Ex Libris contributor Matt Adams recently interviewed MAE alumnus Carolyn Rudinsky. Carolyn graduated from DePaul in June 2015 and now works as a Communications Coordinator for Gads Hill Center, an educational non-profit based in Pilsen. Here, Carolyn offers her insights into what inspired her to pursue opportunities in the non-profit sector and how she leveraged her connections at DePaul to pursue a post-grad career.
Matt Adams: Tell me a bit about yourself. Are you a Chicago native? From where did you obtain your undergrad? What drove you to pursue your MAE at DePaul?
Carolyn Rudinsky: The term “Chicago native” is thorny for me: while born in the city of Chicago, I grew up in the western suburbs. I’m not sure I’ve earned the appellation, though I’m comfortable calling myself a Chicagoan now that I’ve lived in the city since 2011. I moved back after earning my B.A. in English with a minor in History from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY – another Catholic institution. Though I’m not religious, I appreciate the emphasis on liberal arts and service that both schools offered. Post-graduation I worked as an editor, then as an event producer, but felt there was something missing: I wanted to do work that was mission-driven in a way you don’t generally find in the private sector. I’ve always thought of teaching literature and writing as a potential career choice, and enjoyed my work as a writing tutor during my undergraduate years, so I decided to take the leap and go back to school for an M.A. in English at DePaul.
MA: You’ve said that you initially pursued an MAE in order to teach. During your time at DePaul that changed, what do you think drove that decision?
CR: When I began the MAE program, I wanted to teach English at the college level; I think many of us who enjoy school (and I know I’m not the only one who identifies with Hermione Granger) envision emulating our favorite teachers. Teaching is an intellectually stimulating career choice – if you can successfully maneuver the adjunct / non-tenure barrier that most who aspire to be professors now face. The low wages, long hours, lack of benefits and job security, and other drawbacks to non-tenure higher education teaching positions are well documented (NPR and Forbes published insightful articles about this phenomenon and its repercussions in 2015). The more I learned and thought about the realities I would face if I intended to teach higher ed, which would almost certainly involve an adjunct position, the more I began looking into other career options in which I would be able use my skills for a good cause while enjoying more job and financial security. Happily, the answer was staring me in the face: having volunteered with a number of nonprofits in Chicago, and joined the Associate Board of one, I knew of many local organizations that effect demonstrable good in their communities. Moreover, my position as a Graduate Assistant and Outreach & Community Relations Team Leader at DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) provided me the opportunity to engage with nonprofits and service work, which brought both insight into the sector as well as useful contacts. Once I started considering it, the idea took hold and I began my search for a position at a nonprofit that would utilize skills I already had such as writing/editing and community outreach.
CR: I’ll be truthful—the search for this position was grueling: I began my job search in earnest in March of 2015 and didn’t find a suitable full-time position until November. In the meantime, I picked up temporary work, such as freelance editing, and devoted myself to researching nonprofit organizations and applying for jobs. The Communications Coordinator position at Gads Hill Center came along at the right time and turned out to be a great fit; it allows me to exercise the skills I gained through my degrees and my previous jobs, and to contribute to an organization that provides educational opportunities to low-income families, work that I believe has the power to transform lives.
The most surprising thing so far has been that I have better benefits, and even a better salary, in the nonprofit sector than I had in my full-time for-profit jobs. Something I appreciate about the nonprofit sector in general is that, though you’re expected to work hard and put in extra hours when needed, most organizations value work-life balance.
MA: How has your DePaul degree paid off, not just in terms of a quality education, but in terms of your personal development, networking, career aspirations, etc.?
CR: It was through the pursuit of my MAE degree at DePaul that I solidified the following self-knowledge: in order to be a well-adjusted person, I had to do work I believed in, whether that be teaching or another mission-driven career. My role as an Outreach Team Leader for my Graduate Assistantship at the DePaul UCWbL gave me direct experience with nonprofit work and the individuals who conduct it, as well as leadership skills and experience as an educator, for which I will be forever grateful.
MA: What advice would you give to current English Department grad students who are looking for post-graduate job opportunities?
“Don’t panic!” I can’t resist an opportunity to quote Douglas Adams, but it really is good advice. During a job search, you’re going to fail. Period. There will almost always be a job you really, really want that you won’t be offered. But that’s okay. Truly, it’s okay to fail. Give yourself permission to do so, and when it happens remember that many other people (myself included) failed numerous times before finding a job that was a good fit for them.
-Matt Adams, MAWP
Or check out Gads Hill Center!