By Daniella Zoller
Nearly 100 people gathered for the English Department’s annual “Chowder Fest” celebration on November 7th at 5:45pm. This was the largest attendance that the English House has had for this event in years! Audience members were seated all throughout the house, gathered around eating, while listening to the wise words of our speakers.
Three different soup options were served for the attending audience, along with a sweet cookie dessert. This event brings students, faculty, and staff together for the common interest of hearing what past English majors are doing with their degrees now and the paths that they took to get there.
The celebration began with Professor Meredith Neuman, the chair of the English Department, introducing the three speakers of the night, which included Kaitlynn Chase, Rachel Lloyd, and John Ohotnicky. Kaitlynn received her Masters from Clark in 2021, Rachel received her BA from Clark in 2020, and John Ohotnicky received his BA in English and Music from Assumption University and is the current University Registrar for Clark.
Kaitlynn Chase, who currently works at Emmanuel College in the Counseling Center as a Staff Clinician and Wellness Coordinator, spoke to the audience about the ways in which an English major can be applicable to multiple different jobs that aren’t solely based around writing or reading. She discussed how having a background in English fosters empathy, and explained the ways in which she translates this empathy and understanding to her clinical work and the mental health field.
Her pathway to working in a mental health position involved her past of being a residential advisor during her undergrad years, as well as being met by the COVID-19 pandemic while she was pursuing her Master’s degree. She spoke fondly of the outdoor classes that she experienced throughout this time, and how it fostered a strong community sense. Kaitlynn touched upon how having a space that allows for emotional vulnerability is incredibly important as it furthers the perspectives that are taken on when studying English and allows for meaningful collaboration.
Rachel Lloyd is a voracious writer whose work has appeared in multiple different small literary journals and magazines. She has many pieces available for viewing online at rachellloydwrites.com. Rachel spoke largely about transformative experiences and how meaningful her time at Clark was in terms of her current career. Her passion for writing first began in sixth grade, when she read “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery for the first time. She discussed how her dyslexia affected her as a child – and how it still can today – and emphasized that this book was the turning point for her. From that moment forward, she knew that she wanted to be a writer, stating that she wanted to write literature that could “show people new perspectives and new ways of being in the world.”
Rachel claimed that the universe knew Clark was the right fit for her. Once at Clark, she jumped right into an English major and Creative Writing minor track, working with theory and creating pieces that would lay the groundwork for many of the texts that she has written in her postgrad era. She gave retired Professor Jay Elliot, who was in attendance, a shout-out for all the work he has done to implement the new Creative Writing major that was just launched at Clark this fall semester.
Rachel mentioned her first published piece “Volcano,” which she began writing during her time in undergrad. She stated that this helped kick-start one of her writing series, where she focuses on different elemental items taking “borderline obsessive” viewpoints and cultivating stories around them.
Rachel then touched upon her experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, being a Class of 2020 graduate. She said that after being sent home due to the pandemic, and living with her parents for a while, she knew after a few years that it was time to move out. She claimed that she got “thrifty” with her job choices, working a few part-time jobs at once. Rachel started working at a gym, to maintain a discounted gym membership, as well as obtained a job at a grocery store, receiving discounted groceries. She voiced that there is a concern about how to afford living as a writer and explained that this is her way of doing so.
Rachel said that having a background in English provided her with the ability to communicate with people and think critically and creatively, assisting her in each and every job that she stepped into. She ended her talk by thanking her mentors, especially Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez, for teaching her how to step into various roles and take on different lenses that would later apply in life.
John Ohotnicky, Clark University’s Registrar since 2018, began his talk by stating that he wanted to be an engineer throughout his whole life. He mentioned that he was raised under the mantra that you are supposed to get a job and sustain yourself monetarily, not to follow your passions. He said that once he leaned into his liberal arts education background, he learned that this does not have to be the reality. John discovered that he no longer wanted to pursue an engineering degree, and then he changed his major eight times! However, he still managed to graduate within four years.
He mentioned that what he is really grateful for is his liberal arts education overall, not specifically the English major on its own. He stated that “the satisfaction of requirements broadened his mind in ways he had never anticipated,” moving him away from his one track mind.
John then revealed information about his time abroad in England, while he was pursuing the Watson Fellowship. He said that it was a life-changing experience, something that he never would have imagined doing if he had maintained his engineering degree.
After graduating, he moved to Massachusetts and obtained a job in a Registrar’s office, both accidentally and out of necessity. He explained that thanks to his liberal arts degree, he learned precise communication, openness, and empathy – skills that he may not have obtained without his English degree.
After the speakers presented, students had an opportunity to ask the speakers questions. One audience member asked if there were any texts, moments, or people that formed a transformative experience during their English major career.
John stated that he drew inspiration from EM Forster’s texts, but also heavily leaned on the connections that he made with family, friends, and colleagues. He said that this allowed him to connect with different elements of the world and different viewpoints. John believes that it is important to “have your mind changed, to be convinced, to be uncomfortable,” and to be open to making connections, even when those connections are unimaginable.
Rachel mentioned that there were two different texts that were transformative for her, including “Grief is the Thing with Feathers” by Max Porter, and a piece written by Anne Carson. She included both of these texts in her senior thesis.
She was inspired by these texts because they detached language from meaning, using metaphor and allegory to find truth in lies. They showed her that language isn’t always literal, and Rachel mentioned that these texts inspired her to lean into what is weird and untrue about language. For her, this opened up what writing could look like and what literary structure could be if you break outside of the norms.
Kaitlynn discussed three authors that helped transform her understanding of literature and the world. She referred to the works of Judith Butler, Jack Halberstam, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, explaining that these authors helped shape the way she understood identity and the identities of those around her. Kaitlynn said that these writers transformed how she thinks about her place in the world and her situation amidst other people – helping her within her career.
She then mentioned that throughout her time as a graduate student, she appreciated reading texts that were wildly different that she didn’t know could coexist within a space together. Kaitlynn enjoyed having a space that didn’t feel so controlled or restricted, which allowed her to discover that there’s right and wrong, but sometimes there is no answer. She expressed how it is important to have an emotionally supportive space where these texts can come together, and you can learn to grapple with their differing concepts.
Meredith Neuman wrapped up this question by stating that the most transformative text doesn’t have to be theory or novels written by someone else, but it can also be your own work that changes your point of view and shapes your passions.
Retired professor Jay Elliot then spoke broadly about the English major, explaining that a degree in this field brings a sense of knowledge, insight, and compassion. He emphasizes that you should rely on your faculty to find those transformative experiences, and those moments may come out of nowhere. They may come from your friends, your staff, your faculty, or your favorite professor.
Thank you to all of those who were in attendance for this wonderful event and for creating such a great turnout for our speakers. We hope to see you at next year’s Chowder Fest!
***If you missed Chowder Fest and/or are interested in reaching out to any of the presenters, they have all expressed their willingness to connect with students! Please reach out to the department chair, Meredith Neuman (email@example.com) or the departmental administrator Paula Flynn Connors (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in connecting with any of the speakers.