by Alina Gonzalez '08
Amanda Paulson, Class of ’97, knows firsthand the meaning and wisdom in Oscar Wilde’s observation that life is what happens when you’re making other plans.
In Amanda’s case, a passion for the outdoors and a desire to work where the Rockies serve as nature’s skyscrapers was undercut by an accident that waylaid her for weeks: she broke her ankle while leading a wilderness program for the Eagle Rock School in Colorado. The mishap forced her to quickly reconsider her career choices. Since continuing as a wilderness instructor for Eagle Rock required Amanda to be on her feet for hours everyday, she was unable to stay with the program that so suited her.
Always athletic, Amanda had worked with freshmen Dartmouth Outing Club (DOC) trips every year: once as a rock climbing instructor, once as the leader of an extreme hiking trip, and once as the equipment manager for the Hanover Crew. Rugby, skiing, snowboarding, ultimate Frisbee and climbing gym monitor rounded out her list of physical activities.
And suddenly, she found herself on crutches. But the incident generated an unexpected outcome: it propelled Amanda towards a career that she had long been interested in, and has been involved with ever since-- journalism.
“After I broke my ankle, I started asking myself ‘what am I doing here’ and ‘what are my options’ and I decided to give journalism a try,” she says.
At that point, Amanda still was “very focused on staying out west.” She applied and was turned down for an internship at the High Country News —again, a development for which she later was grateful.
“I am so glad I didn’t get the job there because I ended up going to a newspaper where I could do a much wider range of reporting… where I could be a generalist.”
That paper: the highly esteemed Christian Science Monitor.
“Journalism is a tough field to break into,” Amanda says, “and I hadn’t written for the D at Dartmouth. I knew I needed practical experience, so I applied and the Monitor offered me a summer internship in Boston.”
Amanda only expected to remain with the Monitor for one season, but within a couple of months the paper offered her a full-time job with a junior staff program, a position that she recognized right away was “the perfect thing” for her. “I have always been interested in a broad range of subjects and I like being a generalist more than a specialist,” she says. “I have a desire to be constantly learning and meeting new people and journalism provides that opportunity.” One of the people Amanda befriended in Boston became her husband, Josh Rollins, who was working at an investment firm while he acted on the side part time.
“I learned a lot on the ground, and I rotated around on a number of different sections at the Monitor,” she says. “For three years, I wrote and edited stories in the Boston newsroom before I made a move.”
“I knew I wanted to work with a national bureau, and eventually a spot opened up in Chicago,” she says. “I went ahead and took that not knowing quite what to expect because it’s very different being on my own as opposed to being in the news room. It, indeed, turned out to be a very independent role but one I have loved because of the level of autonomy.” Amanda also describes Chicago as “a better acting town” for her husband who then became a full time actor.
For the past three and half years, Amanda has served as the Midwest Bureau Chief for the Christian Science Monitor, directing coverage and writing about events in the Midwest that she deems important nationally.
She also writes about education, agriculture and urban issues that don’t necessarily contain an exclusive Midwest peg; she recently finished an article on compensation for exonerated prisoners. In addition, she “fills in for other areas of the country when it is needed,” as was the case in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Amanda cherishes her job because “it takes a real ability to learn about something, and then translate that and try to make it interesting for other people to read about and absorb.” For anyone who finds a host of subjects compelling, journalism is ideal in that “no day is ever the same.” In the past weeks, Amanda has covered immigration rallies in downtown Chicago and the FCC’s report to Congress suggesting that the commission be allowed to regulate violence on television, to cite a couple of her articles.
“I can never predict what my schedule will be like,” she says. “We just figure out our focus on a day to day basis, and it is never dull. I am always meeting with incredibly interesting people, and I don’t just mean the high-profile author or musician or politician, although they certainly are noteworthy. But journalism provides an opportunity to come into contact with coal miners and farmers and people with whom I might normally not have a reason to be talking to. It is my job to gain their perspective and to communicate their stories and their issues to the readers.”
How Amanda ended up where she is today was no linear feat. In fact, the Big Green alum—who majored in Comparative Literature with a focus on French and English prose— felt “very at sea” upon graduating and did not know what career she wanted to pursue.
“But I did know that I liked to read, write and travel, that I wanted to live internationally, and that I was interested in many subjects including conservation and education,” she says. Her parents had instilled in Amanda a reverence for the environment and she feels fortunate that she is, periodically, able to cover it for the Monitor.
“My mother has spent most of her life both working and volunteering for environmental groups and teaching pubic school children about birds and nature, organizing prairie restoration trips, etc. We also did a lot of travel to developing countries as a family which furthered my own interest in travel; my father and mother were always very intellectually curious people who encouraged me to have an interest in many subjects,” she says.
After graduating with a minor in Environmental Studies, Amanda went to Costa Rica and worked for The Nature Conservancy, where she helped out with proposal and grant writing. “It was a wonderful opportunity to learn Spanish, which has helped me a great deal with my career,” she says.
Continuing along Amanda’s self-described “circuitous path,” she segued from writing to education and from Central to North America. Amanda, who had grown up in Barrington, Illinois, says she “loved the idea of living out West again.”
She contacted another Dartmouth graduate who had taken a position with an alternative education school near the Rockies. Amanda moved to Colorado and taught French (which she had taken at Dartmouth, studied in more depth on the Foreign Study Program in Toulouse, and eventually taught at Dartmouth as a Drill Instructor); Spanish (which she had mastered in Costa Rica); and Journalism (which she had always been interested in) at the Eagle Rock School. After teaching for one year, she then joined classmate Heather Halstead ’97 traveling around the globe for nearly six months as part of a circumnavigation education project called “Reach the World” that Heather had initiated.
After her sailing odyssey, Amanda rejoined the Eagle Rock School as a leader of an Outward Bound Wilderness excursion—the trip on which she would break her ankle and on which she would zero in on journalism as her next career move.
“I finally felt I had finished doing all of these different things and wanted to think about where I was going next” she says. “I certainly feel like my first three years out of school were all over the place, but I learned from all of those wonderful experiences. In my job as a reporter, I frequently write about education reform and it was very helpful to have spent that year as a teacher.” And Amanda’s Spanish proficiency from the year she spent in Costa Rica has proved “invaluable” to her as a reporter since the immigration stories she now often covers entail her interviewing people in Spanish.
“I think its pretty common to want to do a lot of different things after graduation,” Amanda says. “And it’s okay to try different routes, but make sure that you are always learning, always challenging yourself, and always doing something you are interested in.” She advises recent graduates to not panic, and not “feel like you have to have it all figured out right away.”
“Find out if you are a people person… if you like working on teams, or working independently—find something that plays to your skills. Don’t limit yourself, and don’t do corporate recruiting just because it is the option that is more formalized out there. Some of your career options might take more creative thinking, but there are other directions to go” she says.
“I do wish that I had done a little bit more informational networking,” she says. “I knew I didn’t want to go to graduate school, or go into a more traditional field, but I could have talked to more family friends and Dartmouth alums…to get a better sense of what some of the options are” she says.
Amanda also encourages students to live abroad. “The easiest time to do it is right after college,” she says. “You don’t have to settle into the career you’re going to be in forever—you can always change course. If things don’t work out, they don’t work out. But it’s still always worth a shot. I made very little money when I was in Costa Rica and teaching in Colorado, but you also don’t have many obligations in terms of family and marriage… so it’s a great time to take adventures,” she says, noting that she and Josh are embarking on a new one themselves as they prepare for the birth of their first child.
“Life can be a roller coaster,” Amanda says, but at the end of the day, doing what you love is worth the ups and downs.
Last Updated: 6/21/12