I came to the Allegheny Conference in July 2011, explaining that I was in the midst of a mid-life re-boot, and the Conference generously gave me a shot as its first-ever video production intern – an opportunity that allowed me to produce 60-some videos for ImaginePittsburghNow.com, the blog of the Conference and its Affiliates. As I completed my time as intern, senior vice president of communications and public affairs Catherine DeLoughry asked me whether I felt re-invented. My answer’s at the end, but first the back story.
In 2009, a seismic financial shift struck my family when my husband was part of a mass firing by a major global corporation. At that time, I had been a stay-at-home mother for five years. Both of us immediately sought full-time employment. Luckily, my husband found his current position, but at a 20 percent pay cut.
My own situation was unnerving. Nobody wants to hire someone without a degree who has been out of the workforce for so long, a recruiter at an employment agency told me. My helplessness turning to anger, I decided I never wanted to be a financial liability to my family again. I finished the few credits I needed at the Community College of Allegheny County to get an associate’s degree, and researched my transfer options.
Chatham University not only accepted every one of my transfer credits, but gave me significant scholarship aid based on my grades and financial situation. I headed to school there in fall 2010, at the age of 40, having been of legal drinking age before most of my young counterparts were even born. Yes, it was scary, but if I’ve learned one thing about bravery over the years, it’s that you feel the fear and you do it anyway. And as Mr. Spock said, the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few, or the one. So, off I went.
I chose a double major because I found it the perfect combination of legitimizing my current resume while allowing me to develop some new skills. I was one of Chatham’s first two students to ever use the experiential portfolio program, which allowed me to collect a semester’s worth of credits based on professional and life experiences. Already having a sizable portfolio from various jobs as a freelance writer, I lost out on staff positions because of my lack of degree. Now I’ll have the communications and professional writing side of my major to legitimize that. The film and digital technology side adds a bag of mad multi-media skills that I hope will make me more marketable.
I’ve learned a lot of new programs and concepts from my classes, but not as much as I have learned through my four internships: as an audio support intern with the Teenie Harris Archive; a professional blogger for BRAVO-TV’s Top Chef University; a game design intern at Schell Games in the South Side; and of course my multi-media production internship with the Conference.
I’d tell other adult students that I found nothing but respect and support from companies when applying for internships. If you show dedication, ability, passion and a willingness to learn, you may get even more consideration based on anything you’re also bringing to the table from your prior experiences.
My advice to others is, DO go to school. Befriend your school’s career development office, and do as many internships as you can in your new career field. If something you want to do isn’t on your resume yet, take advantage of being a student to put it there by availing yourself of internships, student activities and other opportunities available only to students.
Make no mistake, though: if you’re considering this kind of a re-set, it will be impossible without the support of your family, crazy-good time management, a committed and helpful academic advisor and some seriously hard work. I’ve been an overachiever with a 3.93 GPA, because I feel if I’m going to nag three kids about their grades, mine had better be infallible. I hope I’ve set a good example for them, showing them that dedication can pay off, and that it’s never too late to choose again if you’re dissatisfied with your life.
Looking toward my May graduation, I see a great many career options that I didn’t before. And now, I’ll have a more current resume, a strong multi-media and writing portfolio, and a double degree. Corporate communications, media production, advertising agencies: there are plenty of opportunities in Pittsburgh. I also look forward to more big-budget films coming to town, because opportunities also exist there. One job I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d hold was as a writer for video games, and I now have inroads there, too.
I especially appreciate the chance to have worked with the fantastic bunch of folks at the Allegheny Conference because they really do love Pittsburgh and they work unbelievably hard to be stellar regional ambassadors. These people run around like crazy to make sure they’re delivering the best and most current, correct information to their Regional Investors and the public. I admire all of them and am pleased to call them friends and colleagues as I leave.
So, do I feel re-invented? Absolutely. I’ve gone from weak and bleak to large and in charge. It’s completely possible to do in Pittsburgh. I’m proof.
Heidi McDonald is a senior at Chatham University, double majoring in Film and Digital Technology, and Communications. She writes for Yahoo! Movies, completed her internship with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development as a multi-media producer in late 2011 and -- as someone committed to staying in Pittsburgh -- can't wait to see what local opportunities are available in May 2012 when she graduates.
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