February 11, 2020

SPOTLIGHT | Not All Business: Alumna Sonya Chyu ‘18 Combines Commerce, Chimes and Creative Writing

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From https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D6Xhle2UdKHE&psig=AOvVaw3pYH2fxHGA4_CwvILAUOyj&ust=1581534604206000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCKD3weiZyucCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAK

In a world of increasing specialization, students of the University often feel pressured to narrow their paths of study. Business major, English minor and chimesmaster Sonya Chyu ‘18 was a joyful exception to this rule. When she transferred from the University of Texas at Austin, her acceptance to the University “was contingent upon studying Applied Economics and Management. I was always interested in the people-centric nature of business, especially marketing, and I wanted to merge qualitative and quantitative skills during my time at Cornell.”

This merger happened sooner than she anticipated. Chyu said that she “stumbled upon the [creative writing] minor in a meeting with my faculty advisor. Before the meeting, I was considering another business concentration…But my advisor asked what I would study if it were entirely up to me, and I left with the creative writing minor form in hand.”

The connections between these two seemingly disparate fields quickly became clear. Chyu cites a class on consumer behavior as the primary link. “It was the first time I got to see the framework behind marketing,” said Chyu. “ Business is all about psychology, and it shows what generates need. I was also taking an intermediate creative writing course…the classes started merging together in a symbiotic way. Similar patterns emerged when I began to study marketing. As I saw myself more and more as a writer, throughout my career at Cornell, it was easier to draw from any sort of class. Even if it was hard, or numbers-based, I could use it as a framework or case study and then find a useful thread.”

Chyu said that training in two different fields also helps one build a more useful mindset. “My professors always told me it [writing] was ‘sensory training.’ Business trains you to think differently, but writing teaches you how to see differently.”

Delving into more than one discipline proved to be useful in the professional world, as well. Chyu said that when she applied for her current position as Account Manager at Procter & Gamble, her writing background “allowed employers to see me as a whole person. They didn’t hire me because I’m a writer, but they liked seeing that I had other interests. If you have a major and minor or double major in entirely different fields, it will connect you to a lot of different resources.” 

But Chyu did not stop at creative writing. She also became a chimesmaster and said that “a strong musical background…as a chimesmaster at Cornell definitely helped round out the academic experience.”

In her current line of work, Chyu cites the importance of her creative background. Creative writing sharpens her business savvy, and vice versa: “Having a business background allows me to think about and plan stories in logical ways, even though I tend toward magical realism. I also see writing impact my business life…what we call business writing, the principle is brevity, succinctness, efficiency …But all writing is about capturing the attention of a colleague, consumer, or reader. My writing varies per medium because I try to convey different things. With my role now at P & G, having a fiction writing background gives me an advantage because I am able to create stories out of data. People buy into stories.”

Chyu has won awards for her short stories and is currently working on her first novel. “As of December, I have a few short stories submitted for review and hopeful publication in literary journals. Right now, I am focused on my long-term goal of finishing the novel that began as an independent study project. I definitely rushed it and took a break for a while…but now I’m back on it, easing into it, ‘writing around’ it. For instance, I will borrow a specific plot, scene, character, from the novel, and write about that. I have a draft but am still making many changes. Short works are less stressful but still a productive way to world-build.”

To aspiring writers, Chyu said, “Anyone can be a writer. I did not think that originally, but studying at Cornell, with the amazing English faculty, made me see that anyone can learn to see the world as an artist…we can train ourselves to notice the magic in the mundane.”

However, this training takes work. “It takes practice to be able to write at a certain caliber,” said Chyu. “Time is the biggest constraint…I was fortunate to be able to structure classes in order to write and develop the skill. It is not easy, and you have to be committed. People like to say that writers are ‘talented’…but they overlook the hours that are put into it.”

For students who are considering unconventional paths of study, Chyu recommends that “if you have a class you want to take, take it as soon as possible. Do not wait. If I had waited until senior year to take creative writing, I would not have had such rich experiences with it.”

When asked to summarize her experience at the University, Chyu reported that “My story happened at the intersection of business, music, English…it shaped how I think and how I see the world.”