Path to Fellow is a new feature here on STC’s Notebook to highlight the rich contributions of our honored members. For more information on this feature and on the honor of being named a Fellow or Associate Fellow, click here. Watch for more stories about our Fellows and Associate Fellows in the coming weeks and months as well.
My STC journey began when I first became a technical writer/editor and STC member in 1979. I was lucky enough to have an active STC member as a boss. She mentored me and challenged me to become involved and to develop professionally through STC. Between 1979 and 1996 (the year I received my Fellowship), I was most active in the San Diego chapter, in technical communication teaching, and in the STC Annual Conference Leadership. In those 17 years, STC was my touchstone for career development. In 1990, I changed jobs from editing scientific reports in San Diego to writing for a software development company in Houston, TX. By 1996, I was working for a geophysical modeling company as Manager of Corporate Communications. Through the years, my STC career had continued to expand and enrich me, even when my actual “day jobs” didn’t.
In those days, volunteers did the lion’s share of putting on an STC annual conference. In addition to presenting at conferences, I also served as Writing and Editing Stem Manager, Deputy Special Events Manager, Special Events Manager, Deputy Program Manager, and then, in 1995, I became the Program Manager for the conference we had in Washington, DC.
In those days, the conference troubles were the reverse of today. We often ran out of hotel rooms, booked session rooms too small for the crowds, and generally had to deal with an overabundance of attendees rather than a lack of them! If my memory serves me right, we had about 2,200 attendees at that conference. And, almost all of them were angry because they couldn’t get into the sessions they wanted to attend!
I was selected first as an Associate Fellow, and then as a Fellow, because during that first 17 years, I supported technical communication in many ways: I taught on weekends and evenings for local colleges, served on advisory boards at those colleges, gave workshops to businesses, wrote articles, reviewed books, mentored students, hired interns, served in various positions at the Society level, and served at the chapter level for two chapters (San Diego and Houston).
Nonetheless, when I received the honor, I was surprised. I think everyone who gets this honor feels as I did. We are all in awe of those who have come before us. Somehow, we imagine that everyone who receives an STC honor is more deserving than we are! In my case, it was true! I was turned down for Associate Fellow the first time I was nominated. Yet, the folks who nominated me went back two years later and I was selected. One never knows.
STC has been my family and my lifeline. I am convinced that I have received better jobs, better salaries, and better opportunities than I would have received without this great organization. Many folks look back on the old STC and think of it as a social club. And, maybe it was to some degree. But it was also a proving ground, a test site, a support group, a challenging opportunity, and a professional development organization.
Since receiving my Fellowship, I have continued to be active and have served on the STC Board of Directors in several capacities over many years, culminating with a year as President and then the year following as Immediate Past President. Many people serve on the board first, and then get their honorifics. I did it the other way around.
A final story: We were in Seattle in 1996 when I was scheduled to receive my Fellow honor. Then, as now, the Awards Banquet was Tuesday evening. I had been remiss in leaving my contact information with my house-sitter. She knew I was in Seattle, but she didn’t know what hotel I was in! I had flown from my home in Houston to Seattle on Saturday, and attended some events on Sunday. Monday morning, my family contacted my employer to find out where I was staying. When I returned to my room Monday evening, I had an urgent message. It seems one of my brothers, who lived in San Diego, had died of a drug overdose on Saturday. I could have joined the family Tuesday morning, or I could choose to wait until Wednesday to join them in San Diego. I decided to wait. It was a tough decision and that Tuesday was an even tougher day. But, I’ve never regretted staying.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of nominating several folks as Associate Fellow. Each time, the person I was nominating tried to argue me out of it! Don’t do that to yourselves. Embrace your value to the profession. In reality, STC could recognize even more folks. Many people who have supported technical communication have worked for years in silence. They go without this honor because no one thinks about it.