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Getting Your Dream Job with an Anthropology Degree

November 29, 2017

Portrait of Hannah Novillo

Portrait of Hannah Novillo
Photo courtesy of Hannah Novillo

Not everyone gets their dream job right out of college, but Hannah Novillo (BA ‘13, cultural anthropology) landed two gigs she loved right after receiving her CLA degree. She credits skills that she learned as an anthropology student at the U for her success. “Through my classes [at the University of Minnesota] I got to perfect my interview skills, learning how to make people comfortable and open up to me when talking about challenging issues,” Hannah says. 

Starting Out

Beginning as an intern at the Uptown Association, an organization in Minneapolis’ Uptown district that helps create events and market businesses in the area, Hannah really clicked with the executive director there—and thinks her communication and interview skills from anthropology classes did the trick. By the end of her last semester at the U, she was working 35 hours a week with the Uptown Association and shortly after graduation was offered a full-time position as marketing and events coordinator.

“The interviewing skills I developed while doing my senior project really helped me in this position,” says Hannah. She focused on families and the supportive communities that form when a member had undergone gastric bypass surgery and the changes that occur within the family and community structures, engaging in very difficult discussions around “body image, family dynamics, and freedom of choice.”

On a day-to-day basis at the Uptown Association, she was meeting with business owners, planning events such as networking get-togethers to help their business, and hearing personal stories. “[My] classes helped [me] know how to relate to people and make them comfortable in interviews,” she says.

A More Artistic Approach 

After working at the Uptown Association for a few years and getting to know Uptown’s artists and galleries quite well, Hannah decided to go back to school to study an arts-related field. She completed a two-year curatorial practice program in San Francisco. During the program, she worked with social practice artists: a term with a definition that is broad and flexible, just like anthropology.

Hannah describes social practice art as an artistic method where a social element is important to a piece, a local example being Seitu Jones and his 2014 work Create: The Community Meal, a half-mile-long luncheon he held for people of the Frogtown neighborhood in the middle of Saint Paul’s Victoria Street. While this art form usually needs social interaction to be considered successful, it can also be a visual or materialistic representation of a social issue. “My background in anthropology definitely helped me understand that definitions are not always straightforward,” says Hannah.

Within a month of graduation, Hannah was back in Minnesota to pursue another job that was just too good to pass up: artist coordinator in the public art and placement department at the Hennepin Theatre Trust. As a non-profit that owns all of the theaters on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, including the Orpheum and the Pantages, the Hennepin Theatre Trust started as a way to revitalize Hennepin Avenue through a brick and mortar operation, says Hannah. 

“The interview for this job was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had,” she says, explaining that she felt a connection to this kind of work right away. The job, which perfectly combines her love for art and her anthropological background, involves working with homeless advocacy groups such as The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center and Kulture Klub Collaborative to find out what these communities want from the Theatre Trust’s small pop-up events called “5 to 10 on Hennepin.” These experiences, usually occurring in the summer, showcase local artists and turn city sidewalks into community spaces with cultural activities and street-level arts.

“Finding out what these different communities want is one of my favorite parts of my job,” says Hannah. “These groups of people are often left out when we consider what we want Hennepin Avenue to look like, yet they are usually the ones using it most.”

Additional Takeaways

Patience in communication—realizing that not everyone has the same style of communication as you—and understanding the validity of other cultures are other key takeaways Hannah mentions from her anthropology courses. “Understanding that cultures outside of yours exist and are just as valid is something really important that anthropology taught me,” says Hannah. 

Another one of the lasting impressions Hannah mentioned from her time in the anthropology department is understanding the importance of small details. An exercise in one of her cultural anthropology classes asked students to think of the very first thing they did that morning, and it made her realize how many small details go into the bigger picture—whether that be product placement in Target to make items more marketable and desirable or paying attention to what the homeless population on Hennepin really wants from the Theatre Trust and their events. 

 Hannah gives her anthropology degree credit for small things like this to big things like her social skills and understanding. “Anthropology can be applied to just about everything,” she says.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.