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Navigating the twists and turns of professional life

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Nov. 19, 2019. International Institute Alumni Career Panel. From left: International Institute Director Chris Erickson; moderator Katya Daniel (2008); and panelists Natalie Hatour (2012), John Khosravi (2006), Deanna Cherry (1993) and Adrian Sandoval (2007). (Photo: Clyde Daniel.)

Don't worry about changing your educational and career choices, reach out for help in identifying possible career paths and pursue what interests you most, say International Institute alumni.

UCLA International Institute, December 4, 2019 — Five graduates of International Institute academic programs offered current Bruins advice about careers, educational choices and job-hunting skills at an alumni career panel held during International Education Week 2019. Their message? Don’t worry about changing your educational and career choices, reach out for help in identifying possible career paths and pursue what interests you most.

Moderated by Katya Daniel (Global Studies 2008), UCLA’s Young Alumnus of the Year 2019 and a professional recruiter for TigerConnect in Santa Monica, the panel featured speakers with a wide range of professional experience. The speakers — Deanna Cherry (Development Studies, 1993), John Khosravi (Middle Eastern & North African Studies minor, 2006), Adrián Sandoval (International Development Studies major/ Latin American Studies minor, 2007) and Natalie Hatour (Global Studies, 2012) —graduated from UCLA 26, 13, 12 and 7 years ago, respectively.

Alumni panel (top) and student audience. (Photos: Grace Howard.)

Developing "soft skills" crucial to success

Cherry said her career path had evolved through a combination of serendipitous opportunities and conscious decisions to do new things. The alumna completed a double major at UCLA in development studies and an individually designed major in intergroup relationships and discrimination. After graduating, she worked for many years in the nonprofit sector doing social justice and anti-poverty work. As Cherry described it, she eventually burned out from overwork and decided to create her own consulting company.

Today, Cherry provides consulting services to nongovernmental organizations and educational institutions in how to adopt post-colonial approaches to their work and thus advance racial and cultural equity. A champion of taking breaks during which one can identify new interests, she is currently on sabbatical while completing a certification as an integrative coach. Cherry highly recommended the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs, which she did early in her career, and urged students to try as many things as possible at UCLA in terms of courses, student associations, internships and travel.

John Khosravi, who runs his own immigration law firm and is an adjunct professor at Pepperdine Law School, shared many tips on how to cultivate peers and network within a given field. The alumnus graduated from law school in the middle of the 2008–09 recession and eventually decided to create an immigration practice. He enjoys preparing to meet new clients, he said, as he uses the education he received at the Institute to research the situations in his clients’ countries of origin, which they greatly appreciate. 

Khosravi encouraged students to learn how to network, describing it as the invaluable social skill of being able to converse with strangers on topics of mutual interest. Networking does not have to be intimidating, he said, and is best pursued on the basis of honest interest in what other people do. For example, he said he had made many professional contacts through LinkedIn by writing other attorneys with the goal of learning more about their legal specialties. Khosravi emphasized that this kind of engagement must be honest and not transactional, with which Cherry and other alumni agreed.

Pursued with grace and the occasional follow-up email to people to apprise them of what you’re doing, added Katya Daniel, networking in your (intended or actual) field builds supportive circles of professional peers over time.

Adrián Sandoval, who directs the national parent school partnerships program at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, recounted that he hated the whole idea of networking until he realized that it simply meant building bridges and keeping up with one’s peers. Today, he said, it’s particularly gratifying when former employees or mentees look him up and fill him in on what they have been doing.

Students with Global Studies alumna Natalie Hatour. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Make full use of campus opportunities and resources

Sandoval admitted to being so stubborn as an undergraduate that he would have never come to an alumni panel, not to mention unaware of the career resources available at UCLA. He advised current students to take advantage of those resources and ask for help in evaluating possible career paths. Daniel seconded him, suggesting that students might choose to work with an alumnus mentor through the UCLA Alumni Association program via UCLA ONE. And Natalie Hatour encouraged students to begin right now and conduct information interviews with people working in fields that interest them.

Changes in career and educational priorities should not scare you, emphasized both Sandoval and Hatour. As Sandoval recounted, he initially majored in engineering at UCLA because the profession offered very high salaries, only to find out that he really didn’t like it. Eventually he followed his interests and pursued a degree in Latin American Studies without knowing quite how he would apply it. Later, he went on to earn an M.A. in public policy at Stanford. In the end, he observed, everything worked out.

Adrián Sandoval (foreground) and John Khosravi (background) speak to students one-on-one. (Photo: Katie Osterkamp/ UCLA.)

All the panelists stressed that the interdisciplinary nature of their Institute degrees prepared them well for addressing multifaceted problems. Among his few regrets, Sandoval said he was sorry that he had not studied abroad. Even if you have never traveled before, take the chance and study abroad, he advised young Bruins.

Natalie Hatour (Global Studies, 2012) concurred, saying a study abroad program in Shanghai had been life changing. As a result, she first interned for the U.S. State Department, which opened the door to her first job in its Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The alumna now works as a trade and investment manager for the U.K. Department for International Trade (located in the British consulate in Los Angeles). Hatour recounted that when she was contemplating a career in international relations, she initially thought she should pursue a law degree. In the end, she discovered she didn’t like law. Instead, she decided to do a graduate degree in international business at a school where all her projects were done with multicultural teams.

Following their brief remarks, the panelists and moderator met individually and with small groups of students to answer questions and offer more targeted advice. For undergraduates unable to attend this year, put mid-November 2020 on your calendars for the next alumni career panel.

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