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Alumni Spotlight: Sue Birkenseer

What is your current position? Why were you drawn to this line of work?

Sue Birkenseer, Cal Poly English Alumna
Sue Birkenseer

My current position is Librarian at Saint Mary’s College of California (located in lovely Moraga, California).  I have been a librarian for over 20 years, nearly all of it at Saint Mary’s. I was drawn to this line of work pretty much right away, with an early memory of checking out Charlotte’s Web with my first ever library card when I was old enough to print my name (sort of). I thought that being a librarian and surrounded by all those books was just about the best job in the world. And even though that belief does not represent my real job, I do think it is the best job in the world anyway.

What accomplishments are you most proud of in your career/life?

I always have trouble deciding on accomplishments that I am proud of. I am a natural collaborator, and any major projects or events that I feel I had a hand in were accomplished with other people. I have two adult children that I am immensely proud of, and have been happily married since 1983. Career wise, I had a terrific time being a part of a project that involved scanning a Civil War diary and some letters and designing the web site for them. I have been so blessed in being able to travel and see wonderful places. I had an opportunity through work to spend a month in Myanmar teaching English to college aged students, and that was pretty amazing.  

How has your English degree from Cal Poly impacted your career/life?

I graduated from Cal Poly in 1981. I have credited my English degree for each job I got after graduation (there were several), but especially for my library work. Having a broad understanding of literature and writing has been of such importance in all areas of my life. And since I didn’t get my English degree in a vacuum, all those class discussions have really paid off too. I learned how to work in groups, how to organize my thoughts in a coherent fashion, and communicate!

Do you have any advice for current English majors at Cal Poly?

My advice to students getting the major is to take as many writing classes as they can, take some challenging electives, as well as some fun ones, and if at all possible, take advantage of study abroad and take a quarter or two on another continent.  It will change their life.

Favorite author/book and why? (or if you can't choose, favorite genre?)

My favorite book changes by the week, but I have an abiding love of Jane Austen’s writings. Topical books on history are another good bet. I’m looking at my “going to read these next” book stack which is always the same size no matter how many books I read. This stack includes two historical novels, a non-fiction look at feminism, a very old two volume biography of the prime ministers of England, and some young adult science fiction. A pretty easy stack.

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