As a Professional and Technical Writing major and Graphic Design minor, Emily Siemens was the ideal candidate for an interdisciplinary program that combines those fields. Siemens says she originally learned about Cardinal Solutions as a sophomore, when a professor invited her to join the program, but declined at first because she felt a little intimidated and had other time commitments. When she received the same offer during her senior year, she accepted the opportunity.
In Fall 2020, Siemens applied her technical writing skills to a real-world project in Cardinal Solutions, where she collaborated with a Graphic Design major. Her team was tasked with bridging the gap between the preliminary research and writing completed by a previous team and O’Neill’s vision for her finished website. “I was the content editor,” Siemens explains. “I worked with Salle to figure out the content she wanted to include on her website. I helped her with writing, editing, and brainstorming. Then we sent our materials over to the web designer, Zainab Alkhatem, who actually put content into the website.”
Siemens says she has a lot of experience collaborating with other Professional and Technical Writing majors but found it rewarding to be part of a team where not everyone had the same academic background. She liked the experience of working with someone outside of her discipline and department and being able to pass off the project to a designer at some point.
For Siemens, the steepest learning curve involved preserving a client’s voice in the editing process. The Cardinal Solutions team wanted to maintain high professional standards while ensuring that the website reflected O’Neill’s fun personality and unique voice. “I needed to be able to edit Salle’s words without losing her personality,” explains Siemens, who says she has learned more about creating her own voice than preserving a client’s voice in her classroom writing experiences. “I was very scared to do that at first. I was scared that I would edit her voice straight out of her writing.”
The client’s positive feedback gave Siemens a confidence boost in her ability to navigate the transition from college to career: “Salle said she thought I got her voice perfect, and she was so happy. So that was just a good thing to hear—that I actually have those skills—because you never know until you get out into the real world. You’re being graded by your professors, but you never know, ‘Can I survive out there?’”
O’Neill says she considers the opportunity to build rapport with students one of the best aspects of her experience in Cardinal Solutions. “I started working with Emily, and we clicked so easily,” she says. “Emily understood my voice. I would talk on and on, and she would write it, and I would be like, ‘Yes, that’s what I wanted to say!’ It gave me shivers when I worked with her.”
Because O’Neill trusted the faculty and students in Cardinal Solutions, she was expecting to have a fun, easy time as a client for the program. However, she soon realized that being a client for Cardinal Solutions, though rewarding, is by no means easy. In contrast, she was required to put forth a lot of personal investment in order to make the most of her experience: “The whole process was like taking an Educational Specialist class. It wasn’t like getting my master’s degree. It was like getting my doctorate. It was tough. It was hard for me to focus on, ‘What do I really want?’ And those are things you need to know in a business.”
O’Neill credits the Cardinal Solutions team not only for providing high-quality content editing and web design services but for helping her identify what she needed and wanted: “Blake is fantastic. He is able to say, ‘Okay, Salle, you’re going here and here and here. Let’s narrow it down. What are you looking for?’ He knows how to ask the right questions.”
O’Neill describes her finished website as a “beautiful presentation.” The site includes a page for each of her keynote speeches and workshops, which range in topic from “Fear of Flying with Math” to “Students and Anxiety.” Her About page features a short bio that discusses O’Neill’s education and certifications as well as a longer story about how—and why—she became involved in public speaking.
“Now people can see all of Salle’s services in one area,” Siemens explains. “It is easy to contact her, hire her, and get information on events where she is going to be speaking. The website was a way for her to take another step forward in her career and put herself out there on the Internet.”
The new site is formatted for smartphones, tablets, and computers.
O’Neill plans to publish her website in Fall 2021, after she works with a professional photographer to obtain photos of her speaking at various locations.
Siemens is on track to earn her bachelor’s degree in May 2021. She says that Cardinal Solutions improved her communication skills, taught her how to work in a team of people with different skills and perspectives, and made her feel more confident about succeeding on the job market. Because of her interest in user experience design as a potential career path, Siemens is especially glad that she learned some solid strategies for writing in a voice other than her own: “In UX, if you’re making some sort of information design product, you don’t necessarily want to use your voice. For example, you may want to use your company’s voice.”
Siemens would recommend Cardinal Solutions to anyone who is considering joining the program. She wishes she had accepted the opportunity as a sophomore because the experience was not as scary or as much of a time commitment as she thought: “Don’t be afraid. Just jump into it. I really don’t think anyone would regret it. It’s experience that you cannot get from a classroom. You can get experience pretty close to it, but this is something you’re not just graded on. This is something you see published and in the real world, and that’s a different type of gratification.” ■