After Vassar

Where Are They Now and What Are They Up To?


Elinor Krichmar ’21 (she/her)

American Studies Major and Hispanic Studies Correlate

I now work as a Programs Associate at the Brooklyn Rail, an arts non-profit with a publication and accessible public arts programming. I’m also just starting to do some writing for the Rail about dance.

Pilar Jefferson ’15 (she/her)

Native American Studies Correlate

Pilar Jefferson and another person outside building a dugout canoe.

I’m Pilar Jefferson, a museum education professional and current PhD candidate in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. At Vassar, I majored in Art History with a correlate in Native American Studies. After graduating I decided to pursue a career as a museum educator in New York City. I spent much of that time working at the Museum of the City of New York, leading Saturday Academy, an American History and SAT prep program for high school students, and helping develop programs that taught about New York as a Lenape place. My last year at the museum I developed educational programming for the exhibition “Urban Indian: Native New York Now” where I worked with Native community leaders in the city. One of our Native advisors talked about how after museum collaborations they would often come back to find that their stories were being taught in ways that weren’t aligned with Native ideas about teaching and learning. Intrigued, I decided to pursue a graduate degree to explore where and how museums could teach in ways that aligned with Native values.

I have been at UC Berkeley for four years now and my research has transformed thanks to the incredible mentors and friends I’ve made here. Currently, I’m looking at how Native communities use museums to pursue different social and political goals relevant to their fights for sovereignty—these goals range from connecting across global Indigenous communities (like African Indigenous peoples) to reconnecting to ancestors and asserting ongoing relationships with lands and waters. My research has brought me back to the East Coast, including for the project you see in the photo, where I worked with two Native American and two Indigenous African artists to build a dugout canoe at the Mystic Seaport Museum for their forthcoming exhibition “Entwined: Freedom, Sovereignty and the Sea”. The exhibition opens in April 2024!

Luna Garzón-Montano ’14 (she/her)

American Studies Major (foci: Music and Africana Studies)

I’m a public defender. After graduating from Vassar I worked for four years at public defender offices. I graduated from law school in 2021 and have been doing a fellowship at Georgetown since. Next fall I’ll be a public defender in Newark.

Monica Fillmore ’01 (she/her)

Headshot of Monica Fillmore wearing black shirt

American Studies Major (focus on Historical Analysis of Early American Politics with a concentration on Native American influences)

I am now a lawyer. I knew at Vassar that I wanted to go to law school and wanted to choose a major that would help with critical thinking and factual analysis.

Juliet B Weis ’18 (she/her/hers)

American Studies Major

Juliet Weis headshot wearing a black printed shirt and black jacket

Hi Vassar! I am currently in my last semester at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) getting my Master’s degree in International Affairs. During my time at SIPA, I have focused on what sustainable peace means and how local populations interact with national policies and international commitments in order to better understand how to create and successfully implement effective and meaningful policies. In my international security and conflict resolution classes, I have gained familiarity with contemporary conflicts, the UN system, and the work of smaller international non-governmental organizations. As I search for jobs, I am energized by positions having to do with women in international security, site-specific knowledge and focused programming, population-government relations, and gender mainstreaming in all types of programming across multilateral institutions and grassroots organizations. When I am not in class, I attend my internship (UN- and peacebuilding-related), I babysit, and eat all the amazing food that New York City has to offer. If you have any questions about life after Vassar, navigating grad school, or anything at all, please feel free to reach out!

Antonella DeCicci ’20 (they/them or she/her)

American Studies Major

Hello! I’m Antonella. I am currently a member of the Partnerships team (read: fundraising/relationship management) at a nonprofit whose mission is to prevent America from declining into a more authoritarian form of government. At the time I’m writing this, I’m 3 years out from Vassar, and just recently began my first full-time job. I graduated into COVID with an indefinitely-postponed Fulbright (well, not exactly—they kept pushing the date back in such a way that made me very, very unemployable) and an otherwise vague sense of how to translate my academic interests into a career. For context: I wrote my thesis on storytelling, community building, and affect theory against the backdrop of a very polarized America.

I’d also aspired to connect storytelling directly to Restorative Practices and Intergroup Dialogue, but my original outline was far too ambitious. That said, I had a lot of difficulty as a student translating my interests and work into language that had meaning to others, a topic which I have so many thoughts about. But I’ll jump to the end: I love having a degree in American Studies, I buzz a little when I encounter another one in the world, and I attribute so many of the good things in my professional life now to the skills and lens that this discipline taught me.

I feel like I’ve had a decade of experience in the past few years. And I don’t mean that in a cocky way! I mean that I had 4–5 part-time jobs at any given point in time up until 6 months ago. And, undoubtedly, the interdisciplinary nature of my AMST degree was what allowed me to exist and thrive in such a variety of professional spaces. I was the finance director of a state-level campaign, a researcher for a nonprofit journalism venture philanthropy fund, the project manager for an anti-hate crime initiative, a freelance storytelling workshop facilitator, a co-founder of a dialogue nonprofit, a barista, the campaign manager for a slate of county-level campaigns, a part-time student in a Restorative Practices graduate program, and a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Italy.

View of the City of Mondragone from the top of a mountain

As I was juggling these many roles (working far too many hours in the process), it often felt like I had lost agency over my professional narrative. I was taking any role that would take me, regardless of my interest in it, and riding the wave. At the time it was predominantly unfulfilling; but in retrospect, I can see a clear, direct connection between nearly every single thing on that list and democracy work. And, the bridge between my gig-economy-overworked-freelance era and my full-time-with-benefits-and-also-miraculously-meaningful-and-engaging era was Fulbright. Teaching 15–20 hours per week max, in a geographically isolated and socially insular town in rural Southern Italy, gave me the time and space I needed to intentionally reset and prepare for my next steps. (I got to do a lot of reflection in a really beautiful part of the world! This is the view from the mountain behind my house in Mondragone.)

All of Vassar, and then the 18 months which followed, felt like throwing a whole bunch of stuff at a wall. I mean layers on layers on layers of stuff. In Italy, that torrent slowed to a steady trickle—still much to absorb, but not from as many directions—and I got to notice what was sticking and what was not. And what was sticking was the democracy work. I made some concessions: Intergroup Dialogue and Restorative Practices are not my full-time job. But, I have a job with a surprisingly dialogic culture in an otherwise polarized and partisan field. A job which also values work-life balance religiously, allowing me to dedicate time outside of work to maintaining and developing my facilitation skills, and continuing to devour books with the fervor of a wannabe grad student. Brevity was never my forte (ask any professor who taught me at Vassar), but I hope that this was a window into a more dynamic career path, entirely built on the foundation of my AMST degree. I’m always happy to connect to chat more!

Rachel Zoghlin Bautista ’07 (she/her)

American Culture Major (focus: alternative families)

I have spent the past 10 years working as an attorney, representing immigrants seeking humanitarian relief (including asylum) and defending themselves from deportation. I spent the first 7 years of my career working at a small immigration litigation law firm, and have spent the past 4 years at a nonprofit, where I teach and mentor volunteer attorneys who are taking on asylum and other humanitarian cases/clients pro bono.

Caroline Goodman ’07 (she/her)

American Studies

Caroline Goodman wearing a red jacket and green backpack

I teach 9th-grade humanities in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I got my masters in American Studies at the University of New Mexico in 2016. My area of focus was Critical Indigenous Studies and I wrote my thesis on Bears Ears National Monument in Southern Utah near Ceder Mesa. I’ve lived on or near the Colorado Plateau in the Southwestern US since graduating from Vassar in 2007. I moved west in 2008, first to New Mexico, then to Colorado and Arizona, and back to New Mexico. Before working as a public school teacher, I worked as an outdoor educator for many years. I’ve worked all over the Western US and abroad. I also taught at a Semester School in Bozeman, Montana, and at Prescott College in Prescott, AZ in their Cultural and Regional Studies and Adventure Education departments. My love of the Southwest was fostered at Vassar in the American Studies program. I spent the second semester of my junior year at Dine College, the Tribal College on the Navajo Nation, and I wrote my thesis on the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute. These days my favorite things are bikepacking, skiing, and spending time with my girlfriend and my dog.

Nikki Turner ’11 (she/her/hers)

American Studies Major (Foci: Film and Anthropology)

Nicola Turner wearing a black jacket and black pants standing by a white wall with a framed photo of a diner table with menu's, coffee, drinks and crackers

I work as a photography producer at the creative agency VS+Co, and I also oversee the post-production department where we work on both commercial retouching and fine art restoration and printing projects. My duties primarily include managing all artist/client relationships for our roster of photographers and overseeing their shoots from the creative concepting phase through making those concepts a reality, and then seeing the final images through retouching to ensure the photographer’s vision is maintained. One of our longest-standing clients, Glossier, recently celebrated the opening of their new flagship with a limited edition zine showcasing nearly a decade of our photographer’s work for the brand. Last year we also celebrated the opening of “The Outlands,” a show of work from the photographer William Eggleston at David Zwirner Gallery in New York, which we digitally restored and printed. My professional relationship with William Eggleston and his estate has lasted over a decade, and it is the highlight of my career. After 11 happy years at VS+Co, I have plans to become a freelance producer this Spring. In any creative field, I think cultural, artistic, and historical knowledge is crucial. My work revolves around advertising as well as fine art photography, and my American Studies education equipped me well to think critically about both. My academic background serves as a foundation for how best to understand the context in which these kinds of works are created.

On a personal note, I moved back to the Hudson Valley this past July after spending the last 11+ years living in Brooklyn. I married my Husband, Conrad Schott (also class of 2011) in August of 2021 after a year of pandemic-related delay. He now works as a professor of acting in the Drama Department at Vassar College, and we bought a house in nearby Kingston so that he could be closer to work. We are so happy to be back in the area, and we also just welcomed home our first dog, a rescue named Winnie.

Melissa McClung ’12 (she/her/hers)

American Culture Major (foci: Education and Film) and Creative Writing Correlate

Melissa McClung wearing a green hat and gray and green jacket

Melissa McClung is a filmmaker and animator based in Western Massachusetts. She produced animations for the upcoming science documentary, The Arc Of Oblivion, directed by Ian Cheney and produced by Sandbox Films with Executive Producer Werner Herzog. The film will premiere at South by Southwest 2023 and CPH:DOX 2023. Her short film, All The Marbles, premiered at Maryland Film Festival 2022. Her short documentary, Louie’s Antiques, was an official selection of the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival and had its international premiere at the Melbourne Documentary Festival. The film is preserved in the Historic Northampton permanent archive. Melissa is a recipient of the New England Film Star Award from New England Film and Women in Film & Video New England, and she has won three national awards from the Alliance for Community Media.

In addition to her creative work, Melissa teaches film at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter High School, serves on the board of Northampton Open Media, and co-owns Ghost Hit Recording Studio with her husband, audio engineer Andrew Oedel. Melissa earned her MFA in Film from Vermont College of Fine Arts and her BA from Vassar College. See Melissa’s work at Melissa McClung’s website.

Grace Cannon-Wallace ’10 (she/her)

American Culture Major (foci: Literature and Anthropology) and German Studies Correlate

Grace Cannon Wallace sitting in front of a backdrop of a tower and mountains

Currently, I live in Sheridan, Wyoming, and work at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center as the Lead Teaching Artist. Over the last 3 years, I have built a series of educational programs—as part of the WYO PLAY education initiative—that provide people of all ages in my small-town community with opportunities to build relationships and skills in the performing arts. I am also the President of the Board of the local community theater organization, and I sit on the Board for Better Wyoming. Since I graduated from Vassar, I have completed a year of service through AmeriCorps and worked with storefront theaters in Chicago, spent a year studying abroad with a Fulbright Scholarship in Germany, and earned an MA in Applied Theatre from CUNY School of Professional Studies in New York. I was so glad when I found the American Culture/American Studies program at Vassar—the interdisciplinary program allowed me to explore my interests, which mostly existed between the cracks and amid the overlap of different subject areas. My career since that time has reflected similar themes. I’m a big proponent of following the winding path!

Kara Voght ’11 (she/her)

American Studies Major

Kara Voght in front of a three story white brick building wearing a black short sleeve shirt and silver necklace

I’m a national politics reporter for Rolling Stone magazine and based in Washington, DC. My foci within the program—history, English, and religion—granted me a strong interdisciplinary foundation from which to understand the social and cultural aspects of American politics. More important than any class I took, however, were the critical thinking and writing skills this paper-intensive major helped me to develop.

Lela Rondeau ’01 (she/her)

American Studies Major

When I graduated, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer but wanted to take a few years to do other things. I did the JET program, teaching English in Japan, and worked as a nanny. Then I got a job at a law firm and did not like it. Around that time, the Los Angeles Unified School District was hiring and I thought perhaps I would work there for a bit and then go into law. I was a special education teacher, teaching 8th-grade history. Working for this large school district has just stuck—I love it. I now am the Administrative Coordinator for Special Education instruction in the district, meaning I represent instruction for students with disabilities in bigger-picture meetings with other departments, plan professional development for staff, oversee centers that provide intervention to students with dyslexia, and promoting inclusive opportunities for our students to have time with their peers in general education. I love the people I work with and how much of the work is connected to social justice. I think American Studies was a great major to be able to take a wider variety of courses in college, exposing me to looking at a single issue from multiple vantage points.

Laura Burnett ’07 (she/her)

American Studies Major and Hispanic Studies Major

I’m currently the Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Bar Foundation of Massachusetts. I work with people who have experienced domestic violence and with incarcerated individuals. My multidisciplinary education at Vassar was great preparation for my graduate studies in law and social work. In fact, studying at Vassar was a great preparation for most things in my life, both professionally and personally. I’m always happy to chat with any current students who have questions about life after Vassar.

Juliana Halpert ’12 (she/her)

American Studies Major and Studio Art Major

I am an artist and arts writer living in Los Angeles. I received my MFA in fine art from ArtCenter College in Pasadena, and prior to that, I worked as a production manager at Artforum and Bookforum magazines. Now I maintain my freelance art and writing practices while also working as the Announcements Editor for e-flux.

Sarah Scott ’12 (she/her)

American Studies Major and French & Francophone Studies Major

Sarah Scott wearing a Vassar hat, sunglasses, white shirt and striped colored shorts standing with an ice cream cone in front of a mural with people sitting on picnic tables

I’m living in Cambridge, MA, and working as a city planner for the Metro Boston Regional Planning Agency. I’ve long been interested in how people relate to place, space, and time. At Vassar, my AMST focus was loosely on urban planning and historic preservation, so I took courses in urban studies, history, architectural history, anthropology, and geography. I wove all of this together in my thesis on how the design and management of NYC’s Central Park reflected different (often competing) ideas of history, memory, and public space. While I first became interested in being a city planner when I was 17, I explored a lot of other career paths during and after my time at Vassar, including historic house museum management, language translation and interpretation, and public radio (shoutout to WVKR!). After I graduated, I spent a year teaching English in France, then moved back in with my family in New Jersey to get some work experience, save money, and figure out what I wanted to go to grad school for. I worked for three years, then ended up doing a dual Master’s degree in city planning and historic preservation, which was probably a surprise to no one given my longstanding interest in both fields and my inability to choose only one course of study. At this point in my career, I’ve worked for pretty much every level of government. Most of my work focuses on using land use regulation to foster communities that are more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. I’m lucky that I love what I do for work and I credit many Vassar professors (especially Lisa Brawley) with opening up my mind to new ways of thinking.

Zachary Publicover Hamilton ’14 (he/him)

American Studies (foci: Political Science and Art)

Spent several years working in the arts in NYC for artists like Takashi Murakami. Eventually got a little worn out so I have been hopping around SEA teaching in different countries each year. I was supposed to go to Myanmar 2 months before the Junta took over. That fell through for obvious reasons, so I taught English near Chiang Mai for a year, I am in HCMC now, with plans to head to Yangon in about 6 months.

Anne Gossen ’00

American Studies Major and Art History Major

I followed up with a master’s in Early American Culture and a museum studies certificate, then was curator at a historic house for 7 years. When my husband took a job elsewhere and we moved, I set up a museum consulting business that I’ve run for 13 years now. My biggest advice is that if you are interested in museum work, be aware that unfortunately museums don’t pay well and it can be difficult to pay bills on an arts salary.

Lyo-Demi “LD” Green ’02 (they/them)

American Culture Major

Headshot of Lyo Demi Green wearing glasses

I co-edited and contributed to We’ve Been Too Patient: Voices from Radical Mental Health with Kelechi Ubozoh, published by North Atlantic Books and distributed by Penguin Random House, 2019. The second book of my own creative non-fiction and poetry, Phoenix Song, was published by Nomadic Press in 2022. I have received fellowships from Lambda Literary, Tin House, Catwalk Artists’ Residency, and Gullkistan Center for Creativity in Iceland. I am working on my third book, a graphic novel with the following plot: While searching for an enchanted ink that rewrites history, a nun with the Sight in medieval Europe falls in love with a genderfluid, swashbuckling nun. Together they must battle an ancient prophecy that threatens their relationship, their dignity and identity, and the entire world. I am a tenured professor at a community college in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Medanos College. I have taught here since 2016 and have been teaching college since 2007. I teach creative writing, Social Justice Studies courses (Intro to LGBTQ+ Studies, Intro to Gender Studies), and literature courses (Myth, Fantasy, and Science Fiction, LGBTQ+ Literature, and more), and composition courses. My studies at Vassar in general and my interdisciplinary major in particular prepared me well to be a community college professor. My artistic pursuits at Vassar, guidance from professors, and collaborations with other students helped me become the artist and writer I am today.

Joanna Horton McPherson ’04 (she/her)

American Culture (foci: Education, History, Psychology)

I have been in arts education, starting non-profits and most recently, preschools in the U.S. and Costa Rica.

Caitlin Romero ’06

American Culture Major and Hispanic Studies Correlate

I am an elementary teacher. Elementary education is interdisciplinary much like my major in American culture. I have taught in a public school in NJ and an international school in Colombia. I do think elementary education is related to American culture. I still think about the role of education in creating culture and the influence of culture on education.

Vincent Hiscock ’13 (he/him)

American Studies Major and English Major

Headshot of Vincent Roy Hiscock wearing a gray jacket, navy patterned shirt and bookshelves in the background

Currently, I’m completing a PhD in English at UC Irvine. A big part of what I’m writing about in my dissertation got its start in my thinking from an American Studies seminar, co-taught by Professors Patricia Wallace and Miriam Cohen, titled “Documenting America.” Previously, I’ve also completed a MFA in poetry writing at Cornell Univeristy, where I also taught for a couple years as a Lecturer. Other highlights include: developing services to supplement a patchwork of existing services for poor and unhoused folk in Richmond, VA as part of a direct service cooperative; learning how to ride motorcycles, including at Southern California’s several racetracks; learning how to trap-neuter-release community cats, socialize and adopt out feral kittens, manage feral cat communities, and re-home them (due to developers in Long Beach—a long story…); and contributing to the ‘Fair UC’ campaign and coordinated strike effort, which secured 12–17k+ raises for tens and tens of thousands of in-unit academic workers, as a member of UAW 2865. If you’re thinking about going to grad school (or starting to street or track ride, help community cats, or get involved with workplace organizing), please don’t hesitate to reach out to chat.

Malissa O’Donnell ’06 (she/her)

American Culture Major (focii Sociology and Drama)

Headshot of Malissa O'Donnell wearing black shirt and white background

I originally became an American Culture major because I wanted to study radio, and the Media Studies department was still only offering a correlate. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of combining the lenses of multiple disciplines in the pursuit of understanding a single topic. In my case, I made the argument to study radio via Drama (form) and Sociology (content). I didn’t know it at the time, but this notion of understanding through a multidisciplinary lens would be a key through-line in my career, from theater to graduate school to radio to podcasting to digital media and beyond. Today, as a consultant to creative professionals looking to realize their ambitions to the fullest, I help people in all kinds of (podcasting and audio narrative, documentary film, digital media, nonfiction writing, illustration, and more) to face complicated issues and undertake projects of all shapes and sizes. The American Culture major gave me a deep and rich foundation in thinking across the lines of topic, department, discourse, discipline, and difference. It’s that foundation that’s allowed me to develop a practice that is uniquely suited to helping people who don’t fit neatly into one category or another—which is most people who create things for a living. I’m grateful for what the American Culture major gave me: not a body of knowledge, but a framework for understanding the world.

Christina Lawrence ’06 (she/her)

American Culture

I now teach English at a public high school in Rhode Island (within my major, my focuses were English and Art History). This feels logical, looking back, as the first two American Culture courses I took at Vassar were about children’s literature and adolescence in America. In many ways, I think American Culture better set me up to do this job than even an English degree would have. I love making interdisciplinary connections in my classroom, whether it’s looking at the photos of James Van Der Zee during our Harlem Renaissance unit (thank you, Karen Lucic) or talking about Thorstein Veblen and conspicuous consumption during our unit on The Great Gatsby (thank you, Wendy Graham). I love my job and hope future Vassar graduates will wind up in the classroom too.

Burgin Mathews ’00 (he/him)

American Studies

I’m a writer, radio host, and founding director of the Southern Music Research Center, a brand-new nonprofit devoted to the documentation and presentation of the widest range of music histories, communities, and traditions from across the American South. The centerpiece of that organization is its website, set to launch in April: a free, searchable, digital archive of rescued recordings, rare photos, oral history interviews, and more. My new book, Magic City: How the Birmingham Jazz Tradition Shaped the Sound of America, is scheduled for publication from the University of North Carolina Press later this year.

For twenty-plus years I’ve been deeply, very consciously grateful for my time at Vassar and, more specifically, for my experience in the American Studies (then “American Culture”) program. Those classes truly rewired the way my mind operates. The interdisciplinary model has consistently informed the way I write, do research, teach (I was also a high school English teacher for seventeen years), and think; and I still find myself reflecting on particular texts, courses, conversations, professors, and even assignments. (My time as a student DJ on WVKR also led to a love for radio, and I’ve been hosting a roots music radio show in my town of Birmingham, Alabama, for over a decade now.) I can confidently say that my American Studies experience at Vassar was an important ingredient in shaping the person I’ve been ever since.

Hillary Lyons ’12 (she/her)

American Studies with a dual focus on Sociology & Geography

Hillary Lyons wearing a white collar shirt standing in front of a wood board building

To be honest, I had no idea what to major in. There were too many fields of study that piqued my interest. The one thing that I felt passionately about above all else was food: where it comes from, how it’s prepared, who does the preparing, and who goes hungry. By sophomore year, I had a vague notion of building my thesis around food systems. Mind you, this was before many American universities developed their own “food studies” programs. But I wasn’t sure what department my focus would fall under—geography, sociology, environmental studies, etc.—so a friend suggested that I look into the American Studies program as a way to build my own multidisciplinary major. I wound up filling my curriculum with classes on border policies, food security, film, and so many other fascinating topics because AMST/NAS allowed me that flexibility. I wrote my thesis on the American prison food system and conducted firsthand research interviewing farm and garden rehabilitation programs. I even worked with the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, teaching elementary schoolers how to cook with fresh produce. After graduation, I went on to obtain my Master’s in Gastronomy from the University Gastronomic Sciences and worked with the Slow Food movement to coordinate the African delegation of farmers and food producers for Milan’s 2015 World EXPO. These experiences instilled in me a deep passion for food sovereignty, which led to a rich and winding career path through restaurants, PR, farms, food tech startups, and beyond. Today I leverage my background in sociology and community building, along with my experience in the food industry, to help food producers, wineries, nonprofits, and other mission-driven organizations bring their brands to life through storytelling.

Andrew John Commers ’02

Andrew Commers at a construction site wearing neon yellow vest and hard hat

American Culture

Real estate developer. Honestly, my major didn’t teach me any of the hard skills for my career; that said, it did feed an interest in urban development that then went on to fuel the effort required to obtain opportunities and experiences in real estate development.

Kate Linhardt ’08 (she/her)

American Culture—concentrations in Film and Literature

I learned how to edit videos my senior year at Vassar and have been at it for about fifteen years now. As a documentary film and television editor, I find that my American Culture degree has served me very well. When I was a freshman, I was passionate about writing and had every intention of becoming an English major, but I surprised myself when I felt a pull toward the Film department my sophomore year. I was torn, but by shifting to the American Culture department I was able to design a curriculum that included film history, film production, creative writing, poetry classes, and one of my all-time favorites, American Television Culture. I’m very thankful to have had so much freedom and support within the American Culture department. You can learn more about my career and the projects I have worked on at my website.

Justin Brock Schantz ’02 (he/him)

American Culture

Justin Schantz wearing a blue printed shirt, gray sweater, red bowtie standing in a field

My love affair with American Studies (back then, American Culture) began early: my freshman year I was lured into a “Millennialism” class that sounded just too cool not to take. It more than delivered. There, I learned the multidisciplinary approach to education—and living life. I credit American Studies with allowing me to explore my academic interests without abandon. My Senior year, I wrote a thesis about a wild idea I was passionate about: disco music culture and its immense impact on the gay community. But most importantly, the degree gave me the interdisciplinary background I needed to excel at any non-graduate-degree job. My professional journey has taken many turns: retail banker, web designer, copywriter, entrepreneur, and now film producer. Each role brings unique challenges but with every pivot, I’ve never struggled to understand the business or connect with a wide variety of people. This has allowed me to take risks and reinvent myself many times over. I still remember being worried that my ambiguous American Studies degree would not play well in the “real” world. As it turned out, the concern belied just how valuable the education would be.


Header image: Miguel Luciano, Double Phantom/EntroP.R., 2017, 1952 Schwinn Phantom bicycles, flags, overall: 120 × 40 × 32 in. (304.8 × 101.6 × 81.3 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Marianna and Juan A. Sabater, 2020.25.1, © 2017, Miguel Luciano. Photo: Jason Wyche