Alumna Spotlight! Lindsay K. Saunders
Lindsay K. Saunders Spotlight
A graduate of ECU, earning her Master’s degree in Technical and Professional Communication, Lindsay has used her education and talents to pursue an extremely interesting career in international work. Through hard work, she has achieved her dream job of working at the American Embassy in Lusaka Zambia for the United States Government. Lindsay agreed to be a Spotlight for the English department and through her interview, tells of her education, journey, and advice she wants to give to potential students, interested in following their passions. Thank you, Lindsay, for your time and wonderful answers, we are proud to call you an ECU Pirate!!
Where are you from?
Originally, I’m from Kill Devil Hills, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I spent most of my life there before moving around a bit during undergrad and following graduation. Then I settled in Raleigh, NC for nearly a decade before recently relocating to Zambia, in Southern Africa. NC will always be home.
What brought you to ECU?
I actually didn’t want to go to ECU because both of my parents went there and I wanted to do my own thing, but ECU has top notch education and English programs, plus it’s very affordable and close to home so it made sense. Later on, it also ended up on the shortlist for graduate school because of the quality, affordability, and accessibility of the programs. Thank Dr. Richard Taylor for encouraging me to reconnect with Dr. Brent Henze for advice on graduate studies.
What did you study while you were here, and how did your interest in this area begin?
I’m an Alum three times over between my Bachelor’s in Elementary Education with a concentration in English, 2006; Professional Communications Graduate Certificate, 2013; and Master’s Degree in English concentrated in Technical and Professional Communications, 2014. My interest for these stemmed from a love of learning, stories, and creative digital projects.
What have you been up to since your graduation?
My life has been far from dull. Following undergrad, I moved across the country to teach for two years in Alaska. Upon return to NC, I transitioned to working as a paralegal. With the 2008 downturn of the economy and teacher job fair cancellations, I needed to adapt. Working in law gave me an avenue to help people by listening to client stories and support the long-term, detail-oriented, meticulous law process that might resolve issues. Once I determined becoming a lawyer wasn’t the right move for me I chose to seek work in communications and programs that would still educate people, while also supporting long-term change and innovation.
Google, Unicef, and United Nations were the brands and organizations I set before me as my goal because of their work and ideals. When I finished grad school, it was still hard to get a job in government or nonprofits, even though that was where I longed to be. I decided to hone my creative skills at marketing agencies and then become more tech savvy by taking contracts at tech companies, like Lenovo and Red Hat. Meanwhile, outside of work I was a volunteer-holic building up my repertoire serving nonprofits such as the Society for Technical Communications Carolina Chapter, RESULTS, and UN Women Carolina Chapter, and helping with meetups. This led to communications projects, event planning, and public speaking, as well as national, and international travel, while I continued to push hard towards my professional goals. Eventually, I ended up working for a great team at the NC Department of Information Technology and now I work for the federal government, serving as a Development, Outreach, and Communications (DOC) Specialist for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) / Zambia Mission at the American Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia. USAID is the United States’ largest and oldest foreign aid agency, incorporates public-private partnerships, and works to end poverty. It’s basically my dream job since I get to do communications, events, photography, social media, promote programs serving communities, travel, and collaborate with numerous government agencies and nonprofits.
What recognitions/achievements are you most proud of and why?
I’ve pushed myself hard for my achievements. It’s still hard to believe that I finished my graduate degree with a 4.0 while working to support myself through grad school.
I’ve done public speaking in my home state of NC, nationally in Washington, D.C., and internationally. I speak about how we frame messages, public policy, advocacy, and the importance of storytelling for change. Becoming an activist, working on projects both as an advocate and professional to make change in communities is something I could not live without. That is ultimately what I’m most proud of — being a part of long-term change for so many. I’ve devoted the past four years of my life to speaking out, writing, facilitating meetings, and trainings to fight U.S. and global poverty. I strongly believe we have a duty to speak out about the injustices in the world and use our skills to the greatest extent in order to do so. I hope that when I leave this earth I can say I did everything I could to change it for the better and also took advantage of every opportunity, no matter how large or small, that came my way.
Quite possibly the biggest thing I’ve ever done was to give up everything in my life and make the international move, all on my own, to serve my country and our dear beautiful host country Zambia. In order to take this job at USAID, I left a job with a good team with the NC Dept of IT, signed the house I owned over to some tenants, and had to say goodbye to organizations and friends I really loved, while resetting everything I’ve ever known. I’ve learned a new job, a new country, new languages, new food, and new cultural norms. I knew I’d learn so much and this would be an invaluable experience. I’ve learned so much about myself, the United States, and the world.
What elements of your education in the Department of English have been most instrumental to your success?
One thing that’s pretty incredible about the ECU Department of English is that it has many facets so you can kind of carve out your own path. I intentionally selected courses for my graduate degree to be really dynamic because I knew I wanted to do work that required a range of skills and perspectives. Critical thinking through analysis and research. Design of communications from layout expectations, styles, and traditional hard copy or print and digital online. How to target your audience and be aware of user experience. Detailed editing to enhance content. Be in tune with overall project needs. Framing different styles of writing — I learned editorial, grant, public policy, and technical writing! During my graduate work with the Department of English, I learned that I would need to anticipate content needs before the audience might even need to know. Determining that through content strategy is imperative to reach your target demographics and find the most success in your messaging.
What was most rewarding/exciting about your time in the Department of English?
That would be the relationships I developed with other colleague students and my professors. I actually studied abroad with the Department of English for 3 weeks as an undergrad in 2005 and then again as a grad student in 2013. Those trips were really powerful. It was especially memorable because both Dr. Richard Taylor and Dr. Brent Henze were on each trip. I know that I can run into them and no matter how long it’s been we can connect again and have a great conversation. The professors in the Department really care. I also studied under Dr. Michael Albers, Dr. Matt Cox, Dr. Guiseppe Getto, and Dr. Kirk St. Amant, who has moved on to another university, but we’re still in touch. But I even enjoyed engaging with Dr. Michelle Eble, Dr. Donna Kain, and Dr. Erin Frost, even though I never took classes with them.
What would you say to someone considering coming to ECU to study English?
If you’re considering coming to ECU study English, assess the program strengths and what your objectives are. I wanted a program that would provide me with more technical background, but equip me with a diverse set in terms of professional communication for both print and the digital. Communication and outreach was my long-term interest and my interests are a little more “creative” than the typical person going to study technical communication. Thankfully, ECU really does allow you to customize your educational journey. What you get out of it is up to you. Even though my Master’s Degree was through a distance education program, I developed friendships and real relationships. My academics, both as an undergrad and graduate student, came first and foremost. I still enjoyed myself, but my academics were my priority because I knew if I got the most out of it then I’d be more armed to be effective in my career and support the organizations and people around me best.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Put in the time and effort to build relationships. They will serve you well in the long run. Contribute in ways that out of the ordinary — volunteer work and nonprofits are just as valuable as your day job, will enhance your resume, and also produce more references. Don’t be afraid to take risks whether academically, professionally, or personally. It’s okay to question yourself — that’s normal, but push yourself beyond your comfort zone. We change and learn more when we’re uncomfortable. I would know — I’m living that now while living and working serving two interests — the U.S. and Zambia’s — in Southern Africa! I have never feared a challenge even if it overwhelmed me in the interim. Because of that I’m stronger as a person and more well-rounded educationally.
Lindsay K. Saunders, originally from North Carolina, is enjoying the lessons of life abroad in Zambia and privilege to serve as a Development, Outreach, and Communications Specialist for USAID. She has a weekly email newsletter and shares her journey on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. You may reach her by email via email@example.com, visit her website at www.lindsayksaunders.com, or follow her on social media @LindsayKelleyS.