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  • Where Are They Now?: Shantel Martinez

    Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: “Where are they now?”.

    Shantel Martinez graduated from the University of Illinois with a PhD in Communications & Media from the Institute of Communications Research in 2016 after earning an EdM in Educational Policy Studies in 2011. She currently works as the Assistant Director of the Otter Cross Cultural Center at California State University, Monterey Bay where she oversees the daily operations of the center.

    Could you describe what you do in your position at the Otter Cross Cultural Center?

    In my position, I oversee the Otter Cross Cultural Center, which includes supervising two full-time coordinators and seven student assistants. I manage our budget, develop program curriculum, build bridges with faculty and off-campus community leaders, participate with various campus and community committees that foster belongingness and social justice, develop relationships with alumni and current students, oversee grant applications, and much more. In my spare time I still publish and present at conferences. I feel like I get to straddle both Academic and Student Affairs due to my background and experiences.

    You worked as a graduate assistant at both La Casa Cultural Latina and the Women’s Resource Center. What did you get out of these experiences? Any memorable or impactful stories you might be willing to share?

    I truly enjoyed my time at both La Casa Cultural Latina and the Women’s Resource Center (WRC)! I absolutely loved working with the professional staff and learned so much from these positions. The ability to sit on committees, coordinate events and graduations, learn to strategically manage budgets, and foster relationships with off-campus organizations directly impacts my work to this day.

    I have so many positive memories from these positions, but one that always sticks out is working on the Feminist Film Festival and partnering with the Art Theatre to show the films there. While it was a struggle to get the University on board, the reward of partnering with the community and downtown Champaign was more than I originally thought it would be. Now the program is over eight years old and I feel so proud knowing that I helped start this event with the WRC.

    What was the transition from graduate school to a professional career like for you? Were there any surprises?

    For me, there were not too many surprises due to my experiences working in the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations at Illinois as well as observing the politics that occur in Academic Affairs. Nevertheless, what was most surprising was encountering how other campuses approach issues surrounding belongingness (which is also my research focus), social justice, retention of marginalized students, and collaborating with off-campus communities.

    Being an Ethnic Studies/Communication scholar and working in Student Affairs marks me as different, which is a great thing for multiple reasons: as an intersectional and interdisciplinary scholar, I view an issue from multiple perspectives before making a judgement call or identifying a solution; I build meaningful and authentic relationships with faculty due to my training and ability to empathize with their stressors; and I put into practice my research/ theoretical frameworks and get to see immediate change. Again, I attribute these skills to my time at Illinois, where I developed experiences in both student/academic affairs and took the time to explore different career options and forge my own path.

    What are some of your main responsibilities, and what does a normal day or week look like for you? Are there any skills/competencies that are particularly crucial to your work?

    One thing that I love the most about my position is that no day is the same. There are days where I am in back-to-back meetings all day, or others where I am working from a café doing strategic planning. And then there are days where we have impromptu dance/listening parties in the Center, I laugh non-stop with students, or help them in crisis. It truly is dynamic work. However, what is most needed to be successful in this position is the ability to build bridges and authentic relationships with others (students, faculty, administrators, alumni, community members), have experience with strategic planning, the ability to translate theory and put it into practice, build curriculum, as well as the confidence to stand up for social justice.

    While, the PhD allows me a seat at the table, it is my vast and varied experiences and ability to actively and empathetically listen to others’ needs that make me successful. Also, just because you have a PhD does not mean that you can automatically do this work—when I was interviewing people for coordinator positions in the Center, there were people who had PhDs but had no experience working beyond research or the classroom. Make sure that you can translate what you are doing for multiple audiences.

    What is the most interesting, rewarding, and/or challenging aspect of your job?

    There are so many things that I love about my position - one thing that I am most excited about is putting my research and theoretical framework into practice. From this, I get to take my research in new directions. I also love mentoring students and seeing them develop into scholars and professionals. That ability to plant a seed and see it grow is something that never gets old.

    What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?

    Don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Diversify your experience and make it what you want it to be, even if you feel like you might be letting down or disappointing your mentors. At the end of the day, this is your life and you need to do what makes you happy, not what makes others happy.


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    This interview was conducted by Mike Firmand, Assistant Director for Employer Outreach in the Graduate College. He works with employers to connect University of Illinois graduate students to new opportunities and promote the value of graduate education. He previously worked for the College of Business at Illinois State University and has held positions in insurance, marketing, banking, and retail and event management. Mike holds a B.S. in Recreation, Sport and Tourism from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Communication from Illinois State University.

  • Teaching and Performing to Find Her Voice

    This article is the first of a two-part series on students’ involvement in music and performances organized at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus. (Read the second part of the series here).

    The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is a hub for exquisite music, cultural performances, ballet performances, theater, opera and lively events. From performances by musical virtuosos, symphony orchestras, ensemble groups to events like PechaKucha Night and Noche de Baila- Krannert is bustling with performers and audience goers year-round! The Lyric Theater at Krannert brings colorful and vibrant pieces of opera from throughout the ages alive to the audience!

    One of Spring 2019’s major operas performed by an all-student cast at the Lyric Theater was The Rape of Lucretia. Molly Abrams played Lucia, one of the characters in this haunting piece composed by Benjamin Britten. Molly is a graduate student at Illinois who will finish her Master’s degree in Voice Performance and Literature this May. She is a soprano and has a great vocal range. She has performed as a soprano in several pieces at the Krannert Center during her time as a student at Illinois including Hansel & Gretel, A Grand Night for Singing by Lyric Theater at Allerton Mansion, Excerpts from Operatic literature and has also performed in outside works.

    Molly in Hansel & Gretel performing at The Lyric Theater of Illinois, Photographed by Darrell Hoemann


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    As a high school student studying voice; Molly wanted to be a music teacher and became appreciative of classical music but was not able to get enough opportunities to perform. At Illinois, under the tutelage of Yvonne Redman, she found those opportunities and more. 

    Molly chose to study at University of Illinois as it provided her the environment she needed to pursue a career as a performer and a music teacher someday with a studio of her own. Though the proximity to her family and the affordability of the Music program drew her to Illinois, it was the pedagogical atmosphere of a university rather than at a conservatory that sealed the deal for her.

    A day in the life of Molly is filled with usual classes in music as well as her language classes in French and German, involvement in ensemble pieces that need a lot of rehearsals, voice lessons from her teacher, voice coaching that she provides to her own students, rehearsals for special performances, working at the local church choir and daily singing practice. 

    Molly will be graduating this May 2019 and hopes to split her time between performing and teaching other students of music to find their voice and passion.


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    Sulagna Chakraborty is a third year PhD student pursuing the program in Infectious Diseases Epidemiology from the Department of Kinesiology & Community Health. She is a current member of SAGE. Her research is focused on vector borne diseases globally. She wants to combine her backgrounds in microbiology, social media, and public health towards a future career as both a chronic disease and infectious disease epidemiologist. She is an avid traveler and an amateur poet and writer, and she loves to sample different cuisines, dance, and make meaningful connections with people.

  • Staying Organized During a Job Search

    As anyone who has set foot in my office can attest, I am not a terrifically organized person. My desk is covered with drifts of paper, and I’ve never managed to use a planner for longer than a week.

    So when I started my first job search in grad school, I knew that I would need to work hard to impose order on myself and my search. And as a result of that work, I was able to avoid a lot of unnecessary frustration and mistakes. In my work advising grad students during their job searches, as well, I’ve seen over and over again how practically and psychologically important it can be to stay organized.

    The job search is a distinct organizational challenge. Looking for a job is a wildly stressful, complicated affair - especially when you’re also doing all of the stuff that can make grad school overwhelming on its own. All of a sudden, you have what amounts to a whole other complex, time-sucking job on top of wrapping up experiments, finishing your dissertation, grading your students’ work, serving on departmental committees and everything else you signed on for this semester.

    Staying organized during a job search can help you keep all of these priorities and responsibilities in balance. It can allow you to more easily keep in mind what the hiring organization cares about as you write applications and prep for interviews. It can help you waste less time on the fiddly administrative parts of looking for a job. And, most important, it can prevent you from taking yourself out of the running for a job through missed deadlines, weird typos or sending a cover letter to Etsy about how much you would love to work at Instagram.

    The main things you will need to organize during a job search are information and your time. In the rest of this post, I will offer some things to think about when developing an organizational approach in these areas. I’ll also offer some tips and examples based on my own experience and my work with thousands of grad students.

    Read Derek's tips in the original post on Inside Higher Education. 


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    Derek Attig is the Director of Career Development for the Graduate College. 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.