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The Path of A Professional Writer:
SAAS Grads Write In

Photo of Seattle Academy Alumni Gabe Greschler 14 Journalist Reporting

Right: Photo of reporting journalist Gabe Greschler '14 

Written By: Gena Wynkoop, Editorial Content Manager

In a society where the value of an English major is often underestimated, three Seattle Academy alums stand as a testament to the incredible career opportunities that unfold for proficient and self-reliant writers. Whether it be in journalism, podcast production, or working as a features writer, meet the SAAS alumni who have taken three different paths, blazed their own trails, and bust any myth about a writer’s professional life.

Alessandra (Allie) Wollner ’06: Crafting Communications for Burning Man

Photo of Allie at Burning Man

“To all the aspiring or potential English majors out there, there’s a common misconception that an English major won’t lead to viable career opportunities,” said Alessandra (Allie) Wollner ’06. “This notion is entirely untrue. There is a consistent demand for proficient and self-reliant writers in various professional fields.” 

Allie is no stranger to the various professional fields she mentions. She has worked in many interesting storytelling and multimedia spaces over the years, but now, she’s working for the Man…Burning Man, that is. “I work on internal communications for Burning Man. With the constant fluctuation of employees from 160 full-time to 15,000 volunteers at the event, those people need to talk to each other and be coordinated.” 

Allie’s path to communications was easy; she always felt an intrinsic motivation to write, which she explored during her time at Seattle Academy. “My love for writing was bolstered at SAAS,” Allie said. “It was always something I was drawn to and knew was a strength.”

“American Studies with Rob Phillips and Joe Puggelli stands out to me. I know that what I learned in that class was a pivotal experience in my education, pushing me to dig deep and express myself skillfully. I felt so nurtured by my teachers and was able to develop and cultivate the skills that I already had. I think a unique outlier at SAAS is how much mentorship teachers give students.”

After Seattle Academy, Allie went to Brown University, where she got her bachelor's in English and Creative Nonfiction, and eventually went to The Ohio State University for her MFA. Allie wanted creative freedom and took a stab at copywriting and journalism work but found that the writer's life was “too solitary” for her. “I’m really social, so that’s what led me to podcasting.”

In 2016, one of Allie’s mentors suggested podcasting. At that time, the medium was having a sort of renaissance, emerging as a popular platform for storytellers to tell great stories. “It was a time when that market was flourishing and burgeoning, and people had the freedom to figure out where the possibilities ended. I taught myself how to edit audio and parlayed those skills as a storyteller into podcasting. It was gratifying because nonfiction storytelling is a big part of podcasting.”

Allie worked as the Senior Producer for Wonder Media Network on a show called “I Was Never There” which made The New York Times “Best Podcasts List of 2022.” 

As the podcast market saturated, Allie found herself searching for work that wasn’t necessarily available anymore. With a lack of full-time positions and companies tightening their belts because of advertising limits, Allie needed to explore her options. In her search, she saw a job listing for an Internal Communications Manager for Burning Man.

“I found the Burning Man job listing, and honestly, my first reaction was, ‘Oh, no way, I’m already way too deep with Burning Man and it shouldn’t take one more second of my life,’ but the more I read about it, the more I started noticing that I really did care about it as I was writing my cover letter.”

Allie has been a “burner” since 2011 and has been involved in really rad ways, having led a camp called Milk + Honey that offered a Kabbalat Shabbat service at Sundown on the Friday night of the event with a sit-down meal for over 1,000 attendees. “I was 23 when I started going,” Allie shared. “That is kind of the trellis on which my development and life have grown, so I can’t say it changed my life, but I can say it really has shaped my life.” 

But in reflecting on her English degree and where it's taken her, she sees the value of good writers across many markets, as demonstrated by her professional Rolodex. “My experience has shown me that you can go back and forth across the threshold between media; first storytelling like podcasting and journalism, and then storytelling that's organizational. Strategic storytelling for organizations and companies, or brand work, or copyediting–it’s not as black and white as one thinks.”

Her advice for students is to go for it–there is a need for writers everywhere.

“I’ve seen teams that don’t have that person who has strong writing skills, and they have to outsource some essential functions because they don’t feel like they have someone who can properly complete that task. It’s not a dead-end career or something that’s a fruitless pursuit,” said Allie. “Pursue work that you can move between. There are no hard and fast boundaries in this industry.”

Gabriel (Gabe) Greschler ’14: Local News Journalist Reporting on San Jose City Hall

Right: Photo of reporting journalist Gabe Greschler '14 

Gabe Greschler remembers finding a love for writing at Seattle Academy, but it wasn’t in any one class or any one assignment. It was in the rigorous essay writing, the creative writing, and poetry classes that he realized he had a knack for words.

“I have to shout out Tom Hajduk. I learned so much from him when it comes to writing. I wrote tons of essays in that class, which definitely started my journey and sparked a love of writing,” recalls Gabe. “Barton Truscott was another teacher I loved and wrote extensively for. I took a poetry class with Lauri Connor that also got my creative gears going. I thought, ‘I love writing, this is so much fun.’”

That love persisted after SAAS as he explored different classes but took a liking to journalism quickly. He worked on his college paper, The San Francisco Foghorn, at the University of San Francisco, and shortly after graduation, he was hired as an Editorial Assistant for the Jewish News of Northern California. It was there that Gabe really honed his reporting skills, eventually moving up to a staff writer. That chapter of his career then led him to San Jose Mercury News, where he currently reports and covers a spectrum of topics.

“I started off as the Santa Clara County reporter, reporting on COVID and the tech industry. Obviously, housing and homelessness are huge issues in California with the exorbitant housing and rent prices. Then, about a year ago, I had the opportunity to step into the San Jose City Hall reporter role,” said Gabe.

His day-to-day job is to cover the ten council members who represent San Jose residents and the Mayor, Matt Mahan. With that comes reporting on homelessness and housing crises, which has become his editorial “beat.” 

Only a few years into his career, he still loves the art of journalism. Although he had dreams that most budding journalists do, like writing for the New York Times or the Washington Post, Gabe has come to appreciate the nature of local reporting and being that voice for those in the community that he lives and works in.

“The daily news environment is super fast-paced, and it has taught me how to formulate stories quickly and talk to all sorts of people–politicians, advocates, and everyday community members.”

“The adrenaline of a good story is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before–I love it. When you have a good scoop, and you’re trying to get the story out, it’s just an amazing rush. It doesn’t happen often, but I cherish those moments when it does,” said Gabe.

Gabe likens being a journalist to “being enrolled in free school.” 

“I get to meet and talk to a lot of different types of people. I learn so many interesting things just in conversation with folks. One day, I’m speaking with a professor who has spent decades steeped in housing laws in California, and the next, I’m speaking to a researcher who is running clinical trials on psychedelics.”

Lauren Larson ’08: Freelance Freedom & Mastering the Art of Celebrity Profiles

Left to Right: Lauren Larson '08 on stage with singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran

One of the major perks of having a creative career is the abundance of freelance work, which Seattle Academy alumni Lauren Larson has masterfully navigated. Lauren attended SAAS for Middle and High School, and having watched a parent with a successful career as a writer, she knew that was always an option. “I have always liked to write,” recalls Lauren. “My father was also a writer, so I had it in the back of my head that it would be a great job to have.”

Like Allie, Lauren recalls American Studies as a catalyst for her greater development as a writer. “During American Studies, I started to feel like I transformed from a creative writer to being skilled at building an argument with my writing and pulling those threads together in an interesting way. I know that my passion for writing clicked in high school and in American Studies in particular.”

By the time she was studying at the University of Chicago, Lauren felt well prepared. “The lessons from American Studies were similar to the ones I took in college–it made the assignments feel easier because they were familiar to me.”

She graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Anthropology and Slavic Languages and Literature, moved back to Seattle to work for an internet marketing company in the Smith Tower, and decided to head back to the Windy City to get a graduate degree in Journalism.

“That was enough momentum to get me going, and I got an internship at Chicago Magazine,” said Lauren. “Then I moved to New York and got hired on at GQ Magazine. I started out at the baby level as an editorial assistant, which was a mix of administrative work and transcription. I had to be super aggressive about grabbing any little assignment.”

Over the five years of her time at GQ, Lauren got more and more stories, covering stories from lifestyle to entertainment, like Saturday Night Live recaps or updates on people in the industry. “The interviews just started getting bigger and bigger, and then all of a sudden, I’m doing a cover story. Then it becomes your life.”

Lauren had a big, big A-List celebrity as her first cover piece—no pressure…

“My first cover story was Chris Hemsworth,” Lauren smiles. “I was too nervous even to be starstruck. I just wanted a good story. But my bread and butter now is celebrity profiles. I really enjoy doing them–it hasn’t stopped feeling super cool.”

Lauren has met and interviewed many a-listers, one of whom was her personal hero, Joan Cusack. “My favorite piece was on Joan Cusack, who I just idolize. The story was about how she owns a tchotchke shop in Chicago with weird little items. I’ve never aligned with someone so much. I recommend meeting your heroes if Joan Cusack is your hero,” laughs Lauren.

She recently relocated to Austin, Texas, where she still freelance writes for GQ Magazine, but she also has picked up work with Texas Monthly, which is just slightly different from the glitz and glam celebrity features.

“I write a lot about livestock,” smiles Lauren. “Just fun and silly livestock stories about miniature cows and how goats are being used in urban settings. I wrote a big story for them about feral hogs last year.”

Freelancing offers variety and so much personal freedom: working when you feel like it or when inspiration strikes–you can also pick and choose which assignments you accept.

“I was always interested in freelancing. I think there are wonderful staff writer jobs, but I don’t think writing brains work that way. For some staff writing positions, it’s covering one beat every day, and [for creatives, that can be tough]. I have a cadence where sometimes it’s intense, and sometimes I will have a week off. Financially, there are surprises, which is a huge downside. There’s really no true stability,” explains Lauren. 

Lauren recently felt the pangs of those financial uncertainties, especially during the recent SAG writer's strike. “I couldn’t get any work because celebrities couldn’t give interviews. I lost about $20,000 in income during that time. You have to be prepared financially for those types of challenges.”

But with a little preparation and an understanding that those tough times are just part of the gig, Lauren wouldn’t have it any other way. “The day-to-day of freelancing is unrivaled. I get to head out, drive around Texas, talk to people, or fly to LA and engage with cool and charismatic characters,” smiles Lauren. “It’s not too bad.”