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TRENDER: Author Stefana Albu

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Stefana Albu's book We Never Learned This in Class! decodes adulthood for a new generation. Photo: Flynn Larsen Photography

Who are the Rhode Islanders leading in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers glimpses of the people you most want to know on the scene. Today's Trender is Stefana Albu, the young author of a new book entitled We Never Learned This in Class!

A current Providence resident and recent graduate of Brown University with a Master’s Degree in Neuroscience, Albu has also earned the rare distinction of being a Fulbright Scholar, spending a year of study in Munich, Germany.

Her diverse experiences in multiple institutions of higher learning led her to write this insightful guide, which advises twenty-somethings on balancing finances, pursuing a fulfilling career, and maintaining meaningful relationships.Stefana currently works as the Assistant Director in the Admissions Office at Wheaton College.

As a Fulbright Scholar and a graduate of Brown University, what experiences as a student led you to write We Never Learned This in Class!?

The realization that a professional path in the 21st century isn’t always linear became the most challenging moment of my early career, thus driving me to look further into changing societal and economic dynamics of our generation. While many media outlets are quick to label this most-talked about generation as lazy and self-focused, millennials are faced with increased career opportunities, so they are avidly seeking to find the fitting career puzzle piece.

Psychologists have even rethought the accepted stages of development, revising them include this new phase of “emerging adulthood” as an extended phase of self-exploration. While the previous generation talks of the decreased affordability of education, how they worked hard, got the degree, and landed the job—it just not that conventional anymore. According to The Wall Street Journal, the average American now goes through career changes at least seven times within a lifetime—that’s seven chances to step off the obvious path, seven chances to shift gears and professions. These new directions can be viewed as opportunities to expand a creative and professional repertoire.

When did you decide to write your self-help guide for emerging adults in our society, and what served as your inspiration for this pragmatic handbook?

In countless conversations with recent graduates throughout the country and around the world, a common theme arose: It seemed that we were all caught “off-guard” and eagerly asking why no one provided warning, preparation, or constructive advice for the many obstacles following graduation. Balancing budgets with an entry-level salary is a challenge, but also simultaneously pursuing a rewarding career and balancing relationships seemed like an uphill battle.

Throughout my “real world” experiences, I soon recognized a disjuncture between formal education and career development for the recent college graduate. While a student can draw much insight from seminars, workshops, and labs, where are the tools for dealing with the changing paradigm of the 21st century? With that in mind, I began to outline a contemporary handbook disclosing the essential approaches for financial independence, building strong relationships, and establishing a profession—all milestones on a revised timeline for today’s twenty-somethings. I felt inspired to address the countless dilemmas confronting the growing-up millennial generation, share advice for success, and offer an insider’s look into navigating life after college in our ever-changing economy.

In your experience, what are the advantages of living and studying in Rhode Island? Are there any major impediments to learning or working in the Ocean State that college students should be aware of?

I feel that Rhode Island exudes a unique sense of collaboration sprinkled with an array of liberal perspectives. Although it is the country’s smallest state, it definitely has a large personality. I would advise students to take advantage for the fine networking opportunities in our “close-knit community” in both academic and entrepreneurial capacities.

How has Rhode Island affected your life, learning, and writing?

Rhode Island is home to such an extensive array of academic institutions, each bringing its own fresh perspective into the mix and making Providence a truly young metropolis. As the creative capital and an academic hub, Providence has an exceptional entrepreneurial spirit with endless opportunities for both intellectual endeavors and creative innovation.

How has your work in a college Admissions Office contributed to your understanding of the challenges facing young men and women in their search for fulfilling careers, economic stability, and meaningful relationships?

On a daily basis in my role as Assistant Director, Iwork with a wide array of incoming students and concerned parents to map out students’ academic direction and potential post-graduation successes. On the other end of the academic continuum, I witness the daily trepidations of college seniors nearing the momentous accomplishment of graduation, full of hope and anxiety. With my finger right on the pulse of the contemporary recent graduate's hopes, fears, aspirations, and dilemmas, I felt truly passionate about helping young adults through this difficult period of emerging adulthood. Through this work, I aimed to convey that these transitional challenges are normal and charted an inspirational guidebook for successfully navigating the post-graduation anxieties of today's fast-changing economy.

Do you see any major flaws in our education system? And if so, what are some possible solutions to fix these problems?

Our educational system must place a grander emphasis on academic material in terms of the 21st century social experience while preparing students for future careers. Students would greatly benefits from career-focused immersion opportunities to investigate, invent, and learn by problem solving. When inspiration replaces regurgitation, students metamorphose from retentive information vehicles into creative thought processing machines equipped to instigate innovation. With a multidimensional paradigm, students could gain insight into the interdisciplinary nature of prospective professions, thus sculpting central meaning for the pathway of their education rather than focusing on the grade point finale.

In addition to discontinuity among academic disciplines, the lack of relatable application accompanying theoretical material leads to decreased interest and adversely affects creativity. Subsequently, on the inside of the working world students often encounter scenarios starkly different than anticipated. As professional shifts are financially unrealistic in this economic era, high school graduates must be equipped to make informed life-altering decisions when selecting a future field of study. Viewing education as an interdisciplinary career-training approach would radically improve American education while also bolstering national economic outcomes.

After the critical acclaim that your first book received, do you plan to publish any other books in the near future? If so, what do you foresee the focus of your upcoming work to be?

The book’s successful release last May has sparked countless insightful discussions with members of the millennial generation, media sources, and specialists in the field. This fruitful dialogue, along with reflective feedback from an NYC-based leading expert on the impacts of societal shifts in today’s contemporary relationship-career balance, has influenced the crafting of an anticipated 2nd edition!

If you could give one piece of advice to current college students and recent university graduates about achieving monetary success, finding exciting employment, and holding onto significant bonds with others, what would it be?

While there isn’t a formula for overcoming the dynamics of our boomerang generation, the key is to stop “zombie-ing” and start living. Figure out what fuels your flame. Don’t make the most accessible selection, but choose a path that perpetuates personal growth, addresses real issues, and could lead to a life of difference. Without money on the mind, identify the essence of what exactly ignites your drive. Unearth your inner spark for topics that excite you and inspire creativity: the rush of adrenaline, the surge of excitement, and the bursting potential—go with it! In the end, you’ll be able to follow your own dreams and not someone else’s.Ultimately when you do what you love, when you pursue a fulfilling endeavor you could imagine dedicating your life to, the same positivity extends into the many other facets of life: personal, social, and professional.  


Related Slideshow: College Guide 2013: Tips from Famous Alumni

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Josh Owen

RISD M.F.A. ‘97

Josh Owen now serves as chair of the Industrial Design Department and an associate professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He’s also president of his studio, Josh Owen LLC, whose clients include Areaware, Casamania, Umbra, and others.

Favorite RI Spots

“Steeplestreet was a regular evening hang-out and a great place to grab a drink at the end of the day—I was sad to hear that it closed a few years back.”

Other favorites: Lupo’s and the Federal Hill area

Now: The new addition to the RISD museum and the conjoined shop selling alumni work. (Look for Owen’s projects in the shop and museum—his SOS Stool for Casamania is in the permanent collection!)

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Christopher Denise

RISD ‘90

Best known as the illustrator of beloved children’s book series Redwall by Brian Jacques, Christopher Denise also taught in RISD’s illustration department. He currently works out of his studio in Barrington, having illustrated a great many books over the years. His most recently published have been Bella and Stella Come Home by his wife Anika Denise, and Following Grandfather by Rosemary Wells. Check out his newest book here ( http://www.amazon.com/Sleepytime-Me-Edith-Hope-Fine/dp/0449810623/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383058873&sr=8-1&keywords=sleepytime+me ).

Favorite RI Spots

Then: J.G. Goffs, The Met, the Custom House Tavern, Gallery Agniel

Now: Persimmon—“Best restaurant in RI.” The Wild Colonial for “pints and darts!” The Fez, Aspara, Broadway Bistro, and Fellini Pizzeria.

The Avon and Frog and Toad are featured in artwork in Denise’s upcoming book, Sleepytime Me by Edith Fine.

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Tony Horwitz

Brown ‘80

A history major at Brown, Tony Horwitz “got lost in the present for a few decades,” working as a union organizer and a newspaper reporter before switching to full-time book authorship, mostly writing about the past—“back to being the history nerd I was as an undergrad.” Currently resides in the present again, though, reporting in Alberta on the oil sands industry and the Keystone XL pipeline—“Frankly, I’d rather be in Providence, eating a spinach pie at Louie’s.”

Favorite RI Spots

Then: “Forget Newport or the beaches, I liked the old mills in Great Falls and Pawtucket, the faded workingmen’s pubs in downtown Providence, the Portuguese bar and bakery near my apartment in Fox Point… I also ate too many spinach pies at Louie’s, danced at Lupo’s under the highway, and went for 2 a.m. breakfast at the Silver Top diner.”

Now: Loves to walk along the small streets between Benefit and Brook on the east side of Providence, calling the old houses there “the best collection of domestic architecture in America.” He catches Wickenden Street and the Fox Point area before returning to Brown’s campus, usually stopping in at Louie’s—“The food isn’t any better than it was 35 years ago, but it’s still cheap, and the atmosphere remains much as I remember it. Basically, I’m in a nostalgic rut.”

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John J. Cronan, MD

Providence College ‘72

Having graduated magna cum laude from PC with a BA in biology, Dr. Cronan currently serves as Chairman of Alpert Medical School’s Diagnostic Imaging Department at Brown, the Chief of Radiology at Rhode Island Hospital, and Radiologist-in-Chief at Lifespan. His research in abdominal and ultrasound imaging has been published in many books and medical journals.

Favorite RI Spots

Then: Haven Brothers, Caserta Pizzeria, and Asquino’s Restaurant in East Providence (which is no longer around)

Now: Camille’s, Café Nuovo, Parkside, and Capriccio

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Jimmy Baron

URI ‘08

After graduating from URI with a reputation (and several records) for three-pointers, Baron played basketball for Mersin in Turkey, San Sebastián Gipuzkoa in Spain, PBC Lokomotiv-Kuban in Russia, and Virtus Roma in Italy.

Favorite RI Spots

Pepin Gymnasium at Bishop Hendricken High School, Newport Country Club, and The Ryan Center

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Douglas Fisher

Bryant University ‘69

Now the New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture, Douglas H. Fisher graduated as Bryant’s senior class president with a B.S. in Business Administration.

Favorite RI Spots

Haven Brothers—“Parked downtown each night after everything was closed. By morning it was gone. Their big specialty was hot dogs.” There were other local favorites, but “after forty plus years, the names escape me.”

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Sean Altman

Brown ‘83

A founding member of the band Rockapella (of Carmen Sandiego theme song fame, born of a connection with the now-defunct Brown a capella group High Jinx), Sean Altman now makes and produces records while writing songs for television and for other artists. “I was a political science major, but all I really did at Brown was sing.”

Favorite RI Spots

“Spats was always too fancy. We would go to the more divey places.”

Haven Brothers: “The silver truck—there was this late-night sandwich truck that would come around near Wayland Arch.”

Louie’s: “My picture is still hanging up in Louie’s.” He still stops in when he’s back at Brown.

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Reif Larsen


Reif Larsen, acclaimed author of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, has written several novels and essays as well as taught at Columbia University. His latest novel, I Am Radar, will be published in 2015 and the film adaptation of The Selected Works (directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet) has already been released in France.

Favorite RI Spots

“We were there pre-Mill, pre-Mall. We had to get a little creative.”

For brunch: Julian’s on Broadway

For drinks: Family Pub (now Captain Seaweed’s)

Other spots: Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel—“Washington Street was kind of spooky back then.”

Horseneck Beach—“Afterwards we would go to Marguerite’s in Westport and get New England clam chowder. The best bowl of chowder you’ll have.”

For weirdness: Ocean State Job Lot—“Their inventory was just so wacky. Like thousands of those Idiots Guide to… series. Or sample razors. Or pigs’ feet in a jar. All for so cheap. Freaky cheap… But that place was beautiful. A real temple of capitalism’s excess.”

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Clare Burson

Brown ‘98

Since graduating from Brown with a degree in modern European history, Clare Burson has released three full-length records. She’s currently taking some time to be with her two-year-old daughter Lionel, while starting a project involving off-beat family heirlooms and working part time at the Lower East Side tenement museum.Check out her new project here ( http://clareburson.com/2013/07/new-project/)

Favorite RI Spots

Food-wise: “My favorite pizza in the whole world is made by Sicilia’s Pizza on Federal Hill… I prefer the pepperoni, but I had the spinach on my last trip and was quite pleased.”

Otherwise: “There was a beautiful tree somewhere not far from campus… It had purplish black leaves and roots that rose out of the ground like branches. This was a destination for me in late afternoons when I was looking for a bit of calm away from campus.

Lupo’s-wise: “Coming to Providence from Nashville, TN, I was happy to have a venue in town that hosted shows I wanted to see.”

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Carl Takei

Brown ‘02

Carl Takei concentrated in Geology as a Brown undergrad, and after law school at Boston College, worked his way up the ranks a clerk for a federal judge in NH and a two-year, ACLU fellowship in Washington, DC, before landing his current position as a Staff Attorney for the ACLU National Prison Project, where he “litigates on behalf of the rights of prisoners, and advocate against overincarceration and private prisons”.

Favorite RI Spots

Then : Portuguese bakery at Fox Point, wandering into the Biltmore and imagining it in its heyday, and taking detours walking up to Federal Hill. Being able to wear whatever, whenever. Trinity Brewhouse. Spike’s for the Great Contradiction, a veggie hot dog with bacon.

Now : Trinity Brewhouse

Best Memories

“The never-ending nights that started with partying, transitioned to late-night bull sessions talking philosophy and politics, and ended with a sunrise trip to Louis.”

“Pulling the last all-nighter of my senior year along with my friend Avery.”

Advice: Takei encourages students at Brown now to find a good study abroad program and “explore the parts of Providence that you might miss if you’re just passing by”.

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Eileen Pappas

Brown ‘05

Eileen Pappas majored in Architectural Studies and pre-med before attending medical school in Budapest. After two years she found her calling was fashion and attended NYC’s Parson’s New School for Design. Her senior thesis project, “Women In Styles of Undress”, was featured in Style.com as a finalist in the Parson’s and Kering’s “Empowering Imagination” competition. Eileen has done work for St. John Knits, the Donna Karan Collection, Stoll FTNY, Billy Reid, and Simon Miller, and in 2012 won the CFDA Geoffrey Beene Design Scholarship Award while at Parson’s. Post-graduation, Eileen apprenticed at 10 Crosby Derek Lam until taking on her current role as “Assistant Designer for Cut & Sew Knits and Sweaters at 1. State, a division at the contemporary brand Chaus”.

Favorite Spots

Then : RISD museum, Waterfire, Tealuxe, Meeting Street Café, the Avon Theater, running along Blackstone Blvd, and any of the restaurants on Wickenden St. “I still make sure to grab sushi at Tokyo whenever I'm in town.”

Now : “The Brown campus of course!”

Best memories at Brown

“My best memories at Brown are experiences and activities I shared with my fellow brothers and pledges of Zeta Delta Xi. A semester-long pledge process is filled with its ups and downs, but it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“Ballroom dancing! I was on the Brown Ballroom Dance Team for only a short while, but to this day it remains one of the best things I ever got to do.”

Prof. Dietrich Neumann’s architecture history lectures. “After taking one class with him, I decided to major in Architectural Studies.”

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Theophilus Martins

URI ‘09 Theophilus Martinsis a DJ, actor, and hip-hop/rap artist. After graduating from URI with a B.A in Communication Studies and a Minor in Music Composition, he released his debut mixtape, The Birth, followed by his EP, You Can’t Do That on Television in 2010, and his most recent debut album, Wonderland in 2012. He has received much acclaim for his work, called AOL’s, “Need To Know” artist, and Prefix Magazine’s, “Artist To Watch. In his career Martins has DJed for Chris Brown, acted in Steven Spielberg's Amistad, toured with Warren G, and performed all across the United States, and even Asia.


“I will always encourage students to take advantage of the opportunities around you. Internships, connecting with other students from different social groups, studying abroad as well as the accessibility to those delicious Belgian waffles from Butterfield.”

  • Join a student organization. I had the opportunity to be apart of some amazing ones (NSBE, Student Senate, UHURU SASA and BOND)
  • Take an intramural sport. it's a great to meet new folks and enjoy a sport without it being a heavy burden.
  • Avoid the "scrambled" eggs from Hope Commons or Butterfield.

Best Memories : “I was able to nurture my gifts and connect with others who shared the same passions as I did while building a presence on campus. From DJing big campus celebrations or interning for Atlantic Records, all of these opportunities were possible because of the foundation URI gave me.”


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