Communication Career Insights from the Pros

Full view of communications panel with all four speakers

Success may not always have a predictable path, but an untraditional trajectory doesn't discount its significance. That was the overarching message from four successful women in various communications industries who shared their journeys with an audience at the Bowen Center on the Johnson & Wales Providence Campus.

"Media found me, communications found me," said Kamilah A'vant, publisher and director of Diversity Programs at Color Magazine. "I found myself taking these core skills I had and moving industry to industry," she said, describing her art major, degree in economics, and early work as a paralegal.

"Media found me, communications found me."

A'Vant, Johnson & Wales' 2020 Visiting Industry Professional, joined a panel hosted by JWU's Center for Media Production titled "From There to Here." A'Vant sat next to Hannah Levintova, a reporter for Mother Jones; Becca Bender, an archivist for the Rhode Island Historical Society; and Adriana Dawson, Director of Community Engagement for Verizon.

Adriana Dawson shares her story with students

"I had a very nonlinear path, but my academic foundation was in communications," Dawson said. She spent the early days of her career in corporate communications in the healthcare sector but couldn't shake the feeling that Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Color weren't having their storylines woven into her fields of work; she wanted to change that.

"Something clicked, and I decided to become the CEO of my career, I wasn't going to wait to be seen or heard," Dawson said.

"I decided to become the CEO of my career ..."

Despite career paths in healthcare, law, print journalism and media production, the four women on the panel had one thing in common: careers that evolved toward their passions.

"I did a lot of exploring," Levintova said. The investigative reporter talked about her time studying comparative literature at Brown University and her plans to go to law school, but an ever-present love for reading, writing and journalism had her seeing her future through a different lens, something she realized during her time processing FOIA requests at a federal agency in Washington, D.C.

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"I was reading complaints all the time from people about businesses," Levintova said. "I thought, 'What I really want to be doing is giving these things a megaphone; I want to be on the side of talking about it and moving along that discussion.' "

Hannah Levintova offers her advice during panel discussion.

It was a similar experience for Bender, who found herself working on big-budget films in Hollywood before moving back to the East Coast to work on documentaries. "When I turned back to docs, I was always a producer, so I did a lot of archival work early on," Bender explained. But it was the experience working on a specific documentary about the 1972 presidential race that made Bender realize she didn't quite want to be the storyteller, rather she loved digging deep into the archives and providing the assets of the story to hand off.

"This gig was the perfect outlet to open up the path," Bender said. "It took all of the different pieces and allowed me to make much more of an impact than I previously had in other parts of my career."

Despite where they started and what avenue it took them down, the panel of four showed the passion they share for communication, sprinkling senior students with advice that pushed confidence in their ideas, ability, and leadership.

"Be prepared to bring that folding chair with you and make room at those tables," Dawson said.

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