What can you do with an English major, anyway?


As COO of the world’s largest public relations agency, Matthew Harrington (left) will report directly to CEO and President Richard Edelman (center), photographed here with Dan Edelman, the agency’s founder and chairman. Photo by Arnold Adler.

There’s an old stereotype that English majors go on to be English teachers. And of course, some do. But they also venture into an unlimited number of other fields and professions.

Take Matthew Harrington ’84, for example. He started an amazing career 28 years ago at  Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm, serving most recently as president of Edelman U.S., working with clients like Starbucks, Samsung, and General Electric. Under Harrington’s leadership, Edelman has expanded beyond the traditional PR realm to become a force in digital and social media—work that earned AdWeek’s coveted Media Agency of the Year award.

But now Harrington’s taking on a new role—a big one. On July 1, he’ll become the firm’s first-ever global chief operating officer, with oversight of all four of its geographical territories: the United States, Europe/Middle East/Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Canada/Latin America.

“Having successfully led our largest operation and run several of our most complicated and important accounts, Matt is uniquely qualified to step in to this new role,” said president and CEO Richard Edelman of Harrington’s new role. “Not only is Matt an exemplary business leader, but he also is a sophisticated practitioner with deep corporate and reputation management experience.”

Despite the demands of such a meteoric career, Harrington has made time to stay involved with his alma mater. After having served as president and member-at-large of the Alumni Council, he joined the Board of Trustees in 2009 as an alumni-nominated trustee. He served on his 25th reunion committee and several campus career panels, and he has sponsored Denison internships at Edelman. In recognition of his professional achievements and service to the college, Denison awarded Harrington its highest distinction for alumni, the Alumni Citation, in 2003.

And just for fun, here are but a few examples of other Denison English majors:

  • Michael Eisner ’64, former chair and CEO of Walt Disney Co.
  • Alec Alenstein ’93, COO of the Eurasia Group
  • Authors Clark Blaise ’61, Frederick Turner ’59 and Pam Houston ’83 (who has a new book out this month called Contents May Have Shifted)
  • Northwestern University Associate Professor of English and Gender Studies Jeffrey Masten ’86
  • Denison English professors Fred Porcheddu ’87 and Ann Townsend ’85
  • Dan Fiden ’97, entrepreneur-in-residence at Signia Ventures
  • Poet Alison Stine ’00
  • Maggie Glover ’05 of ModCloth
  • Abbe Wright ’07, Assistant Editor at O: The Oprah Magazine

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11:55 AM March 28, 2012


I started my career in book publishing in the summer of 1986 and have never looked back. It’s getting more and more interesting with all the new ways of selling content – but the love of the written word was nurtured at Denison as an English major.


2:40 PM March 28, 2012

ruth bailey wrote:

You left out Mark Dowie, Class of ’62, who, as an investigative reporter in the late ’60s exposed the Ford Pinto as a Molotov cocktail on wheels. He was publisher of Rolling Stone Magazine and has authored several books on environmental concerns. He was teaching at U. of California, Berkeley, recently, in the Journalism School, I believe, or the School of Management.


6:45 PM March 28, 2012

Betts Sproat Springer wrote:

The tone of the story on English majors, (and history majors), only becoming teachers disturbs me.
Our elementary and secondary schools need more of the “Best and the Brightest.”
We need to encourage outstanding young men and women from colleges such as Denison to become teachers!


8:20 AM March 29, 2012

Kristen Frame wrote:

Congratulations Matt! I t is always good to read about nice people who are doing well. I did not recognize you in your picture. You look like a grown up. When did that happen? I wish you the best, you have earned it.


1:11 PM April 21, 2012

Kathryn Correia wrote:

Thank you for the plug for English majors. As an English major in health care leadership , I use my Denison degree every day. Leadership requires communication and critical thinking –both were part of my Denison education.


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