Meet Alumna Dr. Kathleen D. Dejwakh ’09, NASA

Name:  Dr. Kathleen D. Dejwakh

Class Year: 2009

Title: Computer Engineer, Data Management Team Lead, CERES Science Team

Organization:  NASA

 

1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?  

I oversee the production of publicly available data products, generated from data collected by NASA and NOAA Earth observing satellites, that constitute a twenty-year and ongoing climate data record of Earth.

 

2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decided it was a good fit for you?
I suppose that you could say that this is my first “real” job since graduating from Holy Cross, since I was in graduate school and engaged in a brief post-doctoral opportunity for so long (2009-2017). When I think about it, each transition made sense, but it was mostly serendipity that got me here.

Attending a graduate school so close to a NASA center, (NASA Langley Research Center), was certainly lucky. As I found that I needed supplemental income, I planned on finding an internship type of opportunity, transitioning out of my graduate program in computer graphics. Since I wanted to expand my concept of the types of imagery I could work with, I applied for and obtained a position as a NASA DEVELOP participant, working with Earth observation data. Comparing this more academia-like experience to a previous industry internship that I’d had, I became certain that I wanted to work in a sector that had more direct benefit to humanity and the environment. So, I applied for a civil service position at NASA and was selected.

 

3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?  

I participated in several clubs and activities while on campus: S.P.U.D., liturgical ministry (lector coordinator), Sailing Club, Bishop Healy Multicultural Club, and Math/C.S. Student Advisory Council.

 

4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?  

I majored in Computer Science simply because I enjoyed the classes. I really didn’t have a career goal in mind, at the time. The part-logic, part-creativity involved in creating programs felt really satisfying. It just so happened that it is a hot market for software engineers out there.

 

5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work? 

First off, I would say that I employ mindfulness and empathy day-to-day. Practicing the motto and spiritual cultivation at Holy Cross strengthened in me the importance of being kind to myself and understanding of others, and the bigger picture. Secondly, I use those core Computer Science classes of algorithms, data structures, and programming. They’re the backbone of software engineering! What can I say.

 

6. What advice do you have for students today?

I think the best career for someone would be not just what they enjoy, but what they’re good at. To figure that out, you probably have to cast a wide net in school. Don’t be afraid to do that, change with time, cross things off of your list, and envision a career-path that may play to multiple strengths at once or in sequence. Sometimes…you even have to create a niche for yourself. There are no rules.

Meet Alumna Stephanie A. Haddad ’15, Internal Medicine, PGY-1

Name: Stephanie A. Haddad

Class Year: 2015

Title: Internal Medicine, PGY-1

Organization:  Brown University/Kent Hospital

 

1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?  

I work as a resident physician on the medicine team to manage, treat, and take care of patients admitted to the hospital.

 

2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?    

I always thought I would go directly into medical school after undergrad; however, my path to medical school changed when I realized my MCAT scores were not as competitive as I had hoped, and I wanted more clinical experience. I worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator/Assistant in Breast Oncology at the MGH: Cancer Center for a little over two years before matriculating into medical school. I gained so much clinical experience in the hospital and outpatient medical settings, which further solidified my desire to pursue a career as a physician. I discovered that medicine is a dynamic field intertwined with pathophysiology, genetics, novel treatments, team-based approaches, comprehensive care, and patient-driven decision making. Working alongside the oncology team, seeing the role of the physicians, and helping to treat patients daily, showed me that becoming a physician was truly the right fit for me.

 

3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?  

I had some of the best experiences at Holy Cross being involved with various committees and clubs around campus. I participated in research with the Bellin Lab and worked as a TA for the Biology Department. I also was the Co-Chair of the Biology Department Student Advisory Committee and Co-Chair of the Bio Buddies tutoring program. Additionally, I was involved with the American Medical Student Association and competed as a dancer on the Holy Cross Ballroom Dance Team.

 

4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?  

I majored in Biology with a Biochemistry Concentration. I always had a passion for science and medicine, and my Biochemistry Concentration further encouraged me to pursue research. Since I worked in a research lab at Holy Cross, I sought a clinical-based research experience within the medical setting. I worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator/Assistant in Breast Oncology at the MGH: Cancer Center helping to run clinical trials. I enrolled and followed breast cancer patients on clinical trials. Along with the clinical problem solving, it was the emotional moments with my research patients that drew me closer to the field of medicine. As I became an integral part of their healthcare team and an empathetic caregiver, I discovered my passion for medicine and research, particularly within Hematology/Oncology. I gained clinical and research experience and solidified my desire to pursue medical school to become a physician. These experiences also contributed to my decision to pursue an Internal Medicine Residency after I graduated medical school and a Hematology/Oncology Fellowship in the future.

 

5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work? 

Being a life-long learner and critical thinking

Effective communication and staying connected, the world is a small place

 

6. What advice do you have for students today?

Follow your dreams! Once you discover your passion, follow it because you will truly enjoy your work every day. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life! Stay passionate and continue to learn daily because this will be the fuel that keeps you going and remember to enjoy all aspects of the ride; it all becomes part of your story.

Meet Alumna Christie Letarte ’08, Special Counsel

Name: Christie Letarte

Class Year: ‘08

Title: Special Counsel

Organization Name: The Florida Senate

 

1. In one sentence, what does your job entail? 

In this role, I provide legal advice to the president of the Florida Senate and serve as a special master for executive suspensions (when the governor suspends an elected official, the Senate determines whether the official is reinstated or removed from office) and claim bills (which are usually bills where an individual alleges injury by a governmental entity and is seeking funds in excess of the statutory caps and occasionally are compensation claims for alleged wrongful incarceration), where I hold hearings, make findings of fact, and provide a legal analysis and recommendation to the president, as necessary.

 

2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?  

Having an interest in both higher education and the law, after Holy Cross, I intentionally pursued each interest and received a Master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs and then a juris doctor. I specifically chose the law school I attended because of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy and the professors who taught there as I had been reading their scholarly work. I thought, after I passed the bar exam, I would pair the two areas and work at a college or university – then came the unplanned event.

While studying for the bar exam, I received a call from the career development office at my law school after the chief attorney for the Florida Senate Committee on Education had inquired as to whether they had any recent graduates interested in education law. The office gave the chief attorney my name and I submitted application materials.

Since that time, I have had the opportunity to serve in the Florida Senate in a variety of roles – none of which would I have anticipated as I attempted to plan my career path in prior years. I knew the Florida Senate was a good fit because of the people with whom I work and the content and variety of matters on which I have had the opportunity to work. The colleagues I work beside are of the highest caliber and we share the same sense of integrity and dedication to our service through our roles in the Florida Senate. I also enjoy the content, challenges, and different lenses of the legislative process that each role has provided. The Florida Senate continually presents opportunities to grow and has felt like a professional home.

 

3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?

While at Holy Cross, I was involved in a variety of opportunities provided by the school. I was: an athlete and member of the women’s indoor and outdoor track and field team as a thrower (throwing the javelin, hammer, shotput, and the weight) and served as a co-captain senior year; a resident assistant and a head resident assistant in what is now Brooks-Mulledy Hall; a volunteer through Student Programs for Urban Development (SPUD) with my main volunteer work being overnight stays at Abby’s House (a shelter for abused and/or homeless women and children) and St. Francis Adult Day Health; a student who was able to perform and present research related to bereavement in the elderly with the assistance of a professor and fellow student; a participant and leader in immersion programs through the Chaplains’ Office (including the immersion program in Kingston, Jamaica and an alternative spring break in Biloxi, Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina); a participant in retreats offered through the Chaplains’ Office (including Manresa and the Spiritual Exercises five-day silent retreat); and an intern at Massachusetts Justice Project (which provides legal aid to those in need).

 

4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?

Having a major in psychology, and concentrations in gerontology and Africana Studies, affected and impacted my career decisions by highlighting interests in the human condition, development, stages of life, and our collective and individual histories. I knew I would want to work with others in a career path with complexity that required analytical skills and creativity to solve problems and process information and experiences from different lenses.

 

5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?

Two skills developed at Holy Cross that I use in my work are the desire to learn and work beyond what is necessary to achieve a specific goal and continued use of reflective and introspective practices. Both of these skills continue to facilitate personal and professional growth.

 

6. What advice do you have for students on campus today?

Approach each stage of your academic career and professional experiences with the same discipline, integrity, and inquisitiveness that has helped you get to Holy Cross.

Continue to be engaged with your Holy Cross community and the greater communities of which you and Holy Cross are a part.

Embrace all the experiences Holy Cross has to offer and be open to opportunities arising that you may never have imagined. Enjoy the journey!

Meet Alum Antonio Willis-Berry ’13, Director of Residence Life @ Merrimack

Name: Antonio Willis-Berry ’13
Title: Director of Residence Life
Organization Name: Merrimack College

1. In one sentence, what does your job entail? 

I am responsible for all students living on campus and ensuring they are having a safe, engaging, supportive, and caring experience.

2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?  

When I was a student at Holy Cross, I discovered somewhere between the summer of my sophomore and the summer of my junior year that I wanted to work in Student Affairs. I had an opportunity to go to a few different conferences and kept meeting and networking with professionals (both working at Holy Cross and within the New England region). An unplanned event happened at the conclusion of my sophomore year, when I wasn’t selected to be a returning RA and I thought my career was over. I was quite angry, but it was a great learning moment for me and one that I’m thankful that I had. I needed to refocus my energy more on school (because I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had flunked out) and the other opportunities that I cared more about. The care the ResLife and Student Affairs Division showed me during this learning moment helped me to decide that this career path would be a great fit for me. They cared about me and I knew that’s what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be for others. My career has not been rainbows and sunshines, but I always come back to that moment of why I started doing this in the first place and that makes the headaches that much easier to navigate.
 

3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?

Too many things! I was an RA, an OL, Minister of Music for the Protestant Community, in the MAGIS program, a Student Co-Chair of NJSLC, multiple roles in SGA, multiple roles in BSU, Music Director of an A Capella group, a Hogan Student Manager, Co-Chair of WCHC Sports, a dedicated member of CAB, member of the Jazz Ensemble, and I’m sure there was more.

4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?

Music and it didn’t really affect my career decision. However, they taught me the value of individuality and exposed me to different ways of creating and supporting a team. I learned a great deal about leadership in my conducting course with Prof. Culver and how to improv and be adaptable from my course on Jazz with Prof. Monaghan.

5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?

I do a lot of reflecting and thinking about the things I am grateful for. I went on the Spiritual Exercises as a student and that really taught me the value of stopping, listening, and being in the moment. I remind myself to do this daily and it really helps to recenter me.

6. What advice do you have for students on campus today?

Find the communities that bring you joy and add value to your life. For me, it was my a cappella group. I did not tell them enough how impactful they were to my experience as a student and I regret that. I miss them daily and while we are in different parts of the world during different things, I know that we are still connected because of our love of music. So find your place and if you don’t have one, then create it. I was one of the founding members of our group and it had a tremendous impact on me. Holy Cross has the capacity to have a tremendous impact on you and for you to impact it, if you’re willing to listen, push back, and ask the tough questions.

Meet Alum Cameron Lawson ’17, Economist at National Development

Name: Cameron Lawson

Class Year: 2017

Title: Economist

Organization Name: National Development

 

1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?

Evaluating, acquiring, improving, and ultimately selling existing real estate and development land.

 

2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?  

The Holy Cross Real Estate Panel is where I met James, Colin, Katie, and Paul, who coached me throughout the job search process and ultimately helped me get started at National. I am extremely thankful for their (and others) support.  While at Holy Cross, I attended several of the on-campus and off-site events organized by the Pre-Business Program and the Careers Department including but not limited to NYC Finance Boot camp, Mock Super day, Real Estate Panel, Excel and Argus Boot camp, and Marketing Communication and Sales Workshop.

 

3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?

I was a member of the Holy Cross Real Estate Club, the Holy Cross Finance Club, and the Men’s Hockey Team. I attended many Pre-Business Program workshops, presentations, and events. I also particularly enjoyed the annual Working for Worcester ‘build day’ –an event that I still attend each year.

 

4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?

The economics major helped me better understand the “why” behind changing trends in real estate and global financial markets. To this day I enjoy studying economics.

 

5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?

Problem-solving and communication skills.

 

6. What advice do you have for students on campus today? 

Work hard, stay out of trouble, and take advantage of all of the wonderful resources that Holy Cross has to offer.

Meet Alum Matthew Schnaars ’00, Vice President, Content Distribution at NBCUniversal

Name: Matthew Schnaars

Class Year: 2000

Title: Senior Vice President, Content Distribution

Organization Name: NBCUniversal

 

1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?

It’s a bit like being an agent for an athlete, but instead of representing a person, I represent a media company.   I’m part of the team that negotiates the commercial terms for distributing NBCU’s content properties – which includes everything from NBC network to Peacock – with technology, media and telecommunications companies.

 

2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?   

My internships in college and my first job out of college all taught me what I DIDN’T want to do for a career, as I worked in roles ranging from finance/accounting at GE to doing legal research at a law firm (thinking I might apply to law school) to working in business development for a technology company.  All were fine opportunities with good firms, but I didn’t think I had the requisite passion to pursue a lifelong career in those fields.   Ultimately I followed my instinct of wanting to work in media in a business capacity, and “started over” in my mid 20s by taking an entry level role with a small media company in Boston, selling advertising.   From there I used the Holy Cross network and other contacts to make connections inside major media companies like Disney/ESPN, NBC, and CBS.   After learning a bit about the media business and a couple years of persistent networking, I was offered an opportunity to join ESPN in their Content Distribution group, and after nine years at Disney/ESPN, I was recruited to join NBCUniversal in a bigger capacity.

 

 

3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?

It felt like a little bit of everything, though my only media tie-in was hosting a radio show on WCHC.   I think maybe five people listened to me, but it was a blast.  I gave campus tours to prospective students and their parents, which provided me with my earliest training in public speaking.   Eventually I worked in the Admissions department as an interviewer who met with prospective HC students, which further developed my critical listening and writing skills.    On top of this I had a steady string of on-campus jobs over my time at HC, which forced me to learn how to prioritize and manage my time effectively, balancing classes, extra curriculars, work, and some form of a social life.

 

4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?

 I majored in Economics, mainly because it was the closest thing to a “business” major at the time.  (I subsequently went on to earn my MBA from NYU-Stern.)   Our economics courses were fairly rigorous then, as I’m sure they still are today, and combined a healthy dose of quantitative analysis with qualitative work, e.g. written analysis and presentations.   My job requires a blend of quantitative and qualitative skill, and I attribute some of my comfort in such a role to my coursework.

  

 

5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?   

Writing and public speaking, which I know sounds cliché.   My job success centers on my ability to influence my clients, and equally so my internal clients and stakeholders.   My ability to communicate succinctly and effectively is critical to that, and the high volume of writing and presentation work that I did in class and in my extra-curricular pursuits at HC trained me well.

 

 

6.  What advice do you have for students on campus today?   

The media ecosystem is rapidly changing, and unlike other industries, there is no one standard path into media.   You have to be scrappy and spend a lot of time learning about the different companies in the industry, understanding where there are opportunities, networking, and then learning and leveraging a particular skill to get your foot in the door (this could be everything from data analysis to financial modeling to video editing).   People who are trained in data analytics will have countless opportunities on the business side of media, and in many other industries for that matter.   More generally, I think it’s important to understand that in any industry, your career will likely be non-linear, so it’s important to develop a varied set of skills, to try new jobs, to change companies on occasion, and to push yourself to continually learn and grow.   Do not stress if your first job out of college does not align perfectly with your career aspiration; your early career years are entirely about learning and development.  Find a good company, align yourself with good mentors there, and be a sponge.