Over the internet, I got a chance to sit down with Joe McHugh, Ball State alumni member times two (he received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees here). McHugh has never been an English major, but minored in Creative Writing. Among our discussion topics was how studying English grants a universal skill that can be applied to any discipline.
What were your areas of study at Ball State?
As an undergraduate student, I studied in the departments of Geography and English. I graduated with a double-major in Operational Meteorology and Climatology, and Geographic Information Systems and Mapping. My minor was Creative Writing. I continued school and graduated as a Master of Science in Information and Communication Sciences, which was in the College of Communication, Information, and Media. I also wanted to study music, philosophy, biology and telecommunications, but I didn’t.
What was the experience like going through your quest for the right major?
Picking the right major is a wrong way to think about the experience of college. College is mostly about discovering one’s strengths and weaknesses, and learning about the formalities that define the careers in which those strengths can be applied. In other words, the secret is understanding that there is more than one right answer. There are many different ways to solve for a, b, and c. There are many different ways to say, “I love you.”
How did your involvement with poetry/creative writing help with your other areas of study?
Through learning about and writing poetry, I understood the importance of clear communication, specifically word selection and brevity. In my non-English courses, I had to write papers and give presentations. The English courses helped me develop my ability to communicate clearly and explain complex concepts in constructive ways, and they gave me a simple goal on every paper and presentation. That goal was to communicate well. That’s it. All communication can be boiled down to “what you say” and “how you say it,” so I simply knew my topic and explained myself.
How did your other disciplines influence your writing?
Because my other areas of study were scientific, I had a lot of experience learning about the physical properties of objects in nature. I also have a penchant for patient observation. All I did was fuse those ideas with poetic devices. That is not to say that I became a nature writer, but that I used the scientific ideas of sensible observation and concrete description.
What are your thoughts in merging different disciplines, like you did, with an English major or minor?
Everyone should do a better job of combining different disciplines. Finding connections between them keeps them alive, keeps them interesting, and keeps them open for possibility. Our desire to do well increases when we are interested in what we are doing. Our brains eat it up.
How does having multiple areas of study affect the options you have in terms of academics or career?
I can be a lot of things. It’s hard to start a career right now, but it’s not impossible. I have to recognize the areas in which I have the most specialization and experience, and focus on them. I also have to recognize that most working people change jobs numerous times, often ending up in places they don’t expect, and that I’m no different.
What is the future of Joe McHugh?
I will make things and maybe people will like them and give me some money for the things. If that doesn’t work out, and it won’t, I will probably do something that involves the phrase “business casual,” and make things in my free time.
Any parting advice/wisdom you would like to offer the students at BSU?
Be honest. Say what you think and feel. If you don’t, life is going to be awful and you are going to have horrible diseases.
Are there any questions you would like to ask me?
You can find examples of Joe’s poetry at DOGZPLOT as well as his blog.