Publications Unit Alumni Showcase featuring August Schiess
August (Cassens) Schiess ’13, is an Illinois State University alumnus of the publishing studies program in the Department of English who spent her time in her undergraduate career maximizing her experience as a production assistant at the Publications Unit, a Bone Student Scholar, and a night editor and columnist for The Vidette.
Currently, she is the director of social media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she has spent time overseeing the strategic vision of the University of Illinois through a social media lens while curating content for accounts — including photography, video, design, and writing. Her experience in the publishing studies program solidified her skills in a variety of means that aided in her professional development.
Throughout Schiess’s career, she has managed and developed a Coordinated Science Laboratory (CSL) website, received recognition for archaea and neuron coding-based publications, served on the ISU English Alumni Advisory Board, and worked in various media communications specialist positions. Schiess has expressed a passion for “strategically using writing, design, photography, and video to effectively tell stories on social media.”
To hear more about her experiences during her undergraduate career and post-undergraduate, we had the opportunity to interview Schiess.
What attracted you to publishing studies as a major?
The publishing studies program is unique, and as a senior in high school with a passion for English and a role as editor-in-chief of the yearbook, it seemed like the perfect combination of my interests. I loved the opportunity to pursue a traditional English degree with an additional layer of publishing skills. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I love books—and not just the content of the books. I love the construction, design, and editorial choices of the books themselves. The stories we publish and share are powerful. They shape our society and collective narrative. I was eager to learn more, and I knew this degree would allow me to do that.
What experiences from your college career have been most integral in shaping the course of your professional life?
My time at the Publications Unit and The Vidette were truly integral in setting me up for success after I graduated. I learned practical and professional skills that directly translated to the work I did and continue to do in my career. My first employers were impressed I had the skill set that I did, and it’s all thanks to the mentors and supervisors I had in the English Department and these two jobs. They invested in me. They taught me practical skills and also — and this was important — how to act in a workplace, set and achieve goals, make good judgments, and work independently. Even something as seemingly simple as learning how to introduce myself in a professional setting or craft a professional and articulate email helped me immensely. I’m truly indebted to the guidance and support I received as a student. I can’t stress enough how vital those experiences were in helping me get my first job, which has propelled me to achieve everything since.
Please describe your professional journey to your current field.
A week after I graduated, I went to work as a media communications specialist at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, a research lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There, I was able to employ the exact skills I learned in the publishing studies program — editing, layout and design, writing, printing processes, editorial judgment, and more. I also picked up skills along the way, like photography, event planning, and social media. I had to employ critical thinking and research skills right away too. I was writing about extremely complex science. Translating science for a general audience took a lot of work, and I thank the English component of my degree for my ability to do so.
After that, I transitioned to a communications coordinator position at the Coordinated Science Laboratory, another research lab at Illinois. I used many of the same skills while fine-tuning my skills in social media. That helped lead into my current role: director of social media for the university. In this position, I set the strategic vision and create content for the main University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign social media accounts. While I work to stay on top of the trends of each social media platform, my main goal is to use social media as a strategic tool to tell the Illinois story.
How did your experiences as a Publishing Studies student at Illinois State University shape your skill sets in your current position?
When I graduated in 2013, we weren’t having serious discussions about social media as a business tool, but my skill sets from my degree have propelled me in that direction. I think I know more about editing and style guides than nearly all of my colleagues — who are professionals in communications — and that helps me create consistent, clear, and articulate social media messages. I also use my layout and design skills, especially what I learned at the Publications Unit, to create content for social media. I think one of the skills you also learn in publishing studies is to think about your audience’s needs, from creating good page margins to publishing compelling stories, and I think about my audience’s needs with every single social media post I craft. Creating good content on social media is truly like creating a mini-publication every time. It has to be well designed, well thought out, and well written. So, in that sense, my experiences as a publishing studies student were enormously helpful.
How have you used your skills to mentor other individuals in your field?
During my six years in the workplace, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor several interns and colleagues. It’s a great privilege and great responsibility, as I know how much my life and career were influenced by the mentoring I received during my time at ISU, especially at the Publications Unit. I try to lead by example and give people I mentor the guidance and tools they need to thrive on their own. I think people grow if they’re given the tools to succeed and then the autonomy to flourish.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
My days are often a collection of attending meetings to plan and brainstorm content and campaigns, responding to emails from communicators across campus seeking assistance on social media, and, most importantly, creating and posting content on each of our social media platforms. I work extremely closely with my creative team every day — constantly brainstorming and crafting posts, arranging photo shoots, and working on graphics or other designed materials. It’s a fast-paced workflow, and even though my main job is to strategize and post the content for the day, it’s constantly changing and evolving because the type of content we post is always different. I spend my free time seeking out new stories to share, monitoring the platforms, and gathering analytics on our posts.
Because of your familiarity with the publishing studies program at Illinois State University, what advice do you have for current ISU students looking to pursue a career in the publishing field?
My career path from the publishing studies program might be considered nontraditional — it’s not in a typical publishing industry. But at the same time, I think it was a completely natural progression. The publishing studies program provides sought-after practical knowledge and deep critical thinking skills that translate to all sorts of careers. My advice would be to not limit yourself to thinking you have to have a certain career or follow a certain path with this degree. Instead, use your skill set to explore new opportunities and continue to grow.
For additional information about the publishing studies sequence, visit the website. For more information about Publications Unit internship and assistantship opportunities, contact Steve Halle, director of the Publications Unit, at cshalle@IllinoisState.edu or (309) 438-7481. Follow the Publications Unit on Twitter at @PubUnit_ISU or visit our website.