As an art director at DCG, it may seem that I was always interested in communications or design work. In reality, my career path has been shaped through many seemingly unrelated experiences that built several of the skills that contribute to my present work.
I began figure skating when I was four years old, after watching the Winter Olympics. Soon thereafter, my life revolved around my training schedule, with the only exception being academia. When it came time to apply to universities, a huge factor in my decision was being able to continue skating.
Dartmouth College had a secretary of the college who had also been a ranked ice dancer and he had built a small but mighty club skating program. He was instrumental in explaining to admissions the level of dedication and discipline involved in graduating from a traditional high school while also training four hours a day to be competitive in figure skating — skills that would contribute to my career both at Dartmouth and beyond.
What college major does a competitive skater choose?
Like many college sophomores, I had no idea what kind of career I wanted. At a liberal arts school, I wasn’t forced to choose until sophomore year. Even then, I thought I’d like to be a doctor because I watched a lot of “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” At Dartmouth, pre-med isn’t a major, so I still had to choose a focus and I chose psychology.
Studying mental health and how the brain and behavior contribute to our sense of self was both fulfilling and fascinating. I ultimately decided that clinical practice and research were not for me and so I dropped the pre-med major. But, I have always been interested in how the mind works and years later would be using this area of study to better understand how to reach key demographics in my current work on suicide prevention.
Exploring another artistic outlet
With all those course hours freed up, I started taking fine arts classes instead.
I loved my drawing and photography classes, and when I started building things in sculpture, I knew I could never really leave the arts behind. But, as graduation loomed, I knew I should think about a vocation. Nothing my peers were talking about really seemed to “fit,” and I also didn’t feel done with figure skating.
So, while everyone else was attending networking events with big NYC financial firms, I pieced together a highlight reel of my skating and sent it to Disney on Ice and a production company that casted for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Maybe I could fulfill my dream of becoming a Disney princess instead. In the spring of my senior year, I was offered a principal role in “Ice Odyssey” on Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas based out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Building skills while sailing the world
For four years, I sailed the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, around South America, and the Mediterranean. While skating was the focus, everyone on ships is essential personnel and required to be part of customer service as well as the safety plan. Making sure that everyone was enjoying their vacation was THE most important thing, so even the safety mandatories like the boat drill had to be as pleasant as possible.
Protocols like checking passengers in on the manifest, helping them into their life vests, having them sign waivers, and wear helmets to try out ice skating at sea, were all part of my role in making it a magical and safe experience.
I learned to navigate customer happiness while adhering to company policy — not always a straightforward task. First, listening to issues and making an effort to understand the passenger point of view (no matter how extraordinary), then talking politely and positively about a solution. While that skill is continuously being exercised, it also builds and adapts in meetings with our DCG team and clients.
On my fourth contract with Royal Caribbean, I started to think about life on dry land (when my knees and back were no longer 22 years old). I looked at job listings scanning for anything that might not seem boring after the title “Ice Captain.”
I decided what I really wanted to do was get back into the arts in graphic design, but I needed to acquire the skills. So, I started spending my sea days studying for the GRE and applying to grad schools. The rest is history, as they say. I graduated from the Pratt Institute with a master’s in communications design, interned for Food Network Magazine and Paperless Post, joined a small advertising agency, worked in-house at Georgetown University’s teaching and learning center, then found my way to DCG as a senior designer and now art director.
A winding road was my best path
While I certainly did not take a direct path to design and my work on suicide prevention, I have learned life and career skills that continue to be relevant and very essential. Perhaps most importantly, I have come to understand that these skills can develop out of unexpected places and that continuing to learn and grow with the DCG team and clients will prepare me with more and different skills for the future.