Chowder Fest Fall 2021

By Monica Sager

Pictured: Kate Rafey ’08 MPA ’09

Pictured: Jean Dao ’12 MAT ’13

Pictured: Emma Seimasko ’10

The English Department hosted its annual Chowder Fest event on October 20th to connect current undergraduates with recent graduates, allowing for networking and mentorship throughout the night.

More than two dozen students were able to hear from Jean Dao ’12 MAT ’13, Kate Rafey ’08 MPA ’09, and Emma Seimasko ’10. Rachel Still ’20 also was available for students to talk with during the actual eating portion of the night.

Dao minored in English while at Clark in hopes of adding to her self-designed major in Diaspora Studies, which focused on immigrants in the US. She currently serves as the program coordinator for Harvard’s Public School Partnerships Program, working to build bridges between Harvard and public schools in Allston, Brighton, and Cambridge.

“Don’t panic,” Dao said. “Everything’s going to be okay. It may not feel that way now, and that’s also okay.”

Dao spoke of how students are told that they have to go to college to be successful, but after graduation there often seems to be a blankness of sorts.

“I will say this, all of the English majors and minors that I know, whether at Clark or someplace else, are doing just fine,” she said. “Everybody is employed. Everybody is as happy as they can be given a global pandemic, but we’re all doing okay.”

Dao did a lot of activities at Clark — from RAing and TAing to being involved in student government and Clark Bars. Prior to her current position, Dao worked a number of jobs from working on a food truck, to managing a restaurant, and teaching as a paraprofessional.

“I think that’s what really made me who I am today,” Dao said.

Dao said, though, that the skills the English Department taught her are transferable to any type of career, not just as a program manager or someone involved in schools or mentoring opportunities. These skills include communications, writing, attention to detail, and perspective taking.

“You are so well equipped to do that work, just simply by the work you’ve been doing for the last three-four-five years,” Dao said. “You know how to express your voice in writing…Through doing all of this work, you’re practicing that ability to look beyond what’s in front of you and turn that into something else.”

Rafey is the director of development at Music Worcester. At Clark she double majored in English and theater arts. For almost three years, she worked at Clark in the advancement office, but now she is able to combine her love for both of the subjects she studied in undergrad through advocacy around fundraising.

“I learned a lot of skills and relationships,” Rafey said. “It definitely was not a straight line to figuring things out. It was like a spiral, but I knew that some day I wanted to get back into the arts.”

Rafey said that she wouldn’t have imagined being in the position she is now while an undergraduate at Clark. She learned, though, there’s a sense of advocacy through fundraising because it allows for programs to keep going and ensures the importance of philanthropy.

“It helps change the course of things,” Rafey said. “I now oversee all fundraising operations…I solicit donors. I write a lot of copy…I do community based work…and I get to be a part of bringing amazing art and music to Worcester.”

Siemasko is the founder of Stories for Us, using her English experience as a brand journalist and marketer. The San Francisco Bay Area business creates case studies, longform content, and web copy for many startups and small businesses. Siemasko previously wrote for Grasshopper, a cloud-based virtual phone system.

After graduation, Siemasko went to South Korea to teach English. She learned, similarly to Dao and Rafey, that studying English goes beyond the small scope many students think of.

“That was kind of the first time I was like ‘oh, there’s maybe utility for my writing beyond what I saw when I was in college,” Siemasko said. “When I was in college, I saw paths like I could be a journalist…or I could be an English professor.”

Instead, Siemasko recognized the utility and usefulness of her English skills. The practical side of her own business noticed the need from companies for copy. Writing services are often how these tech companies receive customers and get their name out there.

“You have to try on a bunch of things to find out that ‘I like this aspect of this but not this aspect,’ and as you go on with your career you can whittle down what you really enjoy,” Siemasko said. “It took many iterations for me to figure that out.”

Still is an intake paralegal at Community Legal in Worcester. She previously interned with the Worcester Court Service Center and worked as a tutor with the Petey Greene Program at MCI Shirley. She is currently working to pursue a law degree.

One major takeaway that all of the speakers shared was making connections and asking for support when needed.

“I’m pretty sure every job I’ve ever gotten was a direct result from knowing someone,” Dao said. “That speaks volumes to how critical it is to how important it is for you to maintain relationships with professors, with staffs, classmates, with friends, with any internships you hold over the summer, any internships you have. You just never know when those relationships will yield gainful employment.”

To ask this network for support though, Rafey suggested to “take some power out” of the equation by asking to chat about experiences. Students have always been on the receiving end as the younger person in most relationships. Teachers share information. Parents, Deans, bosses, and more hold power. But by offering something to the other party and, as Dao jokes, “carrying yourself like a mediocre white man,” the communication becomes easier and students or recent graduates are able to gain information more easily.

If students missed Chowder Fest, there are still plenty of opportunities coming up to network and learn more.

“Throughout this year, we’re going to try to have a lot of these opportunities for students to connect with recent alumni,” Department Chair Meredith Neuman said. “You’re going into this in a unique time — or maybe it’s not but it’s with masks! These graduates have the insight though and that is why we want you all to connect.”

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