Independent Minds, Working Together
student profile photo

Colleen O’Neil ’13

Chalk Hill, Pa
Major: English

In response to today's fiercely competitive job market, Colleen O'Neil has developed a secret weapon. In addition to the traditional resumé and cover letter, O'Neil will brandish her completed Independent Study, Wooster's nationally acclaimed, mentored senior research project, to attract the attention of prospective employers.

A senior English major from Chalk Hill, Pa., who also runs cross country and track for the Fighting Scots, O'Neil is in the process of writing, editing, and publishing an outdoor magazine, titled Switchbacks, after a mountain-biking term. "I've always really enjoyed creative writing," she said, "and I wanted to put together something that would give me some leverage in the job market after graduation, so I decided to do a magazine project."

It took a lot of brainstorming for O'Neil to figure out exactly what she wanted to do, but with the guidance of her I.S. advisor, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, a writer for The New York Times Magazine and visiting instructor in English at Wooster, her creativity has really blossomed.

"Colleen is an incredibly talented nonfiction writer with great magazine writing and editing instincts," said Denizet-Lewis. "I know she wants to pursue a career in magazine writing, particularly for a publication that focuses on the outdoors, and I have no doubt that she'll be successful. In fact, she's already getting interest from several magazines. It will be such an advantage for her to be able to show editors her completed magazine, which she's producing in both print and online formats."

Switchbacks will consist of approximately 17 articles covering a range of topics. "I talked with an Amish farmer about fracking; did a travel piece on a town in West Virginia; wrote a story on a local mountain biker who rode her bike over 2,000 miles down the Continental Divide Trail; and went on a 'Bigfoot' hunt with some people in Salt Fork State Park," she said.

That "Bigfoot" adventure led to an article that she submitted to the online editor of Outside magazine, and it was published last November under the publication's travel section. "I was obviously super excited about that," she said. "It didn't pay a lot, but it's always awesome to get recognition for your work, especially in such a cool publication."

Independent Study has a number of other benefits as well, according to O'Neil, including providing excuses to go mountain biking, being able to spend a lot of time reading magazines, and having an opportunity to travel off campus every week or so. "That's the beauty of I.S.," she said. "You can choose to do whatever you want."