Navigating paths: A double Duke’s journey from JMU English to assistant editor


by Kat Mauser

Photo used with permission from Mattie Montgomery

SUMMARY: Mattie Montgomery (’18, ’22M) shares insights into her transformative experiences, highlighting impactful classes and professors that shaped her perspective. Montgomery participated in a Q&A with English Department intern Kat Mauser.

Mattie Montgomery (’18, ’22M) graduated from JMU with her undergraduate degree in English (minors in Modern European Studies and History) as well as with her graduate degree in English. Montgomery now works at the Virginia Military Institute Alumni Agencies, which is a nonprofit that supports the institute. She is the assistant editor for this organization, and has been working there for almost two years. Montgomery talked with us last week to highlight her recent successes after graduating as a double Duke and to share her experiences in JMU English.

Q: What year did you graduate from JMU?

Mattie Montgomery: I graduated in 2018 with my undergraduate degree, and then in 2022 with my graduate degree.


Q: What majors and minors did you graduate with?

Montgomery: [For] undergrad, my major was English and then my minors were modern European studies and history.

Q: What led you to working at the Virginia Military Institute Alumni Agencies?

Montgomery: My role is assistant editor. I had some connections at VMI through family who attended, as well as some friends at the Agencies who were awesome editors and writers there, and [I] felt like it would be a good place to grow.

Q: What was your favorite English class you took at JMU?

Montgomery: One class that was the most powerful for me was Dr. Pennington’s narrative theory class. That just opened my eyes to a totally new way of looking at literature and novels and storytelling. I use a lot of the techniques or approaches for my later master’s work, but also for my job today — thinking about how we construct a narrative, or what we're communicating … really began [to] change my perspective. I think the techniques learned have benefitted me in my professional career.

Second was Irish literature with Dr. Siân White, just a fabulous class and I loved it. She really opened up a new area of literature.

Third was Dr. Dabney Bankert, who [was] the former head of the English department when I was there. [She] just taught an amazing medieval literature class … I remember to this day the text and the conversations. We had fun.

Q: Was there anything about the JMU English program that prepared you for your career path?

Montgomery: I think that there are some really high caliber professors at JMU's English department that really honed in on my skills … I would say too, that, for the people in this department, they're very strict on each of the course curriculums, but they also give you the breadth and space to expand in your own professional or personal interests. That really helped me because I was able to start honing some general skills while I was still in undergrad, but then translated [to more specialized skills].

Q: What advice would you give to a current JMU student considering the same or a similar career path?

Montgomery: Take as many opportunities as you can while you're a student. Take as many opportunities to connect with the faculty and ask them for their advice, and don't be afraid of the unknown. For me, personally, I thought that law was going to be my focus when I came in as a freshman. Then that pivoted to thinking maybe I’d get my PhD, and then that pivoted to thinking I’d do journalism, and then all of that culminated in working more on strategic communications — that’s where I’ve found my love. But, I didn't know any of that coming in [to JMU]. I just took all of those opportunities and followed my interests while I was there. The professors in the JMU English department are really well-fit and well-equipped to be able to guide students. That would be my suggestion: just make the most of it.

Q: Are you working on any current projects or future aspirations?

Montgomery: I’m, in my day to day, working on all of the work-related projects that I have … I think the future aspiration [I have] is to continue to grow in a leadership role in strategic communications, because I found a real passion there … I’m [also] always interested in research … so I’d love to be back in the academic sphere later.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Montgomery: When you’re in English as a student, at least from my experience, there were moments when people ask you what your major is, you've got the generic question of like, ‘Oh, do you want to be a teacher?’ And I think it can sometimes feel a bit disheartening, of course, because the options are so wide in terms of what you can do with your degree that it's difficult to narrow down what your path will be … I can just say I’m very, very glad that I majored in English.

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Published: Monday, February 26, 2024

Last Updated: Thursday, February 29, 2024

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