Phoebe Kiekhofer - 2017

Position title: Education, Bilingual Literacy

Pronouns: she/her

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

After working in several school-based roles (some through nonprofits) during and after my time at UW, I pursued a career as a teacher and earned my Master’s of Education from Johns Hopkins in 2022. I taught elementary language arts and worked in elementary literacy intervention. As a teacher and interventionist, I could clearly see areas in reading instruction that needed improvement in order to best serve students, so I pivoted in 2023 to working in literacy research. I now work for University of Virginia’s School of Education in a research center that studies the science of bilingual literacy.

What did you enjoy about the English major?

I most enjoyed studying literature through linguistic and etymological lenses, and using these lenses to investigate shifts in language that have occurred over time. Dr. Sarah Wood does this particularly well in her American Literature class. I also still think often about Professor Mark Vareschi’s discussions on the ‘death of the author’ (author’s textual removal from the narrator/story) when evaluating literature/text in a larger social context. My linguistics coursework in the major served as foundational knowledge for my subsequent studies on speech language pathology and the science of reading. Professor Catherine Vieira’s course on literacy/accessibility of reading/literacy is what piqued my interest in being a literacy and language educator, and centering my career on making literacy accessible to everyone across languages and backgrounds.

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

Gender and Women’s Studies program

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

My English major coursework at UW exposed me to so many different pieces of language and literacy that all come together to inform what I focus on the most in my field today. It inspired my Master’s level coursework at Johns Hopkins, my work as a teacher/interventionist, and my research topics in my current position at the University of Virginia. Much of my current work centers the study of language structures, etymology, and, most importantly, establishing reading as a civil right for everyone regardless of language/background.

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

There is so much value in your coursework, and the English major encompasses a wide breadth of skills that you can absolutely apply to what impassions you the most. Take a wide variety of classes in the major, and don’t hesitate to delve more into your favorite things to learn about. I also think it is wonderful to find connections between the different areas of study – when it comes to talking about language/literature, everything’s more or less connected beneath the surface.