for details! Prominent scholars from across the nation and around the world will be participating. Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen's keynote address for the Conference will be on Thursday evening, March 29th. John Jay students can attend for free. If you would like to volunteer to help out at the Conference, please give your name to Erica Wise in the English Department Office. To find out more, click here.
- Dialing in Black History: Emeritus professor Chris Suggs has released a new iPhone app in celebration of Black History Month. MTAM (morethanamap) uses the GPS function of your phone to locate sites of African American history in every state. It provides a Google map with local points of African American history, or you can select a state for its sites. The app is also wiki-interactive. You can enter your own historical site and Chris and his staff will edit it and post it for you with photo, video, and hyperlinks. The app is a spin-off from a PBS special, More Than a Month, which airs on Feb 16. Watch the show, and then check out the app: MTAM is free from the Apple's iPad/iPhone/iTunes app stores, and Anrdroid is on the way. MTAM 2.0 will feature a notification function so your phone will ping you as you approach a site.
- Check out these lectures: Many of your professors will be giving public lectures this month. Why not check them out, and get some experience attending academic conferences? Belinda Rincon will present "Reading Chicana Literature in a Time of Neoliberal Militarism" at the Inter-University Program for Latino Research, which is being held here at John Jay from Feb. 23-25. Adam McKible will be speaking at the "Modernist Manhattan" conference at New York Technical Institute on Friday, March 2. That same day, here in the English Department, Andy Majeske will present a lecture on the work of the Law and Lit Conference's keynote speaker: "Amartya Sen's The Idea of Justice: Addressing Global Injustices in a Partisan World"
The Road Ahead: Three Post-Grad Success Stories
Many John Jay students decide to become English majors because they aspire to go to law school, and they expect that studying literature will give them the necessary preparation in reading, writing and critical thinking. Still other students discover a deep passion for literature and criticism in their English classes, and they decide to pursue advance study in graduate school. But what does it take to get into law school? What is grad school all about, and is it for me? We here at English Matters bet that more than a few of you have been wondering about these very questions, so we got in touch with two recent graduates and one current student to ask them about how they navigated the application process - and how they were able to succeed so spectacularly.
Senior Johanny Santana learned to treat the LSATs like a jealous boyfriend. Now she's accepted to three J.D. programs and counting. For her story, and a run-down of the ABC's of law school apps, click here.
Chad Infante took a year "off" after graduating last May to work on his applications to Ph.D. programs, and "work it" he did. Schools in Nashville and Chicago have made offers, but right now he has Georgia on his mind. He spoke on the phone with one of the editors last week; here's what he had to say.
Since graduating last May, Rashida Davis has been working in the office of the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections - and she still found time to apply to a dozen law schools. Now she has four acceptances in hand, and scholarships that range from $10,000 to full tuition. Hear from her first hand what it feels like to have finally arrived.
The law school application process is incredibly stressful. It takes a lot of time to prepare, so taking a year off is helpful. I currently work at the Department of Correction in Commissioner Schriro’s office. I had applied to the New York City Urban Fellows Program before graduating so that I could get some “real world” experience before going to law school. I feel like I’ve gained invaluable experience throughout my fellowship, and I can confidently say I am certain of my interest in the law.
I am very happy with my decision to take a year off. I was able to focus on making my application flawless: getting more experience for my resume, fine-tuning my personal statement, getting my recommendation letters and transcripts submitted, and actually filling out the applications. I knew I wanted to attend law school by my sophomore year at John Jay, so I chose the best major for me, English, and worked hard. I also spoke to any and every knowledgeable person about law school: professors, the pre-law institute, current lawyers and 1L, 2L and 3L students. It was important for me to have mentors, because I am the first person in my family to attend professional school.
I applied to twelve law schools: six in New York State and the remaining six spread between Michigan, Washington DC, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Thus far I’ve been rejected from three schools and accepted to four with scholarships ranging from $10,000 to full tuition. (Fun Fact: I’ve been accepted to a lot of out-of state schools and rejected from New York schools.)
Columbia, Brooklyn Law and the University of Michigan may have rejected me, but DePaul, Howard, Northeastern, and Michigan State have all sent me acceptance letters with attractive scholarship offers. And that's not counting Cardozo, Fordham, Cornell, St. John's and Temple – decisions are pending at those schools.
I am very happy with where I am right now. At times everything seems surreal, because my dreams are coming true. I worked so hard throughout college while raising my daughter and building my family. It feels great to see my hard work pay off.
Looking ahead, my plans are to pack up my family and leave New York to attend law school. I am looking forward to getting a fresh start. I’ve lived in New York for 23 years, and I feel like it’s time for change. I am looking forward to my first day of class as a 1L. On that day I will say, "I have officially arrived."
Advice for Law School Hopefuls
Here's what I'd say to other students: First, STUDY HARD FOR THE LSAT!!!!!! Try to take a class and study over the summer into the fall and then take the October exam. This allows you to focus on your coursework during the semester (and keep those grades up) without trying to also find time to study for the LSAT. It takes a lot of time and dedication to succeed. Second, utilize your peers who are also applying. It is a great networking opportunity, and you can build your own little support system. Lastly, do your research. Go to the pre-law institute and talk to Ms. Holness, she can answer just about any question.
Overall, the John Jay English major has prepared me immensely for the work I am doing now at the Department of Correction. Thanks to Professors Dreisinger, Gray, Pease, Escher, Gibson, Carbonell, Davenport, Mills, DeLucia, Heiman, Hendrick and Yukins. I feel extremely prepared to take on the world. The English major helped me hone my critical thinking, analytical, writing, and presentation skills. It also taught me a mantra, "Always EDIT, EDIT, EDIT!"
I am still working on that skill. And probably always will.
Back to the top.
After deciding to go to grad school to get a Ph.D in literature, Chad Infante applied to no less than 13 doctoral programs. "As an international student, I had to cast a wide net and apply to a whole range of schools," he explains.
There was one criterion that all the schools had to meet: they had to have a diverse enough faculty. Chad's critical interests center on the literature of cross-cultural conversation—that is, writing that gets at what happens when different groups of people attempt to draw each other into dialogue. In his graduate research, he plans to specialize in the study of what he terms "minority conversations" –whether to "build coalitions or resist hegemony or hash out their differences.” He knew that he would need to study in a department that included scholars that focused on a wide diversity of cultures and traditions, including Native American Literature, African-American Literature, Women's Studies and Latino studies, among others.
"When I was taking undergraduate courses, one of my main interests was Native American Literature, so my top choices are programs that have Native American scholars on the faculty." But, he says, that was "only 5 of the 13 I applied to." He selected other programs based on whether it seemed like there was a commitment to diversity and minority literatures.
How did he decide on his list of schools, which include Columbia, Emory, Duke, Brown, Northwestern, Oregon, and Vanderbilt? "I used the U.S. News and World Report rankings to get a sense of which schools would be good to apply to, but then I painstakingly went to each school's department website and looked at the faculty and their research interests." Only after he'd researched schools did he start to write his letter of intent.
Chad took a year "off" from school after graduating last May, but, he reports, "I really did utilize my time as much as possible," using the summer to prep for the GRE and the fall to work on his application materials. In fact, the planning for grad school began long before he even graduated - something that Chad credits for his success. In the senior seminar on prison literature that he took with Prof. Dreisinger last spring, Chad planned to use the essays that he wrote there for his subsequent law school applications. The writing that he did in her class became the core of what he revised into his writing sample - but only after running it by a half a dozen professors first.
"The hardest part of the process," he said, "was figuring out whose advice to take."
It's a process, though, that has yielded remarkable success. Chad applied to some of the most prestigious and competitive graduate programs in the nation, and he's already received multiple acceptances - a number of which come with attractive scholarship packages. While he's still waiting to hear back from schools like Brown and Columbia, Chad has been accepted into Vanderbilt, Emory, and Northwestern. Even though Northwestern has offered him the most attractive scholarship offer -- free tuition and a substantial stipend for living expenses, guaranteed for five years -- Chad says he's leaning toward Emory, which offered nearly as much money, but which seems like it may be a better place for a student with his interests. The fact that he would have no teaching duties for the first year, and teach only one class per semester thereafter, is also a consideration.
"I'm really in love with Emory. Craig Womack, Abdul JanMohamed and Mark Sanders—they are on the faculty there, and I would love to work with them." Still, he says that "I'm going to Northwestern in early March, and I'm open to it, even though it's not my main choice."
"Really, I couldn't be happier. I've had very supportive friends and family, and the English department has been wonderful. I honestly think it is the best department in the whole school."
"Basically, it was the personal guidance I got [that made the difference.] I remember during my second semester I talked with Professor Pease about a personal problem I was having about my choice of major—my mother was telling me one thing, and I was feeling another. She's been my adviser and confidant ever since. I don't know what I would have done without her and other professors who guided me."
In fact, the most important thing that other grad school hopefuls should do, he says, is "find individuals who will support you." The other key to getting into graduate school is "knowing early." "I know that it is hard for many students because they no idea what they want to do after graduation. But if you can figure it out before junior year, it is so much easier."
"I love the prospects I have for the future." Even though a lot remains up in the air, he says, "I know one thing for sure: once I move I will definitely get a cat or a dog. I will need something to unconditionally love me when I'm in grad school."
Back to the top.
I owe a lot to the Pre-Law Institute. Without the help and guidance of Vielka Holness, I would not be in the position that I am in today. Through the Pre - Law Institute, I attended events held by various organizations throughout New York City. You learn about the application process, the common myths about law school, and how to finance your legal education. You also get to meet law school admissions representatives in person, and you learn that the people who read your application aren't impersonal and calculating; they are real and want the students who are admitted to succeed in their school.
I also took John Jay's Pre - Law Boot Camp, which was an informative week-long program that mentally prepared me for the application process. Finally, I attended the LSAT Scholarship Prep Program here. I am extremely grateful that I was chosen for this program because I've heard that programs like Kaplan and Princeton are impersonal and a waste of money. Caroline Nelson was the instructor for that program, and she has forever changed my life with the instruction and guidance she provided for the LSAT. In a nutshell, all of the programs and activities that prepared me for law school were a direct result of my affiliation with the Pre - Law Institute.
When I first came to this school, I was a Criminal Justice Major. The program was great, but I was not satisfied with it. I changed to the English Major as soon as it became available. The Major is responsible for my development as a writer and as an intellectual. I feel that I am prepared for law school because of the courses I took and the professors that taught me in the major. There is really no doubt that the English Major directly prepared me for success: three out of the four letters of recommendation that I sent to law schools are from English professors!
Last fall, I applied to a wide range of schools: Berkeley, Columbia, Fordham, Cornell, Georgetown, Duke, Cardozo, Maryland, Michigan, and Pacific McGeorge, among others. So far, I've gotten into Fordham, Pacific McGeorge and Cardozo, which has also made me a scholarship offer. Berkeley and Columbia did not offer me admission, and I am still waiting to hear from the other schools.
Cardozo is one of many schools that considers your application to the general J.D. program as your application to all scholarship opportunities at the school. The scholarship that I received is called the Nathaniel E. Gates Scholarship. It covers three-fourths of their tuition fees.
I feel like I've finally accomplished something. The best part is that it is on paper. I can always pull out my acceptance letter and say "Aha, I did this!" To know that one law school wants you as their student is amazing, but to know that more than one school wants you is indescribable. This is honestly what it feels like when you know that you have worked hard and have done the right thing all along. I never thought that this could feel so real.
Looking ahead, my short term plans consist of visiting the schools that I have been admitted to. Hopefully as the acceptance letters will continue to roll in - trust me my fingers are crossed - I will be visiting more schools. My long term plans are to do well in law school. I hope to study abroad in my 2L and 3L years. Once I graduate and have practiced law for sometime, I hope to become a judge.
As far as what I'm looking forward to, I would have to say it is the Socratic method of teaching that they use in law school. I can't wait to experience it. I want to learn about the small details that are overlooked, and how these details can change a case. I am also looking forward to meeting new people and studying abroad. It is something that I have always wanted to do. If I do get the chance to study abroad in law school, it is going to be a sweet two-for-one deal.
The ABCs of Law School Applications
To any John Jay students hoping to go to law school, I'd say: Affiliate yourself with the Pre - Law Institute! Once you do that, only good things can come from there. Honestly, you have to be dedicated. Preparing yourself for the LSATs and then applying is not an easy process; it is mentally and physically exhausting, but the rewards are satisfying and worth the trouble. If I had to break it down into steps, though, this is what they would be:
A) Get your family and friends to understand that what your are committing yourself to is important. I sat down with my friends and family, and I explained to them that I was serious about getting into law school. For the next few months they left me alone.
B) Get into a worthwhile LSAT prep program. Once you have found the program that works for you, STUDY like you mean it. Love the LSAT. As Caroline Nelson would say, "The LSAT is like your jealous boyfriend." You need to give it all of your time.
C) Find someone to help you with your personal statement. I was fortunate enough to have Professor Tung and Professor Yukins help me with mine.
D) Send your applications out early. Vielka Holness will tell you to send them out by November 15th, and she is right. When you send your application makes a difference.
E) Last but not least, apply for financial aid. It is an extremely important step.
Back to the top.
Inside the "Grammar Boot Camp"
Over winter session, Professor Les Hanson offered a new course, ENG 396: Grammar, Syntax, and Style: Writing for All Disciplines, which is designed to boost students' writing skills. A number of our English majors took the class and found it to be outstanding. Since the department is planning to offer the course again in the summer, English Matters asked Professor Hansen and his student Abigail Padilla to reflect on their experiences. John Jay students are always looking for classes to take in the intersessions that will be worth the trouble. If you think your academic writing skills could use a boost, this could be the summer class for you.
Do you know the difference between a subject and a verb? Well, neither did I before the last winter session.
We all know that many students do not write on a college level. In fact, some college students write on the same level as junior high school students. Before this winter, my own writing could have been put to good use if it were torched to light a campfire to heat up some smores. Torching my papers would have been more fun than my friends reviewing them: they made fun of my writing incessantly. After a while, I was tired of the jokes. Professor Reitz, my former LIT 374 instructor, also recommended that I take his class. She said my grammar and punctuation barely needed help; my argumentative skills, syntax, and coherence, however, could have used more work.
Because I used to be one of the many students who did not write well, especially for a college senior working to become a defense attorney, I registered for ENG 395: Grammar, Syntax and Writing taught by Professor Hansen in the Winter semester. The purpose of his class was to teach us basic grammar and punctuation to improve our writing skills.
Obviously my writing has improved - thank God! But, in hindsight, the work I put into this course was not easy. Our assignments consisted of reading at least one chapter in two or three of the six required textbooks; understanding simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences and analyzing them; writing a condensed paper and then analyzing it; and completing at least one worksheet on correcting sentences with grammatical errors - all in one night! How's that for intense?
The benefits of taking this course: they never end. I'm still taking this course. When I edit a paper; when I write an email; when I listen to music; when I write poetry, when I analyze my eighteen-year-old brother's third grade sentences; when I read The New York Times at my leisure - which Prof. Hansen constantly bickered about during class (students nowadays are reading less and less, but watching TV more and more); when I read a new syllabus - I reapply the lessons taught by Prof. Hansen. And I cannot help but do so. I even analyze my best friend's sentences as she speaks without noticing what I'm doing until she tells me.
I did not expect to develop my skills to such an extreme level, but I flaunt them proudly. From its description, all I expected from this course was to learn the difference between a comma and a semi-colon, but I got so much more. I loved his class and, because very few students know the difference between "every day" and "everyday," I wish that the college would make the class a requirement.
Prof. Les Hansen
To Write or Not to Write: That is Not the Question. In college, students do two things over and over: read and write. Most students feel unsure of their writing and are scared to put their ideas on paper. After teaching composition for a couple decades, I figured out that my students write more courageously when they know grammar and the basics. So I figured, why not devote an entire class to grammar, syntax, and style, giving students the skills to write better for all their classes and maybe even to enjoy putting words on paper.
My course, "Grammar, Syntax, and Style: Writing for All Disciplines," emphasizes style in writing because it is style rather than content that most writers find especially hard to master. This course explains how to craft sentences and combine them into paragraphs that are clear and readable, no matter what a writer has to say.
The first step towards putting information together to form knowledge is the understanding of grammar, the ground of all learning and communication. Grammar is the cup; content is what students put into the cup. As good architects build many kinds of buildings, good writers should know how to design and build all kinds of sentences. Who knows what content will be presented to them day after day? But with cracks and holes in the cup, the content leaks out. I've had students ask, "I know my grammar sucks, but how's my content?" "I can't tell," I say. "It's leaked all over the floor."
Using a few books, we study sentence structure and style. We don't cover much traditional grammar-book stuff. The books and exercises for the course deal only with writing—how to get words down on paper: sincerely, clearly, and honestly. In my course, students are urged to look at the words and their grammatical arrangement in a sentence and a paragraph, regardless of content. A writing course has no subject, unless students write a 600-word essay about "verbs" or do a research paper on the development of some part of language.
After this course you can take a load of writing-fear off your back. "Grammar, Syntax, and Style" works on grammar and style, the parts of writing that all students need.
Dear English Majors,
Are you seeking sweetness and light (and maybe something to eat)? Then come join your favorite faculty members today, Thursday Feb. 16, from 1:30-2:45 (a.k.a. The Common Hour), for the first Humanities Open House. First and foremost, we want to welcome you to our new space on the 7th floor of the Tower: it's pretty fantastic and it will be much easier now for all of us to find one another.
During the Open House, you can learn about all the various things you can get involved in from The Sentinel, John Jay's student-run newspaper, to The Quill, John Jay's student-run creative writing publication, as well as Sigma Tau Delta, John Jay's chapter of the International English Honors Society. In addition to finding out what it takes to graduate with honors as an English Major, you can learn about our various minors, such as English, Journalism and Writing, and related programs such as the Humanities and Justice Major, as well as talk to current and former English Majors at our student table. You also can talk to faculty about how an English Major helps prepare you for law school, or to students bound for graduate study in literature.
Last but not least, come participate in a scavenger hunt, English Department-style. Like the Great Heroes of Literature, you will journey from place to place (a.k.a. faculty offices) seeking enlightenment from the ages. That's the "light" part. As for the sweetness, there will also be candy.
We look forward to seeing you there!
Prof. Caroline Reitz, English Major Advisor
ENGLISH MATTERS 4.4 is a more-or-less regular publication of the John Jay English Department for the instruction and delight of students in our major and minor programs. Questions? Comments? Complaints? Want to get involved? Contact the editors, Professor Al Coppola and Professor Olivera Jokic
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