Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Mary O’Brien

o'brienName: Mary O’Brien

Occupation: Communications

Education (UR and additional): BA (English/Minor in Journalism), University of Rochester, 2003; MBA, University at Albany – SUNY, 2009

Current city/state of residence: Slingerlands, NY


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

Rush Rhees Library and awesome financial aid.

When and how did you choose your major?

I entered U of R as a biology (pre-med) major. It took me three semesters to be positive it wasn’t for me. It was a difficult decision, and one that I wish I’d made before that unfortunate grade in organic chemistry, but I ultimately became an english major. While still headstrong and committed to bio, I received encouragement from Professor David Bleich – he was right. I looked forward to my English classes while dreading long hours in lab. Listen to yourself. I also got a journalism minor. (Memmott – I use the inverted pyramid on a daily basis – thanks!)

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

I was active in my sorority, Delta Gamma, as well as the Panhellenic Association. My time in DG taught me about loyalty and philanthropy, as well as time management. I also made incredible friends. As President of Panhel, I had direct contact with administrators, practiced dreaded public speaking, learned about crisis management, and gained leadership experience – all critical skills in the workplace. I also spent a lot of time at Pellegrino’s and watching Sex and the City DVDs – thank you Anderson 740 & Fairchild 410.

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

Immediately after graduation I returned to Albany and went back to my summer job at the New York Summer School of the Arts.  I was able to keep working there until I started my first “real job” in January as an Editorial Assistant at a publishing company. I worked at the publishing company for several years ending my time there as a Product Manager working on products for the professional health care market.

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

I currently work in the corporate communications office of a health care system – the perfect place for a former pre-med English major with an MBA. Several of my jobs led me to my current position including my time in health care publishing and a two year stint in the University Health Promotion office. I get to write and edit, contribute to committees, interact with vendors, clinicians, and the community. Every day can be different from the last which keeps things interesting.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

Know what is most important to you and define your version of success accordingly. I’ve had different priorities at different times since graduation – work, family, grad school, relationships – and as they change you have to make adjustments.

How are you still connected with the University?

I am a UR Involved volunteer. I have enjoyed meeting with prospective students, making congratulatory phone calls, and meeting other alumni and parents. I was on our five- and 10-year reunion planning committees. I have been to very fortunate to stay in touch with friends and return to campus several times over the years.

The Campus Times Wins Big at the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

April 15, 2013 was a big day for the University of Rochester as students from the Campus Times took home two Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence awards for the Northeast Region. The awards ceremony was part of a two-day conference that took place at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The entire 2012 Campus Times Staff (pictured right) won 3rd place for Best All-Around Non Daily Student Newspaper (at a medium-sized university) and former Editor-in-Chief Jason Silverstein ‘13 won 2nd place in Feature Writing for his article “Domestic Propaganda” that appeared in the Buffalo News in August 2012.

The awards are especially exciting as the University of Rochester’s region is extremely competitive and includes top-tier journalism schools such as Syracuse, Columbia, New York University, and Penn State. In the medium-sized university category, Rochester competes with Harvard University, Quinnipiac University, Hofstra University, and Villanova University.  While most of these schools have journalism majors and extremely competitive student papers, the University of Rochester does not have an official journalism major, making the success of the Campus Times and Silverstein all the more impressive.

The Campus Times staff is a diverse group of students, with a relatively equal mix of students who view journalism as a hobby and those who view it as a potential career. Not having a journalism major at the University changes the feel of the newspaper, welcoming students from all majors to contribute. 2012 Publisher Justin Fleming ‘13, for example, is a brain and cognitive sciences major. “Everyone loves journalism as a hobby, and are extremely dedicated to the paper,” says Fleming. The mix of interests and perspectives has helped shape the Campus Times into a unique institution, and the staff are extremely excited about being recognized for the work they put into the paper.

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This year marks the first award for the Campus Times print edition since the 1990s (The Campus Times did win an award for their website in 2011), and it comes on the heels of a complete re-design effort undertaken in the spring of 2012. Former editor-in-chief and current Publisher Melissa Goldin described the previous layout as a “mish-mosh” of different formats, with different sections being given different formats as they changed locations and were added to the paper. The 2012 staff worked extensively to build a new format from the ground up, with the goal of creating a cleaner and more consistent design. The staff started with a number of different templates and collaborated to decide which ones to proceed with. “We didn’t move forward with a new design until the entire staff was behind the idea,” says Fleming. The staff then held focus groups over the summer to obtain feedback and refine the new format. The first issue with the new format launched in the fall of 2012 (take a look at the new format here). The paper also made a number of business changes in recent years, hiring a new ad agency and changing printing companies to save costs on the increased color printing required for the new format. The staff also benefited from an alumni feedback group for the paper that had been established a few years earlier, which allows former Campus Times members to offer comments on the paper via email.

Jason Silverstein ‘13, an English and Anthropology double major, started writing for the Campus Times after becoming interested in professional criticism freelance writing for the Buffalo News in high school. Silverstein started writing music reviews for the Campus Times, but eventually moved to an editing position. Silverstein became editor-in-chief in 2011, a position he described as “almost a full time job, I would work 35 to 40 hours a week on top of classes.” Silverstein went on to hold a reporting internship at the Buffalo News in summer 2012. Starting with music and film criticism, Silverstein had the opportunity to attend press screenings around Buffalo.

IMG_7747As the internship progressed, his role expanded to feature writing. While working on an assignment to cover cemetary tours being offered at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, Silverstein discovered that the president of Forest Lawn, Joseph P. Dispenza,  had previously been a musical comedy star in New York City. Curious about what might cause such a drastic career change, Silverstein pitched the story to his editor and returned to Forest Lawn to write a full profile on Dispenza. The article, Forest Lawn’s president relies on his theater background, is an extremely interesting look at Dispenza’s acting history, and how it is more related to the cemetery business than one might think.  Silverstein’s award-winning piece “Domestic Propaganda” profiled Despina Stratigakos, an architecture professor at the University of Buffalo who will be traveling to Germany for two years to write a book titled Hitler at Home. Silverstein’s piece was written over a two week period, and he conducted multiple interviews with Stratigakos. The article discusses Stratigakos’ research and goals and the book’s analysis of Hitler’s domestic life and how images of his home life that appeared in household magazines affected society’s perceptions of him. Silverstein submitted the article to the Society of Professional Journalists in January, and was “absolutely amazed” when it won 2nd place in the contest, ahead of a student from Harvard University. “Being editor-in-chief of the Campus Times was enormously beneficial,” SIlverstein says. “It gave me a chance to gain a lot of independent work experience and the chance to work under pressure without fear of severe consequences. It was absolutely important in preparing me for working in the field of journalism outside of the University.” Silverstein plans to return to the Buffalo News in the summer to undertake a paid reporting internship, before heading to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism this fall.

 The Campus Times is always interested in new contributors, and welcomes all interested students to contact the group through email: editor@campustimes.org.

2012 Staff:

Melissa Goldin (editor-in-chief)

Leah Buletti and Casey Gould (news editors)

Antoinette Esce (features editor)

Kevin Scantlen (opinions editor)

Erika Howard (arts and entertainment editor)

Cuyler Gauthier (sports editor)

Kara Ng (comics editor)

Julia Sklar (presentation editor)

Jenny Hansler (online editor)

Junne Park and Drue Sokol (photo editors)

Alex Kurland (staff illustrator)

Amanda Decker, Abigail Fagan, Michaela Kerem (copy editors)

Justin Fleming (publisher)

2013 Staff:

Antoinette Esce (editor-in-chief)

Casey Gould (managing editor)

Angela Remus and Jared Smith (news editors)

Doug Brady and Matt Lerner (features editors)

Francis Hinson (opinions editor)

Jonah Jeng and Rachael Sanguinetti (arts and entertainment editors)

Elizabeth Kilbridge (sports editor)

Melody Kahou (presentation editor)

Alyssa Arre and Aaron Schaffer (photo editors)

Alex Kurland (staff illustrator)

Sarah Teitelman and Jenny Yoon (copy editors)

Michaela Kerem (Online Editor)

Melissa Goldin (publisher)