Professional SpotlightSpotlight

When we met food editor Laura Shunk for her Professional Spotlight, it was over breakfast (naturally). While enjoying eggs and toast, we discussed studying abroad, being a food writer, and being on the board of New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Having studied International Relations at Claremont McKenna College, Laura is smart, thoughtful, and passionate about her career and involvements. We love Laura’s outlook about post-college years being a skill gathering time, and if you’re a student, take notes on the top three traits she looks for in interns. For a more in-depth look at Laura’s life, great advice, and to learn how she got to where she is today, read on!

Name: Laura Shunk
Age: 28
Education: International Relations major at Claremont McKenna College
Follow: Fork in the Road – Village Voice / Twitter / New York City Coalition Against Hunger

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Laura Shunk: I don’t know if there’s one good way to describe it or way to answer that. I think about how to seize any time in your life and it’s engaging in things that you care about and you feel invested in for whatever reason, whether that’s because you’re helping a cause you’re interested in or enriching your own life and knowledge and setting yourself up for future success.

CJ: What did you major in at Claremont McKenna College and how did you determine what to study?

LS: I was an International Relations major. Before I was an International Relations major, I was an Economics major, a Government major, a Literature major, a Biology major – I probably changed my major about 10 times. I ultimately settled on International Relations because it was the only major that required you to study abroad and I really wanted to have the opportunity to do that. It ended up being a great major.

CJ: Where did you study abroad and what was your big takeaway?

LS: I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I learned Spanish, so that was a very tangible takeaway. I spoke it fluently after that. Study abroad isn’t necessarily about the classes you take or what you study, it’s more about seeing a different culture. I studied development theory in college and I had never seen it applied in real life, and I spent the summers in parts of Latin America in poor communities, but I had never understood what it meant to be in a developing country and Argentina put such a vivid experience to that. A broader understanding of the world and understanding that other places in the world aren’t just like here and that people are great everywhere.

CJ: Are you happy you went out-of-state for college?

LS: Yes, I highly recommend it. My parents told me when I was getting ready to go to college, “Go out of state because you can always come back.” That was the best advice anyone ever gave me.

CJ: Where did you intern and how did you go about securing those internships?

LS: My only internship was at Chipotle, which I had throughout college, in their corporation headquarters. I was part of the culture and language program, so we were writing and managing programs that helped employees learn English, which helps them advance in restaurants. It was an amazing internship, it ended up being so hands-on and I secured it by working my network. I knew I wanted to do something that used my Spanish and do something in the business world and I was interested in food, but I wasn’t quite sure how to put the two together. I knew people at Chipotle and asked about internships and they pointed me to the right place.

CJ: You are a Food Editor at Village Voice Media. What does being a Food Editor mean?

LS: On a job responsibility level, I manage the division of a section, I assign stories, I edit stories, and I keep the online part of the food coverage of the Voice and the paper moving in the direction I think it should be moving.

CJ: What makes a good food writer? Is it traveling and eating, or is it eating a lot?

LS: It can be a lot of things. There are a lot of different kinds of food writers. The best food writers have a unique angle of some sort. They could have traveled and bring a cultural awareness to the food that they’re eating or writing about. They could really love the human story behind foods. They could love the environmental factors or the experience. There are a lot of ways to be a food writer.

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CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

LS: I wake up, drink a lot of coffee, spend the first four hours of my day editing and writing and getting our blog set for the day, and then I spend the second half of my day interviewing, talking to people, strategizing, and transcribing. There is also a lot of eating involved. I am out to dinner every night and out to lunch a lot. Sometimes I’ll have two dinners.

CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be a Food Editor do now to set themselves up for success?

LS: Write. That would be the first thing. Writing is a skill that no matter how naturally good at it you are, you get better as you do it more. And find a good editor because that helps a ton. Start a blog. With the direction media is going, get good at social media, photography, and film. In that same vein, a good food writer has a unique angle – learn something in the food world better than anyone else knows it and you’ll be the go-to person for that topic.

CJ: In addition to being a Food Editor, you are active with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. How are you involved and why do you believe in their mission?

LS: I sit on the board, which means we meet and hear about the day-to-day of the organization, we help with fundraising, and we help with higher level strategy decisions. The board provides overall strategic direction and fundraising help.

The New York City Coalition Against Hunger works with and on behalf of food pantries around New York. Instead of just helping soup kitchens fulfill their duty, we work on changing the rules of the system. We are focused on fixing the problem as opposed to just putting a Band-Aid on it. Being in the food industry, fixing the problem is important to me.

CJ: If you were hiring an intern, what are the top three traits that you would look for?

LS: Eagerness. The best intern I had was eager and never said no. That’s a big one. A certain level of maturity and self-awareness. Be able to take direction and accept that somebody might have something to teach you. Communication is also important, especially today, you’ve got to be a good communicator.

CJ: You’ve been out of school for seven years. How did you transition from college life to “the real world?”

LS: I approached post-college as a skill gathering time. I looked at it as a time to do a lot of different things, and I ignored people around me telling me I had to have a career where I was moving up. I didn’t buy it. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but it worked out on my end. Being flexible is important. I moved from L.A. to Denver, went to New York, back to Denver, and then back to New York. Some years were harder than others. The year I quit my consulting job and was working for a quarter of the salary waiting tables I would think, what did I do? That’s when I would think that I wasn’t transitioning well post-college. But it’s all temporary and things work out. If I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.

CJ: What activities were you involved in throughout high school and college? Were there any experiences that were most memorable or life changing?

LS: In high school, I was the editor-in-chief of the yearbook, I was on the mock trial team, I was on the golf team – but I’m pretty sure I only did that to get out of gym – and I was a girl scout. That was meaningful not so much from the organizational perspective, but because I did a lot of community service, which was very rewarding and momentous.

In college, I did different things such as Model EU and a foreign affairs club because I got to travel. At Claremont McKenna, I helped design a curriculum that helped staff, such as janitors, to learn English. We would tutor them one-on-one, and that was rewarding.

CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life – at the office and/or during your down/personal time?

LS: I think a lot about making an impact. Going back to what I said about seizing your youth, feeling engaged is huge. I worked a lot of jobs where I didn’t feel engaged. I feel engaged now and I feel compelled to continue to dig in and I want to feel that way forever about what I’m doing. I’d like to do something that impacts my community in a positive way.

CJ: What is your favorite book?

LS: Recently: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

CJ: Who is your role model?

LS: I’m pretty lucky to have a lot of role models. I had an editor in Denver who I would consider a role model. Still one of the greatest editors I’ve ever worked with. She taught me a lot about the business, and she is one of those people whose impact on me is something I hope to have on others.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

LS: Don’t worry about it when you feel uncomfortable. You’re going to have times where you are unsure if you can pay a bill or if you’re going to be fired. These things will happen and it is part of it and it is fine and it usually works out. Try to enjoy it and try not to get caught up in others telling you what to do or how to feel.

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

As Online Content Lead at General Assembly, Candace Williams has a lot of responsibility. She keeps the content moving along, interacts with all of her teams, and has long days that vary in tasks. After spending time earning her Masters in teaching from Stanford and then becoming a teacher, Candace knows quite a bit about education. Paired with her love for technology, Candace is a perfect fit as an Online Content Lead. Candace advises to not stay on one path, to take advantage of opportunities, and to hustle hard. We are inspired by Candace’s work ethic and her passion for both teaching and learning. 

Name: Candace Williams
Age: 27
Education: Bachelor of Arts from Claremont McKenna College, Master of Arts/Teaching Credential from Stanford University
Follow: Twitter / General Assembly

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

Seizing your youth means trying new things and hustling hard on something. Even if it doesn’t work out, try new things and learn about yourself. Be willing to push the envelope.

What did you major in at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) and how did you determine what to study?

I applied to Claremont McKenna College for the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) program. I loved the tutorials, and the amount of writing that we did upped my writing skills. PPE was one of the main reasons why I applied to CMC.

Did you study abroad? What was your big takeaway from studying abroad and do you think it was worth it?

I didn’t study abroad, but I worked abroad a lot.

Where did you intern and how did you go about securing those internships?

I have interned at a lot of places. My first internship was during the school year at Claremont McKenna College. I did tutoring and was a lab tech and resident tech assistant. During the summer, I worked for my Congressman at his campaign office in my state. I got that internship through CMC’s career services. I looked through the postings, applied, and they gave me a stipend and class credit.

The second summer, I was a teacher at a juvenile detention facility, and CMC gave me another stipend and a fellowship. I wrote papers and got some class credit. After that, CMC gave me a grant to work in India for human rights work.

I graduated the following summer and went straight into my teaching program.

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What were you doing before General Assembly?

I was in social media, so basically I was paid to be on Facebook and Twitter all day. Before that I was an elementary school teacher and I taught K-5 science in the south Bronx. Before that I went to grad school while teaching at the same time. I have a Masters in teaching.

You are an Online Content Lead for General Assembly. What does being an Online Content Lead mean?

It means that I am an instructional designer. I make sure that what we put out online really helps people learn. I also help source instructors and I am like the glue that holds our teams together. There are a lot of teams that put our content together. There are video teams, the design team, marketing efforts, and I am the person who keeps the content moving along.

What does a day in your life look like?

It really depends. What I really love about this job is that it is so flexible. Yesterday I was in Washington D.C. I got up at 5:30am, went to Penn Station, and took the three hour train to D.C. I met with people there, filmed at the New America Foundation, hopped back on the train, and got home around 8pm.

The day before that I was at work filming something until 9pm. During the day I have a lot of meetings and we talk about the redesign of the website. Sometimes I come in early, sometimes I come in late. It really just depends.

What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be an online content lead/producer do to set themselves up for success?

The number one thing is to hustle hard and work hard and to seek out different opportunities. I wouldn’t get trapped in one path. It may seem like everyone is doing the same thing, such as finance or going to the same college, but I would actually look for things to do that are different and that are off the beaten path so you can learn about yourself. People will take notice.

I never imagined that I would be an online content lead, but it really fits my experience because I’m passionate about tech and teaching. When you’re passionate about something, those jobs and opportunities will open up, but you have to show that you are passionate. You have to find the right opportunities.

If you were hiring an intern, what are the top 3 traits that you would look for?

1. Working hard. That doesn’t even mean staying at work until it is late, it just means doing a task and doing it well.

2. Collaboration. I want people who work well with others.

3. Being a fun, nice person to work with. At work you should be able to enjoy spending time with people.

You’ve been out of school for five years. How did you transition from college life to “the real world?”

I think school life is real. If you’re creating the right life for yourself at college, it should be hard and it should mean staying up late and working. I feel like the things that I did at school were not that different than what I do now. At school, I was waking up early and going to work and working on a lot of different projects. I had a lot of deadlines and worked with many people. Be flexible and realize that you’re going to be terrible at a lot of things.

You went to the Stanford University School of Education. Where does your interest in education come from?

I’ve always been into education, even in elementary school and middle school. I always tutored kids and had an interest in education. I’m very passionate about it.

How did you decide where to go to grad school?

I care about education so I took some classes at Claremont Graduate University (CGU) and it was going really well. When Stanford came to campus, I was on my way to England for a debate tournament. I had my big suitcase but I was the only one who showed up to meet them. I met the head of admissions and she was excited to meet me. They had to sell me on the program, like why would I go to a program that was more expensive?

It came down between Stanford and CGU, which are both great programs. For me, I realized that their ideology was the same about teaching so I decided that it was time to try something new and get out of Claremont.

What activities were you involved in throughout high school and college? Were there any experiences that were most memorable or life changing?

A lot. I was president of the tech association, editor of the paper, I played the bassoon, and I volunteered a lot. In college, I was involved in debate and tech. With debate, I started teaching kids who were new to debate. I started debate my first day of college.

What motivates you in your everyday life – at the office and/or during your personal time?

I like feeling like I’m making stuff that matters. I like to have fun and I like to be with friends and family. I like feeling like I’m connected to people.

Who is your role model?

My mom, of course. She’s awesome. She works very hard, she’s smart, and she works very well with kids.

What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Nothing. I made mistakes, but you just have to do it.