Category Archives: Rhetoric and Professional Writing

Alumna Kate Nichols: From Co-op to IBM

Co-op to IBM
Alumna Kate Nichols gives some of the best arguments for co-op I have seen! Her experience clearly led her to where she is today–read on to find out how it happened. –JLH

JLH: Can you tell us a bit about how you came to select UWaterloo English? Was it an obvious choice?
KN: I remember considering several schools. After researching the programs and taking a few campus tours, Waterloo was the top school on my list. I liked the size of the school — not too big, not too small. It felt like a University that was pushing the envelope and doing things a little bit differently with a greater variety of program options than several other schools. I didn’t seek out co-op, but once I became aware of the program and its benefits I was all in. I had a wonderful meeting with an Academic Advisor (thank you, Eric Breugst!) who helped me to select the Honours Arts & Business co-op program. From there, I found that the English Rhetoric and Professional Writing program was perfectly geared to my interest in communication, argumentation, visual design, and semiotics. Ultimately, the choice of Waterloo and English was obvious for me.

JLH: Some admit they found the idea of co-op intimidating. How did you find the transition from classroom to co-op?
KN: Apart from selecting my program, choosing co-op was the best decision I made for my undergrad. I remember the first round of interviews feeling quite stressful as I learned about the process and deadlines. Not to mention feeling a bit intimidated during my first round of interviews! Once I got the hang of it, co-op interview season was much less stressful. I was able to work at several amazing companies: Open Text, CIBC, Slipstream (startup), and IBM. Being able to rotate between school and work helped me to pay for my undergrad degree without going into debt. I was able to apply what I learned at school to work and vise versa. And school in the summer is the best! If you haven’t done it before, trust me, it is awesome.

JLH: What made you decide to pursue a Masters at UWaterloo as well?
KN: During my final semesters at school, I started to seriously consider a Masters. I really enjoyed my courses and felt like I wanted to go deeper. I had also developed connections with several of the amazing professors in the Faculty of English who encouraged me to apply. I ended up starting a full-time job at IBM after completing my undergrad and working for a year before starting a full-time Masters degree. I was able to work part-time at IBM and take on a really interesting Research Assistant position with Professor Randy Harris and Professor Sarah Tolmie. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed full-time school and two part-time jobs but somehow I made it work and had a really great year. My Major Research Project on multi-touch tabletop computing with Professor Neil Randall was a highlight of the year, as were the connections I made with my classmates.

Like my undergrad, I considered and was accepted to several different MA programs, but Waterloo again felt like the right fit. I did not take co-op during my Masters degree since I already had that experience from undergrad.

JLH: In what ways do you think your career trajectory has been shaped by your UWaterloo experience?
KN: I can’t tell you how often I connect with colleagues at the IBM Canada Lab in Toronto who are fellow UWaterloo grads, several who are also from the English Rhetoric and Professional Writing Program. I think my experience at Waterloo taught me many things that serve me daily in my current role — communications strategies, basic visual design, writing and editing skills, speech communications, to name a few. It also taught me how to collaborate with others, juggle many different priorities (remember co-op season!), ask the right questions, and to be curious about the people and the world around me.

At IBM, I am part of a team of talented Content Designers working on our Data & AI portfolio. We are constantly looking for ways to help our clients use our newest technology to solve problems. This involves writing content, of course, but it also working with the Design team to provide design and content recommendations for the product UI, collaborating with the Development teams to understand what we are building and why, and educating people about the importance and relevance of content for our clients. In 2017, I was able to take on a management role and really enjoy working with my team and am learning how to be a good manager.

Outside of my core role, my passion project at IBM is the IBMSTEM4Girls program. Our mission is to inspire girls who want to make a difference in the world and encourage them to consider opportunities provided by STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. We hold events throughout the year, with our most significant event being a technology camp we run each summer (2020 will be the 21st year we have run a camp at the IBM Canada Lab in Toronto!). We often have our student interns volunteer for IBMSTEM4Girls — some of them from UWaterloo!

JLH: And finally, the fun question! Can you tell us about your favorite books of the last few years?
KN: From a personal perspective, I could not stop reading North of Normal and Nearly Normal, written by Canadian Cea Sunrise Pearson. From a professional perspective, I have recently started reading Designing Connected Content: Plan and Model Digital Products for Today and Tomorrow, by Carrie Hane and Mike Atherton. I can’t provide a review yet but it looks really interesting. And for reading to my children, I have to give a shout out to fellow grad Laura Baker and her books The Colour of Happy and My Friend Sleep.



Alumna Sarah-Beth Bianchi: Co-op and Careers

Sarah-Beth BianchiSarah-Beth Bianchi made the most of the UWaterloo English co-op program. Read on to find out how she went from co-op at RIM to where she is now–Manager, Digital Transformation & Strategy, City of Kitchener–and how her UWaterloo experience helped her along the way. Thanks to Sarah-Beth for contributing to Words in Place!

JLH: I know it’s been a while, but I’m wondering if you can share why you decided on UWaterloo English?
S-BB: English class was always a favorite of mine in high school. So it seemed like the right thing to pursue in university. My Dad always gave me the advice to pursue a marketable skill, to make sure I had strong job prospects after graduation. When I discovered that University of Waterloo had such a strong co-op program, my choice was obvious. I could continue to study something I enjoyed, and also explore how to make a career out of it. It ended up being a perfect combo for me.

JLH: How do you think your degree prepared you for what you are doing now?
S-BB: Once I arrived on campus, I discovered the Rhetoric and Professional Writing stream for English. And the Digital Arts Communications specialization was launched shortly after I arrived, too. I’ve drawn on what I’ve learned time and time again – from argumentation (ethos, logos, pathos!) to information design, to the accounting and computer science foundations – it’s served me well during co-op terms and now in my career. Most of all, the variety and the mix of theory and practical studies have prepared me to be creative, empathetic, and adaptable.

JLH: In what ways did co-op shape your career trajectory?
S-BB: Co-op was critical to helping me launch and shape my career. While it felt overwhelming at times, interviewing a dozen or more times each term made it so much easier to tackle interviews when the stakes were even higher throughout my career. And being able to try out a few types of roles helped me figure out what I enjoyed doing, what I could develop into a career, and what I was really not interested in and wouldn’t succeed at. And not least of all, my first career position came as a direct result of a co-op position. I worked at RIM (what BlackBerry used to be called) and was able to work part-time and eventually take on a full-time position before I graduated. It was the career launchpad that allowed me to put down roots in Kitchener-Waterloo.

JLH: What was the pathway to where you are now? Is this where you imagined yourself?
S-BB: My career has been really varied. When I look back at everything I’ve done, I marvel at all the great opportunities I’ve had and all the ways I’ve been able to grow and challenge myself. I started in the Software Document team at RIM and took on running their single-sourcing content management system – everything from developing and delivering training for writers on the team and writing internal help docs, to troubleshooting the software and performing software upgrades. After several years with a rapidly growing team (we started as a group of about 20 and were over 100 when I moved roles!) I moved to the IT department as a system administrator for the internal social networking site. (Sort of Facebook meets Google Drive for the corporation.) RIM was nearly 20,000 employees, so running the software was no small feat. I quickly realized that software administration wasn’t my thing, so a year later I moved to the Global Learning department as a Program Manager for IT and other technical training. RIM was in the downturn by then, so when I went on maternity leave, I found a new role as a Technical Community Manager for the API Platform at Desire2Learn. I discovered that role thanks to a referral by a friend and former colleague from my Software Documentation days. (Networking and keeping in touch with people you enjoy working with is so important!) I moved positions a few times at D2L, finally becoming Product Manager of the Data & Analytics products. I then discovered a really unique opportunity and made the leap into the public sector doing business relationship management and technology strategy at the City of Kitchener, first as a Digital Transformation Associate and now as the Manager Digital Transformation & Strategy. The work I do now combines my technology aptitude, my IT background, my product & community management experience, and my communication & information design skills – all while making an impact on the community I’m raising my family in!

JLH: Finally, the fun question! Can you share what you are reading now?
S-BB: I just started The Ninja Daughter by Tori Eldridge. Before that, I finished reading Haben—an autobiography of a woman who shares her experience and insight as a deafblind person navigating her education, career, family, and social life in a sighted world.

Top Ten Posts of 2019

Art Deco Billiard Ten
It’s that time of year again, when everyone posts a top ten list, including the UWaterloo English blog. This year, I’ve deviated from previous lists, including posts published in previous years which still made our top ten for 2019. Some made sense–whenever the weather is miserable everyone wants to know how to get coffee without going outside–but some were confusing. Feel free to speculate about why a particular post from 2013 made a surprise comeback!

10) Attention X-Men Fans! Or, why is Neil Gaiman tweeting a UW researcher?

9) Congratulations to our six new PhDs!

8) Faculty Teaching Recognized

7) They did it! Class of 2019!

6) Alumna Sara Kannan: Making a Difference

5)The Englies, 2013

4) 11 Novels about Syria

3) Waterloo Tunnel Tour (Or, how to get coffee without going outside)

2) Special Honour for 2 PhD Candidates

1) Honours for Dr. Randy Harris

Sweet Smoke! It’s English 492!


Just like the excitement generated by the announcement of award nominees,or upcoming movies, there is enthusiasm in our halls timed to the announcement of special topics courses. This semester’s offerings include: English 492 “Sweet Smoke of Rhetoric!”: Shakespearean Persuasion in Theory and Practice, taught by Dr. Michael MacDonald. A description follows:

Although humanism was closely associated with the rediscovery of key manuscripts of ancient rhetoric, Renaissance theorists and artists were not content with parroting classical authorities—they appropriated Greek and Latin rhetoric for their own purposes. The plays of William Shakespeare provide a dramatic example of this transfiguration of ancient rhetoric at work. Ranging over the tragedies, histories, comedies, and romances, this course investigates how Shakespeare “figured and disfigured” the classical rhetoric drubbed into him as a boy at the King’s New School. At the level of practice, it examines how Shakespeare retools classical rhetoric in the “quick forge” of his imagination, fashioning a new kind of vernacular English eloquence for the London commercial theatre stage. At the level of theory, it examines how Shakespeare rehearses the vexing ethical, political, and philosophical problems rhetoric posed for his culture. Over the course of the semester, we will see how Shakespeare dramatizes the arts of persuasion in all their comic and tragic ambivalence: rhetoric can be both intoxicating and toxic, “ravish like enchanting harmony” and poison the mind with “pestilent speeches.”

Image: Postcard showing the destruction of Shakespeare Memorial Theatre by fire, 6 March 1926 (Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust)

Alumna Cherie Chevalier on Why Arts

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Did you know Cherie Chevalier, worldwide sales leader for marketing solutions at Microsoft, is also a UWaterloo English, Rhetoric, and Professional Writing alumna? Chevalier was recently interviewed for the Macleans article “Yes, you will get a job with that arts degree” addressing the desire for Arts graduates in industry. From the article:

In her industry, says Chevalier, “things move so quickly and the pace of innovation is so high that we need people who can think critically, react, solve problems and have that high level of intelligent agility and adaptability that will enable them to be successful in any role.” She says she looks for candidates who “can work with each other across groups and divisions . . . and are able to see things from other people’s perspective and who are able to communicate clearly and build relationships.” By those criteria, “liberal arts graduates are particularly well-positioned.”

For more see: Yes, you will get a job with that arts degree.”


Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher for President!

Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, of UWaterloo English, has been elected President of the Association for the Rhetoric of Science, Technology, and Medicine. As many Words in Place readers know, this aligns perfectly with her research expertise: her book Science Communication Online: Engaging Experts and Publics on the Internet, is forthcoming in Spring 2019 from The Ohio State University Press.

The Association for the Rhetoric of Science, Technology, and Medicine is an independent scholarly organization that promotes rhetorical scholarship and facilitates networking across disciplines and institutions. Their primary meetings occur in collaboration with two larger conferences: the annual National Communication Association (NCA) meeting and the biennial Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) conference.

Award for undergrad Danielle Bisnar Griffin

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Congratulations to UWaterloo English undergraduate Danielle Bisnar Griffin, winner of the DiMarco Undergraduate Scholarship in Computational Rhetoric. This is not her first award from UWaterloo; she previously received the Quarry Integrated Communication Co-op English Award for her report ”Comparative Data Visualizations of Textual Features in the OED and the Life of Words Genre 3.0 Tagging System,” which addressed the work completed during a co-op semester. Danielle was kind enough to share with us a bit about what made her application stand out:

I received the award for my enthusiasm for computational rhetoric, evidenced by my participation in Dr. David Williams’ project The Life of Words and the research interests I developed due to working there. During my time at The Life of Words, I have completed co-op reports that examine the rhetoric of genre using computational methods and I have pursued these interests towards a senior honors essay, scheduled for completion March 2019. I have also consistently committed to improving my computational skills by attending conference skills workshops throughout my undergrad. Finally, I have also been working with Dr. Randy Harris and Dr. DiMarco’s Rhetorical Figures team, in which we work to develop an ontology of rhetorical figures. This is inherently very computational.

Thank you to Danielle for participating in Words in Place, and to alumnus Sam Pasupalak (BCS ’12) for funding the award.–JLH

The rhetoric of Kickstarter?

Screenshot 2018-03-07 20.28.08
Congratulations to UWaterloo English’s Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, whose article “Crowdfunding Science: Exigencies and Strategies in an Emerging Genre of Science Communication” in Technical Communication Quarterly received honorable mention for the Nell Ann Pickett Award from the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing. According to the abstract:

Crowdfunding is a novel mechanism for garnering monetary support from the online public, and increasingly it is being used to fund science. This article reports a small-scale study examining science-focused crowdfunding proposals from By exploring the rhetoric of these proposals with respect to traditional grant funding proposals in the sciences, this study aims to understand how the language of science may be imported into this popular genre.

Image: Kickstarter

Join us for a talk by Dr. Qwo-Li Driskill

Please join us for a talk by Dr. Qwo-Li Driskill, a non-citizen Cherokee Two-Spirit writer, performer, and activist. S/he is the author of Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory (University of Arizona: 2016) and Walking with Ghosts: Poems (Salt Publishing: 2005). S/he is also the co-editor of Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature (University of Arizona: 2011) and Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature (University of Arizona: 2011). S/he holds a PhD in Rhetoric & Writing from Michigan State University and is an Associate Professor of Queer Studies in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Oregon State University.
Two-Li will be speaking on Friday, 3 March at 3:00PM in Hagey Hall, room 1104.
Co-sponsored by the English Department, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Drama and Speech Communication. 

Moving Together: Disabled Faculty and the Academy

We are pleased to announce a talk by Dr. Margaret Price, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, on Monday, February 13, 2017 — 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM EST. Room 2106, Renison University College at University of Waterloo. Dr. Price’s talk is titled “Moving Together: Toward a Theory of Crip Spacetime.” Her book Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life was published by University of Michigan Press in 2011. Price also publishes scholarly articles, creative essays, fiction, and poetry in venues including College Composition and Communication, Profession, Disability Studies Quarterly, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, and Ms. magazine.


How do disabled faculty react to and also reshape the spaces and times of the academy?  Disability studies (DS) has reached a point that Price calls a “crisis of precarity.” This crisis of precarity is a state in which neoliberal logics of wealth, privilege, and power are replicated within DS, doing material violence to some members of the discipline, while the discipline itself continues to flourish. Price outlines the ways DS has reached this crisis of precarity, and in response, offers a different way of thinking about disability, a theory of crip spacetime. To illustrate this theory, she presents findings from an interview study with disabled faculty.  Her analysis of these findings illustrates ways that precarity manifests for disabled faculty, but also ways that, through collective accountability, we can push back against the neoliberal logics of the university. Through acts of micro-rebellion as well as efforts toward structural change, we can work toward greater justice, not only for disabled individuals, but also within the discipline of DS itself.

Seating is limited – please register early.
CART (Communication Access Realtime Transcription) services provided.

This event is sponsored in part by (in no particular order): Renison University College, the Equity Office; Human Resources; the Women’s Studies program; the UW Staff Association; the Department of Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies; and the Dean of Arts Office. Host: The Status of Women & Equity Committee