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Q&A Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing: Meet Johanna Soleil

May 24, 2022

ohanna Soleil in front of the Jackson School, May 2022
Johanna Soleil in front of the Jackson School, May 2022. Photo by Monique Thormann

In winter quarter 2022, the Jackson School launched the Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing, a national innovative curriculum developed at Wellesley College which has been adopted by more than a dozen higher education institutions and equips students to translate their academic knowledge to a broad audience. Students learn professional, colloquial writing through assigned readings which they then must translate into, on a weekly basis, a magazine article, book review, a guest essay, professional journal article and other public-facing genres.

Name: Johanna Soleil
Major/minor: Majoring in Political Science (Political Economics) and European Studies with a minor in History of War & Society
Year & quarter expected to graduate: Spring 2023
Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing Course: Misinformation and Democracy
Instructor: Scott Radnitz, Professor, Herbert J. Ellison Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies            

What was your favorite assignment in the Calderwood? What did you learn from it?
Johanna Soleil:
My favorite assignment was definitely the opinion piece because of how challenging it was to write. As a social science major, I practice giving my opinion much more discreetly and without any mention of my own experiences with what I’m writing about. I learned how to efficiently communicate large concepts for the public while also presenting my own opinions and feelings and still maintaining my credibility.

What surprised you from when you first heard of the Calderwood program and the actual experience?
J.S.:
I thought that it would be a typical seminar at the University of Washington – a small class where the professor provides their own knowledge on the topic and then we would discuss how current events or other theories connect to the material learned. In reality, the class format was very different and much more student focused which gave everyone an equal say in what we would cover during the class sessions. It was also nice to spend entire sessions just on our papers since I don’t think that many courses outside of the English department place such a great importance on writing skills and their development.

What key skills do you think the Calderwood program gives you for your career?
J.S.:
The program helps students develop quite a few soft skills which are especially important out of college: communicating with peers of different experience levels and life situations, critical reading, writing for non-academic audiences of course, and how to critique and engage with your peers’ writing.

What is your advice to students thinking about the Calderwood capstone course?
J.S.:
I would tell them to take a course in something that interests them. This course was very enjoyable to take since I am already curious about how misinformation affects democracy, so I was very engaged with all of the readings and class discussions. However, the course is fairly demanding so if I had chosen a subject I enjoyed less, I think that it would have been a very different experience.

What career are you interested in pursuing after graduation?
J.S.:
So far, I’m fairly undecided. I came into college thinking I would pursue law school after graduation but after almost three years here I think that I might go in the direction of graduate school for political science and international affairs with hopefully a career in public service after.