The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s area studies centers and the UNC Curriculum in Global Studies hosted Global Career Night virtually last month. The annual panel event featured Carolina alumni in globally-focused careers sharing their professional journeys and engaging directly with students. The Center for European Studies and the UNC Curriculum in Global Studies co-organized the event.
Katie Lindner, executive director of the Center for European Studies, provided opening remarks before introducing the panelists, and Zach Ward, student services specialist with the Curriculum in Global Studies, served as the moderator. Members of the panel included:
- Sara Bidgood ’11 (M.A.), director of the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and doctoral candidate at King’s College London
- Sarah Champagne ’20 (M.A.), journalist and documentary filmmaker
- Will Jarvis ’16, director of marketing at Tanjo, a machine learning startup
- Melani McAlister ’84, professor of American studies and international affairs at George Washington University
- Hakeem Smith ’05, ’13 (M.A.), business analyst at Amazon
Finding Their Paths
The panelists began by discussing the origins of their interest in receiving a global education and pursuing global careers. Melani McAlister and Sarah Champagne both said their small-town upbringings influenced their desire to expand their understanding of the world. They both also noted the importance of scholarship opportunities provided at UNC-Chapel Hill. For McAlister, an opportunity to intern at Newsweek as a Morehead-Cain scholar sparked her interest in U.S. foreign policy, while Champagne’s Rotary Peace Fellowship expanded her network and opportunities to conduct reporting on migrants, which has taken her to 15 countries and won her several awards.
Sara Bidgood discussed the impact of language scholarships, specifically the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship and Boren Scholarship.
“It became so much more for me than just being able to communicate with people. I felt like the more I studied foreign languages, I just wanted to know more and more about different people, and that in and of itself became a real strength,” Bidgood said. “I felt the way I can contribute to making the world a better place is facilitating that kind of cross-cultural communication that is borne out by foreign language fluency.”
Hakeem Smith said the basic skills learned at a university, like research and writing, are crucial, but so are skills like empathy.
“What I’ve noticed lately is understanding and navigating these things we are encapsulating under the umbrella of terms like diversity, equity and inclusion and applying them to what you do are very important competencies that folks could use more today,” he said.
McAlister emphasized global careers do not necessarily have to involve global travel and said simply bringing a global perspective to local or domestic jobs can be just as important.
Advice for starting global careers
When it came to advice for students, panelists had a range of tips for those beginning to think about post-graduation careers. Bidgood and McAlister emphasized the importance of writing skills. Bidgood said her writing skills have helped her both develop a portfolio of op-eds to show potential employers and demonstrate the unique perspectives she brings to the problems on which she works.
Champagne said that, from personal experience, it can be very important to consider what one wants the day-to-day of a job to look like as opposed to what title they want or for which organization they want to work.
“[In] my first job out of college… I was managing a million-dollar fund for green initiatives. I really liked the idea, I really liked the title, and I really liked telling my friends ‘this is what I do,’ but I hated the day-to-day,” she said. “I didn’t like to be sitting behind a computer 100 percent of the time, so that’s also one reason why I became a journalist.”
The panelists closed by discussing work-life balance and the tools and methods they use to make sure they have a healthy combination of both, especially in a pandemic.
“It took me a while to realize working constantly and doing quality work are not synonymous with one another,” Bidgood said. “So knowing that I’m getting burned out or that I’m feeling exhausted or uninspired, those are signs for you that maybe you need to take a step back or recalibrate a bit and check in with yourself about your priorities.”
This event was co-sponsored by the UNC College of Arts & Sciences; UNC Curriculum in Global Studies; African Studies Center; Carolina Asia Center; Center for European Studies; Curriculum in Contemporary European Studies; TransAtlantic Masters Program; Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies; Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies; Institute for the Study of the Americas; Curriculum in Latin American Studies; UNC Russian Flagship Program and the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs.