Complementary Skills: Alumna Gemma Kumaraea’s Take on Communication Studies

Gemma Kumaraea
Photo by Phuong Tran, CLAgency student

Gemma Kumaraea (BA ‘17, communication studies) confesses that the U of M was not her first choice. “I’m afraid I don’t have a very interesting story of why I picked [it],” she says. What can she say? The U offered her the best financial aid package. “But looking back, it really ended up working out well.”

The Flexibility of CLA

Like many undergraduates, Kumaraea “bounced around a little bit” as she considered different majors. She ultimately settled on a communication studies degree, because “it seemed really versatile to me. I realized… you can take it in any direction. When I was looking at the types of classes you could take, it was a good mixture of theory-based classes and skills-based classes.”

“There’s a huge emphasis on how you are going to use your communication skills for the betterment of society,” she notes. “I feel that [communication studies] is really a future-focused department.”

Because of the flexibility that CLA provides, Kumaraea was able to build an education that allowed her to explore many different areas of knowledge, including psychology, global studies, and language.

The ability to speak and understand other languages only adds to the power of communication. By the time she left CLA, Kumaraea had picked up two languages: Italian and Arabic. She began taking Italian in high school through Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) and later added Arabic.

It was her interest in working with immigrants and refugees that made Kumaraea choose to learn Arabic, and she soon found herself volunteering at the Mizna Arab Film Festival. Mizna is a Twin Cities organization that focuses on Arab-American culture.

Kumaraea says “When you are able to relate to people who are different from you and have different cultural experiences and different religious experiences, linguistic experiences, it really frames the way you see the world.” Having learned standard modern Arabic, she is looking forward to expanding that skillset into different dialects.

The diverse areas of study are one of the many features of the College of Liberal Arts that appeals to students. Developing her skills in the Core Career Competencies, including oral and written communication, active citizenship and community engagement, as well as teamwork and leadership, in her classes prepared her for the opportunities that were ahead.

Experience is a Great Teacher

Internships helped her build another competency: career management.

“I was really encouraged to get internships,” she says. Kumaraea interned at a number of organizations: the Italian Cultural Center, the Minnesota Humanities Center in a communications role, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change as a community organizer, and in public affairs with Planned Parenthood.

Her internships all helped her gain skills that she is using in her current position as a development and membership associate at Jewish Community Action. “I do membership and development, a lot of grant writing, fundraising, and relationship building with our members. I work very closely with our communications person. We’re a small staff so there’s a lot of working together on projects,” she says.

Preparation for the Future

Gemma’s internships complimented her classes, giving her the space to explore her degree and the real-world experience to develop professionally.

“I think that internships both made me feel more confident in my skills and made me more employable as well. It’s how I figured out what I wanted to do, and it really gave me a chance to use what I was learning and made me feel like, ‘Yeah, I can do this. I have skills.’ [Internships] are a really great way to set yourself up for success.”

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

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