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Diploma in our Hands, World at our Feet
2006, Q2 (June 17, 2008)
By Heather Brautman, Carolina Chapter Membership Manager and member of Sigma Tau Chi

Heather Brautman
Heather Brautman
Although the dulcet tunes of "The Graduation March" have faded into memory and my 2006 tassel is starting to get tangled while hanging from my rearview mirror, I still feel that perk of excitement that comes only with a cap and gown when I look at the picture of my parents and I proudly holding up my latest diploma. School fever, I’ve got it.

In a Class of its Own

On May 13, I stood with about a dozen other newly christened graduates from North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) Master of Technical Communication program. We were soon engulfed by parents, friends, and other celebrants, but the moment was bittersweet. After being in the program for over two years, I was being released from its grip. This ceremony wasn’t the pie-eyed, beer-soaked graduation celebration of an undergrad about to embark into "the working world." Most of us had already been working in the technical communication field for years. Why, then, did we choose to stuff our brains full of things like (insert scary noise) "The Rhetoric of Technical Communication"?

We did it, just as those lining up to be the Class of 2007, 2008, and more, because there is no better set of shepherds out there for our fluffy flock of student sheep.

I had heard people speak about the NCSU M.S. in Technical Communication program before I was accepted. It was always in hushed tones, such as "They’re known throughout the country!" and "IBM and SAS hand-pick right from the students!" I could walk into an STC Carolina meeting and see MS program alumni or hear people speaking about the true benefits of the program. My first class was a summer elective, an economics class not within the program, where I sat and scribbled 12 pages of notes a night. It was actually interesting. Then I hit my first two classes within the MS program.

And with it came a world of difference. I previously completed another Master’s degree at a school in Baltimore, where I thought the degree of professor caring was quite high. NCSU’s main contingent of Technical Communication professors just blew that out of the water. How do I even describe this small core of dedicated leaders? Maybe I can just recount some of my experiences with them:
  • I must have dropped by Dr. Dicks’ (Director of the program) office countless times to ask him career advice. After a segment in his publications class (required for all students), I learned how to negotiate salary. It didn’t mean I had the confidence to do it though, so I sat with him and we talked about strategy. Negotiations still aren’t my strong suit because I hate confrontation, but I now know I can do it thanks to his words of wisdom.
  • Dr. Covington, who taught a class on the Macromedia Suite (Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks), became my Flash guru/go-to-guy. These professors don’t just teach a class and disappear into the ether. Even though our class ended and I moved on to others, he still answered every panicked email of mine when I couldn’t get my Flash timeline to function properly. He, too, provided me career advice as I sat on his couch and pondered "what I was doing with my life." And I was thrilled to have him on my thesis-project committee, because he completely changed the face of my project and pushed me to produce something I never thought I’d be able to create.
  • All of the professors I met, even ones I wasn’t able to take classes from, were so excited for their students. When I came calling with a request for Sigma Tau Chi recommendations, Dr. Dicks, Dr. Covington, and Dr. Susan Katz all helped me realize a two-year dream of acceptance to the society. And they shared in my joy when I informed them I’d gotten in.

It’s More than Just Pencils and Schoolbooks

Of course, the NCSU program offers learning, but what else? For me, it was the first taste of STC board potential. I served as the NCSU’s student chapter newsletter editor for 2005-2006, which gave me the opportunity to see some of the STC wheels in motion. Our chapter advisor, Sarah Egan Warren, led us through many brainstorming and achievement meetings. She helped us to becoming a board (and chapter) of Excellence (along with an Excellence award in the newsletter competition, too). The STC @ NCSU chapter is a breeding ground for future STC Carolina chapter and board members. I’ll soon be appearing at a meeting near you as Membership Manager.

The Future’s So Bright

It is easy for me to say that the NCSU program has prepared me to be part of the future of technical communication. It will be that much more of a challenge to show it. (But that’s OK. Anyone who knows me knows I like a challenge.) I’m already in the working world—thanks to the STC Carolina’s job page, I just started a great new job as the technical writer at ChemWare, Inc. And now, with NCSU’s backing, I get to really dedicate myself to the field. I know that when I need them, my professors will be there to share their excellent knowledge, experiences, and opinions. The program would be nothing without them! Speaking of the professors (again? Is there a theme here?), I need to add a caveat for future students. One professor, Dr. Steven Katz, will have left the halls of NCSU by the time this article goes to print. He moves on to Clemson University as a distinguished professor, and the students of Clemson’s technical communication department will be all the more better off under his tutelage. It is a loss for NCSU, but it just shows the degree (no pun intended) of seriousness with which these professors teach. Those whispers I referred to earlier, about how valuable graduates of this program are, well, it goes for the professors too. As students, we catch the rays, sparkles, and sunshine that they cast off to us. We soak it in, so that we can then turn it on to the world. Speaking of sunshine, it’s getting so bright in here, I need to go find my shades.

Heather Brautman (center, holding diploma) and some of her classmates.
Heather Brautman (center, holding diploma) and some of her classmates.

Heather can be reached at heatherpez at excite dot com. End of article.

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