Chelsea Ardle
BS, Wildlife Biology/Environmental Writing Class of 2014
Assistant editor, Vagabond City
Pittsburgh, Pa.

What is your current job title and your main responsibilities?
Currently, I hold two positions. I am the Assistant Editor of an online literary journal called Vagabond City which aims to publish marginal millennial voices, specifically targeting poetry and nonfiction. I read all prose submissions and aid in choosing the content of the journal. I help the Editor-in-Chief with any decision making, including anything from which genres we publish to new initiatives for the journal. For example, I spearheaded a new Twitter micro-essay project in which we took inspiration from a Hemingway quote and asked our followers to send us a micro-essay as a tweet. I also copy edit each issue and pop up occasionally in our social media feeds, though we have editors whose specific jobs are to organize our digital platform, but we like all of our personalities to be involved in posts.

(My main job, however is as an In-Room Dining Server at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Pittsburgh. It’s a 5 star boutique hotel that cares an awful lot about the happiness of its employees and values giving guests unique, personal experiences, rather than being a generic place to stay. We have hosted some high profile clients, including former and present professional athletes, artists ranging from Rob Zombie to the Violent Femmes to Stevie Wonder; actors and politicians. There is never a dull day. While it is not the ideal position, my employer cares about me and empowers me to do anything I feel is necessary to make guests happy. I create personalized amenities for guests, like plates of sweet treats, fun cocktails, and champagne and wine for those celebrating. I also serve as a member of their Kimpton Cares committee which partners with local Pittsburgh nonprofits to give back to the community around us. I’ve organized two events myself including a school supply drive and a service day with the Western PA Conservancy where we weeded a public garden. This definitely takes me back to my Unity roots.)

I’m not sure I’m quite in my “dream” field yet, but I’m sure on my way. I constantly talk about how unique and wonderful Unity is.

What was your path to getting the job you have now?
I’ve edited for a couple different publications and, as part of my grad school education, founded my own independent literary press, published a chapbook of a fellow author, marketed, and sold it. I went straight from Unity to graduate school at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, where I earned my Masters in Fine Arts. I wrote a 143-page thesis manuscript that is a collection of travel essays exploring the industrial past and present of my home state of Pennsylvania. I was pretty fixated on the pros and cons of fracking in Pennsylvania while I was at Unity and took that to grad school with me. I did a lot of research and traveling, and utilized immersive and investigative journalism techniques I learned at Unity and continued to foster in grad school.

What do you love about the job?
I love my editing position because it allows me to constantly be inspired by new voices and new writers. We publish mostly people younger than 30, so these are writers just like me, still trying to figure out the world, still unsure of things, and fully willing to admit that. The other editors and I celebrate flaws, never harshly criticize, but rather healthily criticize, sometimes giving feedback to those writers we feel have potential. I am able to write for the publication occasionally and left time to write on my own, for myself, too. (I’m currently working on a project with one of the baristas at the hotel, where I write her a poem and she makes a drink inspired by said poem. I’m in the process of putting together a query and finding potential publishers now). I love that I am constantly learning about ways to make the publication more efficient, and that it is a growing publication in which we can affect change quickly. We doubled our submissions from last issue with some weeks in our social media presence.

(My hotel job inspires me too. I am able to make people happy, to see them smile and enjoy themselves on vacation, as well as aid in their enjoyment of this wonderful city I now call home.)
Unity truly taught what a sense of place is, and I celebrate the place around me every day, telling people about new local start-ups, what food is local, what museums truly represent Pittsburgh, and how they can learn about the rich history here.

What made you want to come to Unity? Were those expectations realized by the time you graduated?  
I wanted to go to Unity because the class size was small, the curriculum focused on hands-on experiences, and because it was a place where a student could easily make a difference.
Unity definitely encouraged me to be a self-starter, which is crucial to any writing/editing position, as you constantly need to be pushing yourself to try new things, to write/create in general, and to put yourself out there and into the ether, to submit.

Because Unity was so small, I was offered opportunities to sit in on accreditation committees, committees to aid in choosing more faculty, and multiple opportunities to talk to the dean and president about my opinions. This is so rare at other schools and so important to my personal growth. I also held officer positions in at least three clubs, which allowed me to better understand a budget proposal, to really develop my priorities and to gain leadership experience. One of the clubs was the constructive activist club in which we planned or were part of multiple lobbying days at the state house, lead campaigns to promote bills, and aided in informing our fellow students on what they were voting for that year. I’ve set up event tables, petitions, and booths for clubs. Its great public speaking experience as well. Unity definitely teaches important self-leadership skills if the students allow them to.

As far as my career path, I held a student editor position at Unity’s literary journal, Hawk and Handsaw: Journal of Creative Sustainability. Under Kathryn Miles’ leadership, I was able to see a publication happen from start to finish, and be part of much of the decision making. It was so important for me to know that my opinion mattered. Kate encouraged the other student editor and me to attend the AWP conference in Chicago, where we were able to get a real look at the independent publishing world.

Because Unity is so science/environment oriented, it was hard to understand what the critical literary and writing world would actually look like and this experience was a great foundation for that. We interacted with staff members from very respected publications and books, including Orion magazine and some authors of books that Milkweed Editions published. We were thrown into the world where networking is everything. And we got to travel. If was a great experience that definitely influenced my choice to enter the writing workforce.

How would you describe your transition from college to the working world, and what advice would you give fellow or future Unity alums?
Because I chose to go to grad school instead of directly to the working world, I think my transition was different than some. I moved to a new city, got a serving job at a brewpub, and entered grad school full time the fall after I graduated. Because I went to school for literature, my reading load increased in a serious way. The work load crushed me at times, but it was the kind of crushing I was used to, as I double-majored in Wildlife Bio and Environmental Writing and minored in Human Ecology at Unity, and managed to graduate in 4 years. I continued writing about my passion for the environment and sometimes wrote about my experiences at Unity, to which my classmates always reacted with enthusiastic interest. I began my thesis manuscript my second year, and at times, thought it would be the end of me. I challenged myself to write a thesis with some heavy research components and, while I was used to citing and doing research for ecology articles/reports at Unity, this was a different ball game.

After I graduated, I traveled to Belize, Guatemala, and Ireland for some much-needed vacation and then started to find out where I belonged in the work force. Publishing is an incredibly tough industry that I was advised to not enter from many mentors. I volunteered as a reading buddy once a week for a child in an inner-city school and really enjoyed helping the nonprofit. I then picked up my editing position and, after some time, realized what I like most was community and public outreach, specifically in the nonprofit sector. So, I’m looking for jobs at PR firms now in the hope that I can influence local change through media.

My advice to fellow Unit-arians, is to never stop pushing yourself to accomplish whatever goals you have, to take time for yourself to breathe occasionally and ask what makes you truly, the happiest. Jobs are hard to find and getting discouraged never ever helps. So don’t do it. Apply and apply and apply. And be creative. Don’t ever just settle for normal recruiting sites. Those are boring. Look at your local community garden or arboretum. See if any art galleries have openings. I’ve started looking at artist residencies. And never take volunteer opportunities for granted. They give you great experience and sometimes that’s worth not getting paid.

Monday, January 11, 2016