MA Alumni Profiles

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Over the past 30 years, generations of students have expanded their knowledge and research on Latin America at the University of Chicago thanks to the Center for Latin American Studies.

Recent graduates of the CLAS Latin American Studies M.A. program have entered top Ph.D. programs in anthropology, history, literature, political science, and sociology at the University of Chicago, University of Michigan, UW-Madison, UC-Berkeley, Indiana University, San Diego State University, Emory University, Ohio State University, University of Illinois, and UCLA, and in professional degree programs at the Harris School for Public Policy Studies and the Chicago Booth School of Business as well as the law school at UC-Irvine.

Other alumni have developed careers working in the State Department (initially as a Presidential Management Fellow), as Program Officer at the MacArthur Foundation, as an Associate Director at the Heartland Alliance, as Director of Communication and Community Engagement at the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati, and several as Chicago Public School teachers.

Through the Center’s interdisciplinary and individualized degree programs, MA alumni  have gone on to pursue careers that stem from their academic training. The following profiles give a sense of how University of Chicago alumni from the Latin American Studies M.A. program have put their education to work


Clare Buttry

Clare Buttry (2008)

Lead Writer for Executive Communications
Wisconsin Foundation & Alumni Association

I work in the Communications department of the Wisconsin Foundation & Alumni Association. WFAA does development and alumni relations work on behalf of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I write about UW-Madison and WFAA for staff, campus, and alumni/donor audiences. I am the lead writer for executive communications, so I’m responsible for drafting and editing any communications that go out through the president’s office. 

Though my job may seem like one that is pretty far removed from my MA, I actually find that I use a lot of what I learned at UChicago. The biggest parallel is writing. Doing a master’s program forces you to write – a lot – and write well and convincingly. It’s something that I use every day – I need to be able to draft clear and compelling messages that communicate the value of and impact of higher education, especially public institutions. I also write about topics that I’m sometimes unfamiliar with – specific research projects at the university, investment policy for endowed funds, etc. – and my experience with research has been truly helpful throughout that process. Studying abroad, learning Spanish, understanding more about how the world operates (and how it doesn’t operate) led me to become more well-rounded and thoughtful person, and a better employee at whatever job I have.

I started my MA program right after I finished my undergraduate degree. Like many students, I did the CLAS MA program because I was passionate about Latin American Studies, wasn’t done learning, and frankly wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for my career. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a PhD or enter the workforce (and, if the latter, in which field), so the MA program was the right choice for me.

One thing I found through the program, and beyond is that your career is shaped more by the unexpected decisions that you’re presented with than any intentional planning when you’re 22. What I’m doing now is not what I thought I’d be doing, but I say that in a positive way – I’m in a career that I love, and I’m here because I was willing to turn left when I thought I’d be turning right. I found, after finishing my MA program that I wanted to stay on campus, not as a student, but as a staff member. It’s exciting to know that part of the impact that the work that I do is to support generations of students and faculty at this university at a time when public support for higher education is lower than ever.

My advice for students in the MA program: Say yes to everything. Be willing to change course unexpectedly. You’re undoubtedly smart and motivated – use that to your advantage, and take on things that are challenging to you. In general, that’s my life advice for anyone in their twenties.

If you’re interested in a career in higher education, or philanthropy, or communications, my advice is similar. Keep writing. Talk to people who do things that you like to do. As uncomfortable as they can be, ask for informational interviews in career fields that you’re interested in.

Enjoy Chicago. Living in Chicago in your mid-twenties is amazing. I lived in Hyde Park for the full four years that I lived in Chicago (one year in the MA program, and three years working after finishing my degree). I used to go to Valois Cafeteria for breakfast every Wednesday, until they knew my order by heart. I loved walking down 57th street on my way to work, past all the independent bookstores. I was lucky enough to live in Hyde Park during Obama’s first election, and it was electric to see the community come together around their hometown president. Chicago is an amazing, wonderful city, and Hyde Park is a fantastic corner of it.

Jade Hill

 

 

Jade Hill (2013)

Engagement & Communications Coordinator
School of Economics, Georgia Institute of Technology

I work in the School of Economics at Georgia Institute of Technology as the Engagement and Communications Coordinator.  I am responsible for student and alumni engagement, as well as internal and external communication.  My main responsibilities include planning workshops, luncheons, and receptions; updating the website and social media with faculty, student, and alumni achievements; marketing the program to potential students; and encouraging alumni to stay active with the school.

Many things I learned during the MA program have been instrumental in helping me to achieve my career goals. For example, graduate school taught me time management. I had to learn to prioritize in order to get everything done by the deadline. I also learned a lot while studying abroad. After receiving the CLAS Tinker Field Research Grant, I flew to Argentina to complete my MA thesis research.  I had never been out of the country by myself before, I hadn't spoken Spanish on a consistent basis in more than a year, and I did not know a single soul in South America. That trip taught me a lot about independence and how to figure things out as I went. I left Buenos Aires a much more confident and culturally-aware.

I entered the MA program intending to pursue a PhD afterward.  I knew that I loved teaching from my experience as a TA.  However, my part-time position at the Center for Latin American Studies changed my career trajectory. I realized there are ways to impact students’ lives outside of the classroom. As a result, I searched for careers related to communications, event planning, and student engagement in higher education. I never would have found such a rewarding career without my experience at the University of Chicago. The thing I love most about my job is that I get to help students succeed. So many students come in as lost freshmen who are unsure about leaving home and graduate as successful, engaged students who have a multitude of career opportunities.

My favorite class in the MA program was Historiography.  I loved that it was a seminar and that I got to learn about different ways to approach history. I also really enjoyed my Latin American Civilization course with Professor Dain Borges and my Language and History course with Professor Mauricio Tenorio.  Professor Borges was my favorite professor and my thesis advisor. He was always there to provide answers to questions, to provide encouragement when I hit writer's block, and to support me.  I have turned to him many times since my graduation to ask for advice, and he is just as nice and helpful.

As someone who works in higher education, I would tell students interested in the MA in Latin American Studies:  You must be passionate about the subject matter in order to succeed. Those who are will find the program engaging, interesting, and intellectually stimulating. A lot of personal, professional, and intellectual growth occurs during the program. There are numerous resources available to students— the workshops hosted by the PhD students are extremely useful to MA students and CLAS staff are helpful. Additionally, the campus is beautiful and living in Chicago is an amazing experience. My favorite part of living in Chicago was being surrounded by so much culture -- there was always something going on if I needed a break from studying. I also really enjoyed living close to the lake where I could bike to Promontory Point to read outside and enjoy the water.

 I highly recommend the CLAS MA program to anyone interested in Latin American Studies, even if you aren't sure what you would like to do following completion of the degree.  You never know what you'll discover about yourself in the program!

Ben Jalowsky

 

Ben Jalowsky (2015)

Program Analyst
US Department of State

I now work as a Program Analyst at the State Department in Washington, DC. I’ve wanted to work for the State Department since I interned there a few years ago. Between interning at the State Department and working there now, I went to Brazil for most of 2014 through a Boren Fellowship. The Boren Fellowship definitely gave me a lot of experience that I draw from on my current job. My research in Brazil probably made me a more attractive candidate for my current position, and will likely help guide the decisions I make going forward in my career.

Through my Boren Fellowship, I spent the year in Rio and Salvador da Bahia, very quickly learning Portuguese and then conducting research on drug policy and public security in Brazil. I’ve always been academically interested in Brazil, but due to other research interests I’d never had time to explore the country or subject of my research as much as I’d hoped. The Boren Fellowship was a great opportunity to really flesh out some of my initial interests and take them in concrete directions. It’s a very flexible Fellowship that lets you really tailor your research to your desire, and not necessarily as rigid or narrow in scope and structure as other academic endeavors.  It really charged my interest in letting me talk to the people who create, administer, and are recipients of the public policies that I was interested in. It’s one thing looking at the statistics and having a political understanding of the situation, but getting a personal view and seeing the visceral ways in which people’s lives are affected lets you appreciate the field in a very distinct way.

While at CLAS, I attended an information session where Jessica Smith and the wonderful people at Graduate Student Affairs broke down the specifics of the Boren Fellowship, what it entailed, how the application and how to best position yourself for a Boren Fellowship. After knowing all the details of the Fellowship, it sounded like a great opportunity, so I went for it. I had tremendous help all along the way from the editorial advice on my essays to the subject matter advice from my professors. The UChicago staff was an incredible asset as I went through the application process.

Alex McAnarney

Alex McAnarney (2012)

Communications Officer
Center for Justice and International Law

 I am a Communications Officer at the Washington, D.C. office for the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), a non-governmental organization that represents victims of human rights violations from across the hemisphere before the Inter-American System. My job is to ensure that the issues we work on get regional, national, and international media coverage: I draft press releases, op-eds, press statements, etc. I'm also responsible for maintaining CEJIL's social media presence, designing infographics, recording videos and using other visuals tools to highlight the organization's work online.  I also get to work on campaigns, including GQUAL: a global campaign for gender parity in international representation which seeks to work with states to get more women elected into international and regional human rights tribunals and monitoring bodies.

For my CLAS MA, I worked on a research project that focused on migrant access to health services along the Mexico/Guatemala border, particularly HIV/AIDS and STI prevention and treatment programs. My experience at CLAS made me a stronger and more effective researcher and writer, which is definitely helpful when I’m under a tight deadline to craft a well-written, informed but pithy press release. Additionally, the MA program helped deepen my regional knowledge, generally, and on immigration, human rights, and health, specifically. My favorite class was “Health and Human Rights” with Prf. Scherer.  Additionally, being able to do hands-on ethnographic research with the support of a Tinker Research Grant was crucial in expanding this knowledge, made my MA project stronger and made me all the more committed to working in an immigration/human rights related field.

When I graduated, I expected to work as a freelance journalist. However, the climate isn't great financially so I went back to immigrant's rights work for a while in North Carolina. Working in immigrants’ rights before, during and after my MA made it very clear to me that migration is a process resulting from several factors in sending countries: skyrocketing rates of gang violence, corruption, land displacement, and impunity. I decided to move to D.C. and the opportunity to work at CEJIL seemed like a good opportunity to help contribute to the fight against some of the root causes of migration.

My advice for current MA students is-- do internships while you're in school or find a part time job. It's hard, it's a lot of work but ultimately it pays off through the experience combined with the added expertise of the MA. Do what you can to get a research grant. Ultimately, the experience and the data are worth it. Living in Chicago, there is no end to the things you can do. Students tend to get siloed in Hyde Park and, given the volume of work, I don't blame them. But the city has so much to offer in terms of recreation and internship opportunities, that they should block off one free day a week to see the sights.

Hannah Sigmon

Hannah Sigmon (2012)

Research Assistant
Columbia University Medical Center

I’m currently a research assistant in a neuroimaging lab at Columbia University Medical Center.  Our lab researches diseases that affect the hippocampus, a structure of the brain implicated in memory function.  My job is to write programs that will organize and pre-process the fMRI scans we get for our studies, quality check the scans and the pre-processing results, and do manual segmentation of brain structures.  I’m also learning to conduct neuropsychiatric evaluations on patients who we enroll in our studies.

I work with a bunch of insanely smart people, which is both rewarding and overwhelming, because I am always learning new things from them. I’m very challenged in my job, which is a good thing. I felt the same way at UChicago, both scared and excited to be around so many incredibly intelligent people.

In my current job, I find the research skills I learned through the CLAS MA program very helpful. My thesis was beneficial in that regard. The skills I acquired through the CLAS program were incredibly valuable in my previous two jobs doing social services work with the Spanish-speaking population in Boston. Once I transition to medical school and start working directly with patients again, being fluent in Spanish and understanding the cultural background of Spanish-speaking patients will be tremendously advantageous.

My career plans have definitely changed since leaving the program. I have a bachelor’s degree in social work and I started the MA program thinking that I wanted to do international social work in Latin America or work in the U.S. with the Spanish-speaking population, but I worked in this field for two years after graduation and realized that I wasn’t enjoying it.  I was able to transition to a job in neuroscience and now I plan on going to medical school, where I think my social work background and fluency in Spanish will be very useful.

I learned a lot through the CLAS MA program. My favorite course was on Latin American violence in the past half-century, which was taught by Alma Guillermoprieto, a Tinker Visiting Professor.  The course was just incredible because she has many amazing stories from her work as a journalist. Much of what we discussed she had seen or experienced firsthand. I wanted to sit and listen to her forever.  I also took a course in global public health which was fascinating. I think it helped me realize the interest I had in medicine.

The city of Chicago and the UChicago campus are both gorgeous. The food and entertainment in the city are incredible. I live in New York now and I miss Chicago a lot because it is less overwhelming, cleaner and less expensive. I especially loved living so close to Lake Michigan – I would go running and biking there a lot, and I went to a lot of free concerts in Millennium Park during the summer.

My advice for students considering an MA in Latin American Studies is that an interdisciplinary program is great if you’re still getting a feel for what you are interested in. I took classes in history, anthropology, research methods, public health, which really helped me narrow down what I wanted to focus on.  If you do decide to get your MA, attend to all the talks, lectures and events CLAS hosts, because they are fascinating. Students should also try to get a CLAS Tinker Field Research Grant (TFRG) to do research abroad. I did thesis research through a CLAS TFRG in Guatemala over the summer and I had the best time.