Meet Alicia! | English Major & Social Media Manager

February 4, 2022

Hi! My name is Alicia Bonilla, I’m a junior (class of 2023!) majoring in English with a minor in Professional Writing and Editing. This is my second semester at VCU—I transferred from GMU and am loving living and studying in RVA. You can find me posting for VCU English’s social media accounts (@englishvcu) and in the copy edit room for Blackbird! I also work as the Managing Editor for Plain China and for Roots Natural Kitchen. When I’m not working you can find me binge-watching kdramas and playing video games with my roommates.

A student with dark curly hair smiles from behind a mask.When did you know you wanted to be an English major?

It took me a long time to figure out that I wanted to be an English major. I started out as a Psychology major and then switched directions and spent three years working towards a nursing degree. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but knew I wanted to help people. While I loved the people I worked with, the field itself was toxic and I found myself overworked and miserable. I kept myself going by binge-reading my favorite authors and writing in journals. When the pandemic hit, the future suddenly became incredibly uncertain and I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life studying what really made me happy, which is literature and writing. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Do you have any advice for other students transferring to VCU or completely changing their course of study?

Don't be afraid to change directions! There isn't one set path towards a degree, and while I definitely know how scary it is to "start over" it's always worth it to pursue something you think is a better fit for you. The time you spent at a different university or studying a different subject still holds value and makes you a more well-rounded individual. As people, I believe we're constantly changing and evolving, so of course our interests and life plans may change as well. Also, don't worry about being "behind"! It's never too late to dedicate yourself to a subject you're passionate about. I definitely worried about transferring to VCU as a 3rd-year student with no previous experience in English, but the staff and professors here are understanding of everyone's unique situation and have been so compassionate and dedicated to helping me feel confident in my skills and contributions as an English student. The resources you need to succeed are there, you just have to find them! Form a good relationship with your advisor and keep an eye out for new opportunities because there are so many out there for you. One of my favorite things about being a transfer student who works in the English department has been figuring out how to spread awareness of these resources to people like my younger self on social media.  

Have you had any favorite professors in the major?

Our department has so many cool professors, I honestly haven’t had one I haven’t loved yet. I took Tara Burke’s poetry workshop class in my first semester at VCU and it was so formative to me as a writer. Professor Burke has a very unique teaching style that made her classroom feel like such a safe space to explore writing and learn about poetry. I came into her class with little to no knowledge about poetry and it has become such a huge part of my life since. I would take any course she teaches! My other favorite professor is Dr. Katherine Nash. Dr. Nash is so incredibly intelligent and LOVES teaching. I’m so glad she is teaching at the undergraduate level again because I’ve never been pushed to become a better reader/writer than I have when in her class. She is a tough grader but it’s because she cares about helping you grow and takes her role in helping you do that very seriously. She is one of the kindest and most considerate people I know! This semester I’m taking Dr. Caddie Alford and her Digital Rhetoric class has completely changed the way I view the digital world. I love taking a professor who is so passionate about the subject she’s teaching, she radiates excitement when she teaches and it’s so infectious.

What do you like to read outside of class?

I love reading essays and memoirs. Recently I finished In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado and have been loving her experimental style of writing in that novel. Ocean Vuong is another forever favorite of mine. I’m very much a mood reader so I don’t really have any specific genres I gravitate towards, but I’ll read anything and everything by Audre Lorde and James Baldwin because I think they’re geniuses. I read to learn about the world and to learn about myself and I think every genre is valuable in its own way to me as a reader and writer, so I have everything on my shelves from “trashy” romance novels to comics to academic non-fiction.

Why should students consider an English major?

English as a major is incredibly fun if you love literature and writing, but it’s more than that too. Learning how to read critically and write persuasively and effectively lays the foundation for success in any field. I spent a huge part of my life being told that English wasn’t a suitable career option and that there were no jobs in this field, but as an English major, I’ve found that that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are so many professional opportunities available to you as an English major that I never even knew existed and so many ways to gain professional experience while you’re studying. VCU has minors like Creative Writing, British Studies, and Professional Writing & Editing that will set you up with the knowledge and experience you need to be successful in a multitude of fields. This field itself is constantly growing, so studying English doesn’t mean you have to become an English teacher (unless you really want to).

What are your future goals?

I don’t really have any set goals for the future. What I love about English as a major is that the experience and knowledge I’ve gained can apply to literally every field of study, so I feel like so many doors are wide open to me. I’ve been loving trying out different classes and niche areas of study in our department. Lately, I’ve been gravitating towards the publishing world because of the time I’ve spent copy-editing on Blackbird and Plain China. That may very well be the path I end up following, or I may end up pursuing something completely different! I’m also really enjoying being a part of the English department social media team and learning about the importance of community building. I have to admit I’m a little addicted to the academic world and wouldn’t be surprised to find myself applying to VCU’s MFA program in the future if I don’t end up pursuing publishing or community engagement after finishing my undergraduate degree. 

Thank you so much for taking the time, Alicia!