Spotlight on Social Sciences Alumni: Jonathan Elkin


Name: Jonathan Elkin ’08

Education (UR and Additional): BA (Political Science & African/African-American Studies), University of Rochester, 2008

Job Title: Student

Employer: Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

Community activities: American Jewish World Service – Global Circle

When and how did you choose your major?

I doubled majored in political science and African/African-American studies (AAS) and decided on each at very different stages of my college career. I remember knowing that I wanted to major in political science before I even applied to college. I think at that point I had aspirations of running for political office. It was a subject that interested me and I felt like I thrived in discussion-based classes. My decision to major in AAS was a little less premeditated. I took my first class in the AAS department during the first semester of my freshmen year. It was called “The History of Race in America” and is taught every four years by Professor Hudson. The class was challenging and intellectually stimulating. As I continued to take classes in the AAS department, my appreciation for the academic and personal development I was gaining, coupled with the seminar-style class environments, led me to take classes in AAS nearly every semester until at one point I realized that I could actually complete a major in AAS. So I did!

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was involved with Hillel throughout my time at Rochester and was an RA for two years. I met a lot of great people, and gained some very close friends, through my involvement in both communities and also had the opportunity to cultivate and develop leadership skills. The experience of holding leadership positions in college gave me some additional confidence upon graduation as well as valuable skills that I’ve been able to draw upon in the years since then.

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

After graduation I joined the Peace Corps where I lived and worked in Azerbaijan for two years. After spending a semester abroad in Kenya, I wanted a more immersive cross-cultural experience and an opportunity to learn about, and engage in, the development of another community. It was an exceptionally rich and constantly stimulating experience – one that I think will inform a lot of what I do in the years ahead.

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

I am a student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) where I study international development and international economics. After spending a few years abroad and working in corporate social responsibility consulting, I wanted to return to school to get the theoretical and practical skills to take my career to the next level. 

How do you balance your work and personal life?

It can definitely be a challenge to balance a demanding graduate school schedule and personal life. One thing that has been reinforced since Rochester is that valuable learning happens not just within the formal curriculum, but also in discussions and time spent with peers. My classmates at SAIS come from a wide array of backgrounds and parts of the world – from the U.S. Marine Corps, to NGO work in China, to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I try to ensure that my course work is enhanced by the relationships I form with classmates as well. Additionally, it’s also critical to have fun! Balance is key.

What advice do you have for current students?

My advice for current students would be to go to office hours, see speakers whenever they come to the university, and try to find a good balance between work and personal life. College, and the University of Rochester in particular, provides many opportunities to be exposed to new and stimulating ideas and form meaningful relationships with faculty and fellow students. I wish I did a better job in some of these areas while I was a student – there really is a place for all of it.

Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Cecil Hernandez

Name: Cecil Hernandez ’07

Education (UR and additional): BA (African & African American Studies/History), University of Rochester, 2007;MA, University of Michigan, 2008; PhD, Florida State University in progress

Current city/state of residence: Sanford FL

Job Title: English as a second language teacher

Employer: Linyi New Concept English

Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester? 

Of all of the colleges I was accepted to only one called.  It was Mr. Crews from the HEOP Office and he was inviting me to the ECO program.  This is when I decided I would attend.

When and how did you choose your major?

I choose my major when I decided I was going to study abroad.  Initially I wanted to be a math major but I could not declare it as a major because I did not have enough classes.   African American Studies or Anthropology was the only two I could declare and African American Studies sounded more interesting.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I worked with the admission office and with Mr Boone. I did some college fairs and high school programming which made me feel like I was giving back to the community.  I did the McNair Program, which introduced me to graduate school and research.  And I studied abroad which opened me up to other cultures.

What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?

Study abroad office, the library, the OMSA office,

Who were your mentors while you were on campus? Have you continued those relationships? 

Daryl Boone, John Barker, Professor Mandela, Jackie Mendez.  Sadly I have lost touch with all of these people.

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

I decided to go to graduate school to get a masters degree. I had a scholarship that would pay for my masters.

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

I am now teaching English in China, while I continue to pursue my doctoral degree.

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

In my major I learned a lot about History and how what happened in the past affects us today.  The most useful skill that I have taken from my major was how to make a strong argument and argue my points.  In my current job what has benefited me the most is the cultural understanding that I gained from studying abroad.  My major allowed me to study abroad several times.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

I make time for everything that is important to me.

Where would you like to be in five years?

I would like to be at the University of Rochester.

How are you still connected with the University?

I answer these surveys whenever I get them and I read a newsletter.



What advice do you have for current students?

Do Take Five, if you’re in the social sciences; study, and get a teaching degree to use it with.  Study abroad because it will change your life, and try to take advantage of all of the resources on campus and be as active on campus as you can.