The Write Start

If you're part of the Drexel community, you've probably read Mary Sydnor's work – or work she's edited. Mary is a part-time employee at the Honors College publication, The Smart Set (where you can read her essay about being a direct descendent of legendary conjoined twins, Eng and Chang). She's the editor for the student writers on Drexel's Cultural Passport website. And Mary's also a regular contributor to the Philadelphia Daily News through Drexel's Art Attack partnership, where her pieces about classical and world music and other cultural goings-on in Philadelphia are read by thousands across the city.

But perhaps most impressive is that Mary is still an undergrad. This senior manages to balance her writing gigs with being an English major, participating in the Honors program, and completing Drexel's Certificate in Creative Writing and Publishing.

We caught up with Mary to ask her about Drexel, her work, and how her writing has led to new career plans.

Why did you decide to attend Drexel? 

I transferred to Drexel in my sophomore year, after attending a small all-girls liberal arts college just outside of Philadelphia. I began spending most of my weekends in the city, and I quickly fell in love with the urban environment and Philly's cultural scene. I was also immediately drawn to Drexel because everyone who went there was obviously benefiting from significant career guidance. Because I didn't feel that was being offered at my first school, where students aren't allowed to declare a major until their sophomore year, I decided to transfer. 

Writing for Art Attack, editing the student writers for Drexel's Cultural Passport, and writing for The Smart Set — you certainly do an awful lot. How did you get involved these projects?

Professor Harriet Millan, of the Department of English and Philosophy, initially got me interested in working for The Smart Set. Well before my co-op was set to start, I sat down to talk to her about my options. I knew I wanted more experience in creative nonfiction or journalism, and editing because that is where I feel my writing strengths lie. She asked if I had thought about working for The Smart Set and called [Editor] Jason [Wilson] on my behalf. After an interview, I took Jason's Honors travel writing course and then started my co-op. I became the editor of the Cultural Passport first, and wrote my first piece for the Smart Set on Eng and Chang a few months later. 

What have these experiences taught you? 

I've learned to meet a deadline and to pitch an article. I've learned to manage the work of different writers contributing to the magazine, and I've become a better editor. I've also learned that I'm interested in journalism, which I never thought would be for me. I first fell in love with writing through poetry.

Are there any interesting opportunities you've had in your work with these projects? 

My most interesting opportunities have come from writing for the Daily News. I recently started writing longer pieces for them and am developing a "beat" for myself, because I primarily write about classical and world music. This has helped me to build a much stronger, more defined portfolio and I'm now thinking about going to grad school for Music History.

You're a senior. What are your plans for next year and beyond? 

I definitely plan on going to grad school, but whether it will be for Music History or my MFA, I'm not sure. I plan on taking a year or two off first to work and learn more about what specific career path I want to take. I'm hoping to ultimately get a job writing or editing for a magazine or newspaper.