Every morning, Dale Johnson walks into the Williams Group office in downtown Grand Rapids, sets his bag on his side table, and unpacks his computer. After situating himself, he makes a bowl of oatmeal, and begins his day as a writer for the strategic communications firm.
In May 2012, after graduating from GVSU, Johnson began as an intern with Williams Group, a consulting agency that works with both corporate and philanthropic clients to help plan communications strategies and develop materials to bring their stories to life.
“Leading up to graduation, I was figuring out what to do next,” Johnson said. “I heard that Williams Group had an internship program to expose students and recent graduates to the communications field. Even with a background in writing, I honestly didn’t know much about ‘communications’ as a broader industry, or what it meant to work in an agency!”
Even with little understanding of the broader industry, his internship was a success. After only six months, Johnson was hired as a full associate. Now, in addition to writing materials like websites, brochures, and research reports, he is also a project coordinator. This means on certain projects, he not only writes the content, but directly leads communication with clients and ensures everyone involved is on the same page.
“An average day includes me jumping between clients as I collaborate with other writers, designers, and project managers to complete assignments,” Johnson explained. “It involves conversation, coordination and flexibility, and it’s so rewarding.”
The year Johnson graduated was right after the shift in curriculum that current writing majors today participate in. Majors previously had to select which track of courses they wanted to pursue: creative or professional. Johnson pursued the professional writing track, but still considers creative writing an important part of what he does.
“There’s a sweet spot,” he explained, “where professional writing and creative writing meet: knowing you need to convey information, but also keep a reader engaged along the way.”
Johnson did his best to immerse himself in a variety of ways to write while at GVSU. This exposure to a host of writing has aided him in developing his abilities. “I like to think of skills and knowledge in terms of adding to my ‘toolbox,’ and I’m always looking for new techniques, sources, or experiences I can draw on when I’m working on a project.”
Johnson advises current students to “Be curious. Even if it’s a topic you aren’t familiar with, find an aspect of it that piques your interest and star there. Readers can tell when you care about something.” As for approaching a career in writing, Johnson explained, “Don’t feel limited to exploring a single industry. If you see words on or in something— someone wrote them. Writing is a foundation, and you can build on it and complement it with other skills to shape the direction you want to go.”
(Story contributed by Teresa Williams and published in InWriting)