Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Mary Kokinda

defaultName: Mary Kokinda

Education:  BA (English & Film Studies), University of Rochester; MA (Inclusive Education), Warner School of Education

Current city/state of residence: Brighton, NY

Job Title: Teacher

Employer: Pittsford Schools, NY

Community activities:  Foster Parent, Horizons at Warner School Teacher in summer, connected with Buffalo Pugs & Small Breed Rescue Group


When and how did you choose your major?

I began thinking that I would be a math major, eventually turned math teacher, but I had always been an avid reader and enjoyed writing so taking more English courses was a natural inclination.  Along the way I discovered Professor Johnson who taught an English/Film course.  His personality and lectures captivated me.  In my junior year I finally declared my double major in English and Film Studies on paper!  Additionally, my uncle, who is a Creative Director in Advertising in NYC, advised me to get a broad education like an English degree because it could be applied to so much and gave you rich background knowledge.  I also knew it was an important choice in case I ever decided to become a teacher.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I remember telling everyone that my plan was not to have a plan because I still didn’t know what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be.  I had a close friend who had moved to NYC so I moved in with her and four other people in a studio apartment in Manhattan.  (None of us were ever home so sharing a small space wasn’t as bad as it sounds!)  I was able to work as an assistant to my uncle for a while and was quickly schooled in the minutia of working in a major city – I needed a new wardrobe and a new confidence!  When one of my many roommates, a younger girl, left to return to college in the fall, I responded to a voicemail that had been left for her on the message machine (this was pre-cell phone world) from the production office for a feature film.  The girl had been a production assistant (PA) on Sex and the City, which had wrapped, but they called her to interview for the feature film they were about to begin shooting.  I called back explaining that I had on-set experience (I had just watched my uncle’s crew film commercials for three days) and that I was available.  The next day I was hired.  After a fantastic experience working as an Office Production Assistant for the movie The Family Man (with Nicholas Cage) I returned to Rochester, my hometown, having realized that living in the city was not for me, but totally satisfied that I tried that path. In fact, the movie itself seemed to echo my life, as it’s essentially the story of a man who realizes that less can be more and that money or fame is not the same as success.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

As I sat on film and commercial sets I was always drawn to the children.  In fact, I’d been working off and on as a nanny all throughout high school and college.  After living in NYC I tried living in LA to see if the more residential, suburban atmosphere would be the right setting for me as I continued to work in the film industry.  My connections were all mid-project and I ended up being a nanny for the actor Thomas Gibson who was starring in the tv show Dharma & Greg at the time.   Deep in my heart I knew that I would eventually work with kids and again I returned to my hometown of Rochester.  I absolutely love being a teacher however I am so glad that I took the risks I did right after college and had experiences in the other world, film, that captured my attention.  It has made me a better teacher for sure.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Knowing how to write well and communicate my thinking has been the most useful skill that I honed in my college experience.  My professors were demanding and I was even scared of their high expectations but it brought out the best in me.

How do you stay connected with the University?

I have continued to take course work at the Warner School.  I also work at Horizons at Warner.  And I love getting Rochester Review in the mail!

What advice do you have for current students?

I was always able to approach any of my UR professors for support or advice.  I’m not a very social person so each interaction with professors was anxiety-provoking for me, however it was worth it every time.  The professors love what they do and they care.  They were always willing to help me since I was willing to make the effort to be open with them.  I encourage all college students to reach out to their professors and connect with them.