An interview and conversation with graduating students Maria Maddocks and Elise Nguyen.

They talk with me, Leah Fitzgerald, Digital Communications Manager, about their time at CU Denver, lessons learned, the importance of mental health, and even entering their "romcom era."

Maria and Elise, while having completed very different programs at CU Denver, have orbited each other closely through the years. Both working student employment jobs in the Career Center and then its evolved form, LynxConnect, and more recently when they both joined me on the Enrollment Communications and Strategies team: Elise as a full-time staff member and Maria as a student Graphic Designer. 

Please join me in this conversation with the latest graduates of CU Denver and two of my favorite humans. 


Elise and Maria sit in student commons building next to eachother smiling


maria smiling standing on campus under a tree

- Maria Maddocks, BFA in Digital Design, 2022

Meet Maria!

Maria is a Senior, about to graduate with a BFA in Digital Design.

Maria, had you done digital design before getting to CU Denver?

I never used photoshop or illustrator before but I fully sent it and just declared my major. When you start in the program you learn all the basics and create a first portfolio for faculty review - so the first semester is kind of a trial run alreadyI’ve always been very passionate about the arts, whether it be drawing, painting or music. I’m so happy that I chose a major in design, because it’s the perfect balance of creativity while meeting real world needs.

Meet Elise!

Elise is a Senior, about to graduate with a BA in Communication and has already secured a full-time staff position with CU Denver as a Digital Strategies Specialist!

Elise, how does someone at 18 know they want to major in Communications?

Well, I've always been really interested in pop culture and media, so I went the Strategic Communication route. I also took a Global Media course with the Ethnic Studies department as a gen-ed course and fell in love with Ethnic Studies. It was something I was really passionate about in high school because of social media exposure and my own experiences as a person of color, but never got to explore academically until I got to college.

elise smiling standing on campus under a tree

- Elise Nguyen, BA in Communications, 2022



OK, this one is for you both. What experiences have you had that shaped where you're going or who you've become? 

Elise, you're up. 

One of the first things I did when I started at CU Denver was apply for a work-study job. I got a front desk position at the Career Center in Spring 2018, and worked in the office until Fall 2019, when it combined with the ELC, Undergraduate Research, and Study Abroad to become LynxConnect! Then, I worked as a LynxConnect front desk staff until the end of Fall 2021. My experience working for those offices really shaped me because they gave me insight into what was offered to students for their professional development and simultaneously helped me to grow professionally. I picked up on interview skills, what a good resume looks like, how to interact with colleagues and employers, how to network, and more. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have gotten the job I have now with Enrollment Communication & Strategies!

 

And how about you, Maria?

Honestly, it's the same for me. Applying for the Career Center student graphic designer job, and with that then becoming LynxConnect I was acquainted witstudy abroad - and I realize now that was a waterfall moment for me. If all of that never happened I may have never studied abroad. Studying abroad in Florence, Italy for my fall 2021 semester was definitely an experience that impacted my personal and academic growth. Living abroad for three months really helped me step out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in a completely new culture that forever shifted my global perspectives.

From a career standpoint, multiple student graphic design positions at CU Denver have immensely helped improve my professional presence and design technique.

Women of Color Feminisms helped me understand a lot about myself as a woman of color navigating the spaces that I do. It was these courses outside my major that made me think, "Yeah, okay. This is definitely what I want to do. I’m on the right track.


Maria standing on campus in front of a colorful mural

Maria, graphic and digital design is such an interesting field. Can you tell us about your approach? 

The closer I got to graduation, I started to gain a different perspective on my design approach. Rather than thinking of my projects as temporary homework assignments, I started being more intentional about creating work that I’d be proud to display in my portfolio. With this mentality, I started curating a path of design opportunities that I grew more and more passionate about. I also found my niche in the magazine design industry through internships at Florence University of the Arts when studying abroad and an internship with Darling Media.

Speaking of your portfolio – here it is linked for all of the employers out there reading this. MariaMaddocks.com

 

Let's talk wins. What's been one of your proudest moments while being a student here?

Maria - you first. 

I recently had a proud moment during the installation day at Redline Gallery for the BFA senior thesis show. For my thesis, I designed a magazine called “Wander,” where students can share photos and stories from their study abroad experiences. This was a passion project of mine after my semester abroad in Florence, Italy. Being able to hold the physical magazine in my hands and seeing the completed gallery installation was a very rewarding moment for me. Not only did this project combine both my passions for travel and design, but it was also a representation of what I’ve learned and experienced during my time at CU Denver.

 

Elise, how about you?

I think it has to be when I received the Robley Rhine Student Leadership Award in 2021. The award is given out by the Department of Communication to an undergraduate student, and nominated by a faculty member. The year before, I also received the Asian-American Outstanding Student Leader Award. It was so reassuring to know that my hard work and effort was being recognized by my mentors and peers.  I have never considered myself to be much of a leader, but it boosted my confidence a lot.


Elise, What’s something that’s changed for you as you got closer to graduation?

As I’ve gotten closer to graduation, I’ve been a lot kinder to myself. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my work, and often times I struggle with completing something if it’s not perfect. Sometimes, you just gotta do your best, even if it’s not always the best, if that makes sense. There have been semesters where I’ve worked three jobs because I wanted to bolster my resume, taken 18 credits because I wanted to graduate sooner, and taken classes that were simply too heavy for me mentally. Everyone has different limits and work ethics, but I think it’s just important to know yourself and to remember that anything can happen during a semester that could overwhelm you or throw you off track. Challenge yourself, but also plan for the what-ifs.

Whenever things got tough, I always told myself that the sooner I got done with school, the sooner I could enter my romcom era.
Elise walking in front of a colorful blue mural with stacked books

I know as you get close to the end of anything, even the hard times seem easier looking back on them. What’s a philosophy or motto that has kept you moving forward when things got tough?

Maria, what comes to mind for you? 

When depression gets bad, go to Italy. Hah! But seriously, that's real for me. Studying abroad when I did totally shifted my perspective and let me experience a wider world outside of my own. As cliche╠ü as it sounds, the philosophy that has kept me moving forward when things got tough, was to take it a day at a time. I had to remember that some seasons are going to feel long, but with patience and the right support, I know I’ll find myself in a better season in no time. In the meantime, it’s so important to find the value in the little joys.

That's amazing, and so relatable! Elise, what about you?

Whenever things got tough, I always told myself that the sooner I got done with school, the sooner I could enter my romcom era. Not necessarily for the love aspect, but just being able to live my life and not worry about homework or Canvas ever again. Obviously movies are not realistic models to follow, but I’m just saying the best romcoms are post-grad.

The advice I would give to my freshman self, is that now is the time to say “yes” to the opportunities that arise. 

Maria, What advice would you give to a younger you just entering into CU Denver?

The advice I would give to my freshman self, is that now is the time to say “yes” to the opportunities that arise. One opportunity can very quickly lead to the next, opening a whole world of new connections and experiences. Whether it be in your career, friendships, travel, or even your living situation, it can be scary going into something blindly. But taking that first step will lead you to a chain of opportunities that your future self will greatly appreciate.

To all the students not graduating quite yet and can learn from your wisdom, if you could change one thing about your time at CU Denver, what would it be? 

Elise, what do you think?

I think I would have taken more classes I enjoyed instead of trying to give myself constant academic gratification by taking whichever classes would give me the most degrees and certificates. Of course there is merit in obtaining certificates, double-majoring, etc., and I am proud of myself for completing the work that I did, but sometimes you do get burnt out and your passion wavers. Everyone is multi-faceted and can have thousands of interests, so why not indulge yourself while you’re here? I love Communication and Ethnic Studies, but I also found that some of my favorite courses were unrelated, like Gender, Race, & Sexuality in American Pop Culture, Fundamentals of Film and TV, and Poetry Workshop. So many times i've been able to take things from smaller classes outside my major and spin it to make my work more holistic.

 

 

Maria? 

Looking back on my time at CU Denver, I realized how much time was taken away during the pandemic. I feel like my junior year could’ve been more fulfilling if I had chosen classes that were in person, rather than remote. Ever since COVID-19 hit, my instinct was to choose remote work and classes (even while there were in-person options). While this was convenient, I missed out on the human interaction that is so essential to the college experience. There is something so meaningful about being in the same room with your teachers and collaborators when pursuing your degree.

 

So true, I think that's such a universal experience for everyone.

Elise and Maria standing next to eachother on a staircase

Graduation is so soon! What are you most excited about for Commencement, and your plans afterwards?

Maria?

I can’t believe how fast these four years flew by! I’m so excited to celebrate at Commencement with my friends and family. While it is a little daunting, post-graduation is the first time in my life that I don’t have a solidified plan. I am really excited to see what’s next with my priorities to travel with my friends and find a full-time design position in a new city. I am currently looking for a design job in the branding, publishing, or packaging design realm.

 

Elise, I know a bit more about next steps, but fill us in!

I’m just really excited to be done and to apply what I’ve learned to my professional career! I can’t technically say goodbye to CU Denver just yet since I landed a great full-time position with CU Denver’s Enrollment Communications & Strategies team as a Digital Strategies Specialist. In this role I now run social media and content strategy and have a large hand in web development initiatives which ties so well with my Communications and Digital Studies work.

- Written by Staff Writer, Leah Fitzgerald, MBA, Digital Communications Manager with the Office of Enrollment Communications and Strategies