Seizing Opportunities to Learn

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Sydney Provinzino

This spring Sydney Provinzino graduates from the U of M, which means she is fully immersed in her job search. If you ask her about it, she’ll tell you she’s looking for an employer that will not force her to have, as she calls it, a “work self”—a muted version of her personality. Rather, she’s looking for an employer with a conscience, an organization that will allow her to use the individualized degree she’s earned, and a workplace that honors employee authenticity. Looking through the lens of a recent trip abroad that Provinzino took for an academic opportunity, as well as her choice of major over these past four years, you start to understand the standards she’s holding potential employers to.

Sydney Provinzino

An Individualized Education

When Provinzino chose to attend the U, she was certain she would be an OB-GYN, but after taking just a handful of science courses she quickly changed her mind. “I was very stressed during my freshman year, and I worried that I would have grey hair by the end of my 20s if I kept on the path to study medicine,” she says. “I called my mom one day and confessed I didn’t want to be a doctor.”

After that soul-searching decision early on in her college experience, Provinzino found a path that suited her better than her original plan ever could. An adviser told her about the Inter-College Program (ICP), which would allow her to design her own degree, pulling from coursework throughout the U of M.

“I went to an ICP information session, met with an adviser, and was hooked. I decided to focus my studies on communication through the College of Liberal Arts and marketing through Carlson. I’m also doing a Spanish minor,” she says.

Designing her own degree opened Provinzino’s eyes to the value of identifying goals—both academic and professional—and laying out a road map for the future. It was this focus and forethought that helped her to gain the confidence to take on whatever opportunities came her way. And one big opportunity arose during her senior year.

Grand Challenges in Bogotá, Colombia

“My Spanish instructor, Luis Ramos-Garcia, asked me if I wanted to accompany him and other students and faculty on a trip to Colombia in the spring. I didn’t have to think about it—I said yes.”

Sydney P. trip picture

Provinzino and three other students from the Spanish department spent a week in Bogotá, Colombia, getting an intimate experience engaging with members of human rights activist groups and survivors of the leftist political group, the Unión Patriótica. Members of this group have lost children, spouses, and family members as a result of extrajudicial assassinations during the Colombian civil war in the 1960s.

With research at its core, the trip was primarily funded through the Grand Challenges Research Grant, with the goal of fostering just and equitable communities. The students’ objective was to gather the cultural and political memory surrounding the civil conflict. They would do this by experiencing theater performances, attending conferences that discussed the history of the Colombian conflict and gave survivors a platform to share their testimonies, and translating these. It was Provinzino’s job to bear witness to these testimonies and spread awareness by sharing the experiences of these individuals with her community in Minnesota. In all, the week in Bogotá was a chance for

Sydney P. trip picture2

Provinzino and others to gain a greater understanding of the complexity of Colombia’s human rights violations.

“The theater in Bogotá is very politically charged,” Provinzino says. “It’s very much a social commentary. We listened to these testimonies with the goal of offering a platform to create awareness about what’s happening in Colombia. Spreading knowledge about what has happened here is huge. The narratives around Colombia are not accurate, but we can help to change global perspectives.”

Making use of her individualized coursework in communication studies and her Spanish proficiency, Provinzino immersed herself in the experience, coming home with an entirely new worldview.

Culminating Experience

As part of the grant to study abroad, Provinzino was to write a paper and give a presentation about her experience at the U of M’s Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Conference in early April. The presentation was so successful that she and her group earned the award for Best Scholarly Presentation at the conference.

“ICP really worked well for me because it allowed me to find coursework that fit who I am. And from employers I’ve heard back from already, the words ‘well-rounded’ continue to come up.”

“It’s really important to hear global perspectives, to have experiences, and to cultivate empathy for what people are going through,” she says. “The audience was getting misty as we were giving our presentation. It was so unlike anything you might see on the news or social media.”

Sydney P. Trip pic 3

Now, with her ICP degree in communications and marketing tucked under one arm and her Spanish minor tucked under the other, Provinzino is headed into the job market with no shortage of ambition for what’s next. Her college experience at the U has shown her that she can design her own experience—from curating her own degree to having a profound cultural journey.

“ICP really worked well for me because it allowed me to find coursework that fit who I am. And from employers I’ve heard back from already, the words ‘well-rounded’ continue to come up.”

One thing is for sure, Provinzino will not stop seizing opportunities when they come her way, and she will never run the risk of having a muted personality at work. Her academic and professional self could only be described as full of life and color.