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What do you call a busy adult with masochistic tendencies? A student at CUNY SPS! Now that I have your attention… Hello! My name is Milan Fredricks and I am one of the newest masochists at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. If you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you a bit about me…

Nine years ago, I was pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree at CUNY Lehman College, having successfully completed three semesters. It was difficult because I was juggling work and family issues, but finishing my degree had always been a priority for me. Then, in 2008, everything came to a head. I became unemployed and those family issues imploded. My focus was shot and my fire was snuffed out. I missed lectures, didn’t show up for labs, and was generally “not all there” when it came to my classes. By the time mid-terms rolled around I had to admit to myself that this wasn’t working, and so I made the painful but necessary decision to drop out of Lehman.

But even then, in the midst of my unhappiness, I swore to myself “this is only temporary!” I figured that I would find another job quickly, work through my family drama and get back to school as quickly as possible. In hindsight, that was a bit naive of me. 2008 was the recession and the worst possible time to lose my job. For the next three and a half years, I experienced chronic unemployment, and the stress of constantly looking for work severely dampened that initial enthusiasm of returning to school. Worrying about my family, worrying about whether I would make rent that month, and suffering from insomnia and mild depression made school my last priority. I never forgot about the promise that I made to myself, but when faced with the possibility of homelessness and the stress of family turmoil, the importance of finishing my degree simply paled in comparison. Finishing my degree was out and basic survival was in.

Nine years later it’s hard to believe that I lost so much time. But the more time that passed, the easier it was to forget that promise. I think I was humbled by my bad experience and viewed finishing my degree as more of a luxury that I couldn’t afford. Even when things on the work front started to stabilize and the family stuff got resolved (somewhat), I still found it difficult to get back on track regarding my college career. It was fear more than anything else, now that I look back. I just didn’t want to take that risk. I was scared to rock the boat. But a few months ago, things changed for me. A light-bulb went on somewhere deep in the cob-webbed recesses of my brain and I decided to renew that promise to myself.

Today, I am a far cry from where I was nine years ago. My family and work circumstances have vastly improved. I am happily employed with an organization that I am proud to work for and 18 months ago I was promoted to a senior administrative position. In my new role, I get to work on projects that allow me to flex my creative muscles. Most notably is the website re-launch project that I managed and the marketing and branding initiative that a co-worker and I plan to propose. The more creative work I get to do, the more I’m pulled to the visual and the graphic. Design and communications have grown into a passion for me and I started teaching myself how to use creative tools, like the Adobe Creative Suite, in the hopes of improving my skills and broadening my repertoire. I am really interested in learning more about UI/UX design and I even enrolled in a course to learn more about full-stack web development! (Just enough to not embarrass myself.)

My educational journey has come full circle. The pain and shame I felt in abandoning my degree is lessened when I realize that, perhaps, that awful time was actually a blessing in disguise. I wasn’t as passionate about what I was doing back then as I should have been and that may be why I was able to walk away. I am now pursuing a degree that I am truly excited about. The CUNY SPS B.A. in Communication and Media degree will give me the foundation I need to jump-start the career I am falling in love with, one that emphasizes design.

But don’t think that I’m satisfied with just achieving my B.A. I plan to ride this new wave of energy and excitement all the way to my Master’s degree! I know that it will be hard. I mean, I’m only two courses into my first semester and I am still trying to shake off those cobwebs. But I’m getting there. That first step was definitely my hardest so everything else after that is within reach. A CUNY SPS degree is my gateway to the life that I want and the life that I deserve. Years of stagnation and regret have evolved into my renaissance age. With my degree and continued self-learning, I can see into my future. A future that has been nine years in the making.

Milan Fredricks is a born and bred New Yawker, a self-professed tech nerd, self-taught web and graphic design freak and lover of puppies and ice cream (Häagen-Dazs, none of that Turkey Hill garbage, and do not argue with her on that!). Her very large, immediate family drives her to the brink of insanity almost everyday but at least it gives her something to tell her therapist! Milan is currently enrolled in the Communication and Media bachelor’s degree program here at CUNY SPS.

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Matthew Conlin graduated from the Master’s in Disability Studies Program last night and was selected as the class of 2016’s Student Speaker. Below is his speech:

Thank you for granting me the honor to speak today. Writing this speech, I have looked to some of the most successful people in the world and their advice—their quotable wisdom. The internet has made this sort of research quite easy, you know, but rather than focusing, you end up watching Chewbacca Mom on YouTube. I thought maybe I would begin with a quote by a beloved icon: Audrey Hepburn, David Bowie, even J.K. Rowling. And then I realized that as loved as they are, I can safely say we’ve all heard those motivational quotes before. And, clearly, I am not an icon, I am a graduate. Just like you. So, instead I decided to speak today about us, and what we are going to accomplish from this point forward. Whether you’re receiving your Undergraduate or Graduate degree, you have a hopeful future. You have a chance to use your skills and your talents to make our world a better place. And who knows, maybe we will one day be as famous as the people we try to quote. But that is only if we listen to our hearts, and follow our goals all the way to the finish line. This is our time, our adventure, our journey.

Believing in oneself is the key to a better life, and to a better world. We all start somewhere. For that reason, I would like to share with you a bit of my background. When I completed my Undergraduate degree, the unemployment rate was up to about 9.4%. That was 2009. I eventually found work in the field of content marketing, and like most graduates in that year, I took whatever job I could find. As a millennial, I was lucky even to be employed. Fast forward a few years. While I still loved media, I was growing restless and knew I needed a change. I wanted my life to mean more than working to fill experience hours.

That’s where CUNY School of Professional Studies fit in. I sat in my first class, nervous because I hadn’t been a full-time student for a while. But everyone here was warm and welcoming. I was home. I found a field where I could give back to the community, and one that encouraged my dream of social justice. Here I found another family, as I would honesty call them, who supported me through every step with guidance, patience, and harsh, but useful criticism. And, yes, Professors, I am talking about you. I am also talking about my fellow students. Together we strive to be more. CUNY provides us that opportunity. It is our springboard, and we are the ones who seek to make a better future for ourselves, our loved ones, and our community.

Whether you were in Disability Studies—like me—or another, we are alike. You came here to achieve more. As a student, you have polished your knowledge and have learned about your field. Because of these new friendships, new mentors, and hard work, you are here today at this ceremony and ready for your next adventures.

And what do I mean by adventure? Well, let’s think about it. This graduation does not indicate that we know everything. Graduation signifies that we have progressed to the next level. It is about understanding that there is still more to learn. CUNY SPS has given us a strong foundation to hone our talents. No matter our age, we will learn from the world and give back to the world. What we do with our degrees from here on out is essential. Our careers, our choices, and our actions matter. Our adventures are really beginning now that we have the insight and groundwork we needed for the road ahead.

We were led here by our interest. Our pure intent and commitment paid off. We worked hard, and combatted exhaustion with tea and coffee, and an occasional nap or two. Professors and textbooks gave us the information we needed. Colleagues and friends gave us the encouragement we needed. All of these experiences were part of our academic adventures, including the frustration of setbacks and heart racing joy of accomplishments. It was our genuine devotion to our craft that got us this far and will keep us moving throughout our careers and lives.

Let’s use that motivation to enact change. Regardless of our professions and interests, we are all here to be the best versions of ourselves. Call me idealistic, but with our new degrees, we can use our talents to make an even brighter future for ourselves and our communities. So, let’s go shake things up! Congratulations, Class of 2016. Let our new adventures begin!

 

 

 

I used to work at an agency that helped unemployed adults get back to work.  Recently, I remembered a co-worker and I laughing uproariously with a client over a comment she made.

The client was trying to get a job at a well-known coffee shop.  She’d just come back from an interview and was telling us how ridiculously difficult the application process was.  She was frustrated and surprised because she was not looking for an upper management position.  She wanted to get a job behind the counter, making coffee and working the cash register.  Why was the employer being so demanding in terms of education, experience, and skills?  “It’s just coffee!” she exclaimed.

In this campaign season, much is being said about the income gap.  Less is said about employers imposing unreasonably high standards upon job applicants.  Employers forget that they’re just trying to hire a worker, not get married.

As you watch the candidates and come to a decision, it’s something to think about.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

Having recently been laid off, my world is a different place. Gone are the days of consistently imposed structure, office camaraderie and, most notably, a steady paycheck. My coworkers and I got the bad news right before the holidays; the small graphic design and branding studio we worked for was having trouble bringing in new business and could no longer afford our salaries. After 5 years I cleaned out my desk and said goodbye to people who were like family.

While visiting my actual family in Seattle for the holidays, I got the ball rolling: I applied for unemployment, got a bit of freelance graphic design work, and I volunteered to help a friend with a great startup with which she had begun working as CEO. A good start to staying afloat, making new connections and keeping my skills sharp, but the idea of looking for full time work was sincerely intimidating. For over a year I watched my incredibly qualified, ivy-league educated boyfriend (as well as other friends) struggle to find steady work; how could I possibly expect to find a job?

Even though I had been productive in Seattle, upon returning to NYC I felt disillusioned and disheartened. Usually coming back from visiting my family is a chance to dive back into my life and routine, but this time it felt as though I had neither of those things. The blank slate of my life was staring me in the face, and it was terrifying. I know enough people who have been laid off that everyone understands what I’ve been going through, and with empathy they encourage me to see this time as an opportunity to explore my career and myself. Yes, of course, an opportunity – I was just having a hard time seeing it.

Who do you turn to at a time like this? Luckily my alma mater, CUNY School of Professional Studies, has an excellent Career Services office. Shannon Gallo, the Career Services Director, and I recently met to go over my career objectives and she had some very helpful suggestions. First we explored what type of company I want to work for, what type of work I really want to be doing, and how to approach my job search with those parameters in mind.

It turns out that I want to do more meaningful work. As a marketing and design professional I want to promote a company or product that’s doing some good in the world, or at the very least not actively harming it (see my previous post about fast food marketing). Some people think marketing in and of itself is not a meaningful pursuit, but I always say that even institutions such as non-profits, hospitals and schools need to be marketed. So we decided I would stay in my field but target companies whose values and mission statements align with my own.

Shannon told me about some great job search websites specifically for the non-profit sector such as Idealist.org, NYNP.biz and JustMeans.com. I was concerned that I haven’t worked at non-profit before and that I might lack important experience. Shannon pointed out how in my cover letters I could discuss relevant coursework from my BA in Communications & Culture, to show my interest in and knowledge of issues often dealt with by non-profits such as social and civic reform, the diverse cultures in New York City, and socioeconomic issues in general.

Shannon also gave me some very helpful job search tips, like keeping track of all the jobs I apply for in a spreadsheet and making PDFs of job postings so I can revisit them later if necessary. We discussed improving my LinkedIn profile, becoming more active on the website in groups, and requesting recommendations from people with whom I’m already connected (Shawn Abraham recently wrote a great post about using LinkedIn). We talked about creating a schedule for my days and weeks, making sure I get in enough time to look for paid work to balance out the volunteer work I’m doing, to get out of the house on a regular basis, and even to try and have fun occasionally.

After speaking with Shannon, I feel like the terrifyingly blank slate of my life could in fact be seen as an opportunity to re-imagine a more meaningful and fulfilling career path for myself. Knowing how to better describe myself as a qualified candidate, I now feel more confident applying for jobs that I might actually want. I’m also very thankful that I can send Shannon drafts of cover letters and resumes and she’ll give me honest, informed feedback.

It’s wonderful that as students and alumni of CUNY SPS we have such a great Career Services office. You don’t need to be laid off or out of work to take advantage of this resource. If you’re unhappy in your career path, wondering how to put your SPS degree to use or just curious about your options don’t hesitate to contact Shannon Gallo at: shannon.gallo@mail.cuny.edu, 212.817.7166. My only regret is that I wish I had done it sooner.

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Rachel Smith is a marketing and design professional in New York City. She graduated from the SPS BA in Communications and Culture in 2009. Currently she is a founding member of the Alumni Relations Council and By Laws Task Force. Rachel loved the BA program which inspired her to work towards fostering community and collaboration among Alumni at SPS.