Category Archives: Alumni Profile

Alumni Profile: Brianna Wilkins

Eddy Hall, before (image by Jill Salahub)

Eddy Hall, before (image by Jill Salahub)

Spring semester is done, graduation ceremonies have commenced and gone, and the renovation of Eddy Hall has officially begun.  Where did the time go? Our first set of Communication Interns in the English department have also finished their work with us. We are so sad to see Brianna and Evelyn go. They have done such great work helping us to tell our story, and set the bar high for the interns who will follow them.

As a way of wrapping up their time together, they sat down a few weeks ago to have a conversation. Intern Evelyn Vaughn interviewed now alumna Brianna Wilkins about her time at CSU and her plans for the future.

Brianna had originally planned to go to college out of state, but the lower tuition rates available to her for staying in state (she’s from Denver) convinced her to stay. After a slow start her first semester, Brianna has been committed to getting the most out of her time at CSU, and has been a hardworking student (once, for two semesters back to back, she took 18 credits, and has earned her goal of over a 3.0 GPA each semester after that first one, even though she’s also been working two jobs and doing internships the past two years) – although, she does admit to slacking off her final semester, taking it easy and nursing a pretty serious case of senioritis. While at CSU, she’s especially appreciated the variety of good food available in the dorms (she hadn’t expected that), and the fact that there’s always something going on and something to do on campus.

Brianna introduces herself

What’s your favorite memory of your time at CSU?

My favorite memory has to be probably these past few weeks, getting ready to graduate because I feel like my life’s moving forward. When you are in school you always know you are going to go back to school the following year, so for me it’s great to know that there’s something new coming in my life, even though I don’t know what it is, It’s exciting to take that new leap and be heading into something great…hopefully [laughter].

Brianna answers the question, “What advice would you give to students?”

You are a Journalism & Technical Communications and English Creative Writing major. Is that what you had originally planned to do?

When I first came, I knew I wanted to do Journalism, right off the bat, probably since my Junior year of high school, but that really changed for me. At first I thought I wanted to do Broadcast Journalism but then I realized I’m not really comfortable on camera, and I’d rather be behind the scenes working. So now I’m looking for jobs in Public Relations or Social Media just because I like being behind the scenes getting everything together.

I added English as a second major Spring semester of my freshman year, so I didn’t start taking English classes until my Sophomore year. I figured I’d do Creative Writing because I knew that I didn’t want to be a teacher.

I realize now that I’m ending everything that the English major has probably been the most challenging for me. I was a decent writer always but it was more like writing essays and stuff. Coming up with stories is so hard. People think it’s so easy and it’s really not. It’s such a challenge for me to write stories because it’s not something I’m really good at and it’s kind of uncomfortable for me — which I kind of liked because it’s a challenge. But at the same time, Journalism is so easy for me because it’s so hands on and we get to work in different aspects of things, like website building or doing publications or broadcasts or social media, all this different stuff we can work on. It gives us such a diverse field to study.

But I’d say together they’ve both made me a really good writer.

What did you originally think you were going to do with your degree? What job prospects did you have in mind?

I really want to get into social media and I’ve had about five internships since straight out of high school. I’ve done a lot of marketing internships, communications and writing for publications, so I’ve had a lot of experience in that area, but I really want to get into social media even though it’s something I haven’t done as much as I had originally planned.

Right now I’m interviewing for a few social media positions. I actually want another internship because if I commit to a job I want to make sure it’s where I want to be, I don’t want to just take a job because I need a job and then get stuck there, but I don’t want to job hop either. So if I can find at least one more internship that’s specifically dealing with social media and marketing then I’d like to go into that as a future career.

So your dream hasn’t changed very much?

Not at all. Writing, news writing is something that I dabbled in a bit, writing for different publications, so I wouldn’t mind trying that but that’s a really hard field to get in to just because people really aren’t reading newspapers and magazines as much, and it’s a very competitive business unless you freelance. So maybe that’s something to try…but Journalism has always been my goal so it hasn’t really changed that much.

What experience has CSU given you that you find the most valuable?

That’s a tough one. I would have to say I took this class, it was my senior capstone in Journalism, and basically they had us build a profile. So all semester we were working on these profiles. We had to take work samples, or school samples if we didn’t have any professional work experience, put them all together. It took us the whole year and then we had to create these huge projects, and then at the end of the semester we have an online portfolio which is basically like a resume online plus all your work, in a website form and a hardcopy portfolio. We did mock interviews with business people from different journalism fields, like public relations and news people. I felt like that helped me so much. It helped me realize, “wow, this is a competitive world out here and I need to get myself together.”

So bringing in professionals, not just with the Journalism department but English as well, going to the readings and stuff. Just having professionals who are good at what they do come on campus and speak to people or do their readings, it really helped me realize “dreams do come true.” Sometimes it feels like it’s so far off and that you can never achieve what you want to do but having professors as well that are not only professors but they’ve been published or they were recent newscasters or they work for these big corporations, having all these people available, at your disposal, to gain knowledge from, that’s probably been the best aspect of CSU for me. And they’re so willing to help you out if you need it. Having those conversations with them and interacting with them as not only professors but as just regular people and gaining knowledge — that’s been really awesome.

Brianna answers the question, “How does it feel to be graduating?”

Besides doing one more internship and traveling to visit family and friends before finding a job (hopefully something in public relations or social media), Brianna dreams of starting a book group with other young women like her, having a career (not “just a job” but work she loves), and doing more traveling.

We wish Brianna and Evelyn, and all of our students, whether they are graduating or returning next year, the safest and best of summers, the best of luck wherever they land. We also hope they will keep in touch, let us know how and what they are doing and where.

Alumna Profile: Brenna Yovanoff

Brenna Yovanoff
MFA, Creative Writing, 2006
Brenna Yovanoff
How did your major prepare you for the job, the life you have now?

The MFA program helped me in a lot of ways, but I’d say the biggest thing was probably that it taught me how to take critique and also to finish what I start. Before grad school, I always had a lot of half-finished manuscripts and little snippets lying around, but over the course of three years, I learned to just sit myself down and write until I got to the end.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)? How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?

My first novel, The Replacement, debuted on the New York Times list, which was huge and disorienting and wonderful. It wasn’t a possibility I’d even really considered and so it was almost too inconceivable to really take in. Even now, I sometimes have a hard time believing that it happened. My most recent novel, Paper Valentine, was just named as one of NPR’s best books of 2013, which was definitely one of my proudest moments.


What did you like about the English program? Why did you choose to study at CSU?

I’m a local girl, so as unexciting as it sounds, that factored pretty heavily into my decision. When it came time to choose a masters program, I already knew that I loved the English department, the city, the campus, the library, and I wanted to stay.

Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department? Do you still keep in contact with your classmates or professors?

Gilbert Findlay, no contest. He was my adviser when I transferred to CSU during my undergrad and in addition to being just a wonderful human being, it turned out that he taught a class called “Adolescent Literature.” Even though I’d recently been reading a lot of YA in my spare time, I hadn’t really considered how brilliant and complex and diverse it could be. Professor Findlay and his class were largely responsible for my decision to focus on writing YA longterm.

What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?

I think I’d tell them that the English department, and Creative Writing in particular, has an amazing sense of community. The friends I made there are lifetime friends. Also, I think that Fort Collins in general is just a great place to live. The arts and literature scene is amazing, so if you’re looking for fun, fascinating people to get excited about writing and literature with, this is definitely your place.

What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?

Internships. If you have an opportunity for an internship, take it. I had a number of them during my time at CSU and they were always invaluable, no matter what the actual work experience was.

And also, the library is your best friend. Especially the basement and the top floor. And everywhere else too, but especially the cozy, secluded places where no one goes and you can hunker down and work for hours in peace and quiet. I love Morgan Library. I would live there. (For a couple years, I kind of did.)

You have an hour to spend in a bookstore. What section do you make a beeline to?

The YA section, always and absolutely! My reading tastes are pretty eclectic, so the YA section is a perfect way to pick just one shelf without actually having to pick. I know that under that designation, I’ll find books that encompass every genre and subject and style and voice, with no shortage of literary quality and risk-taking.

What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?

In a lot of ways, I’m very much a homebody. I love to cook and sew, and to plant terrariums and grow houseplants. I write about a lot of dark and creepy things, and I think that maybe being aggressively domestic is a way to balance that out.

What helps you start writing? What inspires you?

The short answer? Coffee! I’m a big fan of routine, and I really like to settle in somewhere with my headphones on and something hot to drink, and just dive in. While I think it’s really important to pay attention to what’s happening in the world, and ideas can come from anywhere at any time, I don’t really subscribe to the concept of waiting for the muse. If you write for your day job, the bottom line is, you have to write, and I always find that the more I do it, the more I get excited about writing and the faster the ideas come together and build on each other.

What led to you being published?

Lots and lots and lots of revisions. And research. The internet is a great resource. If you aren’t learning about literary agents or submitting short work to journals and magazines or writing query letters in any of your writing classes, the internet is there to tell you everything you need to know.

Also, persistence is key. Publishing is an industry where you will hear “No” a lot and you have to just kind of be okay with that. The trick is to hear it, make note of it, and then mentally adjust the answer from “No” to “Not yet.” Then, you sit down and try again.

Do you have any advice for writers looking to be published?

See above—lots and lots (and lots and lots and lots) of revision. It really helps to think of writing as an endurance sport. If you expect immediate results, you’re probably going to wind up disappointed, but if your main focus is on improving your work, then it will always improve. You’ll get there in the end.

Your most recent book was YA Fiction. What did you enjoy most about writing it (Paper Valentine)?

Paper Valentine is my third YA novel, but the first one that has what I’d call a truly contemporary feel. I write a lot of fantasy and horror, and my other books are definitely a little more fantastical in tone and setting.

My latest book, Fiendish, which comes out in August, goes back to that really dreamlike, monstrous world, and so with Paper Valentine it was nice to take a detour into the suburban everyday. Even though the story still involves some prominent genre elements like ghosts and serial murder, the main character, Hannah, is living in a city a lot like Fort Collins and it was a lot of fun to walk that line between fantasy and realism.


What did you think you would do with your degree when you graduated from CSU?

I’d always intended to write fiction, no matter what else I wound up doing, but the future in my head definitely involved a day-job, and for awhile after I graduated, it actually seemed likely that I’d wind up in editorial. I’d been an editorial assistant at the Center for Literary Publishing, working under Stephanie G’Schwind, and I absolutely loved it. But instead, I got an agent, she sold The Replacement to Penguin, and now I write full-time, and it’s the best job I can imagine!

*(Special thanks to intern Evelyn Vaughn for facilitating this profile).

It made us so happy to get an update from Brenna. The English Department has many alumni, just like Brenna, who are doing good and interesting work, living full and vibrant lives. When stories about our alumni hit the news or we are emailed an update, we love to share it. Teachers, staff, and fellow alumni are happy to hear how their friends are doing. Current students appreciate examples of previous students making a life, making a difference. Prospective students are encouraged knowing what our program has to offer and where it takes people.

We are hoping to feature more news of CSU English Department alumni making their way in the world. If you are a CSU English Department Alumni, please email and let her help you share your story.