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Career Conversations: Victoria Celano ’13

St. Olaf College alumna Victoria Celano ’13 is currently working in Regional Development for ALSAC St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Chicago. She is also a part-time graduate student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

As part of the Career Conversations series, which highlights the paths Oles take after college, she sat down for a conversation with Piper Center for Vocation and Career Associate Director of Alumni Career Services Jenele Grassle.

Victoria, to get things started, what is your favorite memory of your time on the Hill?
My favorite memories are of the people I met at St. Olaf. The professors were not “just professors.” They advised you on social issues; they were your support system. I had great connections with my professors.

Since leaving St. Olaf, you have been building your career in the social sector. Can you tell us about those experiences?
Working in the social sector is one of the most rewarding experiences! When I initially began working at a sexual assault and abuse resource center, people would ask me, “Is it depressing or sad to go to work every day?” You are working with people who have experienced significant trauma, but one of the things that surprised me was what an honor it was to go to work every day. It was exciting for me to walk through those doors, knowing that what I was doing was having a positive impact, both on the individuals and the community. I realized that although I was working with people who had experienced great trauma, I was also working with people who were smart, strong, and resilient. Working in the social sector has allowed me to be a conduit, to make a positive impact in the communities that I live in.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?
Make sure to network and build your connections at St. Olaf, after St. Olaf, and in your job. Your second, third, and fourth job are going to be a result of the people you know, the people who can speak to your ability and your fit for the role. For me, networking has been essential to advancing both my career and my interests.

What do you wish you could tell your 22-year-old self?
Be present and take advantage of all the opportunities presented to you. It is so easy to get worried about the next step, about graduate school, your next job, or the next step in your life. Being present is what allows you to build that next step.

What advice do you have for others who are interested in a career in the social sector?
Get to know it! There are a wide variety of things that you can do. If you are interested in investing, get involved in impact investing. If you are working in a corporation, consider corporate social responsibility. There are opportunities to be the boots on the ground and to advocate for gender equality, racial equality, or the environment. There are so many options! I would encourage people to look and see what fits them best — see what they love.

What skills do you utilize most frequently in your professional life?
The skills I use most frequently, both in my professional and volunteer work, are interpersonal skills. When communicating with a donor or a peer at work, or advocating for social services, oral and written communication skills are critical. The other skill that has served me well is my ability to listen to and understand the needs and motivations of a diverse group of people, from a donor who is going to give a million dollars to advance a cause to a person seeking services who has very little education and economic standing. Being able to meet them where they are and serve them has been so important to my success. I am really proud of the work I have done in our community to make it a better place.

Have you experienced any career missteps or challenges that have left a lasting impact?
I try to reframe career missteps into career opportunities. When I first began working at the sexual assault and abuse resource center, I came in all gung-ho, excited to make changes. I quickly realized that I had to sit back and listen to people who were knowledgeable and who had so much to teach me, to balance my desire to make change and to make a difference. In that first job, I was able to review our advocacy programs and increase our efficiency in serving survivors. We were able to triple the number of clients we saw through our hospital and support line advocacy programs. I was challenged to listen to the people who had been doing the work for a long time, identify where we could make changes, and then go after it, where it would have the most impact.

You recently entered the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. Congratulations! Tell us about this decision. How does this experience factor into your future goals?
If you had asked me right after I graduated from St. Olaf whether I would go to business school, I would have said “No. That is at the bottom of my list.” However, shortly after starting my career in social services, I realized that there was a lot of inefficiency in nonprofits. There was an opportunity for the social sector to leverage business acumen to serve more people, to be more efficient, and to have a greater impact.

I had also seen nonprofit agencies where someone tried to use their business acumen but did not listen to the people in the agency, people who had much more institutional knowledge to share. They tried to force a cookie-cutter approach to improving efficiency, and it was unsuccessful. I started business school because I wanted to have the opportunity to meld the social sector space with business acumen, to make a bigger impact in the work I am doing.

The advice I would give to a student or alum who is considering graduate school is to go out into the world, gain some experience, and be certain of the type of graduate education you want. I would also suggest that if you decide to go back to graduate school, really lean into it! It’s one of those great opportunities to learn and to be around people who are different from you. One of the biggest reasons I chose the University of Chicago is because they encourage a diversity of opinion. They want people to engage in thoughtful discussion.

If you’d like to read more stories from our Career Conversations series, check out our Alumni Career Services program.