Master of Arts in Literature and Language
Jessica Mansilla works for a veteran-owned small business government contractor called Best Value Technology Inc. (BVTI). BVTI provides financial and acquisition management support, program management support, in addition to acquisition-focused custom IT solutions. She is a Business Development Manager which means she researches where BVTI may have an opportunity to do business with the Federal government, find and build relationships with teaming partners, and write proposals to bid on government work.
What drew you to this career path?
This is a little convoluted because the career chose me. Somehow I seem to look for writing or research-based fields and I find my way back to Federal procurement (probably would be a different story if I just left the greater DC Metro area). Before I attended Marymount, I worked for a company called INPUT, which was basically an information broker for Federal procurements–contractors would buy subscriptions to INPUT’s research database. I learned about Federal procurement and market trend tracking while I was a Research Associate and later Analyst for them. I left INPUT to attend Marymount full-time, with the plan of using a master’s degree to get myself into a PhD program (to hopefully, eventually, become a college professor). My plans changed after I graduated and I did not pursue the PhD. I was looking for any job that focused on writing and/or research and BVTI hired me as a Technical Writer on one of their contracts supporting the Department of Homeland Security. During the first holiday party with the company, I met the Vice President of Business Development and told her a little about my background. She cherry-picked me to join her team and I’ve been her right-hand man ever since.
How did your time at Marymount prepare you for your career?
My master’s program was a mix of literary analysis and linguistic study, heavy on the linguistics wherever I could get it. That concentration prompted me to dig deeper in my research, think more critically in my analysis, and look closer at how communication works (or doesn’t). All of that directly benefits BVTI now. Contract opportunity and procurement history research is hard; not everything is public information so you have to learn how to connect the dots and interpret the blank spaces based on the context around them. Then there’s proposal writing–very similar to thesis writing. Both of those still make me so incredibly self-conscious! The process of writing my master’s thesis helped my composition skills overall. How I approach writing shifted; it’s just as self-conscious as it ever was but it’s more productive now, which is a huge benefit because proposal deadlines are non-negotiable.
What kind of projects or assignments best helped prepare you?
Cumulatively, I think having to writing multiple papers of varying lengths, simultaneously, best prepared me for business development. While literary analysis and business proposals are two very different writing styles, the abilities to switch gears (or topics) and balance time management of multiple projects were skills that I honed at Marymount, and skills that are highly valued in government contracting.
What subject did you choose for your thesis?
I wrote a master’s thesis titled, “An Uncharacteristic Inversion: A Metalinguistic Interpretation of Chaucer’s Use of Dialect in ‘The Reeve’s Tale'”. I’ve received many confused raise-eyebrows at that. During business conversations, my explanation is that it’s surprisingly relevant to government procurement: this is my certification that I’m highly adept at translating archaic jargon into relatable messages.
What advice do you have for current students in the English department?
Have fun and dig deep! I was not nearly as diligent in my undergraduate studies as I was in my graduate program. I think my success at Marymount and the wealth of benefits I took from that time are directly the result of me allowing myself to be unabashedly enthusiastic. I completed my undergraduate studies because that’s what I was supposed to do. I earned my master’s degree because I wanted to study the material. The education that resulted from those two approaches are like night and day. My recommendation to current students, undergraduate or graduate, is to focus on the process rather than on the completion. Obviously, you should keep an eye on your overall progress to ensure you stay on track, but give yourself freedom to react to the material. Really dive in and dissect what you’re studying. Be passionate about it–passionately love it or passionately hate it (just because you’re in English major doesn’t mean you love ALL literature!) and take the time to analyze your feelings in addition to the text so you can articulate your analysis, your interpretations, and your opinions. Having the ability to express yourself like that is not just a skill for academia–that’s a bankable trait that will get you cherry-picked for promotions.
What was the best part of your Marymount experience?
This is seriously the hardest question to answer. My first gut-reaction is “all of it” because, when I went back to school for my master’s, I left the corporate world to be a full-time student. It was like taking a sabbatical but I never earned tenure. I indulged in fully immersing myself in my studies. I treasure that time. My second thought is the best part was being a Graduate Assistant for the English Department. While I was a GA, I had the opportunity to see the professional side of academia. I used that to analyze my situation and realize the investment needed to become competitive in the industry was more than I could afford. That might sound sad but it’s not; insight, whether personal or competitive (or both), is priceless, and the ability to recognize it and put it to use is another bankable trait. My experiences at and education from Marymount put me in a lucrative position that might not directly involve literary or linguistic analysis all the time, but it provides an engaging and dynamic career that still allows time and resources for personal hobbies. Now I apologize for the long answer but there’s still a third thought: the Staffordshire Hoard. You couldn’t plan it if you tired. I was taking Dr. Carney’s History of the English Language when the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork yet to be uncovered, was discovered in Hammerwich, England. National Geographic hosted an exhibit in DC so I had the opportunity to see textbook material and current event collide… which really doesn’t happen for a medievalist.