Caressa Olivo

Caressa Olivo

Class of 2002

  • Bachelor of Arts in English, Penn State Altoona
  • Master of Arts in English, West Virginia University

What do you currently do professionally?
I am currently the Director of Academic Advising at Maryland University of Integrative Health.

How has majoring in English helped you on your career pathway(s)?
My experience with the English program had a direct impact on my career. I was a first-generation college student and also non-traditional in that I had two small children while I was a student. It was a stretch for me to imagine completing a Bachelor’s degree, much less a Master’s or Doctorate degree. I was encouraged through the program, and through two faculty specifically, to pursue a Master’s degree and to consider the positive impact it would have on my life. They believed in my capacity to succeed. Very much directly due to their encouragement, I went on to complete my Master’s in English at West Virginia University with a 4.0 GPA and am currently working on my Doctorate degree. I have spent 17 years working in academic advising in higher education, and that would never have been an opportunity for me without the foundation of the English program at Penn State Altoona.

What knowledge and skills help you succeed in your job on a daily basis (and, possibly, in unanticipated ways)?
While my career is not directly in the English field, I developed many transferrable skills in the program that apply to my current position and have set me up to be a leader within my field. The writing skills developed within the program have set me apart in my positions and have helped me to develop reports and documents that have exceeded expectations, often setting standards for reporting that did not exist before. The creativity fostered within the program has prepared me for the creativity needed within my field to solve complex problems and to think "outside the box" in meeting the needs of our students and university while dealing with limited resources. The critical thinking skills developed in my English course work prepared me to identify strategies to employ with complicated issues regarding declining student retention and to develop innovative programing, including support of students struggling academically. The skills of argument and presentation developed through the program have provided me with the foundation needed to give presentations in professional settings, take the lead on collaborative projects in the workplace (i.e., campus implementation lead for the LionPATH transition), and to create and present faculty and staff advisor training programs.

In what (unanticipated) ways has the English major impacted your life beyond your profession?
I have developed a network of colleagues, including not only my fellow students in the English program, but also connections with previous professors and staff that I have stayed in touch with to this day.

What is your favorite experience from your time in the English program?
I was involved in the initial creation of the Hard Freight literary magazine and remained active with it during my tenure at Penn State Altoona. It is exciting to see that the magazine and coffee houses are still running to this day! It was the first time I was able to be involved in something like that. As a commuter and non-traditional student, I struggled during my early semesters in college to connect beyond just the classes I was taking. Being involved in Hard Freight was a way for me to connect with students beyond classes and to feel a sense of ownership in the program.

What advice do you have for current English majors or students considering entry into the field in which you’re currently working?
I would encourage students to explore additional degrees and to be open to exploring career fields that may not be "traditional" routes for English majors.

Is there anything else you would like current Penn State Altoona students (of all majors) to know?
Take the time to make connections with your faculty. They are there because they are passionate about their field and about student success. If you put in the time to connect with them, those connections could be lifelong!

February 2023