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Work Study + Degree = Career

By Patrick Bradley

Kyle Contrata (center) celebrates with the Wellness Center staff at his Campus Life farewell party.

Contrata (center) celebrates with the Wellness Center staff at his Campus Life farewell party.


Student workers fill numerous part-time positions across campus at American University, gaining valuable professional experience while pursuing their studies.

Recent spring graduate Kyle Contrata put his time as a work-study in the Office of Campus Life to great use, forging relationships that have left an indelible impression and a clear direction down an unexpected career path.

“I would have to say the summer before my senior year was one of the most memorable summers I will ever have,” he says. “That’s in large part due to the feeling that my relationship and role within OCL truly came full circle. I felt less like a student worker and more like a part of Campus Life’s incredible team.”

Thoughtful Guidance

Contrata spent four years as the front desk receptionist for the Office of Campus Life during his studies in AU’s School of International Service. His Campus Life connections helped him land internships like one with the Embassy Dialogue Committee, which lined up with his International Studies major and concentration in International Politics.

Over time, however, he found his involvement in student affairs slowly seeping into his love of global engagement. Specifically, it was AU’s student-centered staff that turned his attention.

“It’s hard to be surrounded by people with such a passion for their work and who care so much about students to not think, ‘Hey, I could definitely do this for the rest of my life,’” he explains. “However, I had such an affinity for my studies and international relations that I was often conflicted with imagining where I wanted my life to go. In the end I realized, with some thoughtful guidance, that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.”

After graduating, Contrata – a New York native – spent several months as a part-time administrative assistant for the Wellness Center while sending out applications for work in his newfound interest: international education.

With the combination of his SIS degree and relevant work experience, it didn’t take long for him to land a position at NASFA: Association for International Educators – the world’s largest nonprofit professional association dedicated to international education.

“My education and OCL work are the keys to my professional success thus far,” he says. “International education reconciles perfectly my tangible work experience in higher education and my academic focus in international relations and politics.”

He now serves as senior coordinator for NASFA’s Global Partnership Program and Sponsorships just as the organization welcomes its newly elected president and chair Fanta Aw, AU’s assistant vice president of Campus Life and director of International Student & Scholar Services.

Personal Formation

While the professional benefits of Contrata’s Campus Life experience and relationships are obvious, he believes that the work-study time spent between his freshman and senior years helped guide his personal growth and development as well.

“I became as much a part of Campus Life as Campus Life did of me. I cherish the relationships and the deep sense of community that my time with Campus Life created,” he says. “I made lifelong friends, indispensible mentors and relationships as close as family. The person I am today has been shaped in large part because of the amazing people I had the opportunity of working with.”

Still living and working in DC, Contrata plans on remaining an active part of the AU community as an alum, but for now he has a bit of graduate advice for current AU students who might be hunting for internships off-campus.

He encourages them to take advantage of all that American University has to offer – from the strong classroom academics to the invaluable opportunities found in all fifteen Campus Life departments.

“You don’t have to look further than Mass Ave to find meaningful opportunities. My role with the vice president’s office looked completely different in 2012 than it did in 2008. Programs like Eagle Summit and STEP, departments like the Wellness Center and ISSS have programs and positions that offer real and tangible experience for your resume,” he says. “And even if the responsibilities aren’t what you hoped for, the people you meet and relationships you make will be more useful than anything you could bullet [point] into a resume.”