You got your degree in what?!

degree-225x300.pngI would get asked that question a lot, in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was an actual question: not everyone knows you can get degrees in journalism and publishing, I learned. But most of the time, it was asked with a slight tilt of the head, furrowed eyebrows and a tinge of sarcasm. Yes, I got a degree in journalism and then attended graduate school and left with an MA in Writing and Publishing. So, what? That was often times my response, but in a more cheerful manner, of course.

 

In college I had big dreams of working at a glossy magazine, or with ink-stained hands at a newspaper, bound for the life of a starving writer. I had to hold back from subscribing to print publications for fear that I would over crowd my already troublesome coffee table with colored pages of travel destinations I could never afford, how-to articles and the ever-popular The New Yorker. Even gifts to my parents were succumbed to my obsession with print: for more than one occasion they received newspaper subscriptions on their doorstep.

But hey, print wasn’t dying, I would tell myself in school as I sat listing to my professor talk about new-age technologies that were changing the way people received their news. However, I knew the truth that my high hopes and aspirations may never reach the door. I realized this right around the time I fell in love with a not-always-glamorous, but extremely rewarding sector called: non-profit.

In college, I interned with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and found my way to a summer job with their non-profit arm, Windows of Opportunity. I had originally started in the CHA’s Grants Administration Department, not knowing anything, but bright-eyed and in awe of such work. Soon after visiting one of the CHA’s summer programs, surrounded by youth who were hungry for opportunities outside of their collapsing public housing developments, I had a change of heart-and mind.

I was drawn to the work of those at the non-profit who took me in, showed me their day-to-day jobs and how they were making an honest, true difference in the lives of young people. By this time, I had graduated and made my way onto my Master’s program, still following my first passion of writing. But something shifted in me; something became clear that I hadn’t realized before. I loved writing, I loved telling people’s stories, but now I wanted to make an even bigger difference. Now, I wanted to learn more about this realm called non-profit.

After interning at the CHA, I kept on with graduate school, engrossed in intimate journalism and story telling techniques. When finished though, I had made the shift from wanting to hole myself up in my apartment, writing query letters to magazine editors lofting about my story ideas, to a 45-year-old youth organization called BUILD. I was in their development department, a member of a small team, but instantly fell in love with not only my work, but also the environment. The energy that the youth brought was contagious. How had I not discovered this type of work sooner?

The development department was a good fit for me, too. I was worried that my five years of college and graduate school (and extensive student loans) wouldn’t mesh with the non-profit world. But I was wrong. My writing and journalism skills carried over into my everyday work: I assisted with grant writing and editing, loaned my interviewing techniques to talking to youth for the newsletter and quickly caught onto the lingo that was non-profit.

“You work at a non-profit; what’s that? Are you even getting paid?!”

These are the questions I started getting asked after I began work at BUILD and now at Youth in Focus here in Seattle. Only this time, I smile broadly and shake my head with the steady yes. I couldn’t be happier serving others; it’s more rewarding that I ever thought was possible with a career. And I can honestly say I love my job and going to work every day.

Sure, a lot of peers that I’ve met along the way have degrees in non-profit management, organizational leadership and public policy. But I’ve never questioned my educational journey. I am proud that I followed my passion for writing and storytelling through college and then onto graduate school. I wouldn’t change my choices for anything. And now, as I’ve settled into a position where I feel completely at home, I’m appreciated and applauded for my educational choices and use skills I learned in the classroom every day.

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