Coming out of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I enjoyed being creative, thinking about business, environmental issues, and even considered pre-med for a while. Entering Illinois in the Division of General Studies (DGS) was a great place to start. I could talk with my academic advisor about the plans and the majors I was considering, and she recommended general education classes to help me explore.

I took classes in business, environmental sciences, Spanish, and more. The class that really sparked my interest was Advertising 150 – Introduction to Advertising. This class provided insights into both the creative and business aspects of advertising agencies. It left me wanting more. I enthusiastically took on other application-based classes in advertising like Brand Strategy and Consumer Insights. By the end of my Sophomore year, my choice was clear – I transferred to the College of Media to pursue a major in Advertising. Happily, all the coursework that I took while exploring options was accepted toward my degree. I even found space to pursue two minors – in Business and Spanish.

There were a few key people who gave me great advice about classes and next steps along the way. My DGS advisor, Hollie Heintz (now works in the College of Applied Health Sciences), was amazing. Additionally, I stayed in touch with an instructor for one of my Educational Psychology courses, Amira Al-Mutairi (currently works at the Office of International Student and Scholar Services). Being at a large predominantly white institution (PWI) as a Hispanic person was hard. Mentors like these individuals really helped me when I was struggling or feeling down. They gave me the resources necessary to be successful and helped me navigate my college experience. For those back on campus today, I encourage you to reach out to staff and faculty too. Their support is genuine and valuable.

So, where am I now? During one of my senior capstone projects I discovered that what I really enjoy is media planning – working with numbers, figuring out what will work, placing advertisements, and seeing a plan come to fruition. Upon graduation, I targeted those positions in my job search and landed an Associate Media Planner position with Zenith in Chicago. I started my role last August, and now I work with clients from across the world from New York to Singapore. There is so much opportunity to learn and grow in this position – from using new research and insight tools, to working within and across new cultures and markets. It is an exciting place to be.

I encourage students back on campus to branch out and make connections – with friends, staff, professors, alumni. Build your network now because Illinois’ on-campus and alumni networks are so big. It can be very helpful to have someone put in a good word for you.

Also, branch out personally – beyond your major. Employers are looking for experience in addition to your academic major. What makes you unique and amazing? Did you volunteer? What are your hobbies? What background do you bring? At the end of the day, employers care about you as a person – and what you add to the team. What story will you tell them?