Student Develops Her Own Niche at UConn

Juanita Austin '15 (SFA) explored various different options before reaching a solution that combines her interests in human rights, the arts, and marketing. (Paul Horton for UConn)
Juanita Austin ’15 (SFA) explored various different options before reaching a solution that combines her interests in human rights, the arts, and marketing. (Paul Horton for UConn)

It hasn’t been a straightforward path, but Juanita Austin ’15 (SFA) has finally found her way at UConn.

Like many college students, Austin zigzagged through her UConn career in hopes of finding a satisfying profession. She says her greatest challenge has been, “just figuring out how I can do what I love and still be successful. I don’t have that fear anymore. I’ve taken a different route, creating a program that makes me happier. I’m very confident now with myself and what I want to do.”

Austin initially enrolled at UConn on a full-tuition Leadership Scholarship in the School of Business, planning to major in marketing. She soon took a leave of absence to take up an internship with a photographer in New York City.

“I really needed that semester off,” she says. “It gave me time to think about my career and my happiness.”

In her spare time, she pursued her interest in social justice by attending marches and rallies. She also applied and was accepted to an art school in the Big City.

“I decided against it, although getting accepted gave me the confidence to apply to the great arts program here at UConn,” Austin says. “I knew I was getting a good education at UConn.”

Upon returning to UConn, she shifted her field of study several times to incorporate all of her passions –art, human rights, and marketing. Austin is now majoring in the School of Fine Art’s new, innovative digital media program, while earning a minor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ human rights program, and doing a marketing internship with the Connecticut Small Business Development Center in the School of Business.

“Everything in digital media is project-based and practical in the job market,” says Austin. “What I really love about the digital media program is that as I learn a skill I get to use it in my work, so I immediately see the benefits of what I’m learning.”

She found her vocational sweet spot working with a faculty advisor on an independent project that helped art students get the professional development necessary for their careers. “I’ve used my skills in marketing, media, and human rights, an amazing experience that enabled me to work on everything I care about all in the same project,” she says.

That independent project dovetailed with Austin’s on-campus job as a peer career advisor, advancing a UConn initiative called Careers for the Common Good. It provides resources and encourages students to explore career paths that will have a positive impact on society.

Co-curricular engagement also met Austin’s need to “be around people who share my passion for social justice. UConn definitely has a culture of activism.” She has become a leader of the student Coalition for Human Rights and Service Organizations.

She has also enjoyed mentoring students in middle schools and high schools across Connecticut and Massachusetts who participated in the PeaceJam Conference that UConn hosted. “It was an amazing experience to be around young people with such love. They are peace builders in their towns,” she says.

Austin hopes to go to graduate school. Her long-term goals include using her digital media skills to do pro bono work for nonprofits.