Jenifer CalandraOctober 27, 2020
Jenifer Calandra is a marketer by trade. She specializes in creative copywriting and SEO content marketing. Her work is published in numerous business’ blogs across the U.S.; national trade publications; newspapers in Vandalia, MO, Scottsbluff, NE, Grand Island, NE, and Kearney, NE as well as Nebraska Magazine and Doane Magazine. Jenifer’s hobbies include reading, vegetable gardening, the lost art of letter-writing, and watching Golden Girls reruns. During the last 10 years, she’s lived in four states, and is happy to finally have rooted herself in the Kansas City, MO area with her husband and their three dogs.
What year did you graduate and what was your concentration?
What extra-/co-curricular activities did you do?
I was a features reporter and copy editor for the Index, an announcer for KTRM, a student adviser in Dobson Hall, and a member of Beta Omega Beta. I also played one season of intramural softball, but I greatly overestimated the value of my tee-ball experience and never signed up again, much to my teammates’ relief, probably.
Did you go to grad school? If so, where? Was it immediately after you left Truman or did you wait? Why?
I managed to earn my bachelor’s degree and minor in just three years at Truman, and graduated at age 20. Fearing I would be perceived as “too youthful” by a future employer, I chose to pursue a Master of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln immediately upon graduating from Truman.
I earned a full-ride scholarship to UNL, plus an assistantship and fellowship. I graduated with my Master’s in 2010. My thesis project was called “Home Town Journalism: The Dynamics of Community Newspapers.”
What was your first job after graduation?
I began applying for jobs in my final semester of grad school. At the time, the country was still struggling with the effects of the recession, and there weren’t many journalism-specific jobs available. In October 2010, I applied for a position with a healthcare firm in Lincoln, NE and enjoyed a very promising interview; however, I was ultimately turned down for the role. Then, a couple weeks later, they called me to ask me to apply for a position leading their new hire orientations and writing internal communications. After delivering a presentation to their chief administrative officer, I got the job!
What work do you do/What are you doing now?
My career has varied greatly over the past 10 years, but I can say that I’ve found my calling. I started with writing internal communications, moved into more marketing-focused roles, and have since used both my marketing and professional writing skills to secure my current position as a digital copywriter at a marketing agency in the Kansas City, MO area.
Previously, I marketed adult and children’s education at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, and led communications efforts for learning and development at Subway World Headquarters in Milford, CT.
How has your Liberal Arts/COMM education helped you?
I know I wouldn’t be the same person or professional I am today without attending Truman State University. The liberal arts education I received at Truman inspired me to stay curious about the world around me. This drive for lifelong learning has been responsible for me landing a few of my favorite jobs and for helping me to continually build my skill set.
Because the COMM program at Truman included many facets of communication, I was prepared to enter any communications-related field in an entry-level role, instead of simply focusing on writing for a newspaper. My skills were applicable to many career fields, and I made sure I conveyed that in my cover letters and resumé.
One of the biggest reasons I am so thankful is that my education was so affordable. To graduate from college with a manageable monthly student loan payment made me feel more financially secure in my early adulthood, even as the economy was slowly recovering. I had my choice of university to attend when I graduated from high school, but I am still confident in my decision to become a Truman State Bulldog.
Which class did you dislike at the time you took it, but now you’re grateful you took it?
I thought communication theory, communication ethics, and those similar classes were absolutely torture (sorry, Dr. Self and Dr. Smith!), but they made me a more careful and critical reader. I credit these classes for preparing me the most for graduate-level academic work in mass communication.
What was your greatest accomplishment at Truman?
I tacked on my English minor to extend my stay at Truman by another semester. If I hadn’t, I could’ve graduated in 5 semesters (Disclaimer: I know this is not a normal experience; I took quite a few dual-credit courses in high school). After a few years of learning to write like a journalist, my English composition classes forced me to learn a new way. I was so proud of the academic papers I wrote about literature once I got the hang of what the style and contents should be. Thanks to Dr. Alanna Pruessner for her patience! It doesn’t seem like a big accomplishment, but the mindset it gave me enabled me to pick up my marketing clients’ “voice” very quickly, with minimal changes. I consider it a gift.
I am also exceedingly proud of helping to raise $3,000 for the National Breast Cancer Coalition Foundation, a fundraiser for which I shaved my head in 2006.
Why is Truman a good place for a student to study?
Year after year, Truman State has proven itself to be not only a great value, but one of the top universities in the Midwest in terms of academics. The caliber of education you’ll receive there is unmatched by any other school in Missouri. It’s certainly one of the least expensive, too. If you’re basing your college decision on the quality of education you’ll get, you won’t be disappointed in Truman.
I can also assure you that there is plenty to do in Kirksville. No, it is not St. Louis, but the city puts on great events, as does Truman. Immerse yourself in the available activities and you won’t have time to feel like you’re missing big-city amenities. Things are what you make of them.
What would you say a COMM student should absolutely do while at Truman?
Take a business or project management class. It will help you learn the lingo and prepare you in case your first job is in a very corporate setting.
You should also pursue at least one summer internship in a communication-related field. Even if it’s ultimately not what you want to do after graduation, you will still learn a lot and be able to translate your skills to a position that’s right for you.
What advice would you give someone who wants to go into the same line of work as you?
Write a lot. Edit a lot. Write some more. Tear up your drafts and start over. Work every day to become a better writer and creative thinker, even if you believe you’re already really good at both. The industry lacks truly talented writers; fill that gap.
What do you miss most about campus/Kirksville?
I frequently find myself nostalgic for Kirksville’s quirkiness and small-town vibe. The small businesses there made the town so unique. I would frequent Hidden Treasures on the Square, Washington Street Java Company, and the Outreach Mission thrift store. I think attending college in a town like Kirksville simplifies college students’ lives because you can walk or bike to most places you need to visit and cost-of-living is lower.
What tag line would you create for the COMM department at Truman?
I am still very partial to “COMM On Feel the Noise,” the tag line on our t-shirts in 2008.
If you could come back to Truman and teach a class for a semester, what would be its title and what would it be about?
I’d teach two: “The Art of the Double-Entendre in Marketing” and “Why Perfect Grammar Doesn’t Always Matter.”
On a more serious note, I could lead a seminar on transposing skills and previous experiences to new career paths, and how to prove it to future employers, or a course on digital communication.
During her career, Jenifer has been a member of several award-winning teams. At Subway, her team earned the 2020 DeVry Teach Award, which is bestowed upon organizations for their excellence in workforce development programs that provide employees opportunities to learn, grow, and succeed. They also earned the 2020 LearningElite Gold Award, from Chief Learning Officer magazine, a program that honors the best organizations for L&D through a peer-reviewed benchmarking program that recognizes organizations that employ exemplary workforce development strategies that deliver significant business results. Jenifer was responsible for writing, editing, and assembling the content of both award applications, including graphic representations of their programs’ metrics.
If you would like to learn more of Jenifer’s story, you can follow her on LinkedIn.