Carnegie Mellon University
March 02, 2016

Literary and Cultural Studies Alumni Carve Out Diverse Career Paths

Rachel Delphia at the opening of Rachel Delphia at the opening of "Silver to Steel."

From organizing museum exhibits to developing lecture series, two Carnegie Mellon literary and cultural studies (LCS) alumni are engaging communities into conversation in diverse ways.

Rachel Delphia (LCS’03), the Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman curator of decorative arts and design at the Carnegie Museum of Art, is really excited to share with the public an untold story of design in Pittsburgh through the museum’s current exhibit, “Silver to Steel: The Modern Design of Peter Muller-Munk.”

Delphia co-organized the exhibit, which runs through April. In the months leading up to opening night, her position centered on the design and installation decisions that go into the exhibit.

She discovered this whole museum and academic field dedicated to decorative arts and design during her first year in the English department’s master of arts in literary and cultural studies (MA in LCS) program.

“My Professors Kristina Straub, Michael Witmore and Kathy Newman in various ways let me explore objects, the subject matter that I was interested in, through the lens of cultural studies,” said Delphia, who also double majored in English and industrial design as an undergraduate student at CMU.

Delphia fondly recalls having the opportunity to explore “objects” through a research paper she wrote on a piece of institutional advertising—a film produced by Westinghouse that was distributed nationwide. A faculty member also pointed Delphia towards the study of material culture by showing her the journal “Winterthur Portfolio” out of the University of Delaware, where Delphia later went on to earn a second master’s degree in American material culture, decorative arts and design history.

Matt Ewalt, another MA in LCS major who also earned his bachelor of arts in professional writing from CMU in 2002, is now the associate director of education and youth services at the Chautauqua Institution. Along with educational programming, the 750-acre community located on the shores of New York’s Chautauqua Lake offers a host of other programming focused on the arts, religion and recreation.

film director ava du vernay with matt ewalt

Ewalt had a brief career in journalism before he came to Chautauqua and worked as the editor of its newspaper, The Chautauquan Daily, and served as the nonprofit organization’s Director of Communications. He was introduced to the field in the professional writing program and was drawn to it while studying in the LCS program after seeing Professor Newman’s writing in Pittsburgh City Paper where her in-depth understanding of theory informed her journalism.

“Seeing Kathy’s work in City Paper on a regular basis allowed me to make those kinds of connections where broader conversations on theory can translate themselves to the work and that grounded me in a very important way that guided me through the master’s program,” he said.

Ewalt describes Chautauqua as a community designed around intellectual curiosity and civic engagement, where he and others who fondly remember days in the classroom discussing theory and practice are drawn.

“When this opportunity presented itself to me, I was really excited because I had found an intellectual home for myself,” said Ewalt. “Chautauqua Institution is a place I found because of the path I took at Carnegie Mellon.”

Newman said she isn’t surprised Delphia and Ewalt took unique career paths.

“The literary and cultural studies master of arts program gave Rachel and Matt time to think about how to combine their love for the humanities with professional ambition,” she said. “We teach students how to critically examine culture, and, in turn, many students end up reflecting on their own lives. In the cases of Rachel and Matt, our program helped them each to pursue useful and satisfying work.”

Learn more about majoring in literary and cultural studies.

By Amanda King

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Photo: Carnegie Mellon literary and cultural studies alumnus, Matt Ewalt, interviews filmmaker Ava DuVernay at Chautauqua Institution’s Amphitheater during the institution's “Art & Politics" week. Photo credit: Bria Granville/The Chautauquan Daily.