Shevonne Commock '18
Shevonne Commock graduated in 2018 with B.A. in English and a Professional Writing and Technical Communication (PWTC) certificate and specialization in Creative Writing. She also minored in Spanish. She was involved with the BioSci Club, Cultural Club, and the Cape Verdean Student Association and currently works as a Career Navigator at JVS Boston. View her LinkedIn profile to learn more or to connect with her.
How did you get to where you are today?
When I left in 2012, I had ambitions of teaching abroad and things ended up falling through. I didn’t really know where I was going, so I started to look at education as a possible option. There were a few “out-of-school-time” partnerships, and these are typically non-profit organizations that partner with public school systems. My first partner was Citizen Schools and I was at the Washington-Irving Middle School. It was a tough environment to be in with a lot of social-emotional issues—and economic issues, as well—that I think impacted students’ performances in the classroom. I felt like this was a community that I wanted to work in, a population that I wanted to continue working with. So from there, I went to another organization that had a similar model called the Bell Foundation in a community that serves a high Latino demographic, so a lot of the issues there were students speaking English as a second language and trying to meet that unique need.
From there, I wanted to engage with students in a way that I felt was more immediate to their situation, so I got into workforce development. I started with working with young folks who weren’t involved, who were in DCF care—some of them had been removed from their homes, some of them were in group homes, and just trying to get them re-engaged through employment. And from there, I somehow ended up where I am now at Jewish Vocational Services, which is a career center. I still work with a similar population, but adults.
Is this where you thought you would be when you first became an English major?
I, honestly, had no idea where I would be. I went to an event that the English Department had during my freshman year, and there was a lawyer and there was an educator. So, I had a very provincial view of what I could do with an English degree. I always sort of had this instinctive feeling that if I became a teacher it was an admission of defeat—not realizing how complex, how challenging, how rigorous the role of a teacher is. So, I guess I just really didn’t know where I would find myself. I knew that I wanted to get out of America—that was really my starting point and I think that “career” was secondary to that goal. In that respect, I definitely am still on that path, on that journey to get there, but I just—I wasn’t thinking so strategically when I was a senior about careers. I was focusing on trying to graduate and it was really a whirlwind ride for me—a lot of trial, a lot of experimentation in the workforce, which I think is a good thing.
What do you do now? What is a typical day for you?
My official title is Career Navigator and a snapshot of what I do is three-fold. First, I work with my clients trying to help them work towards their goals. Goals might be education-related, maybe a client is trying to get into higher education, maybe they’re trying to go through more of a short-term training program that’s industry specific. I might be focusing on employment: maybe a client just needs a survival job, maybe the immediacy of the situation is just getting income, getting it in as quickly as possible to address the situation or maybe it might be thinking more long-term. And that’s really my favorite area to focus on with clients—typically my clients have been in the workforce in a very remedial way and trying to help them connect their experiences with something rewarding, something meaningful, something that inspires them to get up in the morning, go to work.
I also work with employers trying to understand what their needs are and also trying to create opportunity and build bridges for my clients who typically, are kind of on the outskirts, on the fringe of the job market. My clients, in a nutshell, might have some sort of court involvement, may or may not be native English speakers, may not have a college degree or any kind of post-secondary education, some depressed and low-wage part-time jobs, so it’s really about building their skills so that they can become self-sufficient. In addition to that, one of the things I am doing right now is we are trying to expand our program. So, that involves developing intake processes, looking at the kinds of processes we have for things like goal-setting, for things we have like trying to figure out how to address barriers,and trying to compile resource lists to give out to clients. It really just depends on the needs of the day. It could be teaching a class on writing resumes, or it could be facilitating a mock interview.
What advice might you have for students who are interested in the job you have now?
I think the biggest piece of advice that I can give is that empathy is really crucial to this role. Until you’ve walked in somebody else’s shoes, you really don’t understand the weight or the gravity of what they are going through. I think being able to connect to people makes you effective in this role, and if you don’t have that ability to connect or that basic humanity or love of people, I don’t necessarily know if this is the best field for you. Patience is incredibly crucial, but I would say outside of essential job skills, if somebody is looking to get into this field, don’t be afraid to network. Networking is so important to the work that I do, not just for myself, but for my clients, so I’m always thinking about who do I know in my network who I can refer somebody for information or interview, or who might be willing to take someone under their wing as a mentor? So I think just the more you know having a stance for learning and growth, I think you’ll go far in this field.
How have your specializations helped you in your career? What about any specific courses?
Creative writing was particularly helpful in just being able to craft a story. The non-profit sector is so dependent upon philanthropy on donors and the things that really compel them to give money, to loosen up the purse-strings is an impactful story. Being able to help pull out and excavate what someone’s story is and make it resonate for an audience, but also empowering somebody to be able to tell their own story, like storytelling in the interview medium,or writing any kind of college application or job application, can be very compelling. We live in this world where sound bites is what people are looking for. No one has the time to read something comprehensive, so being able to do that in the most economical way, I think, has been helpful.
With the PWTC certificate, being able to develop a program or a model for a program or just resources—putting together a training manual for new employees. When I started in the program I’m working with we were completely new, we had no systems in place so being able to pull from that background and write from a technical stance has been very helpful in creating some sustainable documents for our program. I also think languages, and the ability to speak one, is a vital importance to this industry, especially if you are in a client-facing role, especially if you are in an area like Boston where we have our primary languages: our Haitian, Creole, Spanish, Portuguese. These are dominant languages and you are just a lot more marketable and you can connect with so many more people even with just a basic understanding of another language.
Do you have any advice for English majors? Soon-to-be graduates?
I think when you graduate initially, it’s important to have a two-pronged approach for your job search and your career planning, which is a pragmatic one and an idealistic one. I think when you can look through both of those perspectives, one—it helps you be more successful making that transition. It helps you be more successful and realistic when you get in a workplace and you realize that not everybody is going to take on your ideas and implement them right away. That was a really hard lesson for me to learn because I’m always thinking with efficiency in mind and always thinking we can always do it a better way even if it’s so great, but really understanding how to allocate resources and how to get by with your ideas is crucial. So, I think when you think about the practical implementation of something as well as the pure enthusiasm that you have when you bring forth an idea, being able to approach it from both of those viewpoints is helpful.
For somebody who’s graduating, I want to speak from a financial point honestly, because it’s so important making sure you understand the significance if you are taking on loans, if you are taking on debt, and having a plan to manage those. Lastly, I think it’s so important to have a vision, be bold, and just to take chances and try to experiment new things. That’s so crucial: don’t pitch and hold yourself into one industry. Be fluid. Position yourself from multiple markets and multiple industries, and just have fun and enjoy the ride.
Interview by Cayli Armstrong, Digital Communications Intern