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Ole network extends far beyond the Hill

By Lara Palmquist '13
December 26, 2012

With assistance from alumni in Washington, D.C., and later New York City, Catherine Monson '12 secured a competitive internship with National Geographic, studied at the New York University Publishing Institute, and landed a job at Simon & Schuster, one of the top publishing houses in the nation.

So when a group of St. Olaf College students came to New York this fall as part of the Piper Center for Vocation and Career's Connections Program, she took the opportunity to extend the same assistance to current students that other Oles had originally offered her when she first set out from the Hill.

"Any chance I get to connect with another Ole is a great opportunity, not only career-wise, but also to remind me of where I come from," says Monson. "I think it's my responsibility as an alumna to now keep those connections alive."

An early interest
Monson acquired her initial interest in the publishing world as a student at St. Olaf. She studied abroad on the St. Olaf Global Semester Program, which involves cultural immersion and academic study in Europe, Asia, and Africa for five months. The program had a focus on media studies the year Monson participated, which — combined with her on-campus job writing for the college's website — provided a strong foundation for a career in the editing and publishing industry.

"My time at St. Olaf prepared me in so many different ways," says Monson. "St. Olaf gave me a strong sense of focus and responsibility, the drive to work toward my goals, and the ability to articulate my thoughts on paper and in front of a group of people."

Exploring through internships
While in her third year at St. Olaf, Monson landed an internship as an editorial assistant in the children's books division at National Geographic in Washington, D.C. Faced with the dilemma of an unpaid position located in one of the most expensive cities in the nation, Monson had to get creative to make ends meet.

After connecting with fellow Oles in the D.C. area, Monson was invited to live with an alumna and her family for part of the summer. Other Oles offered to help, too. This hospitality allowed Monson to participate in the otherwise unaffordable internship, and she went on to gain experience working for a prominent magazine in a well-connected region.

"My internship at National Geographic pushed me to develop a professional, focused attitude eight hours a day, and allowed me to connect with working adults who had been in the publishing business for years," says Monson. "It brought me from the question of 'What do editors do all day, anyway?' to 'When can I go to New York?'"

Connections in New York
Following her graduation in 2012,  Monson acted on her aspirations to live in the city and enrolled in the New York University Publishing Institute. As a graduate student Monson continued to refine her skills as an editor while simultaneously connecting with fellow young St. Olaf alumnae Anna Begin '12, also a student at the NYU Publishing Institute, and Caroline Nitz '11, a publicity assistant at Macmillian who attended the NYU Publishing Institute in 2011.

"It turns out that the Hill isn't so small, after all," says Monson. "It's comforting to know that you can find an Ole just about anywhere in the world."

Now working  as a copy assistant in the advertising and promotion department at Simon & Schuster, Monson's daily duties involve working with editors and marketers, writing and editing book descriptions and promotional materials, and proofreading advertisements.

"I've always loved the nitty-gritty details of grammar and language style," says Monson of her position. "That love, combined with my passion for writing and books, makes this job a great fit for me."

This past October Monson was able to share her passion with students on the New York Connections Program. While meeting with the group, Monson herself took on the role of guiding alumna, providing the group with insight into the publishing industry, life in New York City, and dreaming big.

Her advice for all St. Olaf students? "Learn as you go — there will always be Oles to help out along the way."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or vanderve@stolaf.edu.