At first glance, data analytics might not seem like a career where story writing skills are critical. But for Power of the Pen alum Erin Blackburn-Smith, analytics manager with Tropical Smoothie Café in Atlanta, Georgia, her ability to weave a strong narrative is integral to success in her career.
Data analytics professionals are tasked with spotting trends to guide decisions, and data sometimes reveals surprises that decision-makers might resist. That’s where the ability to tell stories comes in.
“When I was younger, I thought I wanted to turn my love of writing into a career in journalism,” Erin says. “However, as I got older, I found myself very drawn to research and data analytics, and ended up making my career in Marketing Analytics in the restaurant industry …
“A huge part of my job is storytelling. When I am doing analysis, I am using the data to craft a narrative, and then I must communicate the narrative clearly and convincingly. The most effective analytics presentations lead the audience to come to your conclusion on their own, before you reveal what your conclusion is. There is no way I would be able to do that without a strong background in storytelling.”
Erin was a member of the team at Arts Impact Middle School (AIMS) in Columbus City Schools. She credits Power of the Pen with nurturing her love for writing. The extemporaneous nature of Power of the Pen tournaments, with their 40-minute writing rounds, helped Erin overcome a perfectionist streak that was holding her back.
“When I was in competition, I didn't have time to meticulously plan and revise,” she says. “I also couldn't scrap something and give up halfway through if I ran into any obstacles. This was really instrumental for me in order to feel free creatively and to welcome feedback from others - not just in writing, but in any creative or intellectual pursuit.”
Belonging to a Community of Writers
Also crucial in middle school was the sense of community and belonging. “I've always been terrible at sports, so it was great to have an opportunity to actually compete and be on a team,” Erin says. “I made friends with kids that I wouldn't have been friends with otherwise.”