Monthly Archives: May 2014

Friday Feature: Former Student Matt Olpinski


Another start-up.  Hmmm… I keep hearing former students talk about these so-called APPS.  Sound like they might be on to something big.  I hear that Facebook thing is gonna be big soon, too.  Maybe I should read up on that stuff…  While I do that, you can read about former student, Matt, who’s doing some cool stuff….

Matt Olpinski

What do you do for work?

I have been serving as the Interactive Art Director at Dumbwaiter (, a full-service web design and development firm in Rochester, NY for over 2 years now. My daily tasks include bringing in new prospective clients, overseeing all projects from a design and development perspective, communicating with existing clients, UI/UX design, front-end development, and internal business strategy. I also have a steady flow of freelance projects that I do on nights and weekends for extra money and personal enjoyment.

Working so hard he needs two screens!

Working so hard he needs two screens!

As if that wasn’t enough, I’m in the process of co-founding a tech startup for an app I’ve been working on for 2+ years. Without giving away too much information, the app will make dynamic connections between people and networks such that lost or inaccurate contact information will become a thing of the past. Think of it as a self-updating contact list based on selectively shared information. With a successful launch, we anticipate that it will change the way people connect forever starting in early 2015.

I graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2012 with a BFA in New Media Design & Imaging which focused on digital and interactive design in areas such as web, mobile, 3D, and motion graphics.

What do you for fun/enrichment?

Low to the ground...

Low to the ground…

In my free time, I usually try to stay away from my computer. I love music and play guitar often. I also love the outdoors, so if the weather is nice, you can find me outside playing Frisbee or riding my bike. One of my favorite things to do is drive. I have always loved driving, but I enjoy it a whole lot more now that I own a 2006 Mustang GT Coupe.

Lastly, I love traveling whether it is around the block or to another country. Any time I can explore other parts of the world and its respective cultures, I do. You can see some of my travels at




How did you prepare for your life/career so far?

Looking back, I don’t think I actively prepared for my life and career at all. I think I just worked really hard at everything I did and followed my instincts. I didn’t do everything with my career in mind. I just did what made me happy and things sort of fell into place. During college, I focused on the courses that I knew mattered most and did a few solid internships that helped prepare me for my work outside of school. I maintained friendships and was involved in a number of extra-curriculars because life and happiness is about so much more than a career.

If you’d like to learn more about my jobs and internships, I wrote about them here.

What are you proud of?

I could write a long list of material things that I’m proud of, but I think what I am truly most proud of are the intangibles in my life. I am proud of the way I have trusted my instincts and feelings with major life decisions. I am proud of earning a college degree in a booming industry. I am proud of the endless passion I have for my craft. I am proud of my successful connections, relationships, internships, and jobs. I am proud of working so hard and so diligently every single year because I consistently reap the benefits of my labor and get to share those benefits with others.

What advice can you give younger people as they prepare for the adult world?

Work hard. Stay humble. Follow your instincts. Weigh options. Be objective. Think logically. Love what you do.

I could beat this car in a race.

I could beat this car in a race.


Don’t Hate the Mate!

Matt is a good roommate:  Yes/No (circle one)

Matt is a good roommate: Yes/No (circle one)


Back in January, I posted some Quick Tips for Roommate Survival, hoping first-year college students would be heading back to school after one semester of roommate living and possibly looking for smoother sailing.  Well, in the spirit of preemptive and preventative measures, this post is for graduating high school seniors as they begin to meet their roommates for the very first time.

It’s an excerpt from an appendix in my book called “Don’t Hate the Mate,” and it provides some discussion prompts for soon-to-be college roommates.

Feel free to share with those who might care….

‘Don’t Hate the Mate’ Share Sheet

(For sharing with prospective roommates)

In our ‘Don’t Hate the Mate’ chapter, we talked about how good communication is key to roommate relationships, and how that communication can begin BEFORE meeting in person in the fall.  Knowing that you can’t possibly predict your exact sleep schedule and social behaviors once you actually begin your ‘dorm living,’ the questions below will help you prevent some of the issues that could fester and grow.

Feel free to share this with your new roommate via social media, and maybe even do the exercise together.  It’s either going to help you start bonding right away, or scare the s*** out of you!

1. What smells bug you?  (Body odor?  Potpourri?   Are you a fresh air freak where you’d rather have the window open in the winter time and wear a sweater than smell that thick, musty indoor air?)

2. What sounds bug you?  (Screamo music?  Only hearing one side of a phone conversation?  Snoring?  Alarm clock sounds vs. music to wake you?)

3. What sights bug you?  (Messy spaces?  Open curtains?  Sunlight in the morning?  Black-light posters?  Cat posters?   The color yellow?  Old tennis shoes?  Anything other than complete darkness when you sleep?)

4.  What’s your greatest fear or concern about your prospective roommate(s)?  (He’s a Taylor Swift fan?  She will bring boys into our room for ‘extra-curricular activities?  He will play video games all day and never talk to me?  She won’t like it WHEN I borrow her clothes?)

5.  What are you like when you’re at your worst? (When upset, do you shut down? Do you rage for five minutes and then want to be buds again? Are you a little passive aggressive? Does it help if someone brings you ice cream?)


NOTE:  If you have trouble coming up with answers to these questions, you are going to be an incredibly tolerant roommate, and anyone would be glad to share space with you.

Answer the questions honestly and share your responses with your prospective roommate(s).  If Taylor Swift or black-light posters or borrowing clothes will be a deal-breaker, it is absolutely best to figure that out sooner rather than later.  In fact, having reflected on these things that bug you, maybe this is a good time to consider if they REALLY are deal-breakers, or if, with a little bit of effort, they could fall within your expanded level of tolerance.  If you think you could tolerate them, imagine doing so EVERY day for the ENTIRE school year.  That should be a good indicator.

 Again, know thyself.


(If you find the roommate note in the above photo entertaining or scary or both, feel free to check out more here.)

Consuming College: Trapeze or not Trapeze?


Money matters...

Money matters…

For high school seniors, May decision day has passed. They’ve picked a college and written their first check. But if they think ‘the process’ was pressure packed for the past several months, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Now the screws will really begin to turn, pressure will mount, and those young people will need every fiber of their being to fight back. Their future will truly depend on it.

The pressure will come from parents, politicians and pundits in the press who will all be talking about money. They’ll toss around tidy phrases like “bang for your buck” and “return on investment” and “getting your money’s worth.” Of course, they will mention ‘value’, and rightfully so.

But beware the trappings of what comes next. Talk will turn to taking the right major with the right classes in order to get the right job right after college. The problem with all this ‘right’ talk is that it will steer an upstart collegian so incredibly wrong. It masquerades as a constructive form of financial focus to ensure success after college, but it’s actually a dangerous myopia that limits thinking, opportunities and dreams even before that student arrives on campus in the fall. And, at the worst possible time, it will sow seeds for a mental paralysis that can permeate the entire collegiate experience.

The current excessive emphasis on getting short-term economic value out of college will have students attending to their safety net at the precise time when they should be thinking about swinging on the trapeze.

College is a special odyssey of experimentation, exploration, risk-taking and discovery. If students become paralyzed by financial concerns, they will miss out on the true benefits and enrichment they’re paying for. They may pick a STEM major, but lack the passion for it. They may forego extracurricular involvement in order to focus on academics. They may not take on that music or religion minor for fear it may interfere with getting good grades, or they may shun the liberal arts, saying no to philosophy or English or that History of Pop Music course they would have loved in high school but now consider ‘fluff’.

These are bad ideas all around. They would be, as Mark Twain put it, allowing schooling to get in the way of one’s education. They would be hanging out on the safety net while never reaching for the trapeze.

Twain, Campbell and Thoreau (who's not mentioned here, but likes to be included with the Three Amigos)

Twain, Campbell and Thoreau (who’s not mentioned here, but likes to be included with the Three Amigos…. And he has some good advice in his little voice bubble!)

The college experience encompasses a rich collection of endeavors inside and outside the classroom that shape and prepare young people for success later in life. Without extracurricular interaction, they’re unlikely to develop the ‘soft skills’ so many employers seek, the nimbleness that comes from managing time across activities, and the essential ‘distractions’ that become as enriching as their studies (and may even become part of a career down the road).  Dipping their toes into the interesting and diverse waters of the college curriculum affords an array of experiences that will be invaluable for years to come. The ability to see connections across disciplines, to synthesize those connections and imagine new possibilities, and to communicate it all deftly and effectively – that is what such toe-dipping can do. It helps cultivate skills that propel people into management, leadership and visionary ranks well beyond their first job.

More detrimental than foregoing these skills, however, is the possibility that students may be dooming themselves to middle-aged misery where they’ve lost track of what they loved, replaced their passion with practicality, and looked up two decades later wondering how they got there.

So, what’s a young, college-bound person to do? The recipe is an amalgam of Joseph Campbell’s ‘Follow your bliss’ and a dash (or dollop) of practicality. Of course, they should be prudent about selecting a major. But if it’s devoid of passion, it will be a losing proposition. They should be judicious about finances, too. No one is suggesting throwing college money down the drain. But if concern over money makes them too risk averse, tentative, and myopic, they will forgo enrichment that could be essential to building a future.

Trapeze School NY

Trapeze School NY
Photo: GmanViz (via Flickr)

They should dabble. Explore. Double major. Double minor. Road trip. Study abroad.  Shadow professionals over break. Get to know professors. Do one thing each month that’s out of their comfort zone.  Paint their faces on game day. Flip from one interest to another. Grab hold of opportunities that don’t make practical sense but seem interesting and cool in the short term. Steve Jobs didn’t know that a calligraphy course he took on a whim would pay off years later when he launched that first Apple computer. And that’s the point. There’s no way to know. So students should err on the side of opening up, rather than limiting, their possibilities.

By taking a turn on that trapeze every chance they get, their college years will be filled with trials and errors and diverse, engaging experiences. Will it be risky? Sure.  But it will also be thrilling and, oh, so rewarding, too.

Some might even call it valuable.

Friday Feature: Former Student Eric Irish


From Corvettes to country music to making campuses safer, Eric Irish continues to impress.  I’d like to think I taught him everything he knows, but….well…. that would be delusional.  So, let’s meet this accomplished former student….

Eric Irish

What do you do for work?

I run a business called CampusSafe (  We produce a mobile security app that we brand for colleges, universities and grade schools. My title is CEO & Founder, but it’s pretty superfluous at this point. I work from home, so right now my day-to-day consists of a range of tasks. I’ll select a city, research all of the colleges in the area, create a custom mockup of what CampusSafe would look like at their college, and email it out to basically everyone I can find.  Since the sales cycle in academia is quite slow, I’ll spend a lot of time emailing or calling contacts to follow up and keep the stone rolling.  Some days I’ll spend the whole day coding – tweaking our website, or working on a new feature app-side.  It’s nice to break up all of the calling and emailing with some focused coding work, but it has its headaches and challenges as well.

Home will leave the light on for you...

Home will leave the light on for you…

Working from home is also something I haven’t quite mastered. It’s great to be able to feed my chickens, cook a nice breakfast, and work comfortably.  But maintaining focus is sometimes hard when there’s a constant reminder of all the tasks that need doing elsewhere.  And since I live in the country, I sometimes yearn for a coffee shop and some company (no commute is hard to beat though)!


Joy Ride!

Joy Ride!

What do you do for play or enrichment?

Now that things are warming up, I’m getting outdoors a lot more, hunting, cycling, and spending time down at the lake. I have an old Corvette that needs a lot of work that I’m glad to do. When it’s in running condition, it makes for a great afternoon cruiser. I’m also big into Country music, and I’m hoping to turn my one-man-band into a little more sometime in the future.


How did you prepare for your career/life so far?

I went to college at RIT as an undergrad in Information Sciences & Technology, and continued on as a graduate student in Business Administration. That being said, I’m a firm believer that anyone with a good work ethic and a heaping helping of curiosity can succeed in this country. While I can be lazy, growing up on a farm taught me how to put in a hard day’s work, and that the tractor with a broken axle needed fixing one way or another: no rest for the weary. My current career happens to be a crossroads of the two degrees I received in college, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself doing something far from both in the future.  It’s your ability to learn that defines your career, not the knowledge you’ve acquired. I’ve always been a confident person (as you may have guessed), and I’ve been called arrogant and big-headed. There’s definitely truth in that, but when it comes to confidence, I’d rather have too much than too little.

Ready for business.

Ready for business.


What are you proud of?

Having recently graduated college, I’m proud of my accomplishments and the people there who I can call friends and colleagues. Compared to high school, college is the first time most young people will be carving their own way: no parents or old town friends to get them out of a bind or into a position.  It may feel like you’re being put at the bottom of the totem pole again, but you climb, and this one goes higher than the one you may have conquered in high school.

I’m proud that I was able to develop an idea, start a business, and sell it to major universities. Last year when we exhibited CampusSafe at a university festival I had an incredible feeling of pride to see one of my business partners interact with festival-goers with the same passion that I held about my idea.  That was a big treat.


What advice do you have for young(er) people as they prepare to launch themselves into the adult world?

Like I said before, a good work ethic and some curiosity will be your tool and guide as you move to better society. Don’t feel that you have to stick with the proclamation you made as a 3rd grader that you would grow up and design a better spoon, feel free to do anything you want inside your major or out.

Get involved in a bunch of groups at your college: I was in an a cappella group, I was an RA for three years, I did some photography work, and I was a fellow at my university’s innovation center. You’ll find many different social spheres exist inside the university as a whole, and being able to jump around in them will give you the benefits of the diversity that exists in them.

Falling for this photo....

Falling for this photo….

Got chaps?!

Got chaps?!

Friday Feature: Former Student Craig Porter


This week’s entry offers a big salute!

Craig Porter


Good genes.

On 28 June 2007, less than a week after graduating high school, I stood in a field with over a thousand of my closest friends and mumbled through my first oath of office. The oath includes the phrase ‘I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation ….’ Without any mental reservation, right. Leaving everything I had ever known at the age of 17 to go halfway across the country to a place where I knew I would be mentally, physically, and emotionally drained on a daily basis was either the stupidest or smartest decision I ever made. Seven years later, I tend to think it was the latter.

I did not have a typical college experience. My decision to attend the United States Air Force Academy pretty much removed that option. My freshman year involved walking only on the right side of the hallway, greeting by name rank and job title everyone in my squadron, standing in the hallway 30 minutes before the mandatory 0720 breakfast, reciting the meals of the day and other fun tidbits, and endless PT while being shouted at by the upper classman. My sophomore year saw an increase in academic course load while giving me the responsibility of guiding a freshman. Next year, more classes, more responsibility. I now had four sophomores and four freshmen. Senior year, I worked in admin for 1100 cadets and then was squadron leadership for the 110 cadets in my squadron.

While at the Academy, I didn’t have the usual electives or summer classes. I went through, and then taught, combat survival training. Other experiences included spending a month in Japan at Yokota AFB, standing at the end of the ramp at the back of a C-130 over Tokyo, glider flying, parachute jumping, and going supersonic in a T-38 to name a few.

Wild blue yonder...

Wild blue yonder…

I went to the Academy for several reasons. I wanted to serve, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, and I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Sophomore year, I found out I was not medically qualified to be a pilot. Instead of giving up, I doubled down. I found myself a new goal, flight test engineer, and I started working towards it, getting better grades so I could get a grad school slot as a first assignment.

Well, it worked. I got sent to the Air Force Institute of Technology to get a master’s in Aeronautical Engineering. After that I was sent to the flight test hub, Edwards AFB where I have been working as a discipline engineer testing a new version of the F-15. The best way I know how to explain my job to people is to ask if they have ever seen a NASA launch either in the movies or on TV. All those guys who sit at the computers poring over data? Yeah, that’s me. It’s a highly technical job, and I love it. It is also not a boring job. I typically have no idea what challenges I will have to face the next day when I go home at night. In my spare time I play soccer, I’m finishing up a private pilot’s license, I go to high performance driving schools, and I’m working on a MBA part time.



So, what tips would I pass on to soon-to-be college students? Well, when you get on the job, the most important criteria to your success will be your job performance. However, the path to doing well at your job starts in college. Will every class have material super relevant to your career? No, but even those ‘irrelevant’ classes will hone your skills to help your through the challenges you’ll face on the job. Don’t pass up an opportunity to do more. Do what you love, but don’t shy away from a challenge. It’s good that it’s hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s never too early to start preparing to take over your boss’s job. Nobody will ever care more about your career than you, so don’t be a passenger.

Friday Feature: Former Student Ali Gibbs


I wish this former student were out of work.  What I mean is, I wish she didn’t have this work to do…that her work was done….. for good…. forever.  Oh…. Meet Ali, and you’ll see what I mean….

Ali Gibbs

What do you do for work?

I am a part time Case Manager for Steele County Transitional Housing.  I was hired specifically to work on a grant funded by the Office on Violence Against Women where we house victims/survivors of domestic violence who are homeless because they are fleeing.  For up to two years, we subsidize a portion of their rent while providing case management to help them with things like budgeting, paying off debts and building savings, job search/skills, furthering their education, healthy relationships and parenting strategies, community involvement, and building their personal support system.

We are family!

We are family!

What does that look like day to day? I work (as in go to work) one day a week and I am available by phone/email and work from home sporadically the rest of the week. On average, I meet with the people (not always women) in our program every other week for about an hour which is what takes up most of my one work day.  My work from home includes phone calls and emails from people in our program, my coworkers and colleagues.  I prepare for my meetings by finding useful information for them about all the topics I listed above as well as free/inexpensive events in the area.  I really love seeing a program that works for people.  I see them at the beginning when they are fleeing and in need of safe housing.  I see them working to get a job (or a second job, or a better job), to pursue further education, to find good child care.  Then the best part is when I see them self sufficient and graduate from our program.

Even a job I love as much as this one has mundane tasks.  I have to case note my meetings with people (type, print, put in their file).  The initial intake process involves a lot of paperwork which all needs to get put into a file.  People are busy and those in our program are no different, so trying to track down people and schedule appointments with everyone in one day is not always easy.  Then, real life happens and kids get sick or something for work comes up and they have to cancel last minute.  I get a lot of emails about training for myself, opportunities for our participants (job fairs, stuff for kids, church events, etc.) that I have to sort through.  The working sporadically from home is great, but it can be difficult to find time to sit down and take care of all these things.  I have a 1 year old and we’re pretty active (and 1 year olds are also notoriously messy which requires lots of cleaning).  Some people have trouble taking off their “work hat” and leaving work at work; however, I sometimes have the opposite problem putting my “work hat” on since I am very part time.  At the end of the day, it really is the perfect set up for me and our family.


Whatever floats your boat...

Whatever floats your boat…

What do you do for play or enrichment?

Like anyone, my hobbies and interests have evolved over the years.  The early months of becoming a mom required 100% of my time and attention, so it wasn’t until recently I’ve been able to truly do things for myself again.  My number one “hobby” has always been spending time with friends.  I’m a very social person; I could do anything or nothing as long as I’m in good company.  I love water play-swimming and water parks, bicycling, roller blading, and going for walks with our yellow lab, Rowdy.  Luckily, I can still do all of those things with a toddler.  I like going to new places, near and far, and learning new things.  Even as an adult, I am involved in some extra-curriculars.  I am still a volunteer at my last place of employment (the Crisis Resource Center of Steele County), on the Advisory Council for our local ECFE program (Early Childhood and Family Education), I am a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I am a VBE (Volunteer Babywearing Education) for a chapter of Babywearing International (babywearing has allowed me to continue being a do-er with a kid in tow). My husband is a First Sergeant in the Minnesota Army National Guard and, until his most recent transfer, I was a leader of his unit’s Family Readiness Group.  During his most recent deployment, I started a blog ( and enjoy writing there.  One thing that has never changed is my love for live music.  I find a way to get to at least a couple concerts/music festivals a year.

Stripes & a couple of real stars!

Stripes & a couple of real stars!

Feet planted firmly....

Feet planted firmly….

How did you prepare for your career/life so far (through college or otherwise)?

Real life has been the biggest preparation for my career and later life.  Seeing how common domestic and sexual violence is, and seeing it affect people I care about, is what made me choose my career path.  I wanted to help people I knew in any way I could, but when I realized I could help people for a living, I was sold.  I majored in Sociology (with an emphasis on family dynamics and gender/family violence) with a minor in Spanish.  While in college, I volunteered and interned at a local Center for victims/survivors of sexual violence.

What are you proud of?

Honestly, I’m proud of a lot.  The first thing that always comes to mind is that I graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree at age 19.  Other than our mortgage, we are completely debt free thanks to diligent savings and smart spending.  I am very independent and have gotten through my husband being away for two 12+ month deployments overseas, and I have done it well.  I’m proud of the work I do now and the work I have done as a domestic violence/sexual assault victim advocate, both are jobs that don’t pay much but are very rewarding.  I’m proud of my dedication as a wife and mother and the beautiful family we have.  My daughter has a GI disorder/severe food allergies that make some things very challenging, but I have advocated for her, handled it very well and she is doing great.  I have traveled the world and seen a lot, which has ultimately shown me how little I have actually seen.  I am definitely a good, loyal friend.

Service with some smiles. Credit: Owatonna Peoples Press

Service with some smiles.
Credit: Owatonna Peoples Press

 What advice do you have for young(er) people as they prepare to launch themselves into the adult world?

Go to school, some type of school.  There no single degree or major that is right for everyone, but post-secondary education is about so much more than that.  Beyond education, college introduced me to some of the best friends I could have imagined.  I was exposed to ideas, cultures, and diversity I’m not sure I would have seen otherwise.  It made me think.  It’s where I met my husband.  And when you get to school, choose a field of study that interests you, one in which you will enjoy the courses.  For most jobs, you just need a degree, it doesn’t have to be a specific degree.  You’ll do much better in your classes and take more away from them if you enjoy your time in the classroom and studying.  If you can swing it, take classes that will really impact your life no matter what your job is.  I took classes like “Courtship, Marriage, and Family” and “Parent-Child Interaction” knowing they would be beneficial no matter what I did 9-5, Monday through Friday.  Also, trust yourself.  We rarely seem to give ourselves enough credit.  If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.  If you have a goal, make it happen.


Friday Feature: Former Student Stephanie Dahle


Working for a think tank sounds pretty cool, especially the Brookings Institution. So let’s meet Stephanie, who not only helps them think in the tank, but helps them write in the tank, too.  No.. not that kind of tank…..  No, not that kind, either….  Just read on…..

Stephanie Dahle

What do you do for work? 

I’m an editor for a think tank, which means that I get to work with scholars to form topics and provide feedback as they write long-form papers focused on the Middle East. Technically, my title is “publication manager,” so in addition to working on these long-term projects, I also work on our center’s outreach– things like e-newsletters, marketing, helping with our website. 25847

It takes a bit of neurosis to argue over comma placement (I’m a fan of the Oxford comma), and to make sure footnotes are absolutely right, but I enjoy polishing work into an amazing publication. I also get to be a fly on the wall to discussions about current events and foreign policy. That’s a priceless benefit.



In Salalah, Oman. Spent the day with a frankincense harvester.

In Salalah, Oman. Spending the day with a frankincense harvester.

What do you do for play or enrichment?

I continue to take Arabic classes (a never-ending process), and I write (currently I’m working on a lifestyle blog exploring ideas through the lens of modern feminism.). I also like to travel– and I’m lucky that I get five weeks of vacation every year–  so I am constantly planning trips I’d like to take (currently on the docket for 2014 is Qatar, Oman, Mexico, and the UK).

Top of Mt. Sinai, Egypt.

Top of Mt. Sinai, Egypt.

I also try to be involved in whatever community I’m currently living in. I was just appointed to serve as a commissioner for my Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a unique branch of Washington, D.C.’s government. I am also on the board of our local dog park. I’ve met a ton of new people through the process, and– wherever I’m living– I love being a part of a neighborhood.




How did you prepare for your career/life so far?

I worked. Hard.

As a New Yorker, this was one of my favorite places in the city: the Ming Scholar's retreat tucked inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As a New Yorker, this was one of my favorite places in the city: the Ming Scholar’s retreat tucked inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Port in Muscat, Oman

Port in Muscat, Oman

At NYU, I double majored (in Journalism, and History) and minored (in Middle East Studies). I worked the entire time, as a tutor, as a Resident Assistant, and had paid internships with a business author and at ABC News. After college, I worked as a journalist at Forbes, which was a dream job and excellent experience. I knew that I wanted to shift my focus more towards my interest in the Middle East, so I took Arabic classes at night and applied for a Fulbright grant, which I received in 2010. I spent a year in the region: living in Egypt, and the Sultanate of Oman before, during, and after the Arab Spring. I did a research project and studied Arabic. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has paid dividends in my life professionally– and personally (I met my husband in Oman).

Stunning landscape in Salalah, Oman.  Met stunning husband in Oman, too.

Stunning landscape in Salalah, Oman. Met stunning husband in Oman, too.

Stephanie at Tulun Mosque (Did you plan to have your outfit match the decor?)

Stephanie at Tulun Mosque (Did you plan to have your outfit match the decor?)

You’ve got to want to have these experiences, and work relentlessly to make them a reality. Now, I keep a list of short, medium, and long-term goals on my refrigerator. It’s great to be reminded daily of what I am striving towards.

What are you proud of? 

I’m crossing dreams off my “to do” list, and having a lot of fun in the process. Living in places like New York City, Cairo, and Muscat were incredible experiences and I’m no longer fazed by the idea of starting over in a new place by myself.

I’m also really proud of the fact I was finally able to adopt a dog. It was a process– we had to find a pet-friendly apartment and I had a “future puppy” fund in our savings account for a long time– but I’m so glad we brought him home. He has brought so much laughter and joy!


What advice do you have for young(er) people as they prepare to launch themselves into the adult world?

Four pieces of advice I always give my interns:

–Simply put, you’ve got to learn how to get stuff done. No matter how intimated you are, or how overqualified you think you are. No one cares about excuses. You’ve got to learn to roll with the punches and move on. You may not ever be the smartest/wealthiest/prettiest person in a room, but you can always be the hardest worker. Never say something “isn’t my job”– because doing those menial tasks can be used as leverage into other opportunities.

Street signs in the Kurdish region of Iraq. I was there to help with a multimedia course for student journalists.

Street signs in the Kurdish region of Iraq. I was there to help with a multimedia course for student journalists.

–Set up a budget. Now. Don’t live your life in debt, or you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities. Being frugal can be fun in your 20s, especially if you’re laying the foundation for a secure future. Once you set up an emergency fund, start an “opportunity fund” as well. That way, if you get a last-minute travel deal, or stumble upon a class you’d like to take, you can do it without any sort of guilt (or debt!).

–This may sound a bit New Age, but find out what nourishes your soul, respect that it changes as you go through life’s transitions. It can be scenic drives (a favorite of mine when I lived in Oman) or it can be long walks (something I loved to do in New York) or yoga sessions (my current favorite). Recognize the things you do that leave you feeling rested, and make sure to do them. In Ghana, someone told me that they have a phrase that roughly translates as “Americans have their watches, but we have the time.” Give yourself time to relax. My British husband is always reminding me that Americans aren’t taught or encouraged to relax like they are– and to stop constantly working.

–Finally, give yourself grace to make mistakes. Learn from them, and move on.