UI English Dept. hosts alumni panel


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University of Iowa alumnus Andrew Steele never thought of himself a "world class" student. He did not always use correct grammar and spelling in his work, but he said he came across the right kind of teachers at the UI who allowed him to express himself.

That led to writing for major television networks and working closely with comedians Will Ferrell and Tracy Morgan, among other famous actors.

"If you are getting a lot of red marks on your paper, I was somebody who had a lot of red marks," Steele said. "But it didn't stop me."

He wrote for "Saturday Night Live" from 1995 to 2008, and he now serves as the creative director of the online comedy site "Funny or Die" and is the executive producer of "Funny or Die Presents," the HBO television series.

The English Department Homecoming Alumni Panel will feature three eminent alumni, Steele, Kyle Zimmer, and Mande Butler, who will speak at 3:45 p.m. Friday in 304 English-Philosophy Building. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the UI English Department.

"Homecoming was an opportunity to bring back some of our most interesting and distinguished students who did something unexpected with the major," UI English Professor Barbara Eckstein said.

The English@Work series provides students with an opportunity to expand their knowledge about the field and start thinking about future careers. The alumni panel will provide perspectives about making a career using an English degree. Other featured events will help students learn about applying for jobs and internships.

"We have 900-plus majors, but not all of them want to be teachers," Eckstein said. "We wanted to show people some exciting things that people have done and get them thinking about what they want to do next."

The alumni-panel members will share their inspiration and ideas and prompt students to think about their careers and next steps, Eckstein said. The department has never pulled in alumni like this before, she said.

"In a personal way, the writing classes at Iowa started my interest in writing," Steele said. "[Those classes] influenced my whole career path in that direction."

English major Jenna Lester, the president of the UI English Society, is eager to have the opportunity to hear from such alumni.

"As a society, we are excited to have alumni such as these return to campus to give English students at Iowa a chance to see what our possibilities are," she said.

Iowa City is recognized by UNESCO for its outstanding literary community. The rich literary culture provides aspiring writers with endless opportunities to learn from the best in the field.

"Those of us who want to write came to Iowa City because it's the place to do it," Lester said. "The literary community we have here is exceptional."

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