David Theis
English major, graduated 1989
Chief of Media, The World Bank

David in Brussels this past summer with his wife.
David in Brussels this past summer with his wife.


How did you get from your major to the work/the life you have now?

Funny thing about being an English major, in my experience, was always being asked at the time, “Are you going to teach?” This suggested to me that most people had a fairly narrow view of what an English major can become when he or she grows up. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had many a great teacher over the years; however, my aspirations never included being an educator. I had originally thought to go into advertising, but Public Relations – a field I fell into at a tender age – has been a perfect fit, in part, I suspect, because my major focused on writing. By this I mean not only the writing of others, but a lit major must write quite a bit, and often quickly. I was fortunate to have professors at CSU that had a low tolerance for second-rate writing. This raised my game, for which I will be forever grateful. (RIP Doctors Mark and Zoellner.)


What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)? How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?

Working in communications for an organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and improving the lives of people in developing countries is a daily reward, both personally and professionally. Showing my daughters when I’m quoted in the press is always fun, too. The largest commonality between working in public relations and being an English major is that in both pursuits you have to be able to speak and write forcefully to be successful.


What did you like about the English program? Why did you choose to study here?

What DIDN’T I like about the English program? It’s a cocktail party major; you are trained to be charming and clever and to have witty quotes from great authors trip off your tongue. An education in being pithy and droll has little downside. In all honesty, an uncle I admired had attended CSU, and he turned out ok, so I applied to one university. And they accepted me!


Do you have a favorite or funny story from your time with the English Department?

I have countless funny stories. A great memory was Dr. Zoellner walking into the first day of American Lit 1914 – 1924 and writing on the chalkboard Ogden Nash’s one-line poem, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” He asked, “Who can tell me what this poem means?” A few students hazarded guesses – “It’s more fun to drink than eat sweets” etc. But then Zoellner said, “It’s about how to get laid. Anyone uncomfortable with truths such as this should probably drop this class.” Ha! Bob certainly knew how to shock people. But he was right – that’s precisely what the poem means.

My god, he was a brilliant prof. Taught me how to explicate a novel properly. You probably didn’t want to take the class immediately after his well-lubricated lunches at the Charco-Broiler, but otherwise he was absolutely priceless.


Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department? Do you still keep in contact with your classmates or professors? 

Dr. Thomas Mark was one of the finest gentlemen I have ever met, and he was a wonderful and engaging professor. Dr. Mark was brilliant, inspiring, and utterly charming. I consider myself fortunate to have had him as my advisor and to have struck a friendship with him. Lovely man. I remember once telling Dr. Mark I didn’t know what to take the next semester. He suggested hemlock. I still chuckle as I write this.

And yes, I am happy to still be in touch with dozens of classmates. In the first weekend of December, 1985, two friends threw a party in their dorm room. The next year, they hosted a party the same weekend. The 30th party was held in December of last year. I’ve missed two. Scads of CSU grads come every year. We crank up ‘80s music and dance our faces off.


What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?

Don’t let anyone tell you majoring in English will limit your career potential. First, because that’s utterly false – ask Reese Witherspoon, or Stephen Spielberg, or Conan O’Brien, or Michael Eisner, or Diane Sawyer…

Second, the pursuit of a liberal arts education is about far more than making coin. It’s about opening up your mind.

What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?

Read this: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/opinion/sunday/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-english-major.html


What are you currently reading, writing? 

I recently read Amsterdam and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, of Atonement fame. He has an amazing prose style.


You have an hour to spend in a bookstore. What section do you make a beeline to? 

If I’m in a bookstore for an hour it would be in the poetry section. Here’s a tip: the Poetry Foundation has a poetry app that’s absolutely terrific. And free!


What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time? 

My wife and I go to a lot of concerts. Now my daughters have gotten the bug, too. And I cook quite a bit.


Do you have a current photo of yourself we can use alongside your profile?

All my current photos have either my wife or children in them. Darndest thing.