The most exciting part about college is the freedom you have to explore and discover a number of interests. And at a place like NYU, the possibilities are truly endless. I had a chance to chat with three NYU alumni who pursued nontraditional paths. By taking advantage of NYU’s flexible curriculum and rich resources, they found ways to connect their passions to their dream careers. They tell their stories and offer advice below.
Meet Saransh Desai-Chowdhry, Gallatin '20
Like all 2020 grads, Saransh’s last semester at NYU was impacted by the global pandemic. But instead of fixating on the cancelled events, Saransh devoted his energy to a passion project he’d been dreaming about. Saransh’s book, Soundstorm, is a collection of essays that looks closely at the business and culture of music. In our conversation, we discuss how the nontraditional major he created took him from college student to author.
The Gallatin School of Individualized Study allows students to design their own concentrations based on personal and professional interests. Saransh’s concentration, which he named cultural entrepreneurship, is a blend of business, music, writing, and sociology. When speaking of his time at Gallatin, he refers to it as “empowering.” He says, “Something that was really cool about Gallatin is you get really used to advocating for yourself. Because I think a lot of people don’t necessarily understand what you’re doing. So the onus is on you to explain it in a way that makes sense. It’s not this rigid academic environment where you have to do one thing for the four years. They give you a lot of space to grow. And I think I was really attracted to that.”
Saransh also spoke about the resources and support he received during his time at NYU that fueled him along his nontraditional path. There were NYU professors that mentored him along the journey, like Amanda Petrusich. Amanda is a staff writer for the New Yorker and a Gallatin professor who he met while taking her class his first year. He and Amanda would discuss his love for music writing. “Throughout my college experience, we would meet up every now and then. And she gave me advice during my senior year.”
In addition, Saransh took advantage of internship opportunities that aligned with his interests. His favorite experience was at The Orchard, Sony Music’s distribution wing for independent artists. There he got an inside look at the music industry. And he learned lessons that he would later write about in his book.
When I asked Saransh to give advice to applicants thinking about a nontraditional path, he painted the perfect picture. He says, “Careers in the 21st century are so much more like rock climbing walls than like some ladder. You can give yourself room to explore and borrow from different kinds of experiences. And still end up where you want to be.”
Meet Katie Anderson, Stern School of Business '17
When Katie Anderson graduated from Stern in 2017, she had no idea she would return just a few months later. But the second time around, she’s taken on a full-time role helping students find their own professional path. In my chat with Katie, she talks about what it’s like to give back to the Stern community.
Katie has had an interest in business for some time. But what she didn’t know was she also had a passion for working with undergraduate students. This was something she discovered while working on campus as an Admissions Ambassador. Combining those two interests led her to Stern’s Office of Professional Development and Career Education. In her role, Katie nurtures the professional growth of her students. And her Stern education gives her a unique prospective. She says, “It’s a little bit easier for me to talk to students. Because they reference classes that I also remember very vividly. And having that common ground, I think makes it a little bit more accessible.”
In our chat, Katie reflects on experiences in the classroom that she draws on every day in her work with students. Skills learned in courses like Operations Management help with organization, managing logistics, and problem solving. And she says that courses like Organizational Communication and Its Social Context taught her about business writing and presentation skills. And these are skills she uses daily to engage her students. “I think that the cross section of having the student affairs experience mixed with the business coursework has helped me have a student perspective. But I also have a staff perspective at the same time.”
One of Katie’s favorite aspects of her job is seeing her students transform over time and grow in confidence. And her advice to them is, “You have to stop wondering what you’re going to do with your life and start thinking about what life wants to do with you.”
Meet Jaqui Angulo, CAS '19
Jaqui has had an interest in occupational therapy for as long as she can remember. Hearing about the life-changing work her mom was doing as a physical therapist inspired her to do the same. So she knew that was where she wanted her career to take her. And although she took a nontraditional path as an Anthropology major to get there, she has not looked back.
In the summer after her first year, she got the chance to work at United Cerebral Palsy of Orange. Then, in her junior year she interned at a residential facility for disabled people while studying away in Madrid. Getting hands-on experience in the field solidified her love for occupational therapy.
Shortly after graduation, an opportunity to work at Google fell in her lap. And she couldn’t pass it up. And if you think there’s no room for an aspiring occupational therapist at a tech company, you’re wrong. Although a recruiter position at Google seems like a nontraditional path to a career in therapy, Jaqui found her fit. During her year-long stint at the tech giant, Jaqui worked on the Candidate Accommodations team. This team’s purpose was to ensure that candidates with disabilities had the necessary accommodations for a comfortable, fair interview process. Reflecting on her time at Google, she says, “I found the area in a place that didn’t make sense for me. And I made it make sense.”
Today, Jaqui has begun the next leg of her journey to occupational therapist. She started the dual-degree MS/Doctor of Occupational Therapy program at NYU’s Steinhardt school in September. Now that her journey has brought her from NYU to Google and back, her advice is to stay open-minded. “If I would’ve only taken only health-related sciences and done what OTs are supposed to do, I never would’ve gotten into the social sciences as deeply as I did. And I learned so much about the field that I want to go into in a different way.”
Saransh, Katie, and Jaqui are NYU alumni who have blazed their own trails. Their nontraditional paths to success are inspiring. And they are proof that experiences both in and outside of the classroom can help you pursue your passion. Their stories serve as examples of how NYU’s flexible curriculum combined with devoted faculty mentors and rich resources help students uncover their full potential.