More than two decades after joining Power of the Pen as middle school students, alumni from the late 1990s team at Findlay Central Middle School look back at Power of the Pen as a key step on their career paths. Members of the team, who have stayed in touch, hold various leadership positions in organizations across the country.
Ashley Barger owns Do Some Good Marketing, LLC, a content management marketing company. Brittany Schell is director of newsroom projects with Hearst Newspapers in San Francisco, and Sarah Sisser serves as executive director of the Hancock Historical Museum in Findlay.
Igniting the Spark
Ashley, Brittany, and Sarah wrote under the guidance of coach Barb Matheny. All agree that Barb was a remarkably inspiring teacher.
“Through Power of the Pen, I learned that there was good and bad writing, that it was a skill you could sharpen and improve, and that it was something people did as a profession,” Brittany says. “After that, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said ‘a journalist.’ "
For Barb, coaching the team became a core passion in her career because of its effect on the writers.
“I still get comments from former students telling me how much they learned about writing and the positive impact it has had on their writing skills,” Barb says. “Power of the Pen also gave them confidence and humility when they didn't win - and a sense of being driven to take the suggestions of the judges and improve for the next time.”
Finding Their Way
For these writers, Power of the Pen inspired confidence in their unique abilities.
“The disciplines in creative writing that Power of the Pen taught me propelled me into crafting a skill I didn’t even know I had,” Ashley says. “I learned how to creatively present information in a compelling way.”
For Brittany, who didn’t feel as if she could find a place in athletics, Power of the Pen provided a place to belong. “Power of the Pen gave me confidence and taught me to be comfortable with who I am. The physical didn’t matter when I put pen to paper,” she says. “It was my mind and imagination that mattered while writing. I remember how it felt to win first place for one of my stories at a competition when I was in 8th grade, how my heart swelled with pride as I clutched the precious black notebook that was the prize.”
Sarah had a similar experience. “It was a tremendous feeling to be able to match my talents against others throughout the state and to be recognized for my accomplishments in the same way I had seen fellow students acknowledged for athletics,” she says. “It really helped to build my self-esteem as a young teen.”
Writing in Careers
The skills that these writers developed as middle school students have carried through their careers.
Brittany achieved her dream of becoming a journalist. “I’ve worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, Agence France-Presse and other media organizations, and writing skills have always been fundamental to my career in journalism,” she says. “It’s not only writing news stories. Whether I’m writing a memo to my boss, posting a story on social media or writing a presentation for the team, knowing how to use words to tell a story is important in so many ways for my job.”
Ashley runs her own business that relies on creativity. “Power of the Pen can give you a starting point for finding your voice, systemizing your writing style, and help you work on a skill that is necessary in almost any job you take on,” Ashley says.
Sarah has a BFA in Historic Preservation and Architectural History from the Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, Georgia, and a master’s degree in Community Planning from Auburn University. She returned to Findlay in 2013 to take the helm of the Hancock Historical Museum.
“My job is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. It plays to my strengths and my interests, and it affords me so much creativity,” Sarah says. “In my career, I am always leaning on my ability to clearly express myself through my writing, even with something as simple as an email to a colleague or professional acquaintance. To be able to tell a story or paint a picture with your words is an incredibly valuable skill.”