Sunday, March 25, 2012

From waitressing to writing for The New York Times

Can you imagine what it would be like to be a journalist for one of the most respected newspapers in the country? Jennifer Mascia is one such journalist for The New York Times, and recently she shared with me how her college journey led to the job she has today.

Like many post-graduates, Jennifer’s first job out of college was in the service industry – she was a waitress. Jennifer’s story is inspiring because she teaches us that no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can learn, develop, and enhance your passions by being in tune with the world around you.

Your journey is never over, and no matter where you start, your career dreams can continue to evolve, and continue to surprise you.

Jennifer came to New York when she was 17 years old and had to wait a year to apply to college so that she could get in-state tuition (out of state was just too expensive). She went to Hunter College at a time when SAT scores weren’t required to pursue her dream of being a theatre actress. 

In the process of studying theatre, Jennifer fell in love with the education she was being given by Hunter College, which was under the incredible CUNY umbrella (City University of New York). Jennifer eventually got into the Thomas Hunter Honors program and became the arts editor of the student paper.

Jennifer graduated college in 2001 with a theater major and an English minor, and began waiting tables. During that time, something unbelievable happened in her city.


This intense experience stirred something in Jennifer. She became hyper-aware of the politics and the issues going on in her country, and found within herself a particular anger, passion, and fuel. She realized there were some things off track, and at the time, she felt powerless.

Unlike most who translate that powerlessness into extremes of unfocused anger or apathy, Jennifer decided to do something about it.

She started educating herself about the country, the world, and our role in it. She became a news junkie in the three years she spent waiting tables, and she fell in love with writing and communications.

Jennifer followed an interest that she learned as she grew, and even though she was still waiting tables, she never stopped learning and engaging with her passion. So when a friend encouraged her to apply to Columbia’s journalism school she didn’t hesitate – she applied within two weeks and got in.

But of course, Jennifer was also ready and willing to act.

Jennifer attributes that willingness to…can you guess…


It started with the teachers in high school and her professors in college who noticed her writing ability and told her that she was good. Jennifer says she never would have thought about writing if those amazing women in her life didn’t take notice and told her she had a talent (e.g. the power of mentors).

Secondly, the friend who encouraged her to apply to graduate school was huge. The friends in our lives have a tremendous impact.

And finally, the people Jennifer met during her job as a waitress gave her incredible insight and helped her develop great questioning skills for her job as a journalist. Jennifer loves and understands people, which is what intrigued me most about her. Within the first two minutes on the phone with her, I knew I was talking to a compassionate and giving person.

Jennifer valued her time working as a waitress, and really shows that if you are passionate, have the right attitude, and are always willing to learn, your college experience is never really over; you can create an education no matter where you’re working or what your circumstances are.

Jennifer’s story proves that you can make the most of any job you’re in, and that it can lead to places you could never have dreamed – IF –and this is a big if – you are engaging 100%, giving your best to your work, and constantly learning.

After graduate school Jennifer began at the New York Times answering phones and running errands. What inspires me most about Jennifer is she never explains her menial jobs in a menial way – she describes them with passion and vigor, explaining what she learned from those incredible experiences.

This is what we can learn most from Jennifer. The power of that “always learning” attitude. The power of making the most of your situation and absorbing as much knowledge as you can.

Here is what Jennifer had to say in her own words:

What is one piece of advice you could share with my readers that you wished someone would have shared with you in college?

“You don’t have to have it figured out at 25. It’s okay to take your 20’s and figure it out. I kind of expected to be a fully-grown adult at the age of 22. There is a learning curve, and it is OKAY! You think everyone around you has it figured out – but they don’t! It’s important to understand that. I always thought I was on the bottom rung, but often you are only one question away from figuring it out, so never assume you’re at the bottom.“

What is one thing you think my college student readers should do as soon as they finish reading this article in order to be more successful? 

“Knowledge is power. Read as much as you can! Learn as much as you can. A lot of people operate the world with a half-tank full. Learning will ALWAYS put you ahead of the pack. Read a newspaper ;)”

For two years Jennifer was a 24/7 reporter for an amazing series NY Times did called the Neediest Cases Series. During this time, Jennifer went into neighborhoods that were segregated due to socio-economic status; she went into people’s homes who had less than $100 in their pocket, and told their stories. Currently Jennifer works in the editorial section of the newspaper where she supports columnists through fact checking, web producing, researching, finding art for posts, and much more. You can also follow Jennifer on Twitter.

To read more about Isa's personal story & how you can build relationships to: make positive friends, be more successful in academics and work, find the right people to connect with, and access the hidden job market, grab a FREE e-copy of the first chapter of Community College Success: How to Finish with Friends, Scholarships, Internships, and the Career of Your Dreams! Claim your free copy on the Facebook page!

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