“I was naturally good at school,” Carolyne Hurlburt says of her youth in Kansas. Her scholastic ability proved to be a ticket out of poverty and into Northwestern, where Hurlburt graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1989.
Although she had not studied computer science as an undergraduate, Hurlburt found work as a systems consultant and programmer and then leveraged that background to become a technical writer and trainer, working on projects for companies that included Abbott Labs, Motorola, and PeopleSoft. “But after many years in technology I felt burnt out,” says Hurlburt. “I was tired of talking about software and circuit boards.”
That’s when an old dream kicked in. “English was my favorite subject in high school,” says Hurlburt. “I just thought it wasn’t practical. I wanted an income, to have security.” By now she had financial security — along with a husband and two young children. As busy as she was, says Hurlburt, “I wanted to recharge my batteries.” She enrolled in Northwestern’s Master of Arts in Literature (MALit) program and immersed herself in British literature, particularly drama — a complement to her involvement in community theater. “What stands out for me were my professors,” says Hurlburt, citing Helen Thompson, Christine Froula, and thesis adviser Daniel Born. Hurlburt captured a Distinguished Thesis Award for her study of the post-structural sensibility of Oscar Wilde.
Given her academic success, Hurlburt was not about to stop: “As I came to the end of the program I felt as if I weren’t done yet.” With letters of recommendation from her MALit professors, Hurlburt won admission to Marquette University in Milwaukee and in 2011 began work on a PhD in English literature. At an orientation for new teaching assistants Hurlburt noted that, “I was in my first year of college before most of my peers were born.” Not a problem for Hurlburt: “I stopped listening to naysayers a long time ago.”