A Conversation with Brittany Chalk
Brittany Chalk served as the Banner Carrier for the Winter 2012 Convocation ceremony held last December. Brittany, a 4.0 GPA student, was selected because of her outstanding academic achievements and her shining example of what dedication and vision can accomplish in academics.
Entering CLS directly from the top of her high school class, Brittany knew she wanted to be a writer. And thanks to her father, also an OU alumni, Brittany discovered CLS and recognized that the flexibility CLS courses offered students would allow her to not only pursue her education but also to gain experience in the world she felt would be invaluable to her later in her writing career.
What life or college experiences led you to CLS?
My journey to choose CLS for college was a rather unorthodox one. I grew up being homeschooled through high school, and part of my work for that was online through an out-of-state academy. So by the time I started to look for colleges at the end of high school, the idea of school online was not foreign to me. I finished my first semester at 19, and am now graduating at 22! I do believe that homeschooling prepared me for getting my degree through CLS because it taught me skills that I found vital to my success in college, such as time management, organization, the ability to pace and motivate myself, and good researching skills.
What is your current job and what are your responsibilities?
So far, the current job is student (though that will change after graduation)! Given that I wanted to finish my degree in three and a half years, my course loads were pretty big every semester.
This did not prevent me from getting experience in the outside world however. Instead, I believe that my education through CLS actually opened doors for me to be able to work in ways that I would not have been able to had I been going to school on campus.
For example, for a year I worked for an author/teacher/lecturer who traveled around the United States to different conventions. Working as her assistant, I would often be gone for weeks or months at a time, traveling from one coast of the U.S. to another. There is no way I could be gone that long for a job with a traditional college experience, but since my classes were online, I was able to take my school with me as I worked. I got to see the country and gain invaluable experience–all while getting my degree.
What do you enjoy the most about it?
I can remember driving to Salt Lake City, Utah, at one point, headed to another convention. I was sitting in the passenger side of our van, working on homework that required me to read The Beak of the Finch. I remember as I was reading, looking up occasionally to see the scenery outside. We were driving between mountains, with each turn of the corner revealing a new and stunning view. I remember smiling to myself and thinking, this is not a normal college experience. This is awesome!
Did any particular person or incident inspire you to get your degree?
There was a time where I admittedly doubted whether or not I would choose to go to college. But my parents gave me some advice that has stuck with me through the years, advice that was passed down from my dad’s grandfather. They told me that education was something that could not be taken away from me…that knowledge is something that I can always keep. This idea really resonates with me and sums up my decision to go to college. I didn’t go to just get a degree. I went to acquire knowledge and learning that I would keep with me for a lifetime. My parents have proven to be an incredible support as I have pursued this knowledge. They have encouraged me from the get-go and have sacrificed in ways I don’t fully understand. My success is absolutely attributed to them.
What challenges did you face while working on your degree?
I think it is natural for people to struggle with finding a balance between school and life. It does get exhausting at times, when you feel like you are being pulled in so many different directions at once. The holidays especially can be difficult because, of course, all I want to do is spend time with my family and friends. There are days where I sat down to do my homework without any real motivation. That question of “is this worth it?” came to mind many times, and I wouldn’t always answer with a confident “yes.”
“Even though you may think you are weak, the truth is we all can handle far more than we give ourselves credit for.”
What motivated you to push through those challenges?
The funny thing about challenges is that just when you think they are going to break you, you somehow end up whole. Just when you think that last research paper is never going to get done, you find that you just finished your conclusion and you can turn it in. The crisis is over, and you are still alive. So even though you may think you are weak, the truth is we all can handle far more than we give ourselves credit for. For me, my faith and being a Christian is the most important part of who I am, so when I faced challenges, I turned to prayer. Oftentimes I would find myself reminded by just how special of an opportunity I have to be getting an education and learning about things that interest me. Not everybody gets an opportunity like that, and sometimes I need to be reminded of this.
How will having this degree impact your life?
Since starting college, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. But to be a writer, you need to be diverse. Getting my degree in Liberal Studies has cultivated that diversity that I needed in writing, challenging me to not just write about what I know but to teach myself what I don’t know so that I can write about it. I’ve learned to apply my creative skills to not just writing short stories but to writing in any field. I think that gives me an edge. I think I can utilize this when I continue my education to get my next degree–a master’s in professional writing. This has been my plan all along, and I think my bachelor’s has prepared me well for higher education.
On a personal level, I think that my degree has certainly shaped part of who I am. A big part of college, at least for me, was figuring out what I believe and why I believe it. This is challenging but a good exercise to put yourself through. One of the things that I enjoyed about CLS was that I never really felt censored. My professors were always good to not only guide the students along the way but to keep an open mind when I had an idea about projects. As long as I was able to support my thoughts with a logical and organized argument, that was considered good work. I never really felt like I had to give a certain answer to get a certain grade. Because I had that freedom, it allowed me to ask myself serious questions about the workings of the world around me.
While you were a CLS student, what did you learn about yourself?
One of the greatest realizations about myself is that I’ve found I have learned how to learn. Not everyone is taught how to do this, but I am thankful to say that I was. Because I have been taught how to learn–how to research and be discerning about information that I find–I feel like my education will last long after I finish school. Instead it will be a lifelong affair, where I will be able to pursue knowledge of any subject. Provided that I am committed and thorough, I know there is no limit to what I can learn.
In comparing how I was before college to after college, I also realize that I am a much better writer. Getting feedback and advice from so many different professors over 3 1/2 years has not only polished my work but it has given me more confidence. After high school, I was timid about saying I wanted to write articles and books, not really knowing if I was capable of such a job. But now I am confident to say that not only is this what I want to do but what I know I can do. I feel prepared now and am excited to see what lies ahead for my future!
Each Winter and Spring Convocation a Banner Carrier is selected from students nominated by CLS academic advisors for showing distinguished character and outstanding academic commitment.
Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017.