University of Minnesota
Department of English

Department of English

Five X Friday

Past Alumni News Stories
Mark Mishek (BA), healthcare CEO
Mary Petrie (PhD), writer & professor
Josh Ostergaard (MFA), writer
Mary Nyquist (BA), professor
Tom Rademacher (BA), teacher
Erik Storlie (BA), meditation teacher
Nadia Hasan (BA), lawyer
Naomi Ko (BA), actor and writer
Shae Moloney (BA), HR specialist
Swati Avasthi (MFA), novelist
Kate Hopper (MFA), writer & teacher
Kevin Fenton (MFA), writer & ad creative
Alex Mueller (PhD), professor
Ellen Boschwitz (BA), consultant
Ethan Rutherford (MFA), writer
Tina Karelson (BA), advertising creative
May Lee-Yang (BA), playwright
Elizabeth Larsen (MFA), writer/editor
Angela Smith (PhD), professor
Jerr Boschee (BA), social entrepreneur
Reina del Cid (BA), bandleader
Dr. Arthur Schuhart (BA), CC professor
Amanda Coplin (MFA), novelist
David Wojahn (BA), poet
Dr. Sarah Wadsworth (PhD), professor
Mark Baumgarten (BA), writer/editor
Andrew Nath (BA), banker
Esther Porter (BA), editor
Dr. Gerald Jay Goldberg (PhD), writer
Peter Geye (BA), novelist
Sam Kean (BA), science writer
Dr. Joyce Sutphen (BA, MA, PhD), poet
Susan Taylor (MFA), CC professor
Sheila O'Connor (BA), novelist
Susan Niz (BA), YA novelist
Scott Burns (BA), screenwriter
Swati Avasthi (MFA), YA novelist
Dr. Marilyn Nelson (PhD), poet
Garrison Keillor (BA), radio show host
Dr. Carol Mason (PhD), professor
Amy Shearn (MFA), novelist
Dr. Virginia McDavid (BA, MA, PhD), prof
Tim Nolan (BA), poet
Dr. Kevin Reilly (PhD), higher ed admin

Michael Tisserand (BA), journalist

Gateway to the Unexpected

Leveraging English major competencies for success in Human Resources (and life!)

Diane RichardDiane Richard (BA 1985), Director of Human Resources for medical device design and manufacturer Minnetronix since 2008, did not expect to land in HR. Indeed, her career path looks like more of a zigzag. After college, she copyedited for Honeywell, quit to work at an art gallery, then decamped to Paris to write for an artist. After a move to Washington D.C., Richard got a job as an exhibition assistant for the National Gallery of Art in part because she spoke fluent French. The head of design there ignored her lack of finance experience and hired her as a budget analyst; he also liked her French, she recalls. From there, she turned to office administration while earning an MBA at St. Thomas; degree in hand, Richard became Director of Human Resources at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. Undergirding all the serendipitous turnings, she argues, was the training she received in English.

1. What advice do you have for graduating English majors entering the job market?

Consider each job opportunity as a potential gateway to something unexpected. Any entry point into a company you admire can pave the way for growth. There isn’t One Perfect Job . . . there are lots of really interesting, meaningful jobs. When you land at a new company, sign up for committees, go out to lunch with different groups of people, volunteer for something you’re good at, and watch/learn how others do what they’re good at. Good things will happen to those who chase and embrace opportunity.

Be aware of your strengths and competencies—whether it’s writing, empathy, or research--and learn how to leverage them in multiple aspects of business. Find a way to make the connections that others might miss.

2. What are your responsibilities as Director of HR at Minnetronix?

I oversee recruiting, performance management, learning and development, employee relations, benefits, and most of our internal writing.

3. How do the skills learned in the study of literature support what you do?

This is at the heart of any discussion around quantifying how any of the humanities will translate into employable skills, right? In addition to writing, majoring in English influenced my ability to think deeply about how people, motive, and context are connected. It trained my brain to look beyond the obvious and to consider other possible scenarios or points of view.

Companies are full of people; and groups of people become little mini-communities. Studying literature and learning how to interpret meaning--dual-meaning, hidden meaning, symbolism, intent--gave me the skills to navigate employee relations and difficult discussions, even career/individual development. And the exposure to good writers, perspective, and tone provided a good foundation (for life) for any type of company communication.


  • When I recruit, it’s all about looking for a match—both culture and skill—and making a judgment call. English majors make good recruiters.
  • When I work on strategy, I look at where we are today and where we want to go. It’s part “creative thinking” and part “vision.” English majors don’t think in linear, pre-set channels—we are good at creating and envisioning multiple outcomes.
  • I have a perspective and thought process that is considerably different from most of my engineering colleagues. This gives our business team an advantage from both a strategic and diversity perspective.

4. What English class do you most remember?

Shakespeare was a turning point. Decrypting the language. The heavy book with the lightweight silky paper. The drama, the characters, the history. It even penetrated my subconscious--I remember having a dream that I was Richard III. It was awkward. To this day, empathy is one of my strongest competencies.

5. What books are you reading or have you recently enjoyed?

I really liked Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier for the introspective journey, the exploration of nostalgia, and the writing. (In one passage he described a phrase in Portuguese as “Quiet and elegant. Like dull silver.”) I have a stack of books in varying degrees of progress on my nightstand, including: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes; Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides; To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf; Voltaire’s Candide; Baudelaire’s Selected Writings on Art & Artists; The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges; and I Feel Bad About my Neck, by Nora Ephron.

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