Levi Todd graduated from Ball State’s English Department, where they majored in English Studies and minored in Spanish. They now work as Youth Programs Coordinator at Alliance of Local Service Organizations (ALSO), a Chicago nonprofit working to prevent and respond to community and domestic violence. See how they use their English degree to support nonprofit programming.
What are the most valuable skills you learned as an English major? How have they helped you post-graduation?
The BSU English program did an excellent job illustrating to me the general skills I was walking away with: the ability to research, synthesize ideas, adjust arguments based on audience and context, think creatively and critically, and write clearly. I think that most English majors are in a bit of a bubble where they’re surrounded by talented writers, and they forget that not everyone is equally skilled in communication. These are skills that every employer needs, which really allows you to make the case for whatever line of work you’re interested in. Not only do these skills come into play in the workplace, but they help you get there: by making your argument in cover letters, resumes, and interviews about why you’re a qualified candidate for the position.
Why did you pursue a career in nonprofits?
My parents have both worked in nonprofits their whole lives, and I knew I wanted a job that aligned with my values of community and social justice. There are definitely jobs in the for-profit sector where this is possible, but I appreciate that nonprofits are guided by a clear mission and vision for their community.
A big misconception I think people have about nonprofit work is that your only option available is being a social worker at a social service agency (think food banks and homeless shelters). Social workers and social service agencies are incredibly necessary and do amazing work–but that’s not where the scope of nonprofit work ends. There are also arts administration organizations, groups that advocate for laws and policy, research institutions, museums, churches, unions, and plenty more. A nonprofit simply means that any profit that the organization makes goes back into its work, rather than to investors or shareholders.
Nonprofits have a wide array of work to offer: there’s grant writing, fundraising, communications, administration, volunteer management, programming, policy–and there’s a place that English majors can easily fit into any of these positions. Nonprofits are constantly engaging a variety of audiences: board members, volunteers, donors, community members, program participants, etc. They need effective communicators who can adjust their message based on context, and that’s where English majors come in.
What did the path look like from graduation to your career?
After graduating, I did a year of service with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. I was placed at a domestic violence agency, where I worked on their prevention education team. I visited 4 schools a week, facilitating an 8-week curriculum to 7th-12th graders on healthy relationships and teen dating. For folks who are unsure about what to do after graduation, I really recommend a year of service: with the right program, it’s a great way to learn how you can apply your values to your career, and try out job positions you’re curious about with low long-term commitment.
I recently accepted a new position with the Alliance of Local Service Organizations (ALSO). My team works collaboratively with domestic violence and sexual assault community organizations that serve youth across the country. These organizations receive federal grants from the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), and we’re contracted by OVW to provide support and technical assistance to the grantees. In pre-coronavirus times this would look like planning conferences and institutes for our partners to connect with one another and learn about topics that inform their work. In our current context, we’ve shifted to hosting webinars and other virtual offerings, and we’re continuing to evaluate how we can best provide support to our grantees.
What aspects from your English degree still affect your day-to-day experiences with your career?
Some tasks I was juggling this past week were drafting a Facebook post to explain the work our team was doing in response to COVID-19, doing research on the prevalence and impact of teen dating violence, and writing a report on feedback we’d received about an upcoming project. To do these tasks, I needed to know how to effectively create content for social media platforms, conduct research, and synthesize information. I learned these skills from my BSU English classes, like Digital Literacies, my senior research capstone, and Style and Editing. And while perhaps not directly relevant on the surface, I think my creative writing classes help me think creatively.
What advice do you have for English majors?
Your strongest tool you have in your job search is your ability to write compelling resumes and cover letters. Before even having had a paid full-time job, you can make the case for why your coursework, internships, and volunteer work have prepared you for the position you’re applying for. I know internships (especially unpaid ones) can be difficult to land or sustain–which is why it’s fantastic that so many immersive learning courses at BSU like Jacket Copy Creative and Book Arts Collaborative are practically internships themselves: those courses are intentionally designed as professional experiences and absolutely have a place on your resume.
I strongly encourage English majors to choose a passion project to pursue during your time in school. Designing a project you get to structure yourself allows you to practice whatever skills or content you want for your portfolio or resume. For me, this was Reacting Out Loud, an organization that I founded to host poetry events in Muncie. Aside from being a lot of fun and an opportunity to engage with the off-campus Muncie community, I learned how to design posters, make a website, manage multiple social media accounts, write professional emails, recruit and manage a team of volunteers, and run a crowdfunding fundraiser. These are all bullet points that I listed on my resume, and was directly asked questions about during interviews. I had other friends who launched podcasts, literary magazines, social justice campaigns, and other projects that allowed them to feed their creativity and leadership, while directly applying the skills they were learning in their English classes.