Undergraduate Experience

Cementing Love for Publishing

By Bezawit Yohannes ’18

It’s somewhat paradoxical to say that my journey to get into publishing was both fairly straightforward and also a story of taking advantage of unconventional opportunities — and yet both are true.

I’m happy to say the most straightforward parts were because of the Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement at William & Mary. As early as my freshman year, I knew I intended to major in English and that I wanted to go into some kind of career in media. I began going to the Cohen Career Center to edit my resume as I took on extracurriculars that could help me apply for media-related jobs. A William & Mary alumnus at a W&M career fair helped me get my first full-time internship, as a creative copywriting intern for the Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts. And most importantly, I attended the biannual Ferguson Blair Publishing Seminar and learned more about the publishing industry from other alumni who had jobs spanning several publishing houses and media corporations. Attending that seminar cemented my career goal in my mind; I knew I wanted to get into book publishing.

However, from listening to the speakers share their experiences, I knew that entry-level positions in the industry were incredibly competitive, and I’d have to be willing to pursue any and every opportunity, even if it seemed circuitous. I also knew that as a young Black woman looking for representation in the fantastical stories I loved, I would have to work 10 times as hard to articulate my vision for what I knew I could contribute to the industry.

After I studied abroad at the University of Oxford (thanks to my scholarship through the 1693 Scholars Program), I developed an honors project under Professor  Hermine Pinson focusing on Afrofuturist literature by Black authors. Working on the project led me to a decades-long history of Black authors in speculative fiction, while showing me how needed a diversity of Black voices, especially Black women, still was in fantasy literature. At the same time, my honors thesis re-ignited my passion for children’s literature, and I began to follow new Black authors publishing exciting young adult fantasy.

I wasn’t ready to leave my research behind, so I attended Georgetown University to get my masters in English, but I never stopped working toward entering publishing. The challenge was that publishing, especially pre-pandemic, was centered in New York, and that wasn’t financially feasible for me at the time. Once again, it was W&M’s Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement that offered me the answer. I applied for the Ferguson-Blair $5,000 scholarship to attend the Denver Publishing Institute (DPI) — the perfect way to get the experience of a publishing graduate certification without having to find expensive housing for an underpaid internship in New York City.

I had built a #bookstagram platform where I shared my reviews of Black fantasy and young adult novels I loved. The speakers at DPI helped me realize that editorial was only one of many sectors of the publishing industry, and if I broadened my scope, my own social media could be my way in. By promoting books, authentically engaging my audience and creating content in partnership with various publishers, I had developed the marketing skills I needed to pivot into digital marketing at a publishing house.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, it was those skills, and the networking connections I gained from DPI, that led to my first full-time job as a digital marketing assistant at Penguin Young Readers (PYR) — all the more miraculous because it was one of the first jobs available after a months-long hiring freeze. After two years at PYR developing marketing campaigns and video content for social media to promote a variety of titles across age categories, I joined Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing as a marketing coordinator, making a smaller shift from digital to title marketing.

My publishing journey continues to evolve, but the foundations were laid by my time at W&M. I’m so grateful to the folks at the Career Center and to the Ferguson-Blair Publishing Seminar for starting me down this path and cementing my love for publishing.

Connect with Bezi on LinkedIn.

Association of 1775 Undergraduate Experience

Challenge the Status Quo

By Christian Chisolm ’18, M.B.A. ’24

Howdy! Christian here, and I graduated from William & Mary in 2018. I commissioned into the Army as an armor officer from the W&M Army ROTC. I am a current MBA candidate at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, and I am officially an old cranky veteran. Boy, how time flies! With Veterans Day right around the corner, I have done a bit of reflection on my time in military service and how William & Mary prepared me for it.

As many of you know, four years at William & Mary can be quite a humbling experience. W&M houses some of the brightest individuals on the planet who will challenge your mind daily. Former military science faculty members Lt. Col. James Kimbrough, Lt. Col. Dustin Menhart and Maj. William Chesher were the epitome of military and academic achievement. Every day, these gentlemen pushed us cadets to excel in all aspects of their military and academic performances. Their lofty standards for excellence created some of the best officers I have ever seen and had the pleasure to serve beside. William & Mary, despite the size of the program at the time, had a reputation in the Army to uphold: physically tough and mentally sharp officers who would leave an immediate impact on whatever team they served on.

Although I am no longer in the Army, I loved my job. To quote the movie “Fury” starring Brad Pitt, serving as an armor officer was “the best Job I ever had!” Ever since I was a kid, I loved tanks. When I was a child, I used to build Lego tank sets and wear tank slippers everywhere I went. Although I have always had a fascination with tanks, I never imagined myself ever serving in the U.S. Army as a tanker. I should have known I would end up in the Army, though, as my family has always joked that “the Army is the family business!” Many of my family members have served, including my role model, my father, Keith Chisolm P ’18.

While in the Army, I had the opportunity to lead one of the first fully inclusive combat units with women. My proudest achievement was incorporating new teammates into roles they previously were denied, while creating more inclusive workspaces for all. On my team of 16, I had four female-identifying soldiers. My team would go on to travel all over the U.S. and Europe together, breaking boundaries and demonstrating the power of diversity. To this day, leading this amazing team is my proudest achievement. I would like to thank William & Mary for offering me the opportunity to share a little bit about my time in the Army and would like to leave a bit of advice. Continue to always challenge the status quo! One thing William & Mary teaches us all is that the world is complex and sometimes flat-out weird: It is our duty to make sense of this craziness and change the world for the better! Roll Tribe!

Follow along with Christian on Instagram and connect with him on LinkedIn.