Professional SpotlightSpotlight

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When we find ourselves in rooms with powerful, smart, and accomplished women, we take notes. Lots of notes. That’s why when we met Kelly Noonan, Attorney and Managing Partner at Seattle law firm Stokes Lawrence, we had our pens and notebooks in hand and were ready to learn. Kelly blew us away with her thoughtfulness, generosity, and keen observations. From sharing the greatest lessons she’s learned being an attorney to describing her involvement with a neighborhood legal clinic, Kelly is extremely knowledgeable in her line of work and engaged with her community. For anyone interested in a career in law, definitely take what Kelly says into consideration (if you’re starting your law school applications you’ll be especially grateful!). Her piece of advice that we still carry with us to this day: “Try to keep your eyes open and learn as much as you can from every experience.” Now, get ready to take some notes!

Name: Kelly Noonan
Age: 51
Education: BA in English from University of Notre Dame; Doctor of Law (JD) from University of Washington School of Law; Executive Development Program at University of Washington Foster School of Business

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

Kelly Noonan: There are opportunities throughout your life, and I don’t think they necessarily go away when you get older. But certainly, some opportunities are much easier to seize when you are young than when you are older. When you have more long-term financial obligations, when you have a family, when you have commitments and responsibilities that are deeper and more long-term to your community, career, and your family, it becomes harder to pivot. It’s a bit easier to explore and take chances when you are younger.

CJ: Prior to going to law school, you received your undergrad degree in English at the University of Notre Dame. Was law school part of your plans during college?

KN: No. I changed my major a number of times while I was in college. I settled on English, which was a very good choice for me. I was pretty sure I would go to graduate school, but I hadn’t settled on what I would pursue. I considered a number of possibilities. I worked for a year between undergrad and law school, and gave a lot of thought to what I wanted to do long-term.

I thought about what I really like to do and what kind of environment I wanted. I decided that I like studying, learning, and the academic process. Being a lawyer involves a lot of that. You don’t learn “the law” and then go out and apply it. Law is constantly evolving and changing, and almost every case requires that you learn some nuance of law and how it applies to your client’s circumstances.

I also like being surrounded by other people who are intellectually curious and who are interested in growing and developing. I also wanted a career where I could help people, maybe change lives because I had a skill that is desperately needed. I hoped to have some autonomy in creating the career I wanted. I feel fortunate because over time all of these qualities I wanted in a career have proven to be true.

CJ: Studying for the LSAT is not an easy process. What was your experience with the test prep? What tips do you have for those interested in signing up for the LSAT? (How long in advance did you begin studying? Did you take a course? How did you balance studying for the LSAT with your college coursework?)

KN: I did not take the LSAT during college. I took the GRE and the GMAT while I was in college. I took the LSAT in the fall after I graduated from college. I didn’t take a course because I couldn’t afford it and I didn’t have a lot of time with my full-time job. I bought a book and worked through it. I was pretty disciplined. When I knew my test date, I broke the book down into sections and studied a bit every day.

While it’s not how I did it, I would advise taking a course, especially if you’re someone who finds standardized tests challenging. The LSAT is like the SAT on steroids. The process of preparing for and applying to law school is not all that different than the process of applying to college.

CJ: Besides working hard to get a good score on the LSAT, what did you do to prepare for the law school application? Is there anything you wish you had known or that you would have done differently?

KN: The more you can learn about what lawyers do, the better. Talk to as many lawyers as you can – criminal lawyers, commercial lawyers, transactional lawyers, people who work in companies, etc. – because it will help inform your thinking.

It’s not uncommon for people who are interested in going to law school to get an entry level job in a law firm. A lot of people have come through my firm who have been thinking about law school. Some of them have gone on to law school and some have changed their minds and taken a different path. Law school is competitive and expensive, and the job market is highly competitive. The financial commitment to go to law school today is far greater than when I went.

If you are considering law school, be very clear about why you want to be a lawyer. Law school is a trade school. I would not advise going to law school because it is a good foundation for something other than being a lawyer. It’s true that law school provides a strong foundation in logic, research, analysis and clear communications, all skills that have application beyond law, but the mission of law schools is to train future lawyers. Unless you have unlimited funds and time, go to law school only because you want to be a lawyer.

When applying to law schools, be as clear as you can about what you want. You don’t have to know what kind of law you want to practice, but knowing why you want to go and communicating that clearly in writing is valuable. If you can’t do that, then think twice about why you’re doing this. Tell the people you are asking for recommendations why you want to go to law school, what you hope to gain, and what you hope to contribute to the community. It will make it easier for them to provide personalized, positive references.

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CJ: What do you think are the advantages and/or disadvantages of going to law school right after undergrad versus getting work experience?

KN: I think either approach can be okay. I have a bias in favor of working for a while before you go to graduate school, and not just law school. Having some non-academic experiences is helpful in a number of different ways. It can help you figure out what you want

In the second and third year of law school you get more practical experiences, but if your experiences before law school were only academic, your frame of reference is more limited, and understanding how the theory works in the real world can be a bit mysterious. When you have had a chance to step away from the academic, you may bring more to your classwork, get more out of your experience, and your motivations are clearer. As far as what to do in between undergrad and law school, I don’t think you need to work in a law firm or in some other law-oriented job, although that has the advantage of giving you some insight into what lawyers do day-to-day. Serving in the Peace Corp, working for a company or nonprofit or working in the public sector are all valuable, as well. The point is to step away from academic life for a time.

With all that said, there are many fantastic lawyers who have gone straight through from undergrad to law school.

CJ: You are the Managing Shareholder at Stokes Lawrence. What does your role as Managing Shareholder entail?

KN: A law firm is a business, and somebody needs to be focused primarily on running the business. That person is me. My focus is on managing the business of the law firm, similar to the CEO of a company.

I started phasing out of the active practice of law about six or seven years ago. I spend my time focused on our strategies, the competitive environment, how to provide our services so that we are helping our clients to make decisions and succeed, how to train, mentor and develop our people, what we can do to make sure we remain successful and viable, how to maintain a positive and productive firm culture, and what we need to do to satisfy our obligations in the community. I work closely with our administrative managers including Finance and Accounting, IT, Human Resources, Marketing and the administrative practice teams. I love it.

CJ: You’re phasing out of the active practice of law, but when you did practice law, you focused on business advising and commercial litigation with an emphasis on consumer class action defense and advertising and consumer law. How did you choose these topics to practice?

KN: I had a preference for trial work, litigation and working with clients to resolve disputes rather than a transactional business practice. When I started practice, I knew those were my preferences, but there’s a lot of training and learning that occurs once you get out of law school, almost like an apprenticeship. I was trained and mentored by more senior attorneys and they really taught me how to do my job. I became a commercial litigator in part because that’s what I wanted to do, but the emphasis on class actions and advertising and consumer law were driven in large part by our client base and the help they needed. I liked balancing the advisory work with litigation. I am still a lawyer and I still do some advisory work, but all of my litigation matters have phased out.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being an attorney?

KN: Recognizing that a lot of situations are gray. Very rarely are situations black or white. If it is, frankly, then people don’t need the services of a lawyer. The world we work in as lawyers is many of shades of gray. The law doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it exists in relation to the facts and the circumstances of real life people, real life companies, and real world situations that don’t organize themselves neatly. It’s something I continue to learn as a lawyer.

One of the real privileges as a lawyer is to be able to take a client’s situation and help craft the right approach so they can achieve their goals. There’s not always one path, and it’s not necessarily the most obvious path. It’s critically important to keep your eyes and ears wide open to recognize the opportunities, the potentials, and the pitfalls that maybe aren’t obvious. You need to have a broad perspective but always have your eye on the goal.

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CJ: You are a member of the peer mentoring organization, Women Presidents’ Organization, a non-profit formed to improve business conditions for women entrepreneurs. How did you get involved with this organization and what is your role?

KN: Women President’s Organization is a peer mentoring group, and I got involved with it five or six years ago. It’s a terrific organization with chapters around the world. Each chapter is composed of about 20 women who are the owner, CEO or president of their mid-size company. We are in a variety of industries. We meet monthly and have confidential discussions about the business and leadership issues we face. Being part of this organization has really helped me to hone my leadership skills.

I also belong to a WPO Platinum chapter for larger businesses, and this group involves women from throughout North America. I get something different out of each group, and both are valuable in helping me to increase my skills and effectiveness in managing the firm. No matter what you’re doing or what your stage in life, having a peer group is so helpful. A study group in college or grad school can help you learn from others’ experiences and create connections with others in a similar situation.

CJ: You also volunteer regularly at the King County Bar Association Downtown Neighborhood Legal Clinic. How did you choose to get involved with this?

KN: I’ve done a variety of pro-bono work over the years, but I was finding it more difficult to take on pro-bono cases with my other case loads and responsibilities. The Neighborhood Legal Clinic is a great opportunity to volunteer your time and skills to people who really need your help, and the time commitment is fixed. I work at the clinic about once a month for two hours at the King County Courthouse. King County residents can make an appointment to meet with a lawyer for 30 minutes.

Clinic clients are generally very prepared, and an extremely concentrated 30 minutes of helping people with a variety of issues.

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

KN: Being a good communicator – both verbally and in writing – is a critical skill. The ability to organize your thoughts, combine logic with emotion, and put these thoughts into writing is necessary. If you can do that in writing, you have a good foundation for verbal communications. It’s not about being the loudest debater. Great lawyers are clear thinkers who enjoy the analytical process and who can take different sides of the same issue and make a compelling argument.

If you think you might want to be a lawyer, develop these skills. Take classes where you will be challenged and where you will work on critical reasoning and analytical skills, and where you will communicate and defend your ideas in writing and verbally. Hone these skills. Read with an eye towards understanding the logic involved in an editorial or opinion piece. Be an active learner and enjoy the academic process.

CJ: What was the last book that you read?

KN: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

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

KN: I remember thinking I had to have a plan when I graduated college. Nobody told me that, but I felt I had to get going right away in my “real” life. I would tell my younger self: don’t be in such a hurry to figure out what you’re going to become. The true is, we don’t someday arrive at our adult selves. That’s not the way it works. It’s a journey. There are a lot of steps on the journey. Pay attention to the steps along the way.

After college I got a job as a bill collector, and I remember at the time almost being embarrassed. I felt like I wasn’t taking advantage of my education. When I look back on that job, though, I realize I learned a lot, and some of the skills and lessons I learned carry over today.

It’s amazing what happens when you do your best and try to contribute as much as you can. Try to keep your eyes open and learn as much as you can from every experience. It’s amazing what doors open that you never even knew existed. Be alert enough to recognize opportunities when they come along and to learn from all of your experiences, even if they’re short term or difficult.

Don’t be in a hurry, but don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Sometimes you just have to jump in and see what happens.

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CultureTravel

“Where are you from?” she asked with a confidence that rapidly dwindled into embarrassment when I responded, “I was born here.” The awkward pause that causes eyes to wander, skin to prickle, and blood to rush is quickly relieved by the “but my parents are Colombian.” She seems to breathe again and feel the comfort she was familiar with six seconds before she had asked me the line-drawing question. My parents were born and raised in Colombia, but I was born and raised in Weston, a Fort Lauderdale suburb. Answering the following questions almost makes me feel like an actor rehearsing my lines for the millionth time. Yes, I am bilingual; yes, I have traveled to Colombia; in fact, I visit every summer and my profound attachment to the country has made the declaring of myself “American” unfit, yet, classification of myself “Colombian” slightly uncomfortable.

I knew I couldn’t be the only one with this dilemma, and it became an even more prevalent confusion in my junior year of high school when I chose “White” on my answer sheet through the process of elimination. I am not Indian, Asian, African or biracial, and choosing “other” at the time seemed more like giving up in how to identify myself rather than making a statement; leaving “white” as my last option. But I asked myself, “Do they mean ‘skin-color-white’? Or ‘I-was-born- in-America- white’?” I justified my answer by reminding myself that my father has white skin and green eyes, so, I chose “white” when, in reality, I have dark olive/tan skin. While I could have easily bubbled-in “Other,” at that moment, I chose to identify with my American self. But this was not always the case.

I have spent years trying to decipher this mystery. Am I both? Am I neither? What am I and where am I really from? For years I have felt absolutely uneasy with the idea of trying to label myself one or the other. However, being raised in South Florida has made it much easier to answer the black-or-white-question, “where are you from,” in a grey form. If the U.S. is a melting pot, South Florida is a recycled city bench. The amount of South American, Central American, European, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern communities in that region is astounding. More specifically, in my particular city, Venezuelans and Colombians are even more heavily concentrated. Most of my friends and people of association were either fully American or first or second generation immigrants from Colombia or Venezuela.

In light of this, to those who were first generation immigrants, I was an “American” and those who were second generation immigrants like me thought of me as “Colombian.” Likewise, I am considered Hispanic in this country but considered Gringa, or American, in Colombia – or any other country for that matter. This points directly to how easily others can perceive you, and many times, it may not be in correlation with how you see yourself. It all depends on adaptation and just how much those who have foreign-born parents or immigrants themselves have accustomed to the very-American, semi-American, or in my case, almost Hispanic-colonial-based culture. It has to do with what exactly the person has chosen to integrate into their lives, and what they reject as something they don’t want in their lives. In other words, it is very possible to create one’s own culture, per say, and develop one’s own identification.

Having parents from a different country than the one I was born and raised in means I have Carlos Vives and Frank Sinatra downloaded onto my iPod. It means I am the vegetarian that gets confused looks when I order only a side of red beans with rice and a pandebono at Colombian restaurants. It means that I speak the truly convenient and creative Spanglish language with my friends and US-born-family members, yet, jot down any unfamiliar English word in my agenda to look up and learn later. It means that when I am in the U.S., I will miss Juan Valdez Coffee and when in Colombia, I will think of how many free Starbucks drinks I am missing out on every 12 days. It means I chose to stuff my luggage with a stash of home-made frozen arepas to cook for breakfast instead of swiping my ID card at the college dining hall every morning. It means I criticize both American and Colombian governments and societies. It means I felt the knife in my heart that Saturday afternoon when I abandoned my unfinished homework to protest for a better Venezuelan government in snowy Boston. It means I had to unwillingly part from my cousin at the airport only to wait two hours for her because owning a blue passport unshackles me from having to bear the immigration process. It means that I am a daughter of the breath-taking mountainous rock that veins Colombia and a daughter of the Miami concrete jungle that is arranged as an unending labyrinth. It means many, many things, but it most importantly means that I am a little bit of both cultures and I find my balance in what I create it to be.

Figuring out just where to draw the line in your opinions, practices, and beliefs is where that balance is created. The next time somebody asks you where you are from, strapping yourself to one label is unnecessary; even when you find yourself surrounded by people who are of a certain nation or have decided their ethos, you can craft your own identification through a medium of what you have been exposed to.

ExploreFinanceSkillsTravel

Most of us want to travel the world, yet so few of us actually do it. We plan to save up, but somehow we just can’t stretch our dollars; we spend them on stuff before we can spend them on trips.

Having traveled through much of Southeast Asia (and a few other countries) on a very limited budget, I have met travel experts with lots of advice, and developed my own money saving tricks. Next week I will share my budget travel tips, but this article is about traveling with almost no money and either cutting out certain expenses (accommodations, food and transportation), or earning money while traveling.

I read a very accurate quote that went something like, “if you want to travel, you either have to spend time or money.” If you’re willing to sacrifice a little time so you can soak in unfamiliar cultures, see the world, meet new people and grow, these options could be for you.

1. Hostel Work Exchange

These jobs often offer free housing (and sometimes meals) in exchange for work, or they will simply pay you hourly. Hostel jobs are fairly competitive, so if possible, it is suggested to arrive in a location a bit before peak seasons for less stress. (i.e. before May or June in New York)

This site offers forums for job seekers and hostel employers to post opportunities. Hostel Management is another good hostel job search site.

2. Teach English Abroad

Teaching is quite a commitment, so this option is not for those who are iffy about that.

Most salaried positions last at least a year. Many schools will pay for housing among other amenities, and some (primarily in Asia) will even cover the flights to and from the host country. Some locations pay better than others. I have friends who have paid off student loans and traveled Asia with the salaries they made in South Korea.

Getting a certification to teach English (TEFL) is not always required but will both prepare you and bump up your salary. The following sites can get you certified and/or placed:

Oxford Seminars: Awesome. Pricey TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certification, but it includes classroom instruction, a practicum, a massively extensive database of schools in hundreds of countries and three textbooks to help you along the way. Plus, awesome like-minded classmates that can become travel buddies. As a former Oxford Seminars student, I recommend this wholeheartedly.

CIEE: I haven’t used this, but it’s a very reputable and reliable program that many friends have used to both teach and study abroad. They provide training and an optional TEFL certification.

People Recruit: This sends people directly to South Korea. A friend’s brother used this and had a great experience with it. It does not include a TEFL certification as Korea doesn’t require it.

3. WWOOFing

WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It pairs travelers with hosts and allows them to work on a farm, co-op, garden, or related space in exchange for food and accommodation.

WWOOF website for more information.

4. Odd jobs

These include working as a server/bartender, laborer, au pair, tour guide, and more. When you arrive in a location, look for “hiring” signs. Hop into restaurants and offices, bring your resume and be prepared to spend a little time unemployed and searching. Business cards help, too, but be sure they’re simple and universally useable. Additionally, highlight language and professional skills, and ensure you’re easily reachable within your host country (local phone number, provide email, etc.). This option requires more spontaneity, but it’s very doable and will offer some pay to live off of and travel with.

5. Working Holiday Scheme

Several countries offer working holiday visas and the opportunity to take on low-wage, seasonal jobs. The visas are available for people under 35 and typically last up to a year.

6. Skill-based jobs

You can do more than wait tables or answer phones if you want. It may take more digging, but will pay better and utilize your skills and any education you’ve received.

Alliance Abroad offers work placements before departure and provides accommodations. I’ve never used it but have heard it recommended before. They provide placements for business, event planning, food preparation and other skilled positions, as well as internships and general service positions.

7. Couch Surf

Couchsurfing allows you to link up with hosts in any country in the world and stay with them for free. Be sure to check up on the local culture’s etiquette so you know whether to bring a gift, buy meals, etc. Couchsurfers and hosts are generally open-minded travel-lovers who enjoy making new friends and helping others enjoy their cities. The database offers extensive reviews on hosts and ways to connect with other surfers.

8. Home Exchange

Swap apartments or houses for a trip. This allows you to stay, rent-free, in someone else’s home in your travel destination. HomeExchange is a good option for this.

9. Yacht or Cruise Ship Jobs

These are paid positions that include free room and board, meals and other expenses. These opportunities often go overlooked. While not a piece of cake, it is easier than one would think to find a safe, reputable job on a yacht or cruise ship.

Some good sites for finding service jobs on yachts or cruise ships include Crew 4 Crew, Jobs on Yachts and Cruise Ship Jobs.

Traveling with little money requires the traveler to let go of hard plans and remain open to sudden changes. It means time spent. It also often means no frills: hostels, street food, homestays, and sometimes a lack of western amenities. Challenges are part of it, though, and the memories and growth that travel create are incredible!

Plus, who knows? You may find your passion is teaching, farming, boating, or something you never dreamed of!

(Aside from friends and personal experience, Nomadic Matt had some great tips that helped with this article. He’s a fantastic budget travel blogger.)

What are your tips and resources for traveling paid or without significant expenses?

Image: Garry Knight, Flickr

Professional SpotlightSkillsSpotlight

When it comes to creating awesome books for kids, Kate Olesin, Editor at National Geographic Kids Books, knows exactly what she’s doing. Incredibly talented and creative, Kate started her career with National Geographic as an intern in college. When Kate graduated from University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009, she secured a position as an Editorial Assistant. Over the years, Kate has quickly worked her way up to Editor (and she’s only 27!). Kate’s passion for her work is obvious when she talks about the various types of books she works on, her day-to-day duties, and her love for reading and inspiring kids.

Outside of the NG office, Kate loves to stay active by running, hiking, and gardening. Work life balance is important to Kate, and seeing how she juggles managing a team and 10 projects at a time, having some downtime is very necessary. For all you writers and editors, Kate has invaluable advice to share about how she time manages, seeks mentors, how to set yourself up for success, and what traits make a rockstar intern.

Name: Kate Olesin
Age: 27
Education: B.A. in English and History from University of Massachusetts Amherst
Follow: Twitter / LinkedIn

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

Kate Olesin: Young people are in a really good spot, especially right now, where many companies and professionals are looking for young, cheap, and really smart people. Our youth today are the whole package. They are really taking the time to go after their dream jobs and doing more than they’ve ever done before. Seizing your youth means taking advantage of the skills you already have. You are young, you are smart, and you have a larger breadth of knowledge of this changing world than a lot of other people who are already established in their careers. Young people today are so ambitious and smart and so many of them are just good go-getters.

CJ: You majored in English and History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. How did you determine what to study?

KO: I was the first one of my siblings to go to college, and it was funny because when I applied to school, I went to my high school guidance counselor’s office because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So, I picked up the biggest book in the office and it was the UMass Amherst book. Then when I got to Amherst, I ended up being placed in an English talent advancement program, and I really loved my classes and all of the people and students I was living with — all English majors. I decided to pursue book publishing pretty early on because of my lifelong love of reading. English really prepared me with the critical thinking skills that I use every day in my job.

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CJ: What was your first job out of college?

KO: Getting my first job was a mix of good timing and luck. I actually interned in the children’s books division of National Geographic right after my freshman year of college. I graduated in 2009 in the worst economy ever and I was terrified. Hiring in the book industry was stagnant and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had applied to publishing companies all over the country as well as some think tanks with zero response. But after completing my NG internship, I knew Washington D.C. was really the city I wanted to be in. So, I looked on National Geographic’s website and knew that they had a hiring freeze going on, but an entry-level position was open in my old division. It was perfect, and everybody I worked with as an intern was still there!

So, I started as an Editorial Assistant at National Geographic after college. I worked on book projects, did the administrative filing and copying, and really threw myself into it. After two years, I became an Assistant Editor. After about 10 months, I was then promoted to Associate Editor, and as of this past February, I am now an Editor. What’s nice about my group is that there is a clear career path and lots of extremely helpful mentorship along the way.

CJ: What sparked your interest in publishing?

KO: I’ve always loved books and I’ve always been a big reader. Ever since I was a kid I tore through children’s books. I grew up within walking distance of my local library, so I was constantly checking out books. But, children’s books are still what I love to read today. I love reading young adult novels. I do like reading adult books, as well.

For a time, I focused on journalism and reporting at my college newspaper and through internships. I did really like being a reporter. It’s demanding and rigorous, but I found that I really wanted to work with books and with children somehow. The nice thing about working at National Geographic, which is such a mission-driven organization, is that the books are non-fiction. We are telling true stories to kids who want to hear them and just maybe they’ll learn something from it. It’s really inspiring.

I wanted to work for a company that would uphold strong educational values, and I think I found one.

CJ: You are currently an Editor at National Geographic Kids. What are your roles as Editor?

KO: A lot of people assume that editors just focus on nitpicky copy editing things. Though I do a little of that, it’s not so much like my time is spent identifying what a past participle is. I do a lot more project management work. My job involves top of the line thinking and wrangling the entire team to make sure all of the pieces come together to form a complete product.

Each editor also acquires titles, and to do that we really look broadly at what the rest of the market is doing. We see what’s doing well, what’s not doing well, and what might fit into our publishing plan. Then we come up with ideas. For instance, I’ve done a couple of books relating to online games, another about George Washington, and another about dog communication. We take popular or core curriculum topics and their characters and tie in real-world information. So, something like taking an exciting game and pairing it with non-fiction information is a way to get kids hooked and inspire a love of reading and the real world.

There’s a lot of development that we do. We have three types of books: gift books, kid-driven books, and library review driven books. Our core age range is 8-12 years old. We also do preschool books and tween books for kids who are 10-years-old and up. So we try and come up with titles that fit into those molds or on topics that they care about.

When it all comes together, I hire authors, we work with our designers and our team of photo editors. Then it just goes from there. I do the text editing and reading through to make sure the narrative and big picture makes sense.

National Geographic Society

CJ: What is the process for creating a children’s book?

KO: It’s a long process. It usually takes about a year. Printing and shipping the books takes a long time. In the publishing industry your books have to be ready months before they go on sale so all of the major reviewers can review your book. That’s at least six months of time right there.

In our division we’re pretty unique in that we do a lot of in-house development. At National Geographic Kids, we have honed in on what kids want to read and what nonfiction content they are interested in. We take our market research and talk to our panel of about 4,000 kids about what they want to see. We call them our “kid bosses” and they’re very honest with us. When we find a topic that clicks, we get to work.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being an editor?

KO: The importance of relationship building and how to maintain those relationships is one of the big lessons I’ve learned. Having connections and positive relationships with everyone I encounter at my job is really important, whether it’s a big-time author or someone I work with only once.

It’s also been interesting looking at the bigger picture instead of just having tunnel vision and focusing on your own work. Seeing how your book might fit into the broader picture of a marketing plan or a digital plan or anything else is helpful. I’ve learned to see how I can contribute in other ways with great ideas.

CJ: What is the best part about being an editor? The most challenging part?

KO: The best part is physically holding that book you worked so hard on in your hand when it comes off press. All of the photos are high-resolution and the paper is beautiful. Most of our books have a masthead in the back, and seeing your name printed is really nice.

I’m the head of my team for every book I work on. Being in charge of creating a product for children and making sure that it’s wonderful and inspiring is so thrilling. It’s something I never would have imagined that I’d get to do at 27.

The most challenging part is the deadlines. We have a lot of work to do here. Making sure the project keeps moving forward is sometimes a puzzle. It’s sometimes easy to leave projects on the back-burner. I am working on approximately 10 different books right now that are all in different stages. Juggling all of the different pieces can be challenging.

CJ: How do you time manage?

KO: I do a lot of things electronically and I use a lot of to-do lists. We have a couple of project management programs here. And over the past five years, I’ve learned to plan ahead as much as I possibly can and I’ve become a little more firm. It’s easy for a young person to be a little more lenient, but sometimes you have to crack the whip. Not all of the time, and certainly people get busy, but that’s just the nature of working in a time sensitive environment.

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

KO: When I’m at the office, I read, read, read. Our CEO has a saying that “every day matters” which I think I’ve taken to heart at work and outside of the office. I’ve been trying to focus on a lot of work life balance, which I think is very important. It’s hard to do when you’re a young person just starting out in your career. So, I really try to get my work done for the day, go home, go for a run, make my dinner, and relax. If I have to finish things up at home, I will.

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

KO: Do as many writing projects as you can. I’ve hired interns and young people to work for me, and the first thing I look for is a well-written cover letter and involvement in writing somehow. It can be for your school newspaper or your own blog or a review site. Good writing skills are a valuable asset. I also like to see young people who are willing to do anything and just throw themselves into any task with a positive attitude.

When I first started working at National Geographic, I did a bunch of filing and copying. Even though that sounds boring, I made it a fun learning experience by reading through every piece of paperwork I had to file and copy so I understood what was happening. If I had questions, I’d ask. I learned our entire filing system and reorganized it for efficiency in two weeks. All of this, which sounds like grunt work, gave me a serious advantage in the end and I was able to understand our administrative process very quickly. Anything that you do can be a learning experience, no matter how menial you feel the task is.

nat geo books

CJ: When you were an Editorial Assistant and as an Assistant Editor, you hired, supervised, and evaluated editorial interns. What traits make a rockstar intern?

KO: An outgoing personality. A lot of times our interns will have to make calls or talk to experts to verify information. They need to not be afraid to pick up the phone to make a call or ask questions to find the answer.

It’s so hard when people don’t know what they’re doing but won’t ask questions. When someone sits there and doesn’t know what to do, the work doesn’t get done. Questions are never dumb. I think a lot of students feel silly when they ask questions, but they really shouldn’t. Questions are a really important part of the learning experience.

CJ: When you aren’t editing children’s books, how do you like to spend your time?

KO: I’ve started running. I’ve been doing that for about six months. It’s important for people to know that when you start working at a demanding job, it is hard to get active. I think it’s important to stay active because it gives me extra energy. I like to hike, garden and generally be outside. I love to go to the Shenandoah Mountains, which are only a couple of hours away. In D.C. there are free museums so there are always awesome things to do.

CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life?

KO: I’ve always enjoyed being a mentor and helping people see the best parts of themselves. I like to inspire ambition in people. Especially working at this organization where our mission is to “inspire people to care about the planet,” that’s something that really drives me. I like knowing that every day when I come into work, I’m helping make a product that can inspire a kid to get outside, or to save lions, or to just love reading.

CJ: How do you go about finding a mentor?

KO: In college I was a peer mentor and resident assistant. Here I try to develop relationships with the people I work with. To be able to go up to them and ask for their opinion about a sentence’s structure, how I might respond to a delicate situation, or for help with a project, is so helpful.

I am a person who loves having people as sounding boards for ideas and questions. Part of it is to feel validated in my own decision-making, but the other part is just to work out the problem. Developing those relationships has been really important. Whether it’s with people here or with authors I work with, it’s a learning experience and I do love to learn. You learn from teaching and you learn from the people you teach.

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

KO: When I was 20, I had about four jobs in school. Part of it was to make money, and part of it was to inspire my love of learning. I worked at my university press, babysat, in an office, and worked on the weekends at a hotel. I would have told myself to take a slight step back once in a while. Take a hike in the woods or go to the beach. Unplug for an afternoon. Everything doesn’t have to be go-go-go all the time. Today when I take a breath, I appreciate where I am and what I have going for me.

Kate Olesin Qs

SpotlightYouth Spotlight

As the former president of Zeta Tau Alpha at New York University, Nicole Gartside has really learned how to manage her time and energy. Being a sorority president is a huge responsibility, but Nicole takes care of business with grace and an upbeat attitude. While also being a student and writer, Nicole has worked on figuring out how to balance her schedule while also having a bit of fun. Since she has stepped down from her role as president, Nicole is now working as an editorial intern at Good Housekeeping magazine, has become a member of Order of Omega (an academic honor organization for Greeks), and will be gearing up for graduation in May! Read on to learn more about Nicole’s motivations, how she manages her time, and how she got involved with Greek life in the first place.

Name: Nicole Gartside
Age: 20
Education: Current Student at New York University
Follow: Twitter | Blog | Zeta Tau Alpha NYU

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

I think that when you’re young – especially in this day and age – there are so many different opportunities arising. I think seizing your youth is seizing those opportunities and not waiting until you’re older. I have a lot of friends in college back home who just want to party with friends and worry about real life later, and I guess in their mind they’re seizing their youth. However, in my mind, seizing your youth means taking advantage of the opportunities you get when you’re younger before you have actual responsibilities to deal with, such as paying bills.

What are you majoring in at New York University and how did you determine what to study?

I’m majoring in English and Journalism. I came into college not knowing what I wanted to do when I graduated, but I know I like writing and I’ve done interviewing and journalism, so I figured that was a good place to start. I wanted to do something general enough so I could go wherever the wind takes me.

Where have you interned and how did you go about securing those internships?

I’ve interned at a bunch of different small companies throughout the year. I interned at a local online publication in my hometown where I did profiles of people in my community. I got that internship through a friend of a friend who worked at the magazine.

I worked for an online magazine for women in college called Her Campus. A friend of mine had written for Her Campus so I applied online and sent in some clips from my blog. I actually had articles get picked up by The Huffington Post and U.S.A. Today, which was really cool.

I interned last semester at Seventeen Magazine. I was a beauty intern. I just Googled “How to apply for a Seventeen Magazine internship” and sent in my application in the mail, which no one does anymore.

This semester I’m taking off from interning so I have a little more time for school and Zeta stuff. I do part-time voice-over work for law school online classes, which is so fun.

How do you balance interning and being a college student?

For me it was a matter of prioritizing and being realistic of my time schedule. If I don’t have a lot to do I tend to be a procrastinator and I’ll take forever to do them. But when I was interning from 9am-6pm, I really had to factor that into my day and get my assignments done.

I also try not to over-commit myself to too many things. It’s more important to me to commit to a few things rather than commit to a lot of different things but not doing them very well because of lack of time. I lost my mind when I was doing too many things last semester, which is why this semester I took a step back. If you’re going to commit, commit all the way.

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

I studied abroad just in the summer in Madrid. I wanted to go because I wanted to finally work on my Spanish. I’ve been studying Spanish since fourth grade. I went to live with a host family. I thought studying abroad was worth it so I could study another culture, feel more comfortable with the language, and learn to be on my own. It was terrifying at first but I learned a lot and I’m really glad I went.

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You are the president of NYU Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA). What does being president of a sorority mean and what do your presidential duties entail?

The actual title and duties are to make sure that everyone is satisfied with their overall Zeta experience and to make sure all the positions are doing their job. The better everyone else is doing their job, the less I actually have to do.

I have to be the liaison between our chapter and the fraternity sorority life community at New York University, the U.S. office, and the international office. I go to meetings with all the other Greek presidents and with the fraternity sorority life directors, and make sure we are meeting deadlines and filling out the proper paperwork. I oversee the positions on the executive council – there are nine other positions. I make sure they do their job, that events and recruitments are going well, and that everything is going according to plan. I oversee a lot and meet with many people. I probably send and receive 50 emails a day and 150 text messages a day about Zeta.

What was the process of rushing like and how did you choose which sororities to rush for?

My process was actually a little bit different because I was part of the Alpha pledge class so we founded the organization on campus. I really wanted to be in Greek life. I went to a bunch of different meetings on campus during welcome week and talked to a couple of different organizations.

I missed the deadline for recruitment my freshman year, but then Zeta recruited after formal recruitment. I went to check Zeta out and attended some of their events and I loved the idea of being able to start an organization from the ground up. It was nice to come in without any preconceived notions and reputation. It was hard because there were 90 people originally in our pledge class, but it was nice to be able to make the organization what we wanted it to be.

How do you become president of a sorority?

Since we’re a new chapter, we don’t do direct elections for four years, so the way that we do it is that we first elect a slate committee. Each grade elects a representative for their slate committee. You apply for a position and list your qualifications and interview, and then they pick who gets the positions. It’s a long process.

What does a day in your life look like?

This semester most of my classes are in the afternoons so I usually try to wake up at 9am or 10am and get my work done in the morning. I like to do my work first thing in the morning. Then I’ll try to get to the gym or go for a run. In the evenings I usually have meetings or a Zeta event, and then I’ll spend my night usually answering emails and finishing up paperwork. That’s my typical weekday.

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

In high school I was on the cross country and I was captain my senior year. I was on the swim team, I was involved in honor choir, and I did the musical every year. I wasn’t always accepted because I didn’t want to conform to the norm and I didn’t really care what other people thought. Then I remember my senior year I was voted homecoming queen, and I remember thinking, “This is what happens when you don’t let people tell you who to be. This is what happens when you are yourself. People end up liking you.” It was a life affirming moment in high school.

Besides interning and being Zeta’s president, what other activities are you involved in?

I’m pretty busy with school and Zeta. I work part-time during the semester. I was in hall council my freshman year and was a representative my sophomore year. Now I am not as involved since my meetings conflict.

What has your experience been like going to college in New York City?

It was hard at first because it was totally different from where I grew up. I grew up in a tiny town in Colorado and I wanted something different for college. I came up here and didn’t know anybody. At first it was exciting like I was on vacation, but then I realized that this is where I would live for the next four years. It was a bigger transition process, but now I’m really glad I came here because I feel like I became very independent and that I could go anywhere else in the world and feel comfortable and figure out where I’m going. It’s been hectic and sometimes a little stressful, but in the end I’m glad I came.

What motivates you in your everyday life?

I have different motivations for different things. Especially for Zeta, my friends and sisters in the organizations motivate me. There are some days when I’m working all day doing Zeta stuff and I get exhausted, but then I realize I’m doing it for all of my friends, and that motivates me.

I’ve also always been a self-motivated person. I like to stay busy and keep going and think about my post-college life. I want to have enough experience to make money and support myself. I am past the living-with-my-parents stage in my life.

Who is your role model?

This was actually my entrance essay for college and I picked Walt Disney. I remember my first line being, “I am Walt Disney’s fairytale princess.” I think he’s a good example because I love the fantastical aspect of all of his work. Nothing was too much or too absurd to be a story. He was also a great storyteller and that’s one thing I would love to do, whether it’s fiction or journalism. He’s definitely one of my role models.

I’m also not someone who idolizes other people. I think everyone is flawed and I respect other people for what they’ve done, but I don’t necessarily idolize celebrities or anyone. I could try to live up to certain things they’ve done in their life, but I’d rather look up to the me that I can be.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

Stop stressing so hard about everything in life. I tend to over-analyze and find the stress in everything. I would tell my 15-year-old-self to take chances. At that age I liked to take safe choices. I would tell myself that it is going to be okay eventually, but that it is going to get worse before it gets better.