Before getting a heads-up from Department Chair Nina Schwartz about a position at the Schlager Group, Ben Painter’s post-graduation plan was to sell insurance. He didn’t even have a résumé, but he jumped at the opportunity with Schlager. Painter’s willingness to take risks paid off then, as it did earlier in his undergraduate career, when he and fellow English major Josh Duke co-created the SMU Writers Group. At one of the group’s meetings, the subject of the then-defunct SMU Literary Festival arose, and Prof. David Haynes discussed its history in some detail. Ben was intrigued and pursued “a few key meetings with a few key people” – including then-Chair Ezra Greenspan and Prof. Haynes. Painter found everyone eager to help, and within a few months, “stress, sweat, and belly-aching” notwithstanding, he and Duke had helped revive the Festival, now in its fourth year.
Schlager hired Painter. Neil Schlager, SMU ’89, the company’s founder and president, and himself an SMU alumnus, says that Ben’s involvement with the SMU LitFest made him an obvious and natural fit with one of the main content areas of his company, an educational publisher specializing in history and literature materials for students and instructors. Schlager says the “tremendous leadership” Ben demonstrated when organizing and running the festival set him apart from other candidates who, while having good GPA s, lacked Ben’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Yet even Ben admits to having been concerned with graduating with a degree in English. He says he thought, “You’re not going to be a something when you finish. You’re going to be an anything.” Ben’s fears were unfounded. Schlager says that with Ben’s communications skills and knowledge about subjects ranging from literature to business to education, “he contributes on a number of levels.”
Both Painter and Schlager rely on their SMU networks “to pay it forward and pay it back.” According to Painter, the company often has freelance writing, editing, and research positions perfect for English grads and is creating an internship program that will be great for students seeking experience. Schlager says, “Our company hires SM U grads not out of any sense of loyalty but because they are some of the most talented and prepared students in this area.”