Madeline Heim - 2018

Position title: Environmental Journalism

Pronouns: she/her

What career pathway have you pursued since your time in the UW-Madison English major?

Since graduation, I have pursued a career as a journalist, beginning my work at a small paper in Minnesota and then covering the COVID-19 pandemic for a variety of newspapers throughout Wisconsin. Today, I am a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where I write about environmental challenges and opportunities in the Mississippi River Basin. My position is grant-funded by Report for America, a service journalism organization that places reporters in local newsrooms to write about under-covered issues.

What did you enjoy about the English major?

Though I ultimately became a journalist, it was my English classes that brought me the most joy. As I pursued the creative writing track, I had excellent workshop teachers in Josh Kalscheur, Jordan Jacks, Jamel Brinkley and Danielle Evans. It’s been incredible to read Jamel and Danielle’s work in the real world and reflect on the expertise they shared with me. My fondest memory, though, was in my first workshop with Josh, when he organized an end-of-the-year reading for our class one evening at Bradbury’s downtown. Outside of creative writing classes, two others stand out to me: Professor Zweck’s survey of early British literature and Professor Anderson’s modernist poetry course. I never thought I would enjoy reading Beowulf and Chaucer, but Professor Zweck made it a blast. And while the poetry course really challenged me, our discussions were always invigorating and I was glad to be able to consume so much important work. Finally, I enjoyed playing an active role in the Madison Undergraduate Society for English throughout most of my time at UW. It was a great way to bond with my fellow English majors and become more deeply involved in the department.

Other majors, certificates, or key points of involvement during time at UW:

I also received a journalism degree, a certificate in Gender & Women’s Studies, and was editor in chief of The Daily Cardinal during the 2017-’18 school year.

How did your time as an English major prepare you for your current work? What skills do humanities students bring to your industry?

Majoring in English taught me so much about writing with clarity and style, and I use that every day in my work as a journalist. My journalism classes at UW taught me how to construct a news article, but learning how to write creatively has been invaluable in an industry where good writing can truly set you apart. Especially when writing longer-form stories, I want to make sure my writing sings and that I can construct a clear, compelling narrative that makes people want to read more. Because of this, it’s really not surprising why so many journalists majored in English. Natalie Eilbert, a friend, colleague and exceptionally talented poet (as well as a former poetry fellow in the creative writing department), is a prime example of this. The care and flair she puts into storytelling shows in every article. Ultimately, a well-written story has the power to draw people in, make them care, and hopefully effect change. That’s of huge importance to journalists, and it’s a skill set in which English majors can really shine.

What is one piece of career advice you would offer our English undergraduates?

Don’t undersell yourself. You might have already had people ask you what you’re going to do with your English major, and my answer is you can do almost anything. One thing I’ve learned as I’ve transitioned from college to professional life is that the skills you learn in a major like this (good writing, critical reading, clear communicating) aren’t as common as you think. Don’t be afraid to claim those as assets that will make you a standout hire.