If asked to choose one word to describe the B.S. in Journalism program I completed during the Vietnam War, the answer would be timeless. This degree has provided me with not one but three careers. I snagged every job I’ve ever had primarily because of it.
Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism for decades offered a two-part program. At the end of four years, students earned a B.S. in Journalism (B.S.J.) with a specialization in newspaper, magazine, radio/TV or advertising. Those who wanted to continue returned the following September for nine months more and an M.S.J.
The M.S.J. program also accepted students with bachelor’s degrees from other schools but required them to complete a 12-month program. I chose a B.S.J. in magazine editorial operations and went to work after graduation.
At the time, Medill ran a yearly race with two other schools of journalism – Columbia and Missouri – for the status of number one in the country. It often won.
The First Career
For 15 years, I worked as a writer/editor for several organizations. The Medill degree was a great door opener.
This career required the basic editorial skills journalism students learn during their first two years. Advancement followed a typical path: editorial assistant, editor, writer/editor, for example.
This progression required more than editorial skills, however. An employee needed to have persistence and creativity, which meant endlessly ferreting through manuscripts and data to come up with a new publication or set of procedures management noticed. To anyone with a B.S. in Journalism from Medill, this was familiar territory.
My favorite stint during this career was creating a publications program for a Wisconsin trade association.
The Second Career
There is a universal truth shared by all people in the Washington, DC area who have journalism degrees. It is that there are a zillion other people with similar or better credentials competing for the same jobs.
When I found myself a single parent in an exciting but extremely competitive metropolitan area, I had to do some hard thinking about how to shift careers and make sure we had some decent health insurance.
In the 1980s, getting a Federal job required the endless paperwork plus luck. Females usually entered in a clerical job. I reluctantly did that but also researched professional opportunities. I gave myself one year to snag an internship in Federal contracting before I looked at the private sector.
Individuals with writing and organizational skills are nirvana to those who hire contracting personnel as Feds. Once again, the Medill degree opened doors eight months after I become a Fed.
While I had to complete a series of legal and financial courses to obtain the highest certification to write Federal contracts, many classes were actually interesting. At the end of this career, I was a senior procurement analyst for what is now the U.S. General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service. This was a great opportunity to draft and edit regulations submitted to Congress.
The Third Career
Due to health issues, I took a very early, reduced Federal retirement and decided to go into business for myself. I initially worked part-time writing and editing proposals to Federal agencies for several contractors.
It was at this point that I realized that the B.S. in Journalism from Medill really was timeless. Although it had included using carbon paper and manual typewriters, the initiative, analytical thinking and persistence to follow a task to completion required to earn the degree translated to almost every career. They will never be out of date.
Eventually, I veered away from contracting and opened a freelance writing and editing business. It took very little time to learn online writing and editing techniques and not so long to learn search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. All in all, nearly everything I learned while earning my B.S. in Journalism from Medill is, in fact, timeless.