Diamond Camacho is a student who is all work and all play. After completing a bachelor's degree in Developmental Psychology with an emphasis on Child and Adolescent Development, she dove into a career that took her from a temp job in the MoMA Design and Bookstore to a more involved role at MoMA's children's department—one of the most innovative toy boxes NYC has to offer. It's a job where the lines of career and creativity blur, where the kids are sometimes the ones teaching the adults a thing or two.
There came a moment that many of us might find familiar. It was a moment of I love what I do, but how do I push this further, without going broke, without needing 36 hours in a day? Diamond eventually enrolled at the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) in an online MA in Psychology degree program, and she couldn't be happier. We sat down to chat with her about her academic career, how she juggles her time, and the places where her work and studies intersect.
Can you talk a bit about what first interested you in Developmental Psychology, specifically as it pertains to children?
I started out as a biology major and was on track for medical school as a freshman in college when I took an introductory course in psychology. It immediately spoke to a part of me that has always felt great empathy for people, and I've always had an interest in the diversity of the human mind. I chose child and adolescent psychology specifically because I feel that the first few years of life are so important to a child's mental and physical well-being. I wanted to be a part of a system that nurtures and protects children, and I felt studying developmental psychology was the best route to take.
Right out of college, you began temping with MoMA. Can you tell us about that initial experience, as a new graduate in the workplace?
Like many new graduates, I felt unprepared in my career—I was young, inexperienced, and naive. I needed a job, but I wanted to work somewhere I could apply my knowledge and personality. At times, it was exhausting, but at the end of the day I felt confident in my ability to support myself financially and learn something new from the people around me.
How was the transition to working full-time with children? Was it what you expected?
Working with children was what I expected and even more. It was foremost a fun experience—getting to play with new toys and games is fun no matter what your age. I also loved watching children smile, laugh, and engage with their environment. Toys and games for children are sometimes not one-size-fits-all. Boys and girls have varying interests and tastes, and appreciating their differences, socially and developmentally, was really important. I also learned that, inevitably, kids lose the pieces to everything!
So when you began at CUNY SPS, how did your experiences at MoMA influence your course of study?
Working at MoMA made me realize that I wanted to "do more" when it came to children and their families, and for that I needed to continue my education. At MoMA, I could recommend toys and books, but I could only do so with what I had in the store. That led me to think about all the ways children are influenced in their lives, by parents, peers, and their communities, and I realized I wanted to be an early influencer. In order to be an influence and to bring something positive to people, I had to further my education. CUNY SPS seemed like the perfect fit.
And vice versa, can you talk a bit about how your education at CUNY SPS has shaped the way you go about your job?
I'm able to apply what I'm learning weekly with my customers, my coworkers, and the people I meet, in general. Now, my interactions are different because I am learning how to approach people and how to think about their experiences in new ways. I feel a confidence boost from doing well in my classes, which translates into my natural demeanor. I'm also more excited to apply what I'm learning to my real life work situation.
What were some of the courses that resonated with you the most?
So far, my favorite courses have been social psychology and biological psychology. I took them at the same time, and they really complemented each other. I don't believe in nature vs. nurture, a popular debate in psychology, but I see now that it's a symbiosis. Each side gives individuals their unique qualities, and they are inseparable from one another. It changes the previously held beliefs I've had about people in the best way because it helped me appreciate people's differences as well as their strengths.
Was there anything that surprised you? Anything you weren't expecting in your course of study?
I wasn't expecting the camaraderie I've achieved with other students. There's so much required interaction in the program, and it creates a sense of comfort in the same way you'd feel in a real classroom. Each semester I "see" familiar faces online, and we reconnect, ask about our vacations, our growing interests, and even offer advice to one another.
Let's talk more about that online-only aspect of learning. What were your initial thoughts about that? Did you have any reservations?
I thought it would feel lonely, but it's not at all. I also thought online courses wouldn't be as difficult, but they are difficult in the best way. I'm being challenged academically, and thinking critically about topics that I might not have given thought to before.
Clearly, you have a lot going on between work and school. Can you tell us a bit about how you structure your time?
I work 35 hours a week, and I commute about 10 hours in that week. I use the subway ride to read. I begin work on my lunch break and finish it at home after dinner. It's definitely an exercise in time management, but it allows me to get my assignments completed on time and do any additional reading I need to do.
School and work aside, anything else you love doing out and about in our fine city?
I love to read. I'm a frequent user of the New York Public Library, and I patronize a few independent bookstores. I also love museums (no surprise) and art galleries.
Any advice for professionals looking to hop back into the academic world, specifically at CUNY SPS?
I went back to school at 27, and CUNY SPS made it really easy to do so. If it wasn't for the online programming, I might have waited longer and missed the opportunity to take my career to the next level. If you're thinking about it, do it!
And lastly, anyone you want to give a shout-out to?
I would like to shout out to the staff of the financial aid office and admissions who responded to all of my emails no matter how many questions I had. They were prompt and polite, and it really was a comfort knowing that even in an online program you're not alone!
For more information about the CUNY School of Professional Studies and 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.