It's not often that a sister gets paid to toot her brother's horn. Catawba College Communication Arts lecturer Cyndi Allison Wittum was recently contacted by SAS (a computer software company) about taking on some freelance writing projects starting with a story about her brother, Dr. Robert Allison, winning a national computer dashboard contest.
The opportunity with SAS came up when the writer assigned to the project bowed out to take a fulltime job. Wittum's brother mentioned that his sister did some freelance writing. The company contacted Wittum to see if she would be interested in doing some part-time writing. She wrote up the piece about her brother and has been writing for SAS since September.
Wittum started freelancing during her college years and now teaches journalism classes at Catawba College as well as advising for the student newspaper. "I was the editor of my high school paper my senior year and then wrote pieces for The Technician at N.C. State," said Wittum. "I think working with student publications is the best way for young people to get started crafting with words."
Over the years, Wittum has always tickled her writing fancy with various after-hours projects. In the evenings, on weekends, and during summer breaks, she cranks out a variety of different articles for various publications ranging from mainstream magazines to web sites.
"The first time I made money on a writing project was when The Salisbury Post sponsored a contest about heroes. I was about 12-years-old, and I wrote a short article about my parents being my heroes. The Post printed my article, and paid me $5. That was a fortune back then," said Wittum.
In more recent years, Wittum has written a number of feature articles for The Salisbury Post as well as working on the centennial issue covering 100 years of Rowan County history. She also wrote a column for the Post called "Cyber Savvy" which spotlighted top web sites in different topic areas.
Since Wittum has been at Catawba, a number of her students have gone on to work at The Salisbury Post. One former student, Joanie Morris, is now the editor of The Kannapolis Citizen, a local paper sponsored by the Post. Another student, Sandy Greene of Salisbury, worked in Lifestyles and now contributes as a freelancer. Catawba College senior Holly Fesperman is frequently featured on the front page with articles she writes during her free time and around her classes. Other students include junior Tara Smiley who works in advertising at the Post, and sophomore Andrew Branning who serves as one of the website technicians.
"I find it very rewarding to see my students telling our community stories or contributing in other ways to making the local paper something we can all call our own," said Wittum. "I get more excited about seeing students publish than I do about seeing my own name attached to articles. I love to publish, but it just means more to see our students succeed in a very competitive business."
This semester, Wittum worked one-on-one with senior Tabitha Soloman on feature articles. Soloman served as an intern last summer with Lowe's Motor Speedway and crafted a number of public relations releases and some feature pieces. One of her summer stories was selected for publication in a recent issue of the NASCAR magazine. Soloman also wrote an article about her fellow Catawba students working over the summer at Victory Junction.
"I considered writing the piece about the great work our students had been doing with Victory Junction," said Wittum. "But, I thought it would be more interesting to see a student tell the stories. Tabitha did a great job, and it was really exciting to see her gather materials and craft a piece about the work her peers have been doing to help children in need."
Though Wittum considers her key mission to help students develop writing skills and "learn the ropes" in the publication business, she is driven to write. "It's rare that I go more than a day or two without typing up something for publication," said Wittum. "I do some heavier pieces like grant proposals or corporate articles, but I also do some fun articles like product reviews or mainstream features."
Wittum has written for magazines such as Women's World, Family Fun —a Disney publication, Blue Ridge Country, GI Japan, and Turtle for Preschool Kids. She has over 200 magazine/newspaper credits as well as a huge host of online bylines.
"I have over 900 reviews up with an online consumer site now, and I also write for some online magazines like Lodging.com and Back to College online. In addition, Wittum hosts a micro site at Garden and Hearth focusing on grilling. "My family really enjoys cooking outdoors, and it has been fun to share what we've learned over the years," said Wittum. "When I want to relax, I work on pieces for my Barbeque Master site."
Writing articles in the high tech industry has been challenging but interesting. "Some of the concepts are pretty complex," said Wittum. "But, one of my strengths is that I can take technical information and package that data so that the typical man or woman on the street can understand the data."
During graduate school at Southern Methodist University, Wittum was required to teach production courses in audio and video. She developed user guides for her students to use. "After driving over a few times to turn on the power strip, I thought it would be a good idea to break down the process. Most people do fine with high tech equipment and concepts if they have good basic directions that are easy to follow and understand."
Though it can be difficult to juggle a fulltime job with writing projects, Wittum says that staying active in her concentration area and experimenting with new markets means that she can better serve her students. "When a student writer passes through my classes, I'm able to help him or her by sharing my experiences and portfolios. I have concrete examples and can tell students what to expect in working with publications and editors."