Year of Graduation and Degrees:
BA in International Relations with a minor in History from Smith College
MA in Education (Secondary Ed) from DePaul 2018
Current Position(s): Professional author and Special Education Classroom Assistant
Describe a typical day at work.
“I am half-introverted, half-extroverted, and enjoy working.”
Dina says she thought her dream came true at the age of twenty-five. While she was in Prague, she was granted five-thousand dollars to work on her writing. She had an entire year to write. But, one week in, she began to think that she just couldn’t do it. Dina explains that the days would go on and she could only write for about an hour. She realized she needed to be out in the world. She acknowledges that other writers would be perfectly happy just writing all day but doing that was not making her happy. Since then, Dina has realized that the two lives she designed for herself must fit into one. In one “life,” she focuses on her writing career; in the other, she focuses on how she will support herself in a way that is still aligned with her values and education. She says this system is working out nicely at the moment.
Dina works at an elementary school in Chicago as a Special Education Classroom Assistant. She arrives at the school at eight o’clock to prep for her students and attend meetings. She welcomes students to the school as part of outdoor duty, then walks upstairs with one of the two diverse learners who have been assigned to her. She makes sure her student is settled in and then checks on her second student. The day kicks off and she attends some classes with each of her diverse learning student. The children she works with participate in every subject. Dina is right beside them offering her support and collaborating with the teachers to make sure both of her students’ needs are being met. Dina is extremely proud of her students and the progress they are making. She states, “the most important thing if you are a teacher of any kind, is building a great relationship with your student.” That may mean checking out the video game they love, asking about their grandmother, or learning a new dance move. These things may seem silly, but they are not, she adds, because this is how a student sees that you are also a real person who is genuinely interested in getting to know them––not just as a student, but as a person. With time, that attention creates trust, and with that trust in place you can encourage or motivate your students. The kids will listen to you because they believe in you as much as you believe in them, says Dina.
Before going to work, however, Dina focuses on her writing career. In her twenties, she began publishing essays and op-eds in publications like The Boston Globe and The Los Angeles Times. She later moved on to publish short stories in various literary journals such as Fiction. She currently has a collection of short stories titled Peter’s Moonlight Photography and Other Stories available on Amazon. When she was around thirty, she received a grant from the Vogelstein Foundation to travel to and spend one month in Jordan, plus a week in Dearborn, Michigan. Dina’s novel-in-progress was set in both places.
Dina states that it’s important for writers to not only be creative in terms of the work they produce, but also how a writer releases their work into the world. It’s important for writers to have an online presence through social media or an engaging website. It’s not enough to just write a short story or novel, she explains. You need to learn the various platforms out there to share it.
How did you find your first job after graduation and/or your current position?
“It’s not an occupation to me. It’s just who I am.”
Throughout her undergraduate years, Dina struggled with identifying a career. It wasn’t until she was older that she realized she was a professional writer. Dina explained that being a professional writer isn’t a job to her, but part of who she is.
In the past, she says, she was interested in everything. When she attended Smith College, she found herself in a good networking system of powerful women who wanted to help each other. Dina shares that she really admires DePaul’s ASK network because it, too, fosters the same sort of support and encouragement.
After completing her bachelor’s degree, Dina got a job in advertising and public relations. The opportunity arose through her brother’s connection with the agency’s owner. Although she was happy to have a job after college, she wasn’t completely happy working at the ad agency. She had also received a few other opportunities from Smith alumni, but ultimately stayed at the agency until the abrupt passing of her father.
Dina recalls feeling like she was having a midlife crisis at twenty-one. She explains that working at the ad agency was stifling her creativity. She was required to document every minute of her entire day. From a business end, that was good. But not for her morale. That wasn’t the way she wanted to work for the rest of her life.
Soon after she left the ad agency, a fellow alum from Smith reached out to her about a start-up company in Venice, Los Angeles, California called Short Cinema Journal. The alum wanted to showcase award-winning short films from around the world and interview filmmakers, artists, and musicians. Dina was told the job wouldn’t pay right away but it would eventually be funded, but she decided to go to California anyway.
She started working at Short Cinema Journal and maintained another job to cover her bills. After a while, she became an Associate Editor for the magazine. Her role primarily consisted of screening submitted films from filmmakers all over the world and working with the acquisition team to decide which films fit which issue. She recalls that working on the magazine was a wonderful experience.
How important has networking been in your employment searches? How did you find or build contacts in your desired field? How important is networking in your field?
“I don’t think of it as networking, but as meeting interesting people, sharing ideas, and learning about people’s life experiences.”
Dina stresses the importance of networking. She’s aware that some people may be intimidated by networking or meeting strangers but admits that she really loves the process. It helps if you don’t think of it as networking, but as meeting interesting people, sharing ideas, and learning about people’s life experiences, she advises. “It’s important for a DePaul student at any level of their career to reach out to people. Most people are caring and want to be helpful.”
She also cites DePaul’s Alumni Sharing Knowledge network or other networking places. Dina herself used networking to gain an internship at the Chicago Tribune’s West Coast Bureau and was later able to publish some of her own pieces with the Tribune while interning there. For Dina, networking has been pivotal in gaining internships and employment. In fact, she plans to flex her networking skills this summer in order to decide whether she’s more interested in taking the traditional path of publishing or following an indie route.
How does your English major help you in your current position?
“Being an English major helps you with all dimensions of life.”
Dina states that being an English major means you have read about perspectives from all over the world, which helps you think about the world. As an educator, being an English major helps you share great authors you have read or studied, she adds.
The major also helps develop specific skills such as character analysis, finding the theme of a work and grammar. Dina shares these skills with her students to help them comprehend learning materials and become stronger writers.
She especially sees herself applying her degree to social media projects. She loves literature, especially world literature, and has a desire to create videos and blog entries that help make literature more accessible. She recognizes that many non-English majors get intimidated by classics or might not even know about various writers from different countries. So, in addition to writing, Dina wants to move towards educating the public about literature. She doesn’t want other to miss out on great literature because they didn’t have access to an education that prioritized reading and writing.
What advice would you give current English majors about their studies or extracurricular activities while they are still at DePaul?
“Get a range of experiences.”
When Dina completed her bachelor’s degree, the concept of internships was fresh. Since then, internships have become increasingly important. She explains that students should try to intern as much as they can, and if they aren’t able to, at least look into shadowing an employee in a prospective career. Students can reach out to alumni through DePaul’s ASK system or contact someone directly. Doing this provides the opportunity to hear about someone’s work or spend a day seeing what types of tasks you might do if you pursued said career path.
Dina notes the number of opportunities for students to write on the internet. Yet she acknowledges that it may be harder to take the artistic path when writing because you will most likely need another full-time job in order to support yourself.
In terms of the artistic path, Dina recommends attending annual conferences where one can meet other writers and, in particular, editors who are the decision makers at magazines and publishing houses. She suggests reading the biographies of the people you are interested in meeting and then learning from others’ career choices. If you come across someone who applies English skills to their career or is doing something you find interesting, look them up and see what their specific steps were, she says.
Describe your experience at DePaul. What did you like best/value most about DePaul’s English major?
Dina recalls that her professors at DePaul were fantastic. She shares that she had been dealing with personal struggles her last year and her professors were both patient and compassionate. She found it difficult to share her personal situation with professors, but her professors ultimately were understanding and allowed her the extra time and support she needed.
While she notes that many schools promote certain values on their websites or marketing brochures, Dina believes that DePaul really stands by their values, particularly regarding compassion. In a classroom setting, she remembers each of her classmates as hard-working, often juggling children and full-time jobs while still attending evening classes.
What advice would you give to graduating students as they move into the job market?
“A lot of people don’t do what they want to do right off the bat. Be patient with yourself.”
Dina advises graduating students to work at a place that they respect, even you’re not in your dream position. She also encourages students to take advantage of the Career Center at DePaul. This resource helps students find jobs they may be interested in, and also provides feedbacks on resumes and cover letters.
For students who have acquired a job that isn’t in their field, she recommends volunteering or interning to gain experience in the field they hope to work in. Dina shares that she is a big supporter of entrepreneurship: if you can’t find the job you want, create one yourself!
What advice would you give first-year students?
“Relaxation, hobbies, and a balanced life are important to keep in mind when starting out.”
Dina warns that students should be prepared to not have a career all figured out right after crossing the graduation stage. Students should know that, if they decide to commit to a certain path, they do have the ability to change course. Dina shares that she once read that people change professions seven times over the course of their lifetime. She reminds students that committing to a certain path now doesn’t mean they can’t change it later on. “Be patient with yourself,” she says. “You are allowed to make mistakes. The worst thing about making a mistake is staying down versus getting back up and learning from it.”
In the United States, Dina explains, a lot of pressure is placed on what you decide to do for a career. But there are a lot of ways to develop your potential and gifts other than through your job. Dina wants students to understand that just because they are being paid to do something, it doesn’t mean that they can’t explore your passions and talents in other ways. “Work in sales if you need good pay and benefits, but that doesn’t have to define you. You are many things to many people. Go grow orchids. Volunteer for a week in Costa Rica. Become the best father you can be. You have your job, but you also have your life. It is just one part of it.”
You can check out Dina’s latest work Peter’s Moonlight Photography and Other Stories here.
Profile by Sara Shahein,
Contributor to The Underground