Path to Fellow: Connie Kiernan, 1998

by Kevin Cuddihy on 7 March 2012

Last week we announced the new Fellows and Associate Fellows, so what better time to return with Path to Fellow! Path to Fellow is a recurring feature here on STC’s Notebook to highlight the rich contributions of our honored members. We want to tell your story! If you’re a Fellow or Associate Fellow and would like to participate in this feature, please email Kevin Cuddihy.

My journey from new STC member to Fellow started in 1978 with a chat and some herbal tea with Della Whittaker. I had graduated with a degree in computer technology, but since I was working then as a technical communicator in the software arena, I decided I’d better take a technical writing class to find out what I should be doing! After doing well in the class, my professor suggested I meet his friend Della, who lived about three miles from my home and was a professional technical writer. I was dumbfounded—you could actually have a career as a writer? Della exhorted the benefits of STC, talked about the fellowship and learning opportunities, and convinced me that joining STC was the right thing to do—especially for a new tech writer.

For the next 10 years or so I became very active in STC—attending and presenting at our annual conferences, building a wonderful network of friends and mentors, and getting involved in managing Society-level committees and running annual conferences. At some point during those 10 years my work supervisor asked me, “What do you get from STC that you don’t get at work?” Even then, I had a long list! “I can learn and try new skills, manage tasks, manage people, speak in front of two people or 2,000 people and, most of all, I can stretch knowing there are lots of people to encourage and support me.”

So I continued growing through STC, absorbing the wisdom of all who surrounded me, expanding my wonderful network of friends and mentors. I listened when they spoke: “It doesn’t help to do the thing right if you’re doing the wrong thing”; “I’m an introvert who realized that being an introvert wouldn’t get me where I wanted to go, so I’m an introvert who acts like an extrovert”… I took an extra suitcase to our conference each year, knowing that I’d be hauling back a large stack of books on new and exciting areas of tech comm.

And I used my network—most often when I was in crisis mode! Just before a conference in Dallas, my company’s senior management team had heard about this new fad called online help, and gave me the mandate to go forth and create context-sensitive online help for a statistical graphics software package we had developed. Sitting on a sofa in the conference hotel lobby, I’d see one of my friends go by, stop them and ask “What do you know about online help?” Within 15 minutes there were about ten of us discussing the dozens of factoids we knew about this new form of technical communication. Not only did I get the answers I needed to help me build the company’s first context-sensitive online help system, that hotel lobby meeting was the genesis of STC’s online help SIG!

In 1996, I moved to the Denver area for my dream job doing technical communications consulting. One of the first things on my “to do” list was to get involved in the local STC chapter. I spoke at chapter meetings in Denver and Colorado Springs, participated in and managed local publications competitions, and co-managed the program for a regional conference. When my dream job ended, my Denver Chapter colleagues were there to help me find my next dream job. And when I was ready to move back to “home” in the DC area, my longtime STC DC colleagues were there to help.

The Society honored me as an Associate Fellow in 1994 and I became a Fellow in 1998. I was humbled, exhilarated, crying, and smiling from ear to ear. I thought about all the people who’d helped me along the way, who’d inspired me through a conference presentation, written a book or journal article, participated in an STC publications competition, or shared a lively conversation at a chapter meeting. It wasn’t until then, looking back on my 20-year journey, that I realized I hadn’t just taken the amazing gifts I’d received over the years, I’d passed those gifts along to many others—some of whom have since become SIG leaders, become Committee managers, been honored as Fellows and Associate Fellows, and even been elected as Society presidents. And that’s what makes STC special—wonderful people sharing their knowledge and friendship so we are all honored by being part of this amazing technical communication community.

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