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Erin Waldron '13

Major in Creative Writing and Spanish

Erin’s liberal arts education helps her meet challenges as an entrepreneur and data visualization specialist.

Erin who has long brown, straight hair wears a blue blouse and necklace and poses in front of a brown staircase.

Erin is the owner of Data Dozen, a visual analytics studio, and co-owner of bnbNomad, an Airbnb blog for travelers and hosts. 

How did a creative writing and Spanish major begin work in data analytics? 

After graduation, the professional arc that unfolded had two big left turns. The first big left turn was into data analytics, specifically data visualization. While at Knox, I did a lot of photography work. My Honors project was a mashup of audio, writing, and photography components. There was an interest in technology and how it can be used for storytelling early on. It just never occurred to me that I could apply those storytelling principles to data until I started working at Washington University in Saint Louis. I was working in the graduate program’s office, entering data for individual students. Through a tool called Tableau, I realized that I could look at all the students’ data as a whole. At the time, it felt like a revelation! I began to find patterns. It was addictive to see the data visually, to actually understand enormous data sets that you couldn’t possibly process with your eyes in a table. Through a chart, a graph, or a dashboard, you are able to have something jump out immediately.  

The second unexpected left turn was starting my own business. I realized just how much information is being stored right now in the 21st century as data, and it shouldn’t be something that is blocked off to anybody. It should be democratized, available to anyone regardless of their educational or technical background. That became the mission behind my analytics studio, Data Dozen. 

How did your experiences at Knox—inside and outside the classroom—ignite or develop the interests you're pursuing in your after-Knox life?

There is so much you learn at a liberal arts school. For me, I was mostly studying the humanities. You get very comfortable with ambiguity and gray zones and asking how you know what you know. You get comfortable with things that are a little bit more squishy in life. Hands-on experiences, such as being part of the volleyball team, studying abroad in Spain and Argentina for the entire academic year, being a resident assistant (RA), doing an Honors project, all that taught me to embrace new situations and find solutions, even when it meant that I might have to start back at square one. That became so important in my career when I was new to data analytics, when I wanted to start my own business, and when my husband and I started our blog, bnbNomad, where I funnel all my passions with photography, travel, and writing. At Knox, you learn to be comfortable with not knowing and then using your skills to figure it all out. That is all learned through experiential learning.

The skills I learned at Knox are important to bring to technology. I majored in creative writing at Knox, and I have found that the humanities can absolutely benefit from technology, but technology really needs humanists to help build it as well. Within the field of data analytics, the point isn’t to keep your findings to yourself, but to communicate those findings to other people. Everything that I learned about writing, such as storytelling techniques, has had an enormous impact on how I go about trying to communicate what I have found in such vast data to audiences. 

Are there specific Knox faculty members who played important roles in encouraging you to pursue/develop your passion?

Across the board, I learned so much from so many. Mike Godsil, an instructor in art, is the photography professor who showed me around Knox as a prospective student. I credit him for opening the doors and showing me what my studies could potentially look like at Knox. My first year preceptorial professor was Brandon Polite, associate professor and chair of philosophy. He is such a fun person, and I remember learning so much and having great discussions in his class. Catherine Denial, Bright Distinguished Professor of American History, is exceptional and opened my mind in so many ways. I took her class on the history of marriage. Monica Berlin, Richard & Sophie D. Henke Distinguished Professor of English, and Cyn Kitchen, associate professor of English, were both absolutely critical for all the writing work that I did. Mike Godsil, Monica Berlin, and Cyn Kitchen were all on my Honors committee and unknowingly still contribute so much to my current work. 

What should prospective students know about Knox? 

Follow your curiosity. When a school encourages students with multiple interests, it creates people that go out into the world and are comfortable with having multiple professions, multiple businesses, or multiple hobbies. Knox from the beginning says, “We think multi-dimensionality is great.” Knox prepared me phenomenally for rising to the occasion of whatever job I got, but it also gave me the confidence to speak up for myself and my skills to create the job I wanted for myself. Knox does a fantastic job of creating ambitious people who are excited to pursue what inspires them. 

What advice would you give to current Knox students? 

Instead of just trying to get across the finish line or a class deadline, think beyond your courses. Ask yourself, “How can I share work I am really proud of with the world more broadly?” People don’t care what you majored in. They care about what you can make. Whatever you are majoring in, find a way to compile not only a resume, but a portfolio that demonstrates your skills. That’s what employers care about. Employers are looking for you to create something for them. 

Second, with a Knox education, you get out what you put in. Even if it is a little bit outside your comfort zone, lean into opportunities that maybe you didn’t have planned when you walked in the door. The Knox campus is just so full of fantastic opportunities. Be willing to be open-minded about what Knox can offer you, however unexpected.

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Printed on Wednesday, June 12, 2024