Economic Value of a Humanities Degree

From Forbes (click on excerpt to go to the full article):

Just to provide some examples, I pulled out information on bachelor’s degrees in art, drama, English, French, history, philosophy, and political science. Overall, this is a group that many would predict is destined to produce underemployed graduates, struggling to pay off their student loans, and perhaps happy to work as Starbucks baristas. However, conventional wisdom is wrong. In reality these degrees all produce expected lifetime earning increments far in excess of the cost of college tuition, even at expensive private colleges.

Here are some of the highlights (with the table below showing more results). The present value of the extra earnings that graduates in humanities majors can expect over their lifetime is $302,400 for drama majors, $444,700 for English majors, $537,800 for history majors, and $658,900 for philosophy majors. If a person goes to a top-level, in-state, public university with no financial aid of any kind, the total cost is likely to run around $80,000 (tuition, books, and living expenses). That means the much maligned humanities majors are still getting an A in economics because the returns on their investments are quite high (in the 300 to 700 percent range).

On Fandom Studies

Karen Hellekson, our recent speaker in the Lectures in the Arts and Humanities Series, was recently interviewed by Henry Jenkins on the topic of Fandom Studies (click on the link below to go to the full article and interview):


Changing the Narrative

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, “To Save the Humanities, Change the Narrative”: The article discusses the continuing assault of articles in the media claiming the humanities are in crisis, even though the data suggests something quite different (click on the excerpt below to go to the whole article).

Interestingly, although programs and tenure-track lines may in fact be under stress, actual data do not support the overall crisis narrative. Unemployment rates and salaries in the humanities are near the median for all majors, and salaries for graduates in philosophy, English, and history are higher than the median. Following a drop in total major numbers in the 1970s, humanities degrees have remained constant. However, these data seem to have little effect on the humanities’ detractors, and the narrative that they weave about the demise and irrelevance of the humanities can seem impervious to empirical reality. Unfortunately, false crisis narratives have real effects.

Dr. Karen Hellekson: Doctor Who and Fan Studies Presentation

Dr. Karen Hellekson is a renowned fan studies and Doctor Who scholar. She earned her PhD in English from the University of Kansas, where she also studied science fiction. She’s published several articles, two books, and coedited three books. Most of her work is within the science fiction and fan communities. Doctor Who Poster

Dr. Misty Krueger, a professor of English at UMF, calls Dr. Karen Hellekson “a database of Doctor Who knowledge.”

This riveting presentation, “Affirmational and Transformational Doctor Who Fan Videos,” illustrated a broader view of fandoms, fannish communities, and fan fiction than what many people are familiar. Moreover, as a whole, her career illuminates the modern day applicability and relevance of the English degree.

Fan fiction is broken up into two types of texts: affirmational and transformational.

Affirmational texts

  • Created by men
  • Restate the source material
  • Affirm the creator and/or producer
  • Fan sanctioned by creator

Transformational texts

  • Created by women
  • Twist and manipulate source material
  • Creator and/or producer are not relevant
  • Fans are unsanctioned by creator

Why transform?

It creates community, celebrates the text, critiques the text or culture, provides character studies, and positions text from the preferred fan meaning. Furthermore, transformational texts are a site of critique, often on women, gender, culture, or the text itself. The text is transformed to make a larger point beyond the source material.

Dr. Hellekson’s talk was part of the continuing Lectures in the Arts and Humanities Series at UMF, jointly sponsored by the Honors Program, the Humanities Division, and the department of Sound, Performance, and Visual Inquiry.

A brief and powerful interview with Karen Hellekson:

It’s really interesting that you’ve continued to do scholarship although your career path is not an academic one. I’m wondering if you would comment on what English majors who aren’t interested in teaching might do?

My day job is in publishing, which is a good field for English majors. I copyedit journal articles and books in the scientific, technical, and medical market, which I had to learn all about, as I do not have a technical background. I thought I wanted to be a college professor, so I got a PhD, only to discover that I did not enjoy teaching. However, I had already begun to publish and present in my field, science fiction. (I went to the University of Kansas specifically to study SF literature with Professor James Gunn, who is now retired). My interests then broadened to include fan studies, and I was able to leverage my background in both journal production and scholarship into editing a peer-reviewed academic journal in fan studies, “Transformative Works and Cultures” (

Also, I’m guessing a lot of people are surprised when they find out you’re a professional fan and scholar of Doctor Who, because it sounds like it couldn’t possibly be a real thing, but rather the teenage fantasy of thousands… How would you respond to this? How did you turn your love of Doctor Who and fan fiction into a career?

I’ve loved Doctor Who since 1982! So it’s been a long time! It actually turns out that you can leverage pretty much anything into scholarship, because it’s all out there: all sorts of TV shows and films, all sorts of genres (SF, westerns, fantasy, cop shows…), plus all sorts of engagement with them. When I was at the University of Kansas in the 1990s, science fiction was just mainstreaming as a teachable form of literature; now I see the same thing happening with fan studies and video games.

Fan engagement and scholarly engagement are actually quite similar. In my talk I showed fan-created videos, and I argued that these videos are actually a form of criticism of the show. The videos are fulfilling the same function as an English paper about, say, a Shakespeare play. The critical impulse is identical: you want to make a point about a text. It’s just that the text you’re assessing is Doctor Who instead of a Shakespeare play, and the form that assessment takes is a video made up of clips set to music, instead of a written text. Of course the creative criticism doesn’t have to take the form of a video. It could also be in manipulated images, icon sets, GIFs, avatar blanks, freehand sketches, music, written fiction, or hyperlinked text/images/whatever. It could even be handiworks like knitting projects or homemade sonic screwdrivers, or costumes (cosplay). There are many, many ways to engage. And it’s likely that if you are in fandom, you’ll find a group with like interests.

Fans tend to spend a lot of time learning about their fandom, just like scholars spend a lot of time learning about their fields. It isn’t that much of a stretch to use the critical methodology, close reading skills, and modes of analysis I learned as an English student and apply them to other, non-written texts—texts that I was already paying a lot of attention to. Applying various modes of analysis is pretty easy.

Several other scholars are working on Doctor Who (and Doctor Who fans!) who are far better known than I am, including Matt Hills and Paul Booth. However, as an independent scholar (the term means only that I am not affiliated with or supported by a university), I’m almost unique. There are very few independent scholars out there. It’s kind of an expensive hobby, with travel to various places to give talks, plus memberships in organizations who publish academic journals, which you have to be a member of before they will publish your paper.

I’d love to be able to share the videos you presented on the blog. Is that possible? And, if so, would you link me to where they’re on your blog?

You can link directly to the YouTube ones, but please don’t link directly to the fan-created ones, unless you obtain permission directly from the creators.

During the presentation, she explained that video creators, often times, consider their videos private; therefore, attaining permission to share them is important. She received permission to show the videos in her presentation.

Alumni Interview: Jennifer Pizzi


Jennifer and her husband

Tell us about yourself.:

I currently reside in Truckee, California (North Lake Tahoe Community). I moved here in 2008 after graduation. Originally, I grew up in Braintree, Mass just south of Boston before relocating to Farmington in 2002 to attend college. I began as a secondary education major, but wound up with a unique Bachelor of Arts combining studies of English Literature with Philosophy, as well as ascertaining a Philosophy minor. In college, I worked everywhere in town it seems (Granary, Front St. Tavern, the Shipyard at Sugarloaf) but most of my college employment was spent bartending at the Bag and Kettle while juggling being a part time snowboard coach for Carrabassett Valley Academy. I am presently pursing a master’s degree in journalism at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada Reno. After graduation, I dabbled in writing for a small east coast ski magazine “Steez” based out of Beverly, Mass for a few years, but mainly, I have spent the last 12 years working full-time in the restaurant industry, chasing the snow, and enjoying life in the mountains.

What are some of your most memorable moments at UMF?:

Participating In a May semester in Italy was awesome. Snowboarding in the Italian Dolomites during a winter term that went back to Italy was probably the best college experience.

How did your time at UMF help you beyond the classroom?:

So many ways. Moving to rural western Maine from a large suburb of Boston was one of the most humbling and defining experiences of my life. UMF and the Farmington community showed me how to slow down, demonstrate acts of kindness to others, and to enjoy the simpler things in life. The community portrayed a resilience of character and level of generosity I had not ever recognized in my adolescence—I carry that with me everywhere—always. At first I remember feeling frustrated in a small town, the tiny classroom sizes annoyed me, but by the end I truly recognized how it personalized my education and triggered my development as a caring and contributing adult.

What advice do you have for current or prospective students?:

Embrace the intimacy of the classroom, peers, and faculty. In the world outside the University, it is all about connections and relationships. I am not sure what the English department requirements for graduation are but we were never required to do an internship.  If this has still not become part of the curriculum, take the initiative to find one.  Reach out to community members and faculty to guide you.  A degree in English is only as impactful as you choose to make it.  While I cherish my undergraduate education, I struggled to apply it to a profession and, ultimately, found myself philosophizing from behind the bar for 10 years too long. Find an internship. Find two, if you need to.

Jennifer and her college roommate, Becky, on a trip into the Dolomites when staying in Venice during a winter term abroad with UMF.

Jennifer and her college roommate, Becky, on a trip into the Dolomites while staying in Venice during a winter term abroad with UMF.

What type of students should consider majoring in English at UMF?:

Creative thinkers and pipe-dreamers. A strong reader will develop into a strong writer. Writers will always be needed.

What do you see yourself doing in the future (10- 20 years)?:

I tell you that is a loaded question. And I don’t have the answer. I am further from it now, than I have ever been in the past. I am hoping that this education will open new doors for me. When I graduated from UMF, I wanted to get involved in publishing. It was a tough time to graduate and try to get into a transitioning industry. 22 year old Jen wanted to work for an outdoor magazine and travel. 30 year old Jen wants stability, flexibility, healthcare and a 401k. Out of my current pursuit in education, I hope to ascertain the skills that will guide me through use of basic technology and help me be able to land a job where I can creatively write content for an active company, preferably related to the snow-sport industry. I am seeking the balance between maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle, paired with a career that will challenge my intellect and put my education into practice.

The Doctor Comes to UMF

Doctor Who Poster

Lecture on Wednesday


Outside the Ordinary: A Review of Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary

Outside the Ordinary: A Review of Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary

By Tyler M. Michaud

The following doesn’t contain any spoilers

Originally published in 2009 by first-time American author Nick Burd, The Vast Fields of Ordinary is classified as a work of LGBT Young Adult Fiction. Since its release the book has had impressive success. It won the Stonewall Book Award in the Children’s and Young Adult Literature category. It was a Lambda Literary Award finalist for LGBT Children’s/Young Adult literature. It was added to Booklist’s 2010 Rainbow List. The New York Times listed it as one of the most notable books of 2009. And, this captivating novel earned Burd a place on the “OUT 100,” which pays tribute to people that make significant contributions to the LGBTQ community and culture [1]. TheVastFieldsofOrdinary

The novel explores the summer after Dade Hamilton graduates from high school—his last summer at home. Dade’s life appears to be ordinary from the outside. He works at the local grocery store, Food World. His family lives in an up-and-coming, wealthy suburban neighborhood. He’s socially awkward and the target of insults from the cool crowd, but his “boyfriend,” Pablo, is popular, so ideally he’d be safe.

Except, things aren’t as they appear. In fact, the more we learn about this suburbia, the more we realize that life beneath the surface is quite complicated. Dade is a closeted homosexual. His parents are on the brink of divorce. His job at Food World is anything but the stereotypical low-stress, part-time job. The cherry on top? Pablo refuses to openly acknowledge their relationship, probably because he’s dating one of the popular girls, which explains why the in-crowd targets Dade. 

The Vast Fields of Ordinary is a gay coming-of-age novel. Over the course of the summer, Dade comes to terms with the different layers of himself and the world around him. He falls in love with the dreamy Alex Kincaid, who teaches him to live in the moment and for himself. The “troubled girl” from down the block, Lucy, turns out to be wholly wonderful, and the best friend which Dade never knew he needed. By the end, Dade figures out that life is hard, but it’s also elastic; it’s able to bounce back.

This is my second time reading it. The first time was my sophomore year of high school. At that time, I considered it to be the novel to trump all novels. For years, everything I read was compared to it. To say I loved this book would be an understatement. Now, as a senior in college (~five years later), I decided to reread it, although I feared that, in my mind, I’d built it up too much. Plus, the thought lingered, what if I hated it? Alas, I really, really liked it. But, it’s not the perfect novel younger me labeled it.

My major thoughts are as follows (I’ll spare you a word for word review of the novel.): First, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Dade. Although, in my opinion, he’s not the most dynamic character, he’s true. His voice is unique and convincing. He struggles with love, friendship, self-discovery and acceptance, all of which are universal issues. Most interestingly, I noticed that rereading this book has changed my perspective on pretty much every character. Dade, for example, is incredibly self-involved (Did I not notice this because as a teenager I was the same way? Oops. Sorry, Dad.) It’s not that he’s unkind, but he views everyone’s problems as they relate to his own.

Alex, the love interest, is a manic pixie dream girl (MPDG), if you will. The MPDG is a common trope in pop culture: 

Film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown (2005), describes the MPDG as ‘that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures’. MPDGs are said to help their men without pursuing their own happiness, and such characters never grow up; thus, their men never grow up. [2]

However, this is arguably why Alex is enchanting. Actually, when I start to think about him realistically, I find that his charm completely melts away, exposing something quite ugly. Yet another way my perspective has changed—younger me loved Alex.

Pablo is by far the most dynamic and unique character in this novel. I used to hate him, although I’ve always been able to sympathize with him. However, now he’s my favorite character. Throughout the novel Pablo changes from the selfish guy that uses Dade to explore his sexuality, to somebody broken and aching for a fix, and, finally, to a person that’s all too real—however terrible this may be. The way Burd weaves Pablo into the story is interesting, because Pablo isn’t overly present in the action itself; rather, he’s ever-present in Dade’s thoughts.

Early-on in the novel, the secondary plot is introduced. A girl with autism goes missing from her yard. This story arch is threaded throughout the whole book. It’s done in a way that make me believe that it serves a larger purpose than how I currently understand it, that being it adds action to a social-based story. I did and still feel like I’m missing something. Maybe reading it a third time will help? 

Burd’s writing is beautiful, eloquent, and sincere, and yet unforced. It’s capable of tugging at your heartstrings and awakening your mind without the gratuitous voice some authors wield:

“I stopped wanting to float away from my life, because in the end my life was all I had. I’d walk the Fairmont campus and look up to the sky and I wouldn’t see myself drifting off like some lost balloon. Instead I saw the size of the world and found comfort in its hugeness. I’d think back to those times when I felt like everything was closing in on me, those times when I thought I was stuck, and I realized that I was wrong. There is always hope. The world is vast and meant for wandering. There is always somewhere else to go.” [3]

Just like the first time I read it, after finishing the novel I had to separate myself from the book to calm down. I would recommend this book to anybody interested in realistic young adult fiction, people interested in LGBT issues, and people that want a story that is more driven by character than plot. It doesn’t surprise me that it made such an impact in the YA and LGBT communities—it’s exquisite.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary

Nick Burd

309 pages. Published by Dial.

Hardcover: $12.67, paperback: $6.51 (


1. “The Vast Fields of Ordinary.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 Aug. 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2014.

2. “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 27 Sept. 2014.

3. “Nick Burd Quotes.” Goodreads: Nick Burd Quotes (Author of The Vast Fields of Ordinary). Web. 27 Sept. 2014.

Alumni Interview: Ian Davis

Tell us about yourself.: IMG_0785

I graduated from UMF in December 2011, having spent a year at Bennington College and then two and a half at Farmington. I’m now working on being a student in the English PhD program at Princeton University, where I study twentieth-century literature and theory. I live in Princeton with a sweet polar bear of a dog named Olivia.

What are some of your most memorable moments at UMF?:

I remember meeting Dan Gunn for the first time. I was one of three new advisees; he asked us why we wanted to study literature, listened carefully, responded thoughtfully, and then took us out to ice cream. I remember midnight pie at the Irving out toward Wilton. I remember going down to the river with friends on spring nights. Also, there were books: Joyce and Eliot with Dan Gunn, Thoreau and Dickinson with Kristen Case, Cervantes with Eric Brown; and all the others, all the others. And once, during a test, I got real excited realizing there is no difference between form and matter.

What makes studying English at UMF unique?:

I haven’t studied English at many other places, and am not sure if I have any authority on that. What made it wonderful for me, though, I could say that ––– the professors are some of the most brilliant, caring, and dedicated people I’ve known. The rest of my life will be in their wake, in their debt.

How did your time at UMF help you beyond the classroom?:

Oh, that’s tough; the classroom leaks too much to say things like that. It gets you better at everything, probably: reading, decisions, courage, sass, writing, dying, breadbaking. About once a month I learn responsibility again and pay bills and hand in paperwork, which I never did before, so. I’m pretty sure Djuna Barnes taught me how to love better. I’m also a little better at punning; not much, but enough to get by, which is good.

What advice do you have for current or prospective students?:

Try to give less advice and more listening. Listen to Sylvan Esso’s self-titled new album. Read Walden with an open heart. Sharing is caring. Be hip, but in a nice way. Try to remember what George Eliot wrote to Charles Bray: “If art does not enlarge men’s sympathies, it does nothing morally.” Also, try not to take too much advice.

I don’t have any concrete plans. The dog seems pretty convinced we have a lot more walks to take, so probably that. I’d like to teach, too, and write things, a few more things. I wouldn’t mind being useful either, but who knows about that.

Alumni Interview: Mike Minchin

Tell us about yourself.: unnamed-300x225

I graduated from UMF in 2006. Since Graduation I’ve worked full time as a Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer, for three years at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire and for the past five years at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, Vermont. In January 2014, I graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with my MFA in writing. My fiction has recently received Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train. Currently, I’m at work on short stories and essays. I live in Bethel, Vermont with my wife and two children.

What are some of your most memorable moments at UMF?:

I enjoyed my time at UMF a great deal, so it’s hard to pick out just a few moments. But I recall taking a Cuban literature class that gave me a new perspective on a culture I knew little about. I have to say, that was a really fun class. The discussions we had were often stimulating and insightful, and the stories and novels we read changed the way I thought about Cuba. I have a lot of great memories of skiing with friends at Saddleback and Sugarloaf, fishing on the Sandy River, hiking in the Bigelows, among other adventures.

What makes studying English at UMF unique?:

What struck me about the English program at UMF was that I always felt like I had ample opportunities to engage with other students, to participate in class, to discuss literature and really be part of the ongoing conversation. I enjoyed the small class sizes and the way we would sometimes sit around the perimeter of the room, facing each other, going back and forth with questions or comments. I like that small-group feel so much more than sitting in a large lecture hall. In another sense, what is remarkable about UMF is that you have a quality university situated in one of the most desirable spots in Maine in terms of outdoor recreation. I felt lucky to be studying just a short drive from the Bigelow Preserve and Saddleback Mountain, among other places.

How did your time at UMF help you beyond the classroom?:

My time at UMF has helped me in many ways. As a practical example, the skills I developed as an English major—analyzing and interpreting writing, doing research, forming my ideas into thoughtful essays—helped me a great deal when I was working on my MFA degree, which involved not only creative writing but substantial amounts of critical essay writing and research. In my daily work at the hospital, I’m communicating all the time with colleagues, usually in writing, via e-mail. I’ve written letters designed to help our department move forward in one area or another, and often these letters are of the persuasive nature, so I need to back up my arguments in the most concise and articulate ways possible.

What advice do you have for current or prospective students?:

For current students: First, I hope you consider it a privilege to be a UMF student. It’s such a great opportunity, and it can lead you almost anywhere. As an undergraduate, you have a lot of helpful people and resources available to you. My advice: take advantage of those resources as much as possible. For example, even if you haven’t considered graduate school, I would encourage you to do some research into graduate studies as early as freshman year. You might stumble upon something that really interests you. There are alternative ways to pay for graduate school in some cases, so don’t let the cost stop you from at least seeing what’s out there. Talk to your professors, ask questions. Graduate school for me was about exploring what I was passionate about, and I couldn’t have done it without my undergraduate degree.

For prospective students: I can only tell you that my experience at UMF was a positive one. I’ve attended several colleges and universities, both undergraduate and graduate, and UMF was one of the best. Farmington is a great place to live and study if you want to avoid the bustle of city life. In my case, I had the chance to graduate from a private college, but I’m glad I chose UMF for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned. But beyond all that, I’m in no way convinced that spending four times the money (or more) on tuition at a private college equates to a better education.

What type of students should consider majoring in English at UMF?:

You know, I think the English major covers so much ground, that anyone interested in a well-rounded education should consider English as a major. But certainly anyone who has a particular interest in the written word, or the spoken word, or just a love of language itself, in all its different forms, should consider majoring in English. It’s a luxury and simply enriching to immerse oneself in literature, to learn about people from all over the world. In my mind, education is not just about mastering a certain set of skills. There are certainly tangible skills that come from studying English, but I think the education alone, the time you spend thinking and conversing and writing about works of literature, is worth a great deal. Practically speaking, the English degree is useful simply because there are so many careers that require careful attention to language and the ability to think critically and write competently.

What do you see yourself doing in the future (10 – 20 years)?:

In the next few years, I’m hoping to develop a writing workshop here in Vermont, possibly at my town library. This would likely be a free workshop to participants and voluntary on my part, and I think it will be a lot of fun. In the long run, I could see myself teaching in a more formal setting. But, for now, my primary focus is creating new works of fiction and new essays on the craft of writing.


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