Ask any seniors at Richmond, and they’ll tell you it’s tough to imagine seeing their alma mater in their rearview mirror as they leave campus after graduation. Which begs the question—why leave?
Giavanna Palermo, ’08, stuck around. She didn’t plan to. At the beginning of her senior year, the English major and biology minor knew two things. She loved to write and among possible professions she’d considered, ‘dog whisperer’ was currently outweighing book editor. The closest she’d come to an internship was dogsitting and waiting tables at a restaurant back home in Long Island, N.Y.
By September, mounting uncertainty had led Palermo to the door of career advisor Katybeth Lee. Richmond’s Career Development Center offers services to students throughout their four-year academic experience but students like Palermo, who don’t discover the Center’s services until their senior year, aren’t atypical.
“Giavanna’s twin sister, Leandra, had been in my Life & Careers after UR class, and basically forced Giavanna to come see me! Giavanna was writing an Honors English thesis, but said she felt like she was the only student in her thesis class who didn’t want to go to graduate school,” said Lee.
Lee kept coming back to the fact that Palermo had never once taken an English class she hadn’t loved—and done well in. An advertisement for a part-time student job in the School of Arts & Sciences’ communications office had recently come across Lee’s desk, and it specifically called for a qualified writer. Lee suggested Palermo apply for the position to see if the communications field might be a good fit for her.
“When Giavanna entered the room,” said Rachel Beanland, director of communications for the School of Arts & Sciences, “I knew I’d found the perfect person for the job. She was loud and funny and irreverent and a little bit lost and she could really write.”
Palermo’s timing was good. The School of Arts & Sciences was in the midst of converting the 55 Web sites under its purview into a new content management system, and there weren’t enough writers and editors to go around. As a part-time student employee, she got to do the kind of work that some recent graduates don’t get the chance to do in their first full-time jobs—researching stories, writing and editing Web copy, working in the CMS, and, in the midst of it all, building a rock solid communications portfolio.
As all the new Web sites launched, complete with dynamic news and feature stories that varied site by site, Beanland quickly realized that the School’s need for a strong writer wasn’t going to subside. In the spring, Palermo applied for a new position—one that would make her a full-time communications coordinator for the School of Arts & Sciences.
“Giavanna’s experience working with the students and faculty was such an asset to Arts & Sciences,” said Beanland. “Because she’d been a student here herself and because she’d spent so much time and energy working on the site conversions, she was able to hit the ground running.”
In addition to writing and editing Web content, Palermo spent much of her time interviewing and photographing students, faculty, staff, and alumni and writing about their experiences at Richmond and after they graduated and started careers. Her stories appeared online and in the School’s print publications.
As a member of the Class of 2008, she wrote about many of her classmates—classmates who traveled the world, who went directly to graduate school, who moved to New York to make their way in the world.
“I think it’s sort of brave to choose to stay behind, especially when it feels as if you’re watching all of your friends finally ‘begin’ their lives. It takes foresight to realize you have more to learn,” said Beanland.
Palermo worked and wrote through the summer months while jobless friends sunbathed and circled job ads in the classifieds. In September, when the bottom dropped out of the economy, Palermo kept working and kept writing. In the spring, she took her first paid vacation and visited a college friend who was teaching English in Costa Rica. Back at work, she pushed her wanderlust to the side, and kept writing. Some days, she’d say out loud, ‘When am I ever going to do anything that warrants someone writing a feature story about me?’
Armed with a portfolio that had grown thicker by the day, Palermo set her sights on New York City. With a year and a half of full-time work experience in higher education, she landed a job handily.
Joe Testani, associate director of Richmond’s Career Development Center and a fellow New Yorker, said about Palermo’s job search, “She used all the tools we talk about in the CDC: developing a network by connecting with people at universities and colleges in New York; developing new marketable skills by seeking out ways to educate herself about new technology, thereby making her more successful in her current job and better positioning herself for future jobs; and keeping connected to her network after an unexpected economic downturn stalled the job market.”
Ironically, Palermo will be working for New York University’s Stern School of Business, promoting the value of a business degree where she was once promoting the value of a philosophy degree in its place. Maybe, in today’s day and age, there’s room for both.
And the girl whose first job out of college entailed writing feature stories about her alma mater’s most successful and interesting students and alumni? Well, she’s finally the subject of her own feature story.