Alumni Spotlight: One Liberal Arts Education, Two Career Paths

Alumni share their experiences after graduating from the College

UChicago students are renowned for uniqueness. This quirkiness comes from our wit, our intelligence, and our ingenuitive outlook. When we leave this school, we become everything you can think of, from doctors to lawyers to investment bankers to authors. This alumni spotlight series shines a light on those with jobs that you haven’t thought of—our alumni whose careers are as unique as the College they graduated from.

Sarah Koenig, AB’90

You know her now as the host of Serial, but in the late 80s, Sarah Koenig was a UChicago student who didn’t know what she wanted to do after graduation.

Koenig majored in Political Science but was fascinated by Russian history and literature. Outside of classes, she participated in campus theater and did improv with Off-Off Campus. While the way she learned to read and write at UChicago has stayed with her, she admitted “there wasn't an ‘ah ha’ moment,” where she suddenly knew what she wanted to do.

“I blundered along like a crazy person,” she said. “I sort of flailed around for a few years before I figured out that I wanted to be a newspaper reporter.”

“I had so many weird jobs in my first few years out of college,” Koenig added. “I met so many weird people and I figured out what I didn't want to do.”

After a brief stint in graduate school and some time toying with the idea of being an actress, she landed a job at her hometown weekly newspaper.

“Once I got to my weekly newspaper and realized I liked it... that [it] was exciting to me [and it] was challenging to me, [I said to myself] ‘I'm going to keep going’,” Koneig said.  “As opportunities came to me, I took them or I just floundered around and applied for a thousand jobs.”

Koenig worked at her hometown newspaper for a while before being offered the chance to work for ABC News’ Moscow bureau. She then worked at the New York Times’ Moscow bureau for a few years, before returning to the U.S. to work for the Concord Monitor. There she covered former President George W. Bush’s presidential run, before leaving to work at The Baltimore Sun.

Sarah Koenig, seated before a red background Photo by: Sandy Honig

During that time, Koenig began freelancing for This American Life, where she became a staff producer in 2004. She said the shift from print journalism to radio journalism was natural for her.

The idea for the award winning Serial podcast came from a collaboration from another This American Life producer. After working on a couple of different ideas, they came up with Serial’s format, where Koenig revisits the same story every week.

Writing about Koenig for her profile in Time’s “100 Most Influential People” listing, actor and Serial listener Ewan McGregor said Koenig “had an uncanny knack for making me feel like she was talking just to me,” a feeling that many listeners of the podcast share. In 2015, Serial won a Peabody Award because it helped make podcasts mainstream again.

For students who are interested in both print and radio journalism, Koenig’s advice is “if you wanna do it, do it,” noting that podcasts are booming right now.

“You just have to start. And you're going to be bad at it in the beginning, and you're going to have to go through that crucible and just begin,” she said. “The way I did it is just you start at the bottom and you crawl your way up. I think that's really invaluable experience. I don't regret any of the awful stories I had to do to get to the stories I wanted to do.”

Miles Morgan, AB’17 AM ‘17

Eton College, a historic British boarding school that educates royals and statesmen, is synonymous with prestige, excellence, and tradition. Founded in 1440 by Henry VI, Eton College’s alumni include Prince William, Prince Harry, and 19 of the UK’s Prime Ministers.

Recent UChicago graduate Miles Morgan, AB’17, AM ’17, has been teaching at the historic school since last September, as a part of an Annenberg fellowship.

“[Henry VI’s] idea was no matter how wealthy or poor you are he wanted the 60 or 70 smartest kids in the country to come and learn at this school,” said Morgan, explaining the school’s philosophy.

The Annenberg fellowship, named after former US ambassador Walter Annenberg, began in the mid-1980s. It brings recent graduates from American universities to Eton for a year to teach, coach sports, and direct plays.

During his time at UChicago, Morgan majored in Comparative Literature and participated in the Masters Program in the Humanities(MAPH), which allowed him to graduate in four years with both bachelor’s and a master’s degrees. He spent his third year studying abroad in Dublin, and on campus he worked with the study abroad student advisory committee, and Iris, a theater troupe focused on students of color.

“The fellowship kind of fell in my lap,” he said. He always knew that he wanted to teach, but Andy Tousignant encouraged him to apply for the Annenberg fellowship. Tousignant and many other professors and faculty members inspired Morgan on his career path.

Miles Morgan, sitting in front of a window in a button up shirt and a sweater Photo By: Matthew Mowbray

“I'm just trying to be all of the people that I met at UChicago who inspired me,” he said. “I'm failing massively, but all seem to be rather proud [of me].”

Morgan teaches English and Drama to F Block, which is the equivalent of 8th grade in the U.S. "The curriculum is pretty great because you have a certain amount of things you're supposed to get through…but I have a lot of freedom to teach what I want," he said.

He also co-teaches a seminar style class on history and fiction with the head of the history department, where they discuss the crossover between those two disciplines.

A typical day for Morgan begins with teaching his first class at 9 a.m., then taking a break to answer emails and schedule meetings with students in need of college coaching. Before lunch, he attends a daily staff meeting, and teaches two more classes. Then he goes to basketball practice, where he says he’s a “psychological coach,” because of his lack of basketball skills.

After coaching, he teaches another class, has a short  break, and then rehearses with students for the production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus that he’s directing.

"They're very full days…on the whole, every hour of the day is full,” he said. “You don't get a lot of down time."

After his fellowship, Morgan is thinking about going into philanthropy or fundraising, adding that he will probably return to teaching at some point in the future.

“I thought a lot leaving university. ‘If this is the first 21 years of my life, how do I spend the next 60 making sense of that?’” he said. “It's a lifelong quest but it will start with teaching here and finding kids money for music lessons and painting lessons and taking classes.”

His advice for students still in the College is to know that they are prepared and that everything will work out in time.

“You are prepared, you are talented, you have potential...use the resources at UChicago,” he said. “Walk into Career Advancement and say 'this is what I want to do.' There's an entire office of people getting paid to get you a job! That's their job! Talk to them!”

Current fourth-years can apply to the Annenberg fellowship this March. Morgan encourages interested students to reach out to him with questions.

Tagged: Alumni, Alumni Spotlight, Sarah Koenig, Miles Morgan