Graduating from the School of Communication: what's next?

June 10, 2011

More than 300 students comprise the School of Communication Class of 2011. They’ll march across the Pick-Staiger stage on June 18, collect their diplomas, shake the hands of Dean Barbara O’Keefe and Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro—and then scatter to all corners of the world. What will they be up to? A few of our students shared their plans.

Matthew Litwiller is going to Disneyland! The radio/television/film major will spend a year working in the Walt Disney StudioRotational program in Burbank California; he is one of four candidates selected from the internship class of summer 2010. He will rotate between several different departments in the studio, possibilities including Production Technology, International Marketing, Synergy, and Business Development. 

"I'm really excited to be in a situation where I'll be able to explore many of my interests rather than having to choose one," Litwiller said. "Being able to work in multiple departments and observe various career paths will be a great experience. Hopefully it will give me a better idea of where I want to go next."

Litwiller said working and spending time with his peers in the School of Communication prepared him for this opportunity. "From working on films, to serving on exec boards, to launching companies; the amount of collaboration and opportunities on this campus is astounding," he said. "It is fantastic being part of a community that is full of so much creativity and talent."

Litwiller’s varied learning experiences have allowed him to diversify his education, exploring multiple disciplines.

"I think that diversity will really help me with this new job and aided me in getting it," he said. "I would encourage others to take advantage of all the learning opportunities they have here at Northwestern and to really venture outside of their majors whenever possible."

Shira DeCovnick is working in education reform. The communication studies major wants to work in the Chicago area for a couple of years and then pursue a master’s degree in social policy.

DeCovnick’s senior year at Northwestern is going to be a tough one to top. This year, she earned a National Championship in impromptu speaking, one of the three national champ titles the Northwestern Speech Team took in the 2011 National Forensic Association Tournament. Impromptu speaking requires competitors to give a six-minute speech after only one minute of preparation.

DeCovnick joined the speech team at the end of her sophomore year, but didn’t do as well as she would have liked. "My junior year I came back with a bit of a vengeance. Although love of public speaking and a desire to compete at something new originally inspired me to join, I stayed and kept working because I loved the team, bonded with the group, and wanted the incoming freshman class my junior and senior year to have as great an experience as I did."

The big win came as a surprise. "When I was giving the final speech at Nationals this year, I don't think it crossed my mind once that I was going to win— I was focused on giving a ‘last’ speech that my team (who was watching) and I could be proud of."

Cresence Birder is going to Teach for America. The dance major is heading to Miami right after graduation for induction into TFA, after which she will spend five weeks of intensive training in Philadelphia. Then it’s back to Miami to spend the school year teaching at a to-be-determined school. Birder will teach English classes to grades 6 through 12.

"I will be serving Miami for two years with other corps members to help close the achievement gap in one of the nation's largest cities," Birder said. "This is the goal of TFA—closing the achievement gap- through hiring teachers that are leaders."

Birder always had working for Teach for America as a possibility in her mind, and when she was specifically recruited by TFA, she was even more interested.

"I am excited about so many things," Birder said. "I'm excited to show students that school can be fun and life-changing, and encourage them to become high achievers. It is my goal that my students not only learn how to think, read, write, and communicate, but also to foster a love for these things."

Birder has never taught before, so while she’s a little nervous, she knows her experience at Northwestern has her well prepared.

"The skills I've gained in all of my classes—reading, writing, communicating, reading people, respecting others, time management, flexibility—will undoubtedly come in handy as I navigate the world of a high school teacher," she said. "The dance program specifically has given me the time and space to grow into my own voice and value system so that I am confident in who I am and what I am capable of. Being in continual dialogue with faculty here, as well as students, has trained me to speak, listen, and think critically and quickly. Northwestern is demanding and rigorous in every respect, but the dance program —and the School of Communication—challenges students, in my opinion, even further than in other departments."

Marissa Konstadt is heading Down Under. With a one-way ticket to Sydney, Australia, and a visa that will allow her to live and work in the country for a year, the theatre major doesn’t know her plans beyond that, but she’s excited for the opportunities ahead, living in a country where she has many friends she met working at a sleep away camp that hires a lot of international staff.

"I know this situation is temporary in terms of long-term planning, but at some point I realized that I am 22 and I am not sure what type of long term career I want to hold, so while I am still testing the waters and trying new things (and unattached), I figured I might as well do it in a place I have always wanted to go to, see, and explore," Konstadt said.

Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, hiking through the Outback, and learning to surf are just a few things on Konstadt’s to-do list while in Australia.

"By the time my Australian visa expires, I will hopefully have saved enough to continue travelling that side of the world," she said. "My Australian friends have told me over and over again that the hot vacation spots are in Cambodia and Thailand...have been doing research on a few programs in New Zealand that will pay to extend my visa if I work on their farm."

Konstadt credits the School of Communication with allowing her to complete the major she’s passionate about while still having room in her schedule to explore other topics of study.

"I have loved every analytical theatre course, every brilliant professor, and every skill-development class I have taken, but I have also been able to take introductory courses in political science, international relations, physics, macro and micro economics, and an array of other random interests that have nothing to do with theatre," she said. "It is this combination of dabbling with goal-oriented study that has best prepared me for the type of life I want to have—both in Australia and whatever else ensues." 

Anakin Morris is interning at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The performance studies major graduated in December and has been working in the Performing Arts for Everyone department, the team that runs all of the free programming in and around the Center including the Millennium Stage, a daily free performance series.

Morris facilitates communication between artists and the tech and press folks that help their performances happen, making the day-of-show program playbills, and once or twice a week, is the person on-the-ground and the main contact for the show itself, acting as the house manager and sometimes stage manager.

"I’d been going to the Center as a kid for as long as I can remember, since I grew up about three hours east of D.C.," Morris said. "I got a tip-off from a professor that they were looking for spring interns, and I sent in an application."
At the beginning of the internship, Morris said he was most excited about the "intersection of arts management and technical theatre, where making a new show every night intersects with the planning and administrative work of making a new show every night manageable." 

Morris credits what he knows about how professional theatre works with his experience in the student theatre community StuCo, and specifically the board he was on for all four years of college, Lovers & Madmen.

"The world of StuCo functions as a real microcosm of the professional Chicago theatre world, which made the transition much easier," he said.

Kruti Parikh is working at Evanston Hospital. The human communication sciences major has been hired as a clinical research coordinator in the department of anesthesiology. Her job entails collecting data from patients for clinical studies specific to the advancement of anesthesiology. She will help design the studies, consent patients for participation, monitor patients during and after surgery, and compile and analyze the results.

"This job is designed for students who are looking to take a year off between graduation and medical school," Parikh said. "My good friend currently has this job, and she was asked to recommend someone who would be a good fit for the position."

Parikh said she is excited to work closely with physicians and patients, preparing her for a future career in medicine.

"I hope that this experience will be an opportunity for me to see the clinical side of medicine," she said. "With this job, I will be able to observe surgeries, shadow physicians, and closely interact with patients. I’m also excited to contribute to research by writing papers and traveling to conferences to present the studies from Evanston Hospital."

Parikh’s classes in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders have well prepared her on the importance of client/patient care.

"I have had the opportunity to observe speech pathologists and audiologists working with clients," she said. "We are taught about general conduct while interacting with clients, respecting the client’s privacy, and being sensitive to their needs. I will use the skills I have gained in my CSD classes while working with patients at Evanston Hospital. Additionally, my experience in Professor Chuck Larson’s Speech Physiology Lab has helped prepare me for this opportunity. In the lab, I learned valuable lessons about the nature of research such as reading and writing scientific papers, basic research techniques, and designing and executing a study from start to finish. My School of Communication background has definitely provided me with the right tools to succeed during the next chapter of my academic life."

Dan Carlyon is heading to New York City. The theatre major is going to be a sound board operator for The Talls by Anna Kerrigan at Second Stage Uptown. "That job starts July 27th and will last through September; after that, I plan to return to Chicago and seek employment here," Carlyon said.
Many Northwestern theatre grads head to New York for stage auditions and to Los Angeles for screen auditions.

Carlyon’s opportunity is an example of a past internship paying off—Carlyon was a production intern for Second Stage two summers ago, in 2009, and was hired to be a board op for them last summer. They contacted him about returning again this year.

"I am excited to have a set gig, and a place that I can return," he said. "For someone in theatre, having a semi-guarantee of employment, even for part of the year, is a very welcome thing."

To prepare for this role and future roles, Carlyon has been a sound designer, composer, engineer, board op, and technician for dozens of Northwestern theatre productions—mostly student theatre, but also several Theatre and Interpretation Center shows. "I also took many sound design classes, in both the theatre and radio/television/film departments," he said. "This winter, I interned in the sound department at Chicago Shakespeare Theater."

Justin Barbin is and will continue to be a jack of all trades. The communication studies major is starting a web site to showcase his photography, working as a freelance photographer, and starting a style, fashion, and entertainment blog that will showcase Chicago street style and the entertainment scene.

"Besides photography, I'm pursuing a position in the advertising and marketing field, and I'm currently scheduling various interviews for companies and firms in the Chicagoland area," Barbin said. "Achieving these opportunities has really been fostered by my remarkable experiences here at Northwestern. I've been photographing my life experiences since elementary school and only in college was I made aware of how I am able to take this passion of mine and make a career out of it. The encouragement from the faculty and my peers to pursue my photography on a professional level has truly been the catalyst for me to seriously consider freelance photography as a job."

Barbin said he feels fortunate to be able to stay close to his alma mater and strengthen his connections with those who have graduated from the same university.

"Having been highly involved in the theatre department since my freshman year has given me the confidence to continue to do what I love and to continue to surround myself with what I love to do— advancing the pursuit of the arts," he said. "The welcoming theatre community provided limitless opportunities for one to share in the theatrical arts. I focused on acting and photography (photographing numerous events and productions). Communication and Business Institutions Program classes helped develop my interests and skills in the marketing field. I took many meaningful courses that fostered skills and gave me direct connections to professionals in the field."

George Bajalia is headed for Morocco. The communication studies major will be doing research on a Fulbright grant, working with various theatre companies and performing arts groups throughout Morocco, studying how they appropriate and use American stereotypes of Morocco in their own work.

"Hopefully I be able to work on some productions as well," he said.

Bajalia applied for the grant through the Office of Fellowships on campus.

"I'm most excited for the chance to learn about and learn from the Moroccan arts community," he said. "Academically, it's really interesting to me because there are so many transnational influences in contemporary Moroccan culture, and I'm excited to study the effect of such influences in depth. Artistically, I'm really excited to learn from the incredibly diverse artists that are creating work in Morocco."

Bajalia said Professor Jessica Greenberg’s Media and Public Across Cultures class was helpful in starting to think about how cultural texts move across borders, which is something he’ll be looking at next fall.

"I actually traveled to Morocco last summer on a research grant from the School of Communication to begin this sort of work, specifically in preparation for my senior honors thesis, which I've been working on this year," Bajalia said. "I had to pitch this project specifically for my Fulbright application, and working with Associate Dean of Research Jane Rankin last year on my Undergraduate Research Grant application was really helpful in articulating what I might want to research."

Bajalia has also worked on a few plays at Northwestern, directing three of his own productions.

"The Theatre and Interpretation Center sponsors undergraduate lab shows—two of my shows, Doubt and Three Sisters were lab shows—and having that sort of creative mentorship across the school has really been important in my growth as an artist as well," Bajalia said. "I think after working in these environments, I'm really well prepared to enter into the arts community from a variety of angles, and to bring these lessons into my academic work as well."

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