Elizabeth Tuten '15

As a result of her internship at Communities In Schools (CIS) of the Charleston Area, coordinated through the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Elizabeth Tuten '15 (sociology major) decided to move to Washington, D.C., and work at the CIS National Office. 

Can you describe your job responsibilities as digital content and strategy specialist?ET

I create digital content and use metrics to strategize maximum digital engagement that hopefully results in heightened brand awareness for Communities In Schools, the most effective drop-out prevention organization in America. My work mantra is, “data with heart.” My goal is for you, the user, to come across something I made, click it, learn a little about the problems under-served American children face, learn how CIS helps, and feel moved to become a volunteer, advocate, or donor.  

What is your typical day at work?

I take the metro from my apartment in Cleveland Park, D.C., to the office in Crystal City, Arlington, during which time I’ll catch up on the news and see what we as an organization may need to address or what conversations we should join. I try not to schedule meetings until after 10 am so that I have quiet mornings to get updated on email and wrap up anything leftover from the day before. I typically have a check-in with my supervisor to make sure we’re on the same page and to outline my priorities, which usually involve a blog post, writing copy for the website, an upcoming interview, or data tracking.  We work very collaboratively in the office, so my day usually includes cross-departmental meetings about strategy, design, and marketing.

I’m not good about stopping for lunch, but I try to take a walk outside in the mid-afternoon when my eyes start to feel tired. I still love to look across the water at monuments and the Capitol dome. I get most of my writing done in the late afternoon when meetings are over and I can put on my headphones and focus in on developing one idea. In communications there is always the chance of some massive event or story derailing your plans, so it’s crucial to stay on top of the news and to be flexible.

How did your degree help prepare you in your current role? Any specific College experiences stand out as having prepared you (e.g., internship or student abroad opportunities)?

My internship through the Department of Sociology and Anthropology was the spark that ignited my career. I picked Communities In Schools of the Charleston Area off of a list of education-related nonprofits with whom the department partnered because I thought I wanted to be a school counselor or social worker. At the end of the semester, I knew I wanted to work for an organization that served kids experiencing poverty and that advocated for educational equity. However, I learned I don’t have the temperament to be in schools all day. This experience introduced me to CIS and made me a more knowledgeable candidate when I applied to work at the national office two years later.

If it weren’t for Dr. Burkett, I don’t think I would have had the skills or confidence to apply for my position. Her social networks seminar taught me data analytics and research skills, and the independent study we did together my final semester culminated in my winning “Best Paper” at the 2015 Carolina Undergraduate Social Science Symposium, all of which helped me secure my current job. She really exemplifies one of Community In School’s founding principles—all it takes is one caring adult to change the course of a young person’s life.

I studied abroad in China through the religious studies department with Dr. Siegler and Dr. Gibas the summer before my junior year, an experience that taught me how to be flexible when things go wrong and how to meditate my way through public transportation hassles.

Why did you decide to attend the College of Charleston and pursue a sociology degree?CIS

CofC was the only college to which I applied. Both sides of my family are from Charleston, so I grew up visiting frequently and I always loved being downtown. I’m not into football, which eliminated most SC schools, and I’m a beauty junkie—from architecture to lush nature, Charleston is a sight to behold—so it was the perfect choice.

I chose sociology because I took the introductory class and wanted to read the textbook in my free time—that’s when you know you’ve found a passion. Sociology decoded behavior and systems that had previously stymied me; it challenged my world-view, which I believe is the entire purpose of higher education.

What do you like most about your job? 

I believe that education is the solution to most of our country’s big problems, and CIS is moving the needle on the dropout crisis in qualitative and quantitative (shout-out to my sociological research professors) ways. I was also attracted by CIS’s top-rated business practices and company culture; I’d had a great internship experience, and I knew that the organization attracted diverse yet like-minded people.

My favorite parts of the job are the people and the knowledge that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I work with some of the most innovative, passionate, intelligent, and kind professionals doing work that feels rewarding and perfectly suited for me. I felt lost and frustrated the first two years after college, and I wondered if I even had anything to offer the “real world,” so I’m thankful to have found my place.

How do you like living in D.C.? 

I absolutely adore D.C. Most people complain about the cost of living, but I’m immune after living in downtown Charleston for four years. If you’re bored in D.C., the city isn’t the problem. I find myself interacting with politicians, journalists, and the people who are the very best at what they do. It’s a great place to be a career-focused young person who also wants to experience the best of the arts, culture, and food.

What advice would you offer students interested in pursuing a career similar to yours?

Don’t limit yourself to only what you’ve heard of—I didn’t even know my job existed until the description came across my desk. I started at the CIS National Office as an administrative assistant, but every day I went home and worked on personal writing and digital media projects that eventually became my portfolio when I interviewed for the Digital Content and Strategy job. I also recommend creating a living resume online—I made mine through WordPress, but learn some coding and build your own to really wow interviewers—to show off your user experience and design thinking skills.

You can learn more about Communities In Schools here, and keep up with CIS job openings at the National Office and at our affiliates in 25 states here.