Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this monthly series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: "Where are they now?".
Mariela Fernandez graduated from Illinois in 2015 with a PhD in Recreation, Sport and Tourism and a minor from the Latina/Latino Studies Program. Now, she works at Clemson University as an Assistant Professor. Her research examines why lack of access to park and recreation resources occurs in Latino communities, what the health implications of this are, and what strategies can be used to address the problem.
What was the transition from graduate school to a faculty career like for you?
I received an excellent education at Illinois so the transition was rather seamless as it relates to my research and service. I was well-equipped to establish collaborative teams, apply for grants, and implement and execute my research projects. I do enjoy my new role as mentor to graduate students.
What is the most interesting, rewarding, and/or challenging aspect of your job?
As an Assistant Professor, one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is feeling like I make a difference in people’s lives. I ensure that my research has real-world implications to enhance community resources and improve residents’ lives. On-campus I serve on several committees targeting diversity to enhance the campus climate to ensure that all students feel welcome.
What has been the most valuable transferable skill you gained from graduate school?
The most valuable transferable skill gained from graduate school was working in teams. I cannot be successful without this skill, and I am glad I practiced team building, boundary setting, and communication skills as a graduate student.
What experiences made an impact on your career choices?
My career choices were impacted by some of the community members I worked with for my dissertation. They encouraged me to shed light on the challenges affecting Latino residents and to speak up about them. In doing so, they also stressed the importance of educating others about structural inequities.
What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?
Take advantage of resources at Illinois as much as possible because you never know what resources you will have at your disposal at your next institution.
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This interview is part of the monthly Grad Life series called "Where Are They Now?" which chronicles the career paths of recent Univeristy of Illinois Graduate College alumni. This interview was conducted by Derek Attig. Derek is Assistant Director for Student Outreach in Graduate College Career Development. After earning a PhD in History here at Illinois, Derek worked in nonprofit communications and instructional development before joining the Career Development team. A devotee of libraries and all things peculiar, Derek is currently writing a book about bookmobiles.