"Lean into people and relationships," advised Vianna Newman Dennis (BA '15, Italian and Individualized Major) when asked how to look for jobs after graduation. Newman Dennis was one of four BA alumni who spoke at a French and Italian career night November 10, 2020 to over 130 students interested in the Department's programs. The event, hosted in collaboration with the Walter Center for Career Achievement via Zoom, was moderated by College of Arts and Sciences advisor Peter Giordano.
Students explore career options
Newman Dennis herself held curatorial internships at Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian museum of design in New York City, and at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC before starting a PhD program in art history at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she is currently a student. She was joined on the alumni panel by Halley Rose Meslin (BA '18, French and Environmental & Sustainability Studies), who is currently a public relations and communications specialist at Fetzer Vineyard in the San Francisco Bay area; Devynn Barnes (BA '17, French and Journalism), who works as an Assistant Account Executive at Momentum Communications in New York City; and Freddie Cheng Shi (BA '16, Italian and Math), a Quantitative Strategist at Guardian Life, also in NYC.
Professor Colleen Ryan, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Italian, gave introductory remarks reflecting on her own life path in studying first French and then Italian, and then building a career in Italian Studies. In addition to the "hard skills" of learning a new language, she reminded the students that studying French or Italian leads to "ever-more effective communication, from grammar and syntax and awareness of formal and informal situations and registers, to the ability to negotiate meaning." The "soft skills" she mentioned, such as communication, self-confidence, and problem-solving, were reflected in the subsequent discussion with the alumni panelists.
"You're spending all this time, really, analyzing grammar and sentences, but also how to get a message across," said Meslin when asked how her French studies prepared her for her current job in public relations. Even analyzing poetry, she said, helps build communication skills that are useful in the business world. She added that knowing French is very useful for work in the wine industry.
Shi and Newman Dennis both spoke about their experiences giving presentations in their advanced Italian classes at IU, and how this prepared them well for future jobs and graduate study. Shi, who also holds a masters degree in Computational Finance from Carnegie Mellon, said the experience helped give him the confidence to deliver analytical results in his profession. He said a lot of traders have a background in foreign languages.
When asked about how she decided what to do after graduation, Barnes spoke about coming across a Peace Corps information session while working at an internship with the French Embassy in DC the summer before her senior year. She went to the session and decided right there she wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer. After two years in Togo (West Africa), she came back to the States and started looking for jobs online. But online job boards were "like throwing darts," so she agreed with Newman Dennis that a personal approach is better. In her case, a direct email inquiry landed her an interview, and then a job, with a communications company that works with nonprofit agencies.
Although she did find her first job after IU via an online jobs board, Meslin agreed that human connections are key. "If you are being authentic about your interests, other people are going to recognize that and give you opportunities," she said. Shi agreed, saying that an Italian degree "is kind of like a shiny point for you to find a job if your job is not related to Italian." The person who interviewed him at Guardian Life noted that his résumé gained attention because of the Italian BA in addition to Shi's qualifications in finance.
At the end of the event, Giordano asked the panelists what advice they would give to undergraduate students today. Shi encouraged students to respect their own decisions. Meslin and Barnes both spoke about being open to a variety of opportunities. Follow what you are interested in, advised Meslin, and you'll find a job that resonates with you. Dennis Newman added that it's important to be patient with yourself, noting that students don't have to figure everything out right away. She also came full circle back to Ryan's introduction emphasizing the many skills gained through the study of French or Italian: "You end up with skills you would not have anticipated."