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CDO Program Follows Career Tracks

By Jessie Fredlund ’07

As a soon-to-be graduate, I was already feeling the pressure of an impending career search breathing down my neck. Then I met Chris Gajilan ’99, who has won an Emmy Award and a job as a senior producer at CNN.

The pressure tripled.

It was during a two-day trip, January 17-18, to New York City with the Career Development Office (CDO) Career Tracks program when I met Chris and a handful of other Smith alumnae, all successful journalists. Each January, the program gives students a glimpse into the operation of some of the nation’s most successful companies in five different fields: journalism, fashion, publishing, arts administration, and advertising/public relations. Four of the groups head to New York City, one to Boston.

Smith students consult with Melanie Kirkpatrick ’73, deputy editor, editorial page, Wall Street Journal (second from right), and Milena Jovanovitch ’73, senior editor, TV/video, Dow Jones Online (third from right)

The four New York-bound groups stumbled to the CDO bleary-eyed at 7:30 a.m. that first day, and boarded a school bus and then a train to Grand Central Station in Manhattan. After a relaxed lunch, I headed to the offices of the Wall Street Journal and joined eight other Smith students.

As a senior considering a career in journalism, I have countless questions about starting out in the field. The most pressing of all of them: How does an aspiring journalist get her foot in the door?

At the Wall Street Journal, and at our two visits the following day at the Associated Press and CNN, we met several Smith alumnae, as well as other journalists -- women just starting out in the field and those working in top editorial and management positions -- and talked with them about their jobs. They showed us around their headquarters, and shared stories about getting started in their careers.

As each woman we met in New York told her story, I began to get a picture of the potential inroads open to me. Next year started to feel less scary.

Students watch Wall Street Journal video editor John Perugini at work

In addition to career advice, we were able to see three very different work environments: the quiet, sophisticated offices of the Wall Street Journal; the communal news room at the Associated Press; and the fast-pasted, high-tech studios of CNN.

Almost as important, we got a chance to know one another. At a college that does not offer journalism courses, there are few chances outside of school publications for journalists-to-be to meet and share experiences and ideas. Talking to the alumnae in the field was amazing, but I learned enough just from my fellow students to make the trip well worthwhile.

At dinner Wednesday night, hosted by Anne Donovan Bodnar ’78, and at the train station the next day, we caught up with the other groups. The publishing group had visited Jane Magazine and Random House, and the arts administration group visited the Museum of Modern Art.

On Thursday, when I boarded the train from Grand Central back toward Smith, I felt better about next year than I have in months.

Will I win an Emmy within my first eight years out of college? Probably not. Can I find a rewarding career doing something I love? If the successful alumnae I met in New York are an indication, the answer is yes.

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