The new switcheroo
Three Chicagoans prove that making a career change is well worth the effort.
The days of college grads landing corporate jobs right out of school and then sticking around to work their way up are over. Maybe it’s the glut of “anything’s possible with talent” reality shows like Project Runway, Top Design and The Next Food Network Star—or maybe it’s the recession we can thank for taking away the stigma of starting over—but never has the old saying rung so true: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
“When I was growing up, the thing to do was to get an office job, 9 to 5,” says Aaron Nunag, whose Class of ’96 marketing degree from Eastern Illinois University led him to a series of cubicle-bound customer-service and administrative gigs. After more than a decade in the workforce, Nunag decided he was at a crossroads: It was either keep going through the motions or move on to a career that excited him.
Nunag, 36, was born in the Philippines and grew up in Vernon Hills. As a child he helped out in his uncle’s grocery store and catering business. As an adult, he missed interacting with people, so when he left his human-resources consulting job at Hewitt Associates, he decided to follow his brother into the restaurant biz and enrolled at Kendall College in 2008.
While his brother focused on the culinary aspect of cooking school a year earlier, Nunag decided to go for a degree in hospitality management with the idea that one day, the two could fuse their skills to open their own Filipino restaurant. Family, and the traditional Filipino value of hospitality, are central to Nunag’s life. “A restaurant is a legacy, something I could pass down to my own kids,” he says. Now a Kendall graduate, Nunag is working as the manager of Francesca’s Fiore in Forest Park, a job he came by after interning at Mia Francesca in Lakeview during school. “I wanted to meet people, greet people, take care of people,” he says. “And that’s what I’m doing now.”
If you’re the next Stephanie Izard, learn how to slice and dice in these schools’ hospitality administration and culinary arts programs:
• Kendall College, 900 N North Branch St, kendall.edu
• Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, 361 W Chestnut St, chefs.edu/chicago
• College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd, Glen Ellyn, cod.edu
An eye for style
When Izabella Stefnis was a student at Augustana College in Rock Island in the ’80s, she gave up on her initial goal—an art degree—for a more sensible major in business. “I wanted to increase the odds of having a moneymaking career when I graduated,” explains the 46-year-old Edgewater resident. Stefnis went on to spend 20 years selling advertising for various publishing companies. “I loved sales, I loved calling on new clients and working with customers on their advertising plans,” she says. Still, her heart was begging her to do something creative, so, in 2007, she left her job and began studying for a degree in fashion design at the Illinois Institute of Art in River North.
“Prior to school, I had no fashion or styling experience. Just artistic talent and an eye for design,” Stefnis says. Her friends and family were alternately supportive and concerned—some thought starting over in a new field would lead to financial disaster. But, after landing her first styling client during school, she founded her company, City Styling Inc., and threw herself into her new life as a full-time personal stylist. A few years later, in addition to styling high-profile clients all over Chicago, Stefnis has her sights set on adding wardrobe styling for TV and movies to her résumé.
“In my previous profession, I always felt the work was hard,” she says. “I’m much happier now because I’m doing what I love. Work makes me feel excited, energetic and alive. That’s the key.”
If you’re the next Rachel Zoe, try these Chicago schools for fashion design:
• Illinois Institute of Art, locations in Chicago and Schaumburg, artinstitutes.edu/chicago
• Columbia College Chicago, 600 S Michigan Ave, colum.edu
• School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 37 S Wabash Ave, saic.edu
Much to her parents’ dismay, Ava St. Claire studied everything during her first shot at college at Florida State University in Tallahassee: international business, fashion merchandising, interior design, economics. None of the majors stuck, and with her family back home in Orlando demanding transcripts to keep the tuition money coming, she turned to her adviser. Soon enough, St. Claire not only settled on urban planning, but she ended up with a degree ahead of schedule.
Then, she and her fiance moved to Chicago (“I’d always wanted to live in an older, more urban environment than the one I was raised in,” says the 25-year-old South Shore resident), and St. Claire began looking for work—to no avail. She took a job as an office manager at an energy and sustainability consulting firm, where she eventually became LEED-certified and contributed to a few major projects. But, she says, “finding a place to apply myself in a more creative capacity wasn’t working.”
In search of a career change, and an out from repaying her parents for college loans, she decided to go back to school. With no experience in interior design other than her brief dalliance at Florida State (“I also helped some friends pimp out their dorms,” she says), she enrolled in a new master’s program at Harrington College of Design. Turns out, the basic tenets that drew her to urban planning also apply to interiors. Now in her third year, St. Claire is working on a thesis combining the study of interior design, industrial design and psychology.
If you’re the next Nate Berkus, sign up for interior design or interior architecture classes here:
• Harrington College of Design, 200 W Madison St, interiordesign.edu
• International Academy of Design and Technology, 1 N State St, iadtchicago.edu
• Columbia College Chicago, 600 S Michigan Ave, colum.edu