Alexandra Schonholz tells a familiar story: turn 18, enroll in college, choose a major, doubt your choice, pick another major, doubt some more. In the meantime, tuition mounts and you grow more and more unsure what lies ahead. How do you ever know what to do? After taking time off to figure it out, Alexandra found the help she needed to pave her way.

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Alexandra Schonholz is the Brand Manager at a healthcare consulting company. After a winding journey, she chose to finish her degree at CUNY School of Professional Studies. We asked her thoughts on education, work and how our generation could ever figure out either.

You've been in New York for five years. Anything you like to do around the city?

I have a great group of friends. We love to do basic, fun, free, NYC-ish activities, whether that be eating, exploring, free movies and concerts, window shopping, and/or more eating.

So what does being a Brand Manager entail?

Essentially, I’m in charge of all public messaging that comes through the brand, whether that is web copy, ghost-writing blogs for senior leadership and subject matter experts, sales collateral, advertisements, social media language, outreach, lead gen, you name it.

How do you like it?

I came into this job with little to no experience and not sure what to expect, and here I am five years later loving every minute of it. The experience that I’ve been afforded by my supervisor and this organization have run the gamut and are only further bolstered by being in school alongside my professional development.

That sounds like a great opportunity. How did you land it?

I came into this job almost five years ago after moving to NYC from Massachusetts. I had previously attended UMass Amherst on and off in my late teens/early twenties, only to come to the realization that $xx,000 was a lot of money to put toward something I wasn’t really sure about—my declared major traversed Marketing, Biology (first ecology interest, then cellular and molecular), then Paleontology, with an incessant, lingering interest in linguistics. So I withdrew at 21 and told myself I’d pay some of my loans back, work, figure things out, and then return.

That’s a tough decision. Did you find it difficult after you took the plunge?

There was never going to be a good time to go back to school; I’m not sure where I would be without my education now. It’s wild to recount this story and be on the ‘semester’s eve’ of graduation, 10 years after my first foray into higher education and to think of how fortunate I am to have been surrounded by such wonderful people in life, at work, and in school.

At the interview, the President asked me why I wasn’t back in school yet. Providing him the answer outlined above, he simply replied, “No. You have to go back. Like, now.” I said “OK” and applied to Fordham @ Lincoln Center’s continuing professional studies program because of the convenient location a few blocks from my office. All my successes thus far, as a student and a young professional, are thanks to Lee Perlman, who gave me the shot of a lifetime, his support, his mentorship, and his (earned) respect. He treats me as a capable, intelligent individual and keeps it real with me 100% of the time.

It sounds like you really value the mentorship in your life. Do you have any other role models?

In the city, I have my amazing, brilliant grandmother and aunt. They are two incredible women and leaders in their respective industries—I’d be remiss not to mention them both. Their support and guidance, personally and professionally, has proven to be invaluable so often, and If someday I can be half as savvy and gifted as they are, I’ll consider myself to have officially “made it.”

After all this time, how did you end up at the CUNY School of Professional Studies?

Refusing to take any more loans, I decided to pay out of pocket for the remainder of my undergrad, where I found myself playing endless catch up with tuition prices. (As a side note: one class at CUNY SPS costs less than 1 credit at Fordham.) I selected Communications & Media, applied, and was pleased to be accepted.

Your program is online-only. Did you have any reservations about that?

My supervisor at work, Leslie Isenegger, is actually yet another brilliant mentor (my friend and colleague joke about wanting to be her when we grow up!). I asked her thoughts on completing my degree online, and she commented that stigmas about online learning were falling by the wayside, citing Harvard and Stanford’s online programs, and added that it would be a great fit with a 9-5. The online program has been amazing, particularly as work responsibilities have compounded, and as time has grown increasingly scarce.

What do you think sets your program apart from the same degree at other schools?

I love the readings and course work, I love the independence, and I love the knowledgeable staff—and not just professors, but advisors, student services folks, the dean, even the helpdesk. The program is designed for students to learn the material and demonstrate comprehension, not just show up to class, cram assignments or study an hour prior to an exam.

Have you been surprised by anything else?

Over the course of my time here, the school has been so helpful in every matter and inquiry; they’re proactive and less “laissez-faire,” unlike what I’d experienced at my previous two brick-and-mortar institutions. Even tuition matters have been resolved with ease.

Do you still keep yourself involved at the school?

I received the ACE Scholarship award and a spot in the inaugural group comprising ACE scholars and mentors today. I have the opportunity to mentor two incoming students each semester and I’m nothing less than overjoyed to be able to give back to the students and CUNY SPS community. They’ve been everything to me and have made who I am a possibility!

Anyone you want to thank on-air?

I adore Dean Peterson, I adore Z. Lobley in student services, I adore my mentees, and I adore my advisor Agrona. I have real relationships with these individuals, and everyone is truly invested in providing or receiving the best academic experience possible. I’m forever grateful to have been a part of that the last few years.


For more information about the CUNY School of Professional Studies, or how to continue your own education, visit sps.cuny.edu and see what works for you.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between CUNY SPS and Gothamist staff.