A Witchy Woman’s History With Halloween

Attractions, Personal

People often look at me with puzzled eyes when I start dusting off the Halloween house decor on the first of September, but I wasn’t always this way. In fact, Halloween was never really on my radar and scary things did what they should — they scared me. I didn’t enjoy them.

That all changed when I turned the ripe, awkward age of 16. I needed to find myself a job and saw that Six Flags New England was hiring plenty of new employees for Fright Fest. I didn’t know exactly what this job would entail, but the additional funds would certainly feed my newfound concert addiction and maybe get me a few new friends. I applied and received a call for an interview within a few days. I prepared as I would for any interview, not thinking this one would be any different. Boy was I wrong. Yeah, I answered a few questions, but I also had to read a script in my best monster voice, give my best blood-curdling scream, and run to the camera using my best zombie impression. Needless to say, I was a bit out of my element and in over my (apparently headless) head.


They called me twenty minutes after I left and found out I was the newest monster-in-training. Before actually starting my job, I’d need to attend Ghoul School, a two-week training course that would teach me all the spooky skills I’d need for the season. It was intense and intimidating, but also life-changing in a way. I was coming out of my introverted, little shell and transforming into an outgoing and outrageous performer. If I did a really good job, maybe I would even be every guest’s worst nightmare.


During the month of October, I played a number of unique roles, like Ma Cleaver, the fed up housewife who had been emotionally abused one too many times by her cheating husband, or like the nameless insane asylum patient who enjoyed torture just a little too much. Every work shift gave the opportunity to build and develop new character ideas and plot lines. The more outrageous, the better.


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If it wasn’t obvious enough already, this wasn’t your everyday, typical job. I would clock in, get my makeup done, pick out the perfect costume, stretch with my fellow monsters, and head into the woods to prepare my scene. It didn’t feel like work at all. I was having way too much fun.


During that first season, my love for Halloween and all things spooky increased exponentially. I began watching horror movies for character inspiration and started visiting other haunted houses to marvel over the many successful scare tactics and techniques. From there my interest grew into an obsession, and that’s where I am today. So yes, maybe September is a tad early for plastic glitter pumpkins, cobwebs, and skeletons, but working this job gave me an undeniable love for performing and an appreciation for the odd and peculiar. So stay spooky, my friends and don’t be afraid to get a little weird, no matter the month.



Starting a new side hustle? Avoid these four productivity pitfalls.


Both a blessing and a curse, I’ve never been able to relax. I’ve always hated naps, even as an infant and growing child, and I’d always joke that “sleep is for the weak.” It’s funny, because you often hear so many people say, “There are just not enough hours in the day!” I can tell you that simply isn’t true. We have plenty of time, we just don’t (usually) use it wisely.


LA Times


When I started as a freshman in college, I was overwhelmed and anxious with the number of tasks I had to complete on a daily basis. There was way too much on my plate. Truthfully though, there wasn’t, and I later realized I could stand to do even more – if that’s what I wanted. Now before I go on, let me make something clear: You do not need to catch every ball! I stay active and busy with the things I love. I don’t fill my time with unnecessary requests and hindrances. Be sure to keep this distinction clear if you’re planning to start a few new projects or add a bit to your typical workload.

I technically work both 9 – 5 and 5 – 9. Sometimes earlier, sometimes later, the timetable fluctuates. I work your standard full-time job during the day, and come home to four ongoing side hustles, which I work on at my leisure. It sounds insane, but I absolutely love it. I do this because I hope to one day soon become an entrepreneur, my very own boss, and I don’t think you can ever have enough experience when trying to build a business. I know there are a lot of you in a similar space who struggle to get started, whether it’s because of fear, intimidation, lack of creativity, or anything else. I’m here to help you out and share the tips that have helped me in recent months. Like Shia LaBeouf always says, “Don’t let your dreams be dreams. Just do it!”

just do it.gif

Lack of Discipline

This is a hard skill to develop, but a vital one. You are in charge of your own life and you have a series of decisions to make throughout the day. In order to get shit done, you’ll need to follow a semi-strict schedule. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, but don’t aimlessly sit on your phone or spend every night at the bar. You need to find the time to work on what’s important. I dedicate a few hours every night to get ahead on my projects. If during the week I feel I’m in a good place, I won’t feel guilty taking a night or two off. If you find yourself struggling to complete tasks, start small.


Don’t make excuses. No one wants to hear the half-baked, poorly executed justifications for why you’re behind on something. It’s important to take ownership and do what you say you will. Can’t is the real C word and if you insist on limiting yourself and falling to excuses, you’ll never expand or grow. Push yourself to reach your goals, even if it means moving some other things around. Being malleable is a requirement.


Burnout will leave you feeling drained and frustrated, so don’t overdo it. I designate a set time every night to shut down and disconnect. Some nights are easier to do this than others, but I still make sure there’s time for me. Work isn’t everything, and if you’re digging yourself into a  sad, exhausting hole, then your projects aren’t worth all the effort anyway. Be kind to yourself and accept when you need to take a break. Give yourself a personal day if you need it.




Fear is almost always the dominant factor in whether or not a person starts a major project. It’s so easy to say “I’m not good enough” or “I’m too inexperienced.” Failure is a common and necessary fact of life and I actually encourage it. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to soften the blow where possible, but failure results in invaluable lessons learned and a better understanding of where to go next. I’m 22 years old and working to get my own business of the ground in the next few years. People tell me I’m probably too young for that, but I won’t know unless I try. If anything is worse than failure, it’s regret. So why not give it a go?

I encourage you all to think about these four productivity pitfalls when you’re feeling overwhelmed with life or like you’re doing things all wrong. Taking up a few new projects, big and small, is completely possible.

The Case For Leaving Your Phone Alone


Every year, I plan an annual friends weekend at our camp in Vermont. We spend our days swimming at the lake, roasting s’mores over a crackling fire, hiking in the woods, and playing old board and card games. It’s my favorite part of every summer and I only have one rule for those who wish to join me:

Don’t touch your phone.

This rule has increased in rigidity over the years, beginning as a friendly suggestion and evolving into a hard requirement. It sounds terribly anal of me, but let me explain with a simple math equation:

Question: If six friends are together at the lake house and all six of them are on their phones, exactly how many friends are having fun?

Answer: Literally none of them.

Now, I’m not some overbearing Luddite who curses at the sight of a smartphone, but there’s a time and a place. I use my phone often too, but typically when I really need it or for short periods of time when I’m alone. I’m not any kind of perfectionist when it comes to this, but I do regularly put in the effort to improve. Phones are wonderful pieces of technology that offer endless benefits to human beings, but they’re also inhibiting our ability to socialize, to engage, to live in the present.

phone gif

It’s easy to get glued to our phones. In fact, we become truly addicted to the use of technology through those little hits of dopamine that shoot to the brain. We want so badly to scroll through new Tweets and view every single story on Snapchat because it just feels good to us. But these feelings are fleeting and more often than not, we’re left feeling unfulfilled and depressed that we’re not traveling around the world with our dogs or eating that cool, new rainbow waffle that everyone’s ranting about.

I’m not trying to drive this point into the ground, but I urge you to think about your life. Think about the moments that have brought you the most joy. Think about your current relationships and how you spend time with the people you love. Are you satisfied? Or are you engaging in half-baked conversation with glazed-over screen time eyes?

If you care more about the connection of the wifi than the connection you’re building with the friend sitting next to you, it’s time to put in a little bit of effort and do better. It doesn’t feel nice to be the person on the receiving end of a dead conversation. Some suggestions? Put your phone away when you’re out at dinner. Strike up new kinds of conversation to avoid awkward lulls. Keep your phone away from your bed at night. Fill your time with more personally enhancing activities. The list goes on and on.

Relationships are like flowers, if you don’t constantly water them, they’ll die. Your phone will always be there. Put that thing on silent and go live your life.

The Story Behind The Rooster On My Back


People often point out my tattoo and ask why I got it. Typically, I respond with a mechanic, “It’s for my dad.” It’s definitely not the descriptive answer they were hoping for, but in reality, I’m sparing them the lengthy and emotional response, which often leads to discomfort. The discomfort isn’t on my part, because I have no problem sharing my story, but to some, it can be a little too much to handle, especially in a casual conversation.

So in short:

“Hey, cool tattoo! What’s it for?”
“It’s for my dad.”

But since today is Father’s Day, I figured now might be the best time to revisit the origins of my tattoo. I really do have a strong connection to it and maybe some of you might like to know why.

My tattoo is of a black and white rooster. He’s gearing up to fight, positioned in a strong stance. My dad was a fighter. He was tough and strong, the strongest person I had ever known – and will ever know. His Chinese zodiac sign is also the rooster. He would have been 48 this year. Most importantly though, one of my dad’s favorite songs was Rooster, by Alice In Chains. I still listen to it often and somehow find peace and comfort within its dismal lyrics. Simple enough, right? The song is called Rooster and I got a rooster on my back. The story doesn’t stop there though.


My dad owned a Ford F550 dump truck. (I named it Sheila, and he named it Brutus.) That truck was his baby, the son he never had. It was the first vehicle I ever learned to drive, which meant I could pretty much drive anything after that. When my dad passed away, Sheila/Brutus remained a vital piece of my dad’s presence and served as a reminder of him constantly. The first time I drove the truck after his passing, I was a mess. Sobbing uncontrollably, I was wiping pools of tears from my eyes just so I could see the road ahead of me. I parked the truck and sat there, talking to myself, my dad, the universe, really. I just needed someone to be there. Soon after, I pulled myself together, put my big girl pants back on, and turned on the radio. The song that was playing? Rooster.

We eventually sold the truck, but just before that, I took it out one last time. When the truck came to its final stop in my driveway, I remembered that song. Again, I turned on the radio and heard Layne Staley belting midway through the chorus. Maybe it was a coincidence, but maybe it was something more. I chose to see those unique moments as signs. Similar to what the song says, “No, he ain’t gonna die.” My dad may not be with us anymore, but he’s still very much alive – just not in the physical sense.

People see my tattoo and sometimes think it’s a bit too big or a bit too masculine. They say it isn’t really “me.” Truthfully though, that tattoo isn’t for me. It’s a representation of my dad and how I want to remember him – as the tough, but loving guy who’s always watching my back.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love and miss you dearly.



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To my dad, the other dads who were taken too soon, and the men and women who stepped up to the plate when they were needed – thank you so very much. You are to be celebrated today and always.

How to Keep Sane During the Post-Grad Job Search

Blog, Personal

If you’re a graduating senior, this post is specifically directed at you and I’m going to give you a piece of advice I should have taken a long, long time ago:

R E L A X.

I know by now you’re tempted to click away in frustration, thinking what I’ve written holds little value, but I urge you to press on.

Graduating is terrifying and there’s a whole lot on your plate. Add job hunting to the mix and slowly but surely, you’ll be consumed by it all. You’ll lose touch with yourself, others, and everything going on around you. Now, I’m not saying throw your laptop out the window and deactivate your LinkedIn account. The search is still important. It just doesn’t need to take over your entire life.


I get it, you’ve heard this all before and you’re rolling your eyes at how cliché I sound, but let me explain a bit further with a personal anecdote:

I applied for a job about a month ago and heard back right away. I had two excellent interviews and a reference check. I thought I had this position in the bag and was already beginning to map out the coming months. I thought wrong. It came down to two candidates and I sadly was not the chosen one. Initially, I felt existential dread. I had no clue what I would do, how I would possibly find a job before graduation, how I would compete with all the superstars within my major, etc. In a matter of minutes my whole life had fallen apart. It sounds dramatic, right? That’s the problem.

In my head, I felt I needed every aspect of my life to come together in a certain way. As a student, I was so accustomed to routine and knowing what came next in life that I couldn’t handle seeing only question marks in my head. I needed a plan, but truly, in the grand scheme, I didn’t.

The truth is simple. Everyone has a different path, yet all of us graduating seniors feel we need to be doing the exact same things: landing the dream job, moving into the city, impressing everyone with impeccable skills, and overall, appearing happy. Unfortunately, this frame of thinking is a product of our society. We’ve grown to believe that success can be determined by a simple equation and if you don’t stick to the status quo, well then you’re just a failure. I’m here to tell you how painfully untrue that is. You are not a failure, not by any stretch.

Upward social comparison doesn’t help either. How many times have you seen some acquaintance post a Facebook status about their new incredible job, living their absolute best life? How did you feel? I can say that I’ve been in both situations – sitting on my bed fuming with frustration, but in the same vein, also unknowingly posting content that made others feel lesser. Comparison can be found in more subtle ways, as well. Look at how education promotes itself. When you apply to a college, you learn how many seniors graduate with full-time job offers, the standard starting salary, and the impressive array of position titles. These are the focus points that end up on a bulleted card sent to your family mailbox. You don’t hear about the way students have grown into better people, or how their perspectives have changed on different cultural issues, or how they found a passion they can feel proud of. Those concepts aren’t tangible measurement tools. So, what can you measure? Money.

The pressures of predetermined success are everywhere and in some cases, impossible to escape. I personally got caught up in the frenzy and lost track of who I was and what I stood for. I forgot to stop and smell the Hofstra tulips. I forgot to sit in the grass and admire all the exciting things taking place around me. I forgot to enjoy my final year as an undergraduate student. I’m not getting that time back and in the next 14 days, I plan to do everything in my power to make up for it.

Looking back, I’m glad my life has fallen into place in this crazy, chaotic mess. I have no idea what I’m doing next month or the month after that and I have no definitive plans in any way, shape, or form. But even still, I am more at peace now than I have been all year. My time will come and in the meantime, I will go wherever the wind blows.

If you’re feeling the way I did, I understand completely. Life is an ongoing challenge that never seems to get any easier. But please, try to relax. You will get a job at some point in time. It doesn’t need to be tomorrow or next week. Enjoy the life around you and keep your mental health in check. All good things come to those who wait and the universe has its plans for you yet.

keep calm

The Tip Jar: Nakia Swinton, VICE Media Communications Assistant

Tip Jar

You know the drill, folks! This week’s Tip Jar features media savvy superstar Nakia Swinton.

nakia2You’re currently a Communications Assistant at VICE Media. What types of responsibilities do you have with this position?

I mostly work with VICE’s digital channels and VICE Magazine. When one of the channels has an interesting story or video I contact writers (depending on the subject) and ask them to write about VICE’s content so the company can receive press. I also set up interviews for our writers on mostly radio and sometimes television. I assist at company events and ask writers to attend as well as being the intern supervisor for the department.

What do you like most about the work you’re doing?

I’ve always wanted to work in media so I am super excited I received that opportunity right out of college. I like working with different people in the company and understanding their roles such as the writers, editors and publishers. I also enjoy having a chance to look at the content before it becomes live.

Where did you intern during your college years and what did you learn?

My first internship was with the programming department at BET where I learned a lot about ratings and the importance of competitors’ schedule and a target audience. I then interned with Diversity & Inclusion at NBCUniversal where I learned a lot about internal employee programs for inclusion. My senior year I interned at a music public relations company called Press Here Publicity and the communications department at VH1. Those internships taught me a lot about the PR world, working with talent, writing press releases and pitches and the difference between doing press for TV and music.

You were also a DJ and host for your college radio show “Overnight Delight.” What was that experience like?

That was probably the best decision I made in college. I joined the radio station my first week of school and had my own show as a freshman and for four years of my college career. My radio show helped me land my first internship at BET, which led to all my other opportunities. I also met my best friends at radio and I got to do a show with them once a week, which was great. The show helped me on my producing and hosting skills as well as interviewing with local artists.


Who was the coolest person you spoke with?

I got the opportunity to work with a lot of different underground artists in the North Jersey area with radio. The coolest one I spoke with is a rapper named Shwiggy. He is super talented and he was on the show multiple times and dropped one of his mixtapes live on air.

What professional experience or moment are you most proud of thus far?

The professional moment I am most proud of is landing a media job before graduation because so many people made it seem like it was impossible. I actually started working at VICE before I graduated and still managed to graduate cum laude.

Where do you see yourself going from here?

I either see myself working in the government or in a more creative role within the industry such as producing or programming.

Do you have other hobbies or passions?

My hobbies include doing pilates, going to comedy clubs, freelance writing, hanging out with my friends and family and of course getting a chance to watch TV. My passion is to work with the media and the government to get people educated on important issues and truly make a difference in the world.

What advice can you offer young professionals trying to pursue media careers after college?

My advice would be to take advantage of every opportunity you have in college as well as network as much as you can. A lot of students don’t understand that the media industry is very competitive and is mostly about your experience and whom you know. You can also stand out by doing simple things like tailoring your resume and cover letter to the job, arriving on time and sending a thank you email after your interview. It’s surprising to see how many students don’t do simple things.

Is there anything you’d like to add? 

This is so cliche for a reason but everything happens for a reason and everyone’s journey is different so do not compare yours to others. Just work as hard as you can and you will be rewarded.

How can others connect with you? 

I’ve had students reach out to me on LinkedIn and there is a 99% chance I will answer because being a recent graduate I understand the position they are in. You can also connect with me on Twitter (@kia_swinton) and Instagram (@kia.swins).


Read Nakia’s published work here: 




Mark Your Calendars For Earth Hour 2017!


Every year, the World Wildlife Fund teams up with a number of non-profit organizations to fight climate change. On March 25th, 2017 at 8:30pm, people all around the world will be encouraged to spend an hour hosting events or making their voices heard, while turning off all the lights. The idea is to shed a light on climate change action, without using any actual lights at all. Here’s a highlight video from last year’s Earth Hour:

But Earth Hour isn’t the only time to get involved. There’s a lot of prep work that goes into planning this advocacy event and the World Wildlife Fund needs you to help spread the word.

So here’s what you can do right now:

To learn more about Earth Hour visit: https://www.earthhour.org/












Not a Scientist? Not a Problem. Coral Bleaching Doesn’t Need to be Complicated.


So you’ve been hearing all about the death of the Great Barrier Reef, and while you want to understand what’s going on in our oceans, the science just seems too dense to understand.

Well this is the perfect post for you.

I’m here to break down and simplify the process of coral bleaching so everyone can make cognitive sense of it, not just the scientists.


National Geographic Kids


I’ll start by saying the Great Barrier Reef is not dead, not yet anyway. But it is dying. To understand this concept, we need to first understand coral. Corals are actually marine invertebrates, which classifies them as animals. This is why instructors tell you to keep your distance when snorkeling. It’s incredibly easy to damage corals, even just by touching them or spreading sunblock that hasn’t fully absorbed into your skin.

So we’ve established that coral is alive and living, which should make coral bleaching sound a whole lot scarier now. But let’s introduce another key player: zooxanthellae. For simplicity, we’ll call these guys zooks. They’re most easily described as plant-like organisms. You know how sometimes a friend asks to crash on another friend’s couch in exchange for purchasing food or cooking meals? That’s pretty much the relationship between corals and zooks. Coral reefs offers a safe, comfortable refuge for zooks, whereas the zooks offer an abundance of energy or food for the coral reefs. This symbiotic relationship between the two is extremely important because without it, the coral could not survive.

Back to coral bleaching. How does it happen? Well, when corals feel an extreme amount of stress through either rising sea temperatures or pollutants, they exhale the residing zooks. You might be questioning why coral is so self destructive, but let’s be honest, even human beings sometimes display poor stress responses and coping mechanisms. It just happens. As the damage to the ocean becomes more constant, more and more corals are ridding themselves of their most vital components.

(Coral bleaching gets its name from the drastic color change that occurs through this cycle. What was once an environment full of vibrant colors has become a dismal, colorless display.)



This all ties into global warming and climate change. (Believe it or not, the two are different.) Human beings produce these deadly carbon emissions through driving cars, eating meat, overindulging in unsustainable products and creating large carbon footprints. (Click here to calculate your carbon footprint.) Now, no one is saying to travel by foot and commit to only ever eating salads, but there must be a fair balance. All of these actions can be managed effectively, but we’ll save that for another post.

The good news is that to an extent, the damage is reversible. As I mentioned, the Reef is dying, but it’s not dead yet. There’s still time to make a change and protect our oceans. We must try, because we cannot afford to lose such an integral piece of our earth.

For more information regarding information and involvement, please see the resources below:

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Help Heal Our Oceans

Support Marine Conservation Organizations

Learn More About The Great Barrier Reef


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


The Tip Jar: Marisa Russell, Johns Hopkins Social Media Specialist

Tip Jar


17160730_1579130808793688_1766018743_nFinding an entry-level position is a challenge. Many times, graduating seniors are walking across the stage without jobs lined up and fearing the worst. This was not the case for Hofstra U Alum Marisa Russell. After securing a full-time position weeks before graduation, it became clear Marisa had mastered the college to career transition. She has kindly passed on some of her key ingredients to success for all soon-to-be graduates.

What is your current position?

I’m the social media specialist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I help manage all of the school’s flagship social media accounts (@JohnsHopkinsSPH) and I also work on the accounts for our school’s daily global health newsletter, Global Health NOW. My world is pretty much a constant stream of digital & social media, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You landed this job before graduation. Walk me through the process that brought you from college to career.

To be honest, that’s still a total shock to me. Going into my last semester of college, fall 2016, I knew that my biggest goal was to walk the stage knowing I had a job waiting for me on the other side. Being a journalism major many people tried to talk me out of the high standards I’d set for myself, afraid that I would be devastated if I didn’t achieve them. One of my mentors had always told me that if you didn’t ask, the answer was automatically no, so everything in life deserves a shot, so I persisted.

The process of landing a job before graduation didn’t start in that last semester, it started on the very first day of my freshman year. When I started applying to jobs I had 11 internships under my belt and I had even more extracurricular activities to add to it. College wasn’t a time where I just sat around, slept all day and sometimes did my homework, I worked every second of every day to get to where I am now. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m saying this so you know what’s realistic and how much work it does take to make it in the “real world.”

Logistically, I started sending out applications about two months before graduation. I kept a detailed spreadsheet of everywhere I applied, I wrote custom cover letters for every single application and I spent hours preparing for interviews, when I had them. I had job alerts set for multiple job titles in various cities and if I saw something that peaked my interest, I jumped on it immediately. Waiting is not your friend when you’re applying to a job, the longer you wait, the less likely you are to be called for an interview.

What was the biggest challenge throughout the entire search?

Keeping my head up was probably the hardest part. Job searching isn’t easy and it’s exhausting, and there were times where I felt like I was never going to get a job or I was never going to be fully prepared for that interview. It was hard to remember that I could only do as good as my absolute best, and after that, I had to let things fall into place the way they were meant to.

What key elements are essential for success? How can a potential candidate stand out?  

I think it’s important to make your cover letter specific to every job you apply for. I know many people who say sending something generic is okay if you change the company name, etc., but I’ve always tried to make it personal to each company. I’m a firm believer in telling a story with your cover letter, and making yourself stand out in a good way.

It’s also crucial to stay organized. Knowing who you’ve sent applications to and when will help you avoid sending an application to the same place twice, and it will remind you when you should follow up to places you haven’t heard back from.


What college activities/involvement prepared you for your future?

For three years I worked on my school’s newspaper The Hofstra Chronicle, and that helped teach me how to write and edit in a setting where I could make mistakes and learn from them. I’ll always be grateful for my time as an editor on the paper. I was also a member of and then president of Zeta Phi Eta, a professional co-ed communications fraternity, and joining that was by far the best decision I’d ever made in college. Working alongside and leading some of the school’s most dedicated, passionate and amazing people in the field of communications helped me become a better professional.

What advice can you give to those who will soon be graduating and hoping to enter a competitive job market?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, or that you’re not qualified enough for a certain job. It’s also crucial to proofread everything multiple times before you send it off to a potential employer. Spelling their name wrong, addressing the wrong person or even making small typos could mean the difference between job interview and no job interview. Last, stay organized and take some time to yourself as well. Your last semester of college is supposed to be fun, don’t overwork yourself and spend your last few months miserable, go out with your friends, watch a movie and have some desserts, it will all be okay.

What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

My biggest goal right now is to get my Masters. After that, I really hope to use the knowledge I’ve gained in my professional life to teach, that’s always been one of my passions.

Career-wise I’d say what’s next for me is really up in the air. I hope to stay in social media, but eventually I’d like to work in social media for a non-profit. It’s always been my dream to start my own business as well, so maybe in five years I’ll be running a social media/branding consulting firm and landing some big clients. For now I’m just going where life takes me, and working my butt off to make sure I’m successful.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Don’t settle for just anything. Make sure the job you take, or what you apply for, is something you’re passionate about. If you don’t have at least some passion for someplace you have to go to work everyday, you won’t be happy.

How can people connect with you?

You can visit my website at www.marisanrussell.com, or you can connect with me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/marisanrussell/) – I’d love to chat! And, if you want to follow what I do every day, follow @JohnsHopkinsSPH on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.     

Thanks so much, Marisa!


International Women’s Day: A Personal Timeline of Gender Inequality


women4It’s International Women’s Day today and there is so much to celebrate. We’ve come a long way. Still, I’d like to focus for a bit on the struggles women still continue to face in everyday life. In my 22 years of living, I have encountered countless situations of gender inequality. If I asked any woman on the street to recount her experiences, I’m sure she would come up with a number of examples as well. On this day, I’d like to share a few personal stories to illustrate my point.

Age 8: My parents thought it would be a good idea for me to take up karate. They understood the challenges of the world and felt it necessary to teach me strength, both physically and mentally. I grew to love karate and practiced the art regularly. I wanted to continue succeeding, so I asked my instructor if I could become a part of the regular sparring matches that took place in our studio. He was hesitant. In his eyes, I was too young, too weak, too feminine. How could he allow his female pupil to get trampled by the boys? Would it be acceptable for him to let a boy hurt me? I didn’t possess these fears. I possessed the will to be the best of my class and I would stop at nothing to achieve that title.

With thorough convincing, my instructor allowed me to spar. Turns out, I was pretty good. He watched over me much of the time to ensure I didn’t take too many hits, but I was always fine. As I continued to practice, I became stronger and more nimble on my feet. I began to beat all the boys in my class and more often than not, I left them crying. My instructor named me Fireball and would continue to call me as such for the remainder of my time there. About a year later, it was clear I was excelling past the level of my fellow students. I would be no longer allowed to spar for the reason of being too good. Ironic, right? I didn’t want to quit though, so my instructor and I reached an agreement: I could spar, but only with the boys in higher age ranks. Picture a nine year old girl sparring with a 15 year old boy. It’s an almost comical illustration. Still, I held my own and excelled. I distinctly remember losing badly once in my time at the studio. I got kicked in the stomach so hard I couldn’t breath and I involuntarily threw up from the pain. Considering all of the sparring matches I had been a part of, I was pretty pleased with my success rate. When I left the studio for good, my instructor told me I was the best student he had ever had. This was only the case because I fought hard to prove myself.

Age 14: It was time for me to find a job. Arguably, I was a bit young, but there were an assortment of under-the-table farmhand positions up for grabs in my rural hometown. I was hired to work on a tobacco farm and I couldn’t have been more excited. At that time, I was one of three girls. Our jobs were to hang the tobacco leaves on the backs of the trailers. The boys had different tasks. They went out to chop the leaves with hatchets, drive the tractors and somehow find the time to help us with our simple, menial assignment. I asked the boys if I could join them, but the answer was always no. Girls couldn’t chop. They weren’t as fast, as clean to cut, etc. They just weren’t built the same. I finally took my inquiry to my boss and challenged him.

“If I can keep up with the boys while chopping lines, can I go out with them?”

He hesitated, but had no reason to say no. Besides, he knew I wouldn’t keep up. It was impossible. My boss challenged me to chop three lines of tobacco. If I could do well and keep up with the rest of the pack, one of the hatchets from the big, white bucket would become mine. I took to the row and began chopping. Three rows later, I had done it. My boss was shocked, but he kept up to his end of the deal. After that, no one ever saw me without a hatchet. I was aptly named Crazy Chop due to my fierce swing. I loved that nickname. We would often race and by mid season, I would always come in first. One summer later, I was driving the tractors before most boys were ever even asked. I was only 15 at this time, but rural America plays by different rules. Again, I had become the favorite and it was not by luck or chance.

Age 17: I found myself working inside a theme park. I had been there about a year at this point and was ready to expand my skill set. I wanted to become a drummer. When I announced this, I was met with a few quizzical looks. Girls didn’t drum. In fact, to my knowledge, there had only ever been one girl drummer and no one spoke very highly of her. I didn’t care. I was going to drum. I knew I was disadvantaged in more ways than one. I couldn’t read music to save my life and auditions were only two weeks away. My good friend Ben met up with me a number of times to help me prepare. I am still so grateful for him. In all honesty, my audition wasn’t great, but I gave it all I had. Two weeks later, my supervisor let me know that I was selected, but would be watched under great scrutiny. In other words, if I could keep up, I could perform. I was overjoyed. To make things even better, I found out another girl was selected as well. Two girl drummers. How incredible. I practiced my pieces every single day. I banged on trash cans, couches, anything I could find. I memorized everything without ever glancing over a music sheet. I owe so much to my supervisors and fellow team members for allowing me a chance. To this day, I still remember every beat and pattern, but boy, did I work for it.

Age 19: College was quickly approaching and I needed to save up. I took up a second job at a restaurant and began as a hostess. The job was fun, but I wanted more hours. My manager explained that if I could learn to bus tables, he would schedule me. I eagerly shadowed my coworkers who of course, were all men. Some of them encouraged my willingness to learn. Others laughed right in my face. “What makes you think you can bus? Can you even pick up a table? What about a bucket of ice?” I was coerced into proving myself, yet again, by displaying acts of strength. I could carry the bucket of ice and with help, I could lift the table. Even still, some of the men were not convinced. I was a hostess. I should stay one. I never did end up busing tables, not because I was deterred, but because new opportunities presented themselves.

Age 22: Here we are. Living in the present. I am now 22 years old and I’ve had six internships. Internships mean having interviews, most often conducted by phone. More often than not after saying hello, I was greeted back with, “Oh, so you’re a girl.” Most people assumed my gender as my name is considered unisex. This sometimes makes me wonder if I get an advantage out of recruiters assuming my gender as male. I probably do.

The field of public relations is typically female dominated, which can be refreshing in many ways. However, I can’t tell you how often some of the women (and few men) complain about it. They often express the feeling that we have too many women in one place and jump at the chance to hire more men. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. It boggles my mind too. Now I will soon be faced with new challenges. I plan to enter a field that is a bit more male dominated. I will be competing at higher levels and displaying more intensive skills. My fight for gender equality will only become more difficult from this point on.

I share these somewhat negative experiences to prove that change, no matter how small, is possible. I have become the best version of myself through facing various forms of gender inequality. I am stronger and smarter than I would have been if left unchallenged. Women can fight back and they can succeed. It certainly isn’t easy and there is still a great deal of work to do, but we must press on. The highest glass ceiling still has not been shattered, but I am convinced that one day, we will all have the same view of the stars. So many incredible women have paved the way for us and it is our turn to make progress for ourselves and future generations. Let International Women’s Day bring you a sense of strength and empowerment. Continue to fight the good fight. Show everyone who’s boss.

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“Remember the dignity of your womanhood. Do not appeal, do not beg, do not grovel. Take courage, join hands, stand besides us, fight with us.” Christabel Pankhurst